Friday, September 23, 2022

Underscoring what jazz is...

Every once in a while, it is good to get a healthy reminder of what jazz is. Some people think it is a repertoire of classic material, be it beloved jazz standards or pages from the Great American Songbook. 

Dave Potter
But jazz is not specific material, though we all have favorites we like to hear now and then. It is the way a band plays a song. Any song. Originating in any genre.

The reminder that jazz is a process - and an intense form of communication between the musicians on stage shared with the listeners privileged to be there - was on full display Thursday, September 22 at The Grill at 1951 in Port Charlotte FL. 

Drummer Dave Potter's Retro Groove quartet put their hard-swinging stamp on a wide range of material, two-thirds of it from sources far from the standard repertoire. Potter's band mates included pianist Austin Johnson, bassist Terrell Montgomery and tenor saxophonist Miguel Alvarado. 

In addition to his own projects and teaching, Atlanta-based Potter is the drummer in vibes player Jason Marsalis's touring band.

To get into the audience's comfort zone, Retro Groove  opened with a few jazz classics: "Have You Met Miss Jones?," Thelonious Monk's infrequently heard "Shuffle Boil" and Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova "Wave" before shifting to the 1979 Deniece Williams R&B hit "Why Can't We Fall in Love?" They closed out the first set with Ornette Coleman's "When Will the Blues Leave?"

The Deniece Williams hit was just a hint of what was to come. Potter's choices in the second and third sets were all extended instrumental versions of beloved songs from more popular repertoires - including pop, hard rock, R&B and in one instance, movie music. Most came from his newest recording, Retro Groove released in March on Square Biz Records.

Johnson, Alvarado
Their take on the Chaka Khan hit "Through the Fire" preceded Steve Winwood's "Higher Love," on which Nashville-based Alvarado unleashed an extended solo reminiscent of Sonny Rollins' stream-of-consciousness journeys into a song's possibilities. His approach was consistent throughout the night.

Then came the Whitney Houston hit "Saving All My Love For You," composer Jon Williams' "The Flying Sequence" from the 1978 movie Superman starring Christopher Reeve. Living Colour's "Cult of Personality was a spotlight for Johnson's keyboard chops.

Retro Groove closed the night with Potter's arrangements of three more gems: the Michael Jackson hit "I Can't Help It," The Isley Brothers' "For the Love of You" (later covered by Houston and many others), and Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes." 

In each case, extended solos delved into the music's possibilities. Potter's swinging groove and imagination were at the heart of it all.

Austin Johnson, Miguel Alvarado, Terrell Montgomery, Dave Potter

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Looking ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview (updated)

Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through November. Keep in mind the reality of COVID-19 protocols, expect possible cancellations, and mask up to keep yourself and others safe.


Bobby van Deusen
  • Thursday, September 29 – Pianist Bobby van Deusen opens the Charlotte County Jazz Societys 2022-23 matinee music series. The Grill at 1951, Port Charlotte. 1:30 p.m.
  • Friday, September 30 – Pianist Bobby van Deusen opens South County Jazz With Morries 2022-23 series. Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice, 2 p.m.


  • Monday, October 10 – The Jeff Rupert Quartet opens the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s 2022-23 Artist Series evening concert season. Gulf Theater, Punta Gorda. 7 p.m.
  • Jimmy Greene
  • Wednesday, October 12 – Tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene is special guest with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra as the sextet opens its 2022-23 season. Artis Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Friday, October 14 to Sunday, October 16 -- The hardly-any-jazz Clearwater Jazz Holiday's 43rd annual festival. Trombone Shorty is the only jazz-tinged headliner on the lineup, which includes Charlie Wilson and Waren Haynes' Gov't Mule band. BayCare Ballpark.
  • Monday, October 17 – Paul Gavin and The Writers Corner perform in the Jazz Club of Sarasota's Monday Night Jazz Cabaret series at the John C Court Cabaret at Florida Studio Theatre. Sarasota. 7:30 p.m.
  • Friday, October 21 – The Manhattan Transfer 50th anniversary concert opens the Jazz Club of Sarasota's 43rd season as part of their farewell tour. Pianist Liston Gregory III opens the show. Sailor Circus Arena, Sarasota. 7 p.m.


