Wednesday, March 15, 2023

A Night of Classic Jazz and Other Gems

Gems from the Great American Songbook, opera and operettas, and a few classic-jazz staples were in the splendid mix when The Midiri Brothers brought their quintet to Punta Gorda FL on Monday, March 13 for their first Charlotte County Jazz Society appearance.

The Midiri brothers
Paul and Joe Midiri have both serious chops and a love for the instrumental jazz tradition. Together, they imbued the music with a bright sound and connected with the audience through humorous, well-honed banter about their identical twinship.

The band this fine night included Paul - the older brother by one minute - on vibraphone, Joe on clarinet and saxophones, Jeff Phillips on piano, Jay Mueller on bass, and Patricia Dean on drums. It was night three of a brief Florida tour.

Joe Midiri
The brothers have a finely honed sound warmed by the collective brightness of their primary instruments. Paul's vibes style draws much from pioneers Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo, while Joe's clarinet playing comes straight from the Benny Goodman approach. The pair hail from the Mid-Atlantic Region. They've been a hit at classic jazz festivals across the U.S. for more than 20 years.

Their interplay and the band's swinging tempos made for a joyous night as they coursed through an interesting range of Swing-era standards. "Always" and "Poor Butterfly" (inspired by Madame Butterfly) led into a burning version of "Lady Be Good." 

Jeff Phillips
Paul Midiri shifted with ease between two and four mallets depending whether he was featured on the melody or comping with chords behind his brother's solos. Joe switched to soprano sax for a beautiful take on "September Song," which featured an elegant yet understated piano solo from Phillips. 
Patricia Dean

Whether or not intentional, then came an interesting thematic grouping of songs with "You" in the title. 

Patricia Dean, a Southwest Florida double threat on drums and vocals, was featured on the Peggy Lee hit "I Don't Know Enough About You." Phillips provided the keyboard pyrotechnics on "Yours is My Heart Alone," a Franz Lehar gem from the 1929 German operetta The Land of Smiles. It was first recorded in the U.S by Bing Crosby and later was a mega-hit for Mario Lanza. The thematic cluster, and the first set, ended with the quintet's take on Eubie Blake's nostalgic classic "Memories of You," which was popularized by Goodman and Rosemary Clooney.

After intermission, The Midiri Brothers offered more treats from a wide range of sources. Fat's Waller's classic "Honeysuckle Rose" turned into an extended improvisational jaunt, particularly for clarinet, piano and vibes. Then came "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," Frank Sinatra's first hit  when he sang with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1940. Ol' Blue Eyes stayed with the band for three years before launching his solo career.

Paul Midiri, Jay Mueller

Dean was featured on no-theatrics vocals again on "This Can't Be Love," a Great American Songbook staple by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart from the Shakespeare-inspired Broadway musical "The Boys From Syracuse." 

The Midiri brothers
Joe Midiri's soprano sax artistry on the Sidney Bechet ballad "Si Tu Vois Ma Mere" (If You See My Mother) was poignant moment. Bechet wrote it in 1952 after moving to Paris. The song was popularized in Woody Allen's 2011 film Midnight in Paris.  

Joe then shared his lone vocal solo of the night, a Louis Armstrong-like take on "Pennies From Heaven." His Satchmo-like singing voice is uncanny, delivered in a reverential style that triggered much applause when he was done.

The quintet closed on another instrumental high note, roaring through "After You've Gone," a 1918 popular song whose early hit performers included Armstrong, Guy Lombardo and Rudy Vallee. While more than a century old, it still finds its way onto new recordings by young jazz musicians. A staple for sure. And still a crowd pleaser.

The CCJS concert was at the Military Heritage Museum's Gulf Theater.

Jeff Phillips, Paul Midiri, Jay Mueller, Joe Midiri, Patricia Dean

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