Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Have a holly, jolly, jazzy Christmas

Best wishes to you, your families and friends for a very Merry Christmas 2019, joyous New Year - and hopeful 2020 - from the Jazz Notes staff.  

A toast to you all as we share some vintage musical cheer from among our holiday favorites. Raise your glass, whatever your favorite libation!

The holiday season is never complete without the delightful animated video of The Drifters’ doo-wopping their way through “White Christmas” with feeling. It features Bill Pinckney on lead bass and Clyde McPhatter on tenor.. 

This animated cartoon by Joshua Held is excellent - and quite special

Thursday, December 19, 2019

An all-star evening in every respect

Guitarist Peter Bernstein teamed with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra on Wednesday, December 18 for a program that illuminated his all-star strengths as a player, improviser and composer.

Peter Bernstein
The concert, part of the sextet's All That Jazz series at Artis-Naples' Daniels Pavilion, took a different tack than usual. In this case, it focused on some of Bernstein's many fine originals. Two chestnuts from the bebop canon were added for good measure.

The sextet includes tenor saxophonist, arranger and musical director Lew Del Gatto (who spent 25 years in NBC's Saturday Night Live Band), trumpeter Dan Miller, violinist Glenn Basham, pianist Jerry Stawski, bassist Kevin Mauldin and drummer Mike Harvey. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

A great way to help area musicians in crisis

After an eight-year run of presenting mainstream jazz concerts in the Venice-Sarasota-Englewood area, the non-profit South County Jazz Club is dissolving this month because of organizational challenges. But its legacy will live on in a tangible way.

The club’s Board of Directors voted to donate its remaining treasury, more than $16,000, to the Jazz Foundation of America to establish and manage a dedicated fund to assist area musicians in need. The board stipulated that this Florida initiative be limited to an area from Tampa to the north, Naples to the south, and Orlando to the east. 

The JFA has a solid track record doing this sort of work. Its Musicians’ Emergency Fund provides housing assistance, pro bono medical care, disaster relief and direct financial support in times of crisis. It has been helping needy musicians for 30 years.  

Sunday, December 15, 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 February, as the 2019-20 concert season continues….


Thursday, December 12, 2019

A bassist who gets style points

John Lamb has duende. Lots of it.

John Lamb
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines the Spanish word "duende" as meaning someone or something having the power to attract through personal magnetism and charm.

The late writer George Frazier, who penned jazz essays for Esquire and several Boston newspapers, used it when describing people whose presence made them irresistibly attractive. “So difficult to define, but it is there it is unmistakable, inspiring our awe, quickening our memory,” Frazier wrote.

Now, about St. Petersburg-based Lamb. He’s a magnetic presence on every stage because of his brawny musical style – and his singular way of interacting with his band mates.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The big-band legacy is alive and well in hands like these

Saxophonist Craig Christman brought his Stardust Memories Big Band to Port Charlotte on Monday, December 9, for a concert that scored well on every measuring chart. His mission with this five-year-old band from Collier County is to keep alive the legacy of America's classic large bands. 
Craig Christman

Performing for the Charlotte County Jazz Society, he did so in clever ways that also honored some of the second-generation outfits that emerged from the Swing Era's heyday. As a result. the CCJS audience was transported to big-band heaven for a few hours.

In this two-set, 23-song performance, the 18-piece Stardust Memories band performed  vintage material from the likes of Benny Goodman, Harry James, Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw , as well as some Duke Ellington and Count Basie material. There was also a dollop of Stan Kenton, Quincy Jones and Doc Severinsen's NBC Tonight Show Band. The band also played two Buddy Rich band charts of classic material (Duke Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone" and Cole Porter's "Love For Sale"). 

Friday, December 6, 2019

Bud Leeds' musical friends come from all over

Clarinetist Bud Leeds pulled together a fine quintet for his Friday, December 6 concert in Venice  FL, blending varied geographic roots and a bit of holiday humor.

Jonathan Russell
Lamb, Russell, Leeds
Violinist Jonathan Russell flew in from his native New York City. Leeds, until recently splitting the year between Vermont and Venice, is now living in Vermont year-round but also flew back expressly for this show. Drummer Tom Jestadt is a snowbird who splits his year between Toronto and Southwest Florida. Pianist Keith Carman does the same north-south shuffle between Michigan and Bradenton. The only native Floridian on the bandstand for this matinee concert was bassist John Lamb, who was born in Vero Beach but has called St. Petersburg home for many years.

Russell, now 24, has been capturing attention for his jazz violin mastery since age 9. He was a marvel again on this whirlwind visit.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

My take on the best jazz recordings of 2019

‘Tis the season for the outpouring of Top 10 lists, and their many variations, for jazz, world events, etc. The jazz lists tend to have a lot of variation depending on each reviewer's personal tastes, as well as what he or she listened to during the year.* Bottom line, all are extremely subjective.

