Thursday, May 13, 2021

A Year Off? You'd Never Know It.

The Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra capped its socially-distanced 2020-21 season at Artis-Naples on Wednesday, May 12 with a concert that featured singer Denise Donatelli. With strong support from the venue’s resident jazz sextet (with an added special guest), it showcased the Los Angeles-based singer’s superb no-frills vocal artistry.

Denise Donatelli
“Thanks for bringing me to Naples. Thanks for getting me out of the house,” Donatelli told the band and the masked audience scattered throughout Hayes Hall. This was her first live concert gig in more than a year, but there was no rust in evidence. None at all.

Donatelli sings in service to the song and the lyrics. No vocal gymnastics. No needless scatting. None of the artifice or theatrics sometimes found in the cabaret world. This is a good thing. Her timing, her phrasing and her innate sense of swing were on full display and fit hand-in-glove with the band’s instrumental support.

Donatelli, Hart, Del Gatto
The NPJO 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. For this performance, because several of Donatelli’s recent recordings have included a guitarist, they were joined by John Hart. A New York jazz scene mainstay for several decades with extensive experience backing singers, Hart is now a guitar lecturer at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music. He fit right in with this high-powered band.

John Hart, Kevin Mauldin
They swung hard right out of the gate with a 10-tune program that included “That Old Devil Moon,” “All or Nothing At All,” “When Lights Are Low,” “You Stepped Out of a Dream” (Donatelli remarking that singing in front of a live audience again indeed felt like a dream), Burt Bacharach’s “A House is not a Home” and “My Shining Hour.” Other fine choices scattered through the program from Donatelli’s wide-ranging repertoire included Gigi Gryce’s “Social Call” (with Jon Hendricks lyrics), The Crusaders/Bill Withers hit “Soul Shadows,” and jazz arrangements of Sting’s 2013 song “Practical Arrangement” (with the horns sitting out), and Joni Mitchell’s most appropriate “Be Cool.” 

The instrumentalists were featured with strong solo moments throughout the evening. Basham was showcased on “Social Call,” Hart on “When Lights are Low,” Miller on the poignant “You Stepped Out of a Dream.” Del Gatto, a thoughtful soloist who never plays an unnecessary note, was featured on “That Old Devil Moon” and “A House is not a Home.”

Stawski, Hart, Mauldin, Donatelli, Harvey
Because of the pandemic, the NPJO moved its series from the cozier 275-seat Daniels Pavilion to the 1,700-seat Hayes Hall performance hall next door, with limited seating and mandatory masking. Next season, they hope to bring in several scheduled special guests who were unable to make the series this year. They include alto saxophonist Charles McPherson and singer Kenny Washington.

Donatelli and Hart with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra

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