Saturday, November 16, 2019

Mainstream swing - with some rhythmic twists

Tenor saxophonist Jim Wellen teamed up with three savvy veterans for an a swinging afternoon of mainstream jazz that dug into the jazz canon, more than a few movie soundtracks and the Great American Songbook on Friday, November 15 in Venice FL.
Jim Wellen

His partners included pianist Billy Marcus, guitarist Dave Trefethen and bassist Don Mopsick. Together as a fine collaborative unit, and three different duet combinations, they explored a wide range of material dating from the 1930s into the 1960s.
Dave Trefethen

The breadth of material included a bit of Earl "Fatha" Hines ("Rosetta"), Django Reinhardt's "Nuages," Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova "Triste,"  Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing (if it Ain't Got That Swing)," and even "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top."

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Johnny Varro's Classic Swing Admiration Society

Pianist Johnny Varro cut his musical teeth on the classic swing side of jazz in the late 1940s, working over the next few decades with some of its masters. They included Eddie Condon, Wild Bill Davison, Bobby Hackett, Coleman Hawkins and Pee Wee Russell, among many others.  

Johnny Varro
At age 89, Varro remains one of the sub-genre's most fervent ambassadors. He brought his take on the music back to Port Charlotte FL on Monday, November 11, sneaking a few lesser-heard gems into a familiar repertoire for the Florida edition of his Swing 7 band. This was the band's fourth Charlotte County Jazz Society appearance in eight years, and it include a couple of notable personnel changes.
Randy Sandke

Long-time sidemen Jeff Lego (trombone), Eddie Metz Jr. (drums), Mark Neuenschwander (bass) and Rodney Rojas (tenor sax) were joined by Randy Sandke on trumpet and Pete BarenBregge on alto sax and clarinet. Sandke, a fixture in Varro's New York-based Swing 7 unit, moved to Venice last year. BarenBregge, longtime reed player and former musical director of the Washington DC-based Airmen of Note, also calls Venice home now. He was subbing for the night and fit in seamlessly, sight-reading Varro's book for the first time and adding fine solos on both alto and clarinet.

Friday, November 8, 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 December, as the 2019-20 concert season continues to ramp up…


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

A singer-composer's bountiful musical gifts

The jazz world lost singer Nora York three years ago when she died from pancreatic cancer at age 60. But her artful, creative and distinctive music lives on. This is a good thing - for us.

Nora York, Newport Jazz Festival, 2001
Her longtime collaborator Jamie Lawrence, a New York-based pianist, has just released Swoon, a recording of previously unreleased material by York. Four of the songs were written by York. Six others were collaborations by the two of them. Two of York's distinctive pop covers round out the project. They are her very different takes on rock classics: Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up" and Prince's "Nothing Compares to U." 

Lawrence produced York's 2005 album What I Want. The singer was filled with ideas for albums and musical theater shows, zigzagging from one artful project to anther. She and Lawrence recorded lots of material, but they never got around to releasing another recording while she was alive.

Her material, as heard on Swoon (Good Mood Records), is very insightful and well-crafted. "In The Morning" describes the ups and downs of someone living an artistic life. "Snowstorm in June," "Earliest Memory" and "Rain Came Down" are about climate change. Her lyrics - and the way she delivers them - make you hang on every word.

York's husband, Jerry Kearns, designed the cover and also worked with Lawrence to select material for this project.

The musicians who appeared in two different instrumental configurations  with York and Lawrence include guitarists Steve Tarshis and Jack Broza, bassist Dave Hofstra, drummer Peter Grant, violinist Robin Zeh, oboist Diane Lesser, bassoonist Andrew Schwartz and singer Sherryl Marshall. Accordion player Charlie Giordano joins on the closing track, "The Hill," a country-inflected York original that was recorded for her What I Want CD but didn't make the cut.

We can expect more of York's insights and wit down the road. Lawrence says the dozen tracks released here are "only some of what we have on the proverbial shelf."