These choices below (aside from top 10 new songs of the year) were submitted to the Jazz Times, Jazz Journalists’ Association and NPR Music 2019 compilations (The latter is the 14th annual Francis Davis-produced poll previously published by The Village Voice and Rhapsody.com). The Davis poll is the largest, most-trusted year-end survey of its kind.
As I begin preparing my review of significant events and trends in jazz in 2019 for All About Jazz, I thought I'd share my "best of 2019" lists. *Always keep in mind the above caveats.

The 10 best new jazz releases of 2019

1.       Tierney Sutton Band, ScreenPlay (BFM)
2.       Something Blue, Maximum Enjoyment (Posi-Tone)
3.       Tom Harrell, Infinity (HighNote)
4.       Charlie Dennard, Deep Blue (Deneaux)
5.       Akiko Tsuroga, Jeff Hamilton and Graham Dechter, Equal Time (Capri)
6.       Lisa Hilton, Oasis (Ruby Slippers)
7.       Brandon Goldberg, Let’s Play! (independent)
8.       Dave Zinno Unisphere, Stories Told (Whaling City Sound)
9.       Five Play, Live From the Firehouse Stage (5Play)
10.    James Suggs, You’re Gonna Hear From Me (Arbors)

2019’s best vocal recordings:
1.     Tierney Sutton Band, ScreenPlay (BFM) 
2.     Laurie Antonioli, The Constant Passage of Time (Origin) 
3.     Nancy Kelly, Remembering Mark Murphy (SubCat)
4.     Nora York with Jamie Lawrence, Swoon (Good Mood) 
5.     Polly Gibbons, All I Can Do (Resonance)

The best historical/reissues of 2019 (includes any recordings made over 10 years ago, whether newly released or reissued):
1.     Cannonball Adderley, Swingin’ in Seattle, Live at the Penthouse 1966-67 (Reel to Real)
2.     Michel Petrucciani Trio, One Night in Karlsruhe (SWR Jazzhaus)
3.     Betty Carter, The Music Never Stops (Blue Engine)
4.     John Coltrane, Blue World (Impulse!)
5.     Miles Davis, The Complete Birth of the Cool (Blue Note/Ume)

2019’s top debut recording: 
   - Brandon Goldberg, Let’s Play! (independent)

2019’s best Latin/Brazilian jazz recordings: 
1.     Señor Groove, Little Havana (Zoho)
2.  Jane Bunnett and Maqueque, On Firm Ground/Tierra Firme (Linus) 
3.     Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet, The Rhythm of Invention (Patois)
4.     David Sanchez, Carib (Ropeadope/Malaza)
5.     Antonio Adolfo, Samba Jazz Alley (AAM), Steve Khan Patchwork (Tone Center)

The 10 best new compositions from CDs released in 2019, listed alphabetically:
   - Dave Bass, “Agenbite of Inwit” from No Boundaries (Whaling City Sound) 
   - Polly Gibbons and James Pearson, “If You Had the Chance” from All I Can Do (Resonance) 
   - Miho Hazama, “Somnambulent” from Dancer in Nowhere (Sunnyside) 
   - Clifford Lamb, “Blues & Hues” from Blues & Hues (Weberworks) 
   - Bevan Manson, Cecily Gardner and Tierney Sutton, “Caramel” from Bevan Manson, The Jazz Cave (Meistero)
   -  Bennett Paster, “Belgrade Booty Call” from Indivisible (self-produced) 
   - Michael Thomas, “Without Doubt” from Terraza Big Band, One Day Wonder (Outside In) 
   - Akiko Tsuruga, “Osaka Samba” from Akiko, Hamilton and Dechter, Equal Time (Capri) 
   - Mike Tucker, “Requiem” from Dave Zinno Unisphere, Stories Told (Whaling City Sound) 
   - Noriko Ueda, “Uneven Pieces” from Five Play, Live From the Firehouse Stage (5Play)

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."

Thursday, October 31, 2019

A masterful night of jazz

Trombonist Michael Dease was well armed with ample doses of creativity, gentility, humor,  and swing when he joined the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra as the sextet opened its 10th concert season on Wednesday, October 30.

Dease, 37, is a busy young performer and educator. In addition to touring the world as a first-call player, he teaches music at Michigan State and runs a summer jazz camp in North Carolina. He also plays trumpet, saxophone and piano.
Michael Dease

This evening with the NPJO's fine team of players.underscored his trombone mastery.  The sextet includes tenor saxophonist and artistic director Lew Del Gatto, trumpeter Dan Miller, violinist Glenn Basham, pianist Jerry Stawski, bassist Kevin Mauldin and drummer Mike Harvey.

