Thursday, March 11, 2021

The worldly art of jazz

Pianist (and abstract painter) Bill Buchman brought his Art of Jazz Quintet to Venice FL on Wednesday, March 10 for a concert that touched on many of the global influences that have become central to jazz. From its inception, the genre has absorbed – and welcomed – elements of other styles, and turned that musical melting pot into a rich gumbo.

Bill Buchman
His band for this socially distanced, outdoor concert at Plantation Golf & Country Club included Rick Aaron on flute, Rob Fors on bass, Chuck Parr on drums and Gerardo Velez on congas. The event was sponsored by Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota as part of its 25th anniversary season.

Since a swing beat is the very heart of jazz, it was only fitting that Buchman opened the program with the Freddie Green-penned Count Basie Orchestra staple “Corner Pocket.” While there were hot moments here and there, the late afternoon program was breezy for the most part, matching the weather.

Rick Aaron
The Jewish vaudeville staple “Bei Mir Bist Du Shön,” which became a mega-hit for the Andrews Sisters, was a wonderful flute feature for Aaron with playful percussion interplay from Velez. Aaron, a longtime classical and jazz player from Milwaukee, spends the colder months in Southwest Florida. Velez, a founding member of Spyro Gyra and whose first professional gig was backing Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock in 1969, moved to Sarasota two years ago from Hawaii.

The program ran nearly 90 minutes. It also included Slide Hampton’s “Frame for the Blues,” the Middle Eastern-tinged “Miserlou,” bassist Ron Carter’s “Little Waltz” (honoring the impact Vienna’s 3/4 dance beat has had on jazz) and Juan Tizol’s Ellington band staple “Caravan.” Buchman’s playing throughout revealed his musical artistry as an inventive pianist with solid, swinging chops.

Gerardo Velez

“Frame for the Blues” was a splendid choice, since the blues form has influenced so much of the world’s music, including jazz and rock. Velez, whose percussive accents and enthusiasm can steal a show, dug into this one with back-to-back solos that featured vocal scatting and harmonica.

The band’s take on “Miserlou” shifted from its traditional exotic rhythm to double-time bebop then back to the original tempo. “Caravan” was an explosive percussion feature for Parr and Velez, with both tandem playing and solo space. They made the most of it.

The afternoon concluded with an encore. “All The Things You Are,” in title and possibilities, summed up the many things that fall under the jazz umbrella.

The Art of Jazz Quintet
Chuck  Parr, Gerardo Velez, Rick Aaron, Bill Buchman, Rob Fors

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

A hard-swinging reminder that Woody evolved with the times

The Stardust Memories Big Band paid tribute to the musical legacy of clarinetist and bandleader Woody Herman on Tuesday, March 2 at Riverside Park in Bonita Springs FL. For this evening, and the prior night at Cambier Park in neighboring Naples, bandleader Craig Christman turned the reins over to baritone saxophonist Mike Brignola, who joined the band this season.

The highly regarded bari player was an integral member of Woody's band from 1981 until the leader's death in 1987. Since then, Fort Lauderdale--based Brignola has served as road manager and personnel director for the Woody Herman Orchestra under the leadership of tenor saxophonist Frank Tiberi.

His concert mix resulted in a hard-swinging reminder that Woody Herman evolved with the times over his band's 50-year run. Brignola had a lot from which to choose.Herman and his outfit recorded about 875 tunes between the late 1930s and his death in 1987.

Stardust Memories Big Band in Bonita Springs
His chronological selections included classics like "Woodchopper's Ball" (featuring Christman on clarinet), "Early Autumn" and "Four Brothers," which were a nightly requirement for the Herman band because of their popularity. 

Inn the second half, Brignola worked his way toward things the band recorded in the 1970s and '80s, including Alan Broadbent's arrangement of the Steely Dan hit "Aja"and John Oddo's Herman band arrangement of the Billy Preston song "You Are So Beautiful. The night included 17 Herman-related songs, two of them by written by Duke Ellington (the only big bandleader whose material Herman would perform).

The Stardust Memories Big Band was up to the challenge, and then some, its chairs filled by a slew of southern and central Florida players who are established leaders in their own right. Besides Brignola, they included saxophonist Terry Myers, trumpeter-singer David Pruyn, trumpeter Bob Zottola, pianist Jerry Stawski, and bassist Don Mopsick.

Favorite moments: 

  • The unbridled swing as the band roared through Neal Hefti's "The Good Earth," which he wrote for Herman's band in 1945.
  • Pruyn's frisky vocal take on "I've Got News For You," one of the night's three vocal numbers that honored Herman' regular vocal features.
  •  Brandon Younger's searing tenor sax solo on "Aja." 
  • Trombonist George Mancini's poignant solo on the Preston ballad popularized by singer Joe Cocker. 
  • The solo interplay on a John Fedchock arrangement of Duke's "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." Trombonists Mancini and Jeff Lego went head to head, then trumpeters Bob Zottola and Ryan Chapman did the same, before Stawski put an exclamation point on it with his closing solo.

The traditional big band format, with the three horn sections stacked behind each other in close proximity, doesn't lend itself to jazz in the age of pandemic. Christman & Co. offered a pleasing workaround. It spaced the horn players in a half-oval across the width of the bandshell, with the rhythm section set six or more feet behind them. It worked just fine.