Friday, March 8, 2019

Sarasota Jazz Festival is well underway

The main stage portion of the 39th annual Sarasota Jazz Festival opened Wednesday night with a new location, a relaxed flavor and fine music from event newcomers and old hands. 

The festival has moved from the Riverview High School Performing Arts Center to the hotel ballroom and function rooms of the waterside Hyatt Regency Hotel, bringing more of a weekend jazz party atmosphere and informality to the concert vibe.

With its Generations of Jazz theme, the 2019 event is offering a blend of longtime festival favorites, as well as younger talents, many of them previously unheard by Sarasota audiences.

Music Director and reed player Ken Peplowski showcased dynamic young singer Charles Turner and trumpeter James Suggs on Wednesday, and will add saxophonists Roxy Coss and Aaron Johnson at Friday and Saturday shows. 
Ken Peplowski, Charles Turner
Turner, winner of the recent Duke Ellington Vocal Competition, divides his time between New York and Paris. His gifted chops were a treat on jazz classics (the Joe Williams hit "More Than Likely," "Skylark" and "Honeysuckle Rose") and originals ("When You're in Love" and "Ooh La La"), with Peplowski joining him on the latter tune. Tonally, he reminds me a lot of singer Andy Bey.

John O'Leary, Houston Person

Tenor saxophonist Houston Person closed the first set with "Only Trust Your Heart," a Benny Carter classic that reinforced the festival frequent visitor's ballad mastery, "Easy Living" and Illinois Jacquet's "Black Velvet."

Randy Brecker
Suggs was at last year's festival - as a listener. This night, he led off the second set, which became trumpet trifecta. He performed three tunes from his recently released debut CD You're Gonna Hear From Me (Arbors): Duke Ellington's "It Shouldn't Happen to a Dream," the Soft Winds' "Detour Ahead" and one gorgeous original. The infectious New Orleans shuffle beat from drummer Mark Feinman on "My Baby Kinda Sweet" from set the tone on this gem. 

Four tunes from headliner Randy Brecker ("Have You Met Miss Jones?," Freddie Hubbard's "Up Jumped Spring," "I Can't Get Started" and "What Is This Thing Called Love?") revealed his immense chops and artistry. He's still going strong at age 73, also blessed with an engaging sense of humor and camaraderie.
Suggs, Brecker, Sandke

Then Suggs and Randy Sandke, who moved last summer from New York to nearby Venice, joined Brecker for the rousing finale, performing "There is No Greater Love" and the Miles Davis-penned burner "Donna Lee." They traded solos and seamlessly blended horn lines in ways that seemed to astonish each other - and keep them on their toes. It was a winning trifecta.

The main stage concerts' tight rhythm section for the Hyatt Regency concerts is the Tampa Bay area's La Lucha band with pianist John O'Leary, bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Feinman. The festival runs through Saturday night. 

Friday and Saturday afternoon events include four smaller blues, classic jazz, contemporary and Latin stages with a wide range of artists, including guitarist Gene Bertoncini, clarinetist Allen Vache, blues singer Betty Fox and pianist Joe Delaney's Latin band.

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