Together, they explored a handful of jazz standards, two Dease originals - and a little-heard treat from the early days of bebop.

Dease paid tribute to one of his own trombone heroes, the late J.J. Johnson with J.J.'s "Shortcake." He honored the modern jazz legacy of gone-too-soon trumpeter Roy Hargrove, who died last year at age 49, with a poignant version of one of Hargrove's favorite ballads, "Never Let Me Go," with just the rhythm section.

Michael Dease & Lew Del Gatto
This performance of Del Gatto's arrangement of Harry Warren's "You're My Everything" included a bit of growling trombone in Dease's solo. The band's take on the Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova "Triste" featured Del Gatto on flute and Miller on muted trumpet. It included a beautiful trumpet-trombone counterpoint segment after Mauldin's solo introduction. Basham's violin work enhanced the exotic bossa feel here.
Glenn Basham

"Brooklyn," the first of Dease's two originals, was named for his 1-year-old daughter. Here and there you could here snippets of the Frankie Valli hit "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You." Stawski dropped in a tasty quote from Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower." He wrote the second tune, "Zanderfied," as a tip of the hat to longtime friend Jeffrey Zander, an insurance broker ho has been instrumental in the success of the Dease-run Jazz Institute  at North Carolina's Brevard Music Center. The tune had an uptempo "Killer Joe" feel.

The evening concluded with a burning version of bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker's 1949 composition "Cardboard," which has fallen into obscurity. In crafting this one, Bird put a fresh melody over the chord progressions of the 1941 pop song "Don't Take Your Love From Me." Dease and the sextet made it fresh and vibrant.
Michael Dease guests with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra
The NPJO's "All That Jazz" season at Artis-Naples' Daniels Pavilion includes performances with singer Carla Cook on November 20, guitarist Peter Bernstein on December 18, tenor saxophonist Jerry Weldon on January 15, vibraphonist Stefon Harris on February 12 and alto saxophonist Charles McPherson on April 22.The sextet digs into the music of Thelonious Monk on May 13.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Swinging effortlessly into a new concert season

It was most appropriate that clarinetist Allan Vaché began the Charlotte County Jazz Society's 2019-2020 concert season opener with the chestnut "Just Friends." He was back for his fourth CCJS appearance, and his first Port Charlotte visit since 2014. And he brought four close musical friends: his current Orlando-based rhythm section plus ace trumpeter Charlie Bertini.
Allan Vaché

The Monday, October 14 event teamed the Jim Cullum Jazz Band alumnus with Bertini, pianist Mark McKee, bassist Charlie Silva and drummer Walt Hubbard. While Bertini and Silva are no strangers to the CCJS stage, this was the first local appearance for Hubbard and McKee. 

The evening featured several Vaché concert staples with other jazz and Great American Songbook fare. It included material from the Duke Ellington repertoire, a bit of movie music, some Gershwin and Hoagy Carmichael, and a brief foray into vintage New Orleans. One concert staple, also performed in Vaché's Port Charlotte appearances in 2011 and 2014, was Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Look to the Sky." Because it is heard so infrequently, these days, Vaché does a great service by sharing this gentle bossa nova.
Charlie Bertini

Vaché's lively, wide-ranging clarinet artistry was featured on Rodgers and Hammerstein's "It Might as Well Be Spring" from the 1945 film "State Fair," which made sense. It's included on his latest recording, It Might as Well Be Swing (Arbors Jazz, 2018), teamed him with the same rhythm section.

Mark McKee

On "Tangerine" and "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" Bertini and Vaché showed what terrific musical foils they are. They played exquisite unison melodies but also delivered solos that built on each other's ideas.

It was clear this night that for Vaché, every tune is a musical adventure unto itself. That spirit lets him spotlight each member of the band several times during a concert. In that regard, he is a most democratic bandleader.

Charlie Silva
Shifting to flugelhorn, Bertini shared a stunning version of the Carmichael ballad "The Nearness of You." Silva took spotlight honors on the early standard "Comes Love" before he and Vaché traded bass and clarinet phrases to close it out. The rhythm section dug into "Some Day My Prince Will Come." Hubbard was featured on two Ellington-associated tunes, Juan Tizol's "Perdido" and "Caravan," the concert closer.
Walt Hubbard

Together, Vaché's quintet delivered a fine evening of effortless swing. 

The concert drew an early season crowd of more than 250 to the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's William H. Wakeman III Theater in Port Charlotte, FL.

McKee, Vaché, Bertini, Silva, Hubbard