  • Wednesday, November 9 – Alto saxophonist Charles McPherson is special guest with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra. Artis Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Jason Marsalis
    Monday, November 14 – Ronnie Leigh performs in the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s 2022-23 Artist Series evening concert season. Gulf Theater, Punta Gorda. 7 p.m.
  • Friday to Sunday, November 18-20 – Suncoast Jazz Festival. This year's headliners include Adrian Cunningham, Kermit Ruffins, Judy Carmichael and Jason Marsalis. Sand Key, Clearwater.
  • Saturday, November 26 – Saxophone smoothie Dav Koz and Friends, 25th anniversary tour, with Rick Braun, Rebecca Jade, Keiko Matsui and Peter White. Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota. 8 p.m.

Several venues offer jazz steadily. They include The Grill at 1951 (formerly J.D.’s Bistro) in Port Charlotte; Amore, and Cafe L'Europe in Sarasota; Scarpino’s in Bradenton; and The Roadhouse and The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in Fort Myers. Jazz at Two Friday matinee concerts sponsored by the Jazz Club of Sarasota , the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s matinee series, and Morrie Trumble's South County Jazz With Morrie series in Venice also keep things swinging for jazz lovers.

Friday, September 2, 2022

A Misty Night

 Musician friends, family and friends, and students from near and far packed The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in downtown Fort Myers on Thursday night, September 1, for a jazz night unlike any other the venue has seen.

Del Gatto, Vigilante, Dowling, Robertson
They were all there, standing room only through the first set, to celebrate the musical legacy of trumpeter and educator Dan Miller, who died unexpectedly on August 19 at age 53.

The Barrel Room has been the Thursday night home for the past six and one-half years of the Dan Miller-Lew Del Gatto quartet, that also included bassist Brandon Robertson and drummer Tony Vigilante. The venue's Thursday night jazz will carry on, led by Robertson.

Bill Dowling

David Miller
On this night, longtime friend Bill Dowling was on trumpet. The quartet brought up a succession of guest musicians, beginning with Dan's younger brother, David Miller, on trombone.

Del Gatto, who'd worked frequently with Dan for 15 years, said the tribute would feature tunes that his dear friend loved to play. And so it did, with spirited and poignant versions of Duke Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone," Thelonious Monk's "Bright Mississippi," "Green Dolphin Street," "Perdido," Miles Davis' "Blues By Five" (the band's traditional first-set closer), Tadd Dameron's "On a Misty Night," the Gershwin Brothers' burner "Soon" and Eddie Durham's Basie band staple "Topsy.”

Tony Vigilante

Two ballads were requested by or dedicated to Dan's longtime sweetheart, Judi Woods: "These Foolish Things Remind Me of You" and later, "Tenderly." Both were beautiful features for Dowling's trumpet artistry.

Herb Bruce, Gerald Augustin
The musicians sitting in at various points included drummer Paul Gavin, tenor saxophonist Gerald Augustin, trombonist Herb Bruce, bassist Kevin Mauldin (a band mate of Dan and Lew's in the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra sextet), and drummer John Gonzalez, who is one of Robertson's students in the Gulf Coast University jazz studies program.

Robertson noted at one point that while he graduated from Florida State University with a master's degree in music, "Dan gave me a doctorate in life."

Tenors anyone?
Kevin Mauldin
Judi Woods announced that this informal tribute was just a warmup for a bigger celebration that will be held in a larger venue when details and logistics can be worked out. 

She is setting up a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called the Dan Miller Jazz Master Memorial Scholarship Fund to carry on Dan's legacy of paying it forward. It will be used to provide funds for instruments, jazz camp tuition, lessons and perhaps scholarships for young jazz students who need financial help.

Del Gatto told the crowd that the tip jar that evening wouldn't go to the musicians, but would be set aside for the fund. By night's end, the large glass bowl was nearly full.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

A life well-lived, and then some....

Someone's impact on others is a more meaningful measure of a life well-lived than the number of years they spend on the planet. That notion was reinforced today when we received word that Dan Miller died unexpectedly yesterday (Friday, August 19). He was just 53.

Dan was passionate about a lot of things - auto racing and other sports, fine food, and his family. Most of us knew him best through his many contributions to the world of jazz. He was a high-octane trumpeter, blessed with a bright, soulful sound that graced the ranks of many a band through the years. 

His sudden passing came just a few days after he and his sweetheart, Judi Woods, returned from their regular 12-day vacation trip to New Orleans. On this visit, he caught up with many longtime musical friends and former band mates, and sat in one night at Preservation