Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Looking ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview

Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through May.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month
  • Monday, April 8 – The M&M Latin Jazz Ensemble, featuring Marty Morell on vibes and Michiko Morell on percussion and vocals, performs in the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s concert series. William H. Wakeman III Theater, Cultural Center of Charlotte County. Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Friday, April 19 – Pianist Marcus Roberts’ trio performs in the Jazzy Nights concert series. Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, Fort Myers. 7 p.m.
    Veronica Swift
  • Wednesday, April 24 – Singer Veronica Swift guests with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s 2018-2019 concert series. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 11 – Singer Alexis Cole in concert. Firehouse Cultural Center, Ruskin. 7:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 15 – The Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra performs the music of brothers Cannonball and Nat Adderley as the sextet winds up its 
    Paul Gavin
    2018-2019 concert series. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 18 – Drummer Paul Gavin’s new group, Mosaic, pays tribute to drummer-bandleader Art Blakey. Firehouse Cultural Center, Ruskin. 7:30 p.m.
Several local venues offer jazz steadily. They include J.D.’s Bistro in Port Charlotte, 88 Keys Florida and The Blue Turtle in Punta Gorda, Amore, the Art Ovation Hotel and the Burns Court Bistro in Sarasota, The Roadhouse and The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in Fort Myers, and Slate’s in Cape Coral. A variety of matinee concerts sponsored all season by the Jazz Club of Sarasota and the South County Jazz Club also keep things swinging for jazz lovers.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Joy of Saxes

Composer, arranger and bandleader Jim Roberts was the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s first guest artist with an outdoor concert back in 1991, the year he move to the Orlando area from New York City. He’s been a frequent visitor to the CCJS concert series over the years – and his visits never get dated or tiring.

Jim Roberts
He brought his Saxtet, with a mighty three-reed horn line, back to Port Charlotte FL on Monday, March 11. They turned in a superb performance coursing through a wide range of jazz material.

Roberts plays the piano, and plays it well in a sprightly style, but his finest contribution is the intricate, swinging extended arrangements he has crafted for the band. There are lush three-flute and three-sax choruses (sometimes a blend of alto, soprano and tenor, sometimes three tenors). A bit of sax counterpoint sneaks in from time to time. And there is ample space for soloing by all of the horn players.

Danny Jordan
The band included Danny Jordan, Rex Wertz and David MacKenzie on a variety of saxes and flutes, bassist Mark Neuenschwander and drummer Eddie Metz Jr. This was Neuenschwander’s first performance with the Saxtet. His distinctive, resonating bass line complemented the other players, and kept things swinging mightily in tandem with Metz’s always-solid drum work.
Rex Wertz

Roberts draws from many different areas in the jazz repertoire. This night featured 14 tunes including two originals. There were only four repeats from the Saxtet’s appearance three years ago. 

Those gems, the adagio from Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concerto de Aranjuez” (transformed into a jazz classic on Miles Davis and Gil Evans Sketches of Spain project, Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil,” Sonny Rollins’ “Tenor Madness” and Count Basie’s “Jumpin’ at the Woodside," which was the high-energy closer for the night. And even those sound freshened and updated, from Roberts’ arrangements, from the solo improvisations - or a bit of both.
David MacKenzie

The Saxtet’s 2016 appearance featured only Roberts’ artful arrangements of jazz chestnuts. This time out, he treated the audience to two of his originals, the beautiful waltz “Pretty Lady” featuring the flute chorus, and the more-uptempo second-set opener, “Breaker.” He also shared a shimmering solo-piano version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.”

Other treats: a blend of “What is This Thing Called Love” and Charlie Parker’s “Hot House,” which Bird performed over the former tune’s chord changes; Miles Davis’ “Freddie the Freeloader,” Herbie Hancock’s classic composition “Dolphin Dance,” and film and TV composer Lalo Schifrin’s exotic “Towering Toccata.”

Neuenschwander, Metz
There were three clear highlights to my ears: 
  • The piano and flute chorus features that set the tone on the flamenco-tinged “Concerto de Aranjuez.”
  • The band’s romp through Sonny Rollins’ calypso “St. Thomas” was fueled by the Neuenschwander-Metz groove, with the drummer using hands but no sticks for a large portion of his spotlight solo.
  • Roberts’ creative arrangement of a medley of “(Back Home Again in) Indiana” and “Donna Lee,” which was based on the former tune’s chord changes, weaved successively through three very different jazz styles. It started with a Dixieland flair, evolved into a Swing tune, then blossomed into a bebop burner. MacKenzie started out on his giant bass saxophone, then shifted to alto sax for the bop segment.
I’ve been fortunate to hear this band three times (2013, 2016, 2019) in the eight seasons I’ve been attending CCJS concerts, and this one was aces.

The concert at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's William H. Wakeman III Theater drew a crowd of about 350 listeners.
The Jim Roberts Saxtet

Monday, March 11, 2019

An all-star night in Sarasota

The 39th annual Sarasota Jazz Festival wrapped up Saturday night, March 9, with honors for a festival frequent flier, rarely heard combinations of all-star performers – and a healthy dose of Duke Ellington. 

Houston Person
Tenor saxophonist Houston Person, a distinctive balladeer whose playing is steeped in soul jazz, received the Jazz Club of Sarasota’s Satchmo Award. The organization has been awarding it since 1987 to honorees who have made a “unique and enduring contribution to the living history of jazz.”

The two sets that closed out the festival mixed and matched players in ways that showcased their creativity. There were a handful of solo tunes, some duos, a few varied quartets, quintets and even a two-piano, two-bass, 10-performer finale.

Sandke, Lamb
Person was featured with pianist Bill Charlap, bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Mark Feinman on “You’re a Sweetheart” and “Maybe You’ll Be There” to open things. 

Musical director Ken Peplowski performed a solo clarinet version of Ellington’s “The Single Petal of a Rose” before his duo with pianist Dick Hyman on “Panama.” Hyman, who turned 92 the day before, then delivered the first of two solo spotlights, before he, Peplowski, trumpeter Randy Sandke, Arenas, Feinman and Charlap closed the set with “Take the A Train.”

Later highlights included Hyman and ex-Ellington bassist John Lamb’s duo version of Lester Young’s “Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid” and their collaboration with singer Mary Stallings on Duke’s “I’ve Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good).”


Sitting at Yamaha grand pianos at opposite ends of the long ballroom stage, Hyman and his much younger cousin Charlap, also treated the audience to a tasty duet. They traded solos, tossed melodic lines back and forth like a relay baton, and comped behind each other on “All the Things You Are.”

La Lucha members John O’Leary on piano, Arenas and Feinman, who were the ace rhythm section for the main stage concerts, got their own spotlight with an exhilarating take on Fred Astaire’s “Cheek to Cheek.”
Saturday's finale

There was much to savor - or check out - on Friday

Gary Dow, Lauren Mitchell
It included a new festival feature: four themed, afternoon stages that preceded the evening's main concert, all at Sarasota's Hyatt Regency. The many performers included guitarist Gene Bertoncini on the classic jazz stage,  pianist Joe Delaney’s trio and drummer Thomas Carabassi’s quartet on the Latin stage, tenor saxophonist Jeremy Carter on the contemporary stage, and singer Lauren Mitchell’s band on the blues stage.

Bertoncini, 81, treated his listeners in the Hyatt Regency’s intimate Boathouse to solo guitar artistry featuring delicacy and clean melodic lines. He opened with a clever “spring” medley that included “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” “It Might as Well Be Spring” and “Gone With the Wind.”


Pianist Shelley Berg, who directs the jazz program at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, kicked off the evening program with a solo version of “You and the Night and the Music,” setting the tone for the abundance of jazz to come.

On this reed player-dominated night, tenor saxophonist Roxy Coss used her Sarasota debut to perform two originals, “Feminist AF” and “You’re There.” Then festival newcomer Aaron Johnson shared his talent on flute, alto sax and clarinet, the latter on the little-heard-these-days Mack David ballad “A Sinner Kissed an Angel.” 

Then the musical chairs portion of the program began, with varying blends of talent from song to song for the remainder of the set:

  • Person and Peplowski teamed up on tenor saxes with the rhythm section on two tunes, including the Bobby Hebb pop hit “Sunny.”
  • Peplowski and Berg played a clarinet and piano duet on “It Never Entered My Mind.”
  • Coss, Johnson and Peplowski tore into “Cherokee” in a sax spectacular.
  • Arenas, Stallings, Peplowski
Stallings was featured for most of the second set. Gems included her versions of “Girl Talk” and “September in the Rain,” the latter performed with the spare accompaniment of Berg at the piano. Charles Turner, who made his festival debut on Wednesday,  made a Friday night cameo with a lush take on “Stardust” before all of the night’s performers crowded on stage for a rousing finale.

Carney with Admirals' sax section

Friday night began with alto saxophonist Pete Carney guesting with the Sarasota High Admirals, one of three area high school big bands that opened the evening performances with half-hour sets. The Pineview High School Jazz Ensemble, North Port High School Jazz One and The Admirals were the top three finishers in the Jazz Club of Sarasota’s high school band competition for young performers from Sarasota and Manatee counties.
This year's festival was expanded greatly from prior years.  More than 120 musicians performed in 48 different events.

Friday night finale