Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Letting the good times roll

Singer Ronnie Leigh celebrated the kinship between jazz, the blues and R&B in his Monday, November 14 appearance in Punta Gorda, FL for the Charlotte County Jazz Society.

Ronnie Leigh
The suave, engaging entertainer from upstate New York made his CCJS debut with a performance that dug into the Great American Songbook and more-modern jazz and R&B sources, including material from Gregory Porter, the late Al Jarreau and even Steely Dan.

Leigh and his tight seven-piece jazz band put extended interpretations on all of the material. The band included saxophonist David MacKenzie, trumpeter Charlie Bertini, trombonist Herb Bruce, pianist John O'Leary, bassist Charlie Silva, drummer Paul Parker and guitarist Steve Luciano. While the other players were no strangers to CCJS audiences, this was also Orlando-based Luciano's first visit.

MacKenzie, Bertini, Bruce
Leigh opened with Porter's “On My Way to Harlem,” a wistful but upbeat acknowledgment of jazz and the Harlem Renaissance as one's musical roots. Right away, it was clear that generous solo space for the horn players would be a strength all night.

Leigh, Parker, MacKenzie
The three-man horn section added unison riffing behind Leigh's sometimes-teasing, laid back, mellow vocals. He also dropped in wordless scatting segments on various songs without overdoing the techniques. A few times, he sounded like a fourth horn, emulating the sounds of a trombone or trumpet while trading melodic phrases with MacKenzie.

A Latin-tinged take on “Stompin' at the Savoy” had Leigh scatting a bit and dancing in place to its cha cha rhythm. It was followed by another gem from Porter, who emerged a decade ago as a fine singer-songwriter equally at home in the jazz and R&B genres. This one was “When Love Was King,” an extended ballad that Leigh sang with just the rhythm section.

After a laid-back, teasing introduction, Leigh transformed the standard “Bye, Bye Blackbird” into a playful yet soulful treat, riding Silva's beautiful bass line. MacKenzie on flute and trumpeter Bertini were featured soloists.

Over the course of the two sets, Leigh dug into four Jarreau tunes. “We're in This Love Together” during the first set was just the teaser. The second set included three more hits from the Jarreau songbook: “I Need Somebody” (featuring a robust horn interlude), the uptempo “Easy” and “Mornin',” with Leigh's soaring vocals riding the groove. On all of these, scatting and horn emulation supplemented the vocals, much like Jarreau did.

John O'Leary
Riffing horns and a frisky tenor sax solo from MacKenzie enhanced Leigh's take on “Bring It Back.” The singer first heard the gritty tune performed by singer Catherine Russell, who recorded it in 2014. It was written in the late 1940s or early 1950s by R&B and jump blues singer-guitarist Harrison Nelson, who performed under the name Peppermint Harris.

Leigh also shared Steely Dan's “Deacon Blues” and jazz singer Ron Boustead's humorous, quasi-romantic “(Let's Go Out For) Coffee.” Leigh's melodic accents and pauses added a joyous effect to the latter, setting up an extended keyboard solo from O'Leary.

The night's three other tunes spoke volumes about headliner's zest for the stage and rapport with an audience: “Let the Good Times Roll,” a bluesy take on “Ain't Misbehavin'” and, of course, “I Love Being Here With You.”

This event at the Gulf Theater and the Military Heritage Museum became the CCJS 2022-2023 season opener. An October concert was canceled due to facility damage from Hurricane Ian.

The Ronnie Leigh Octet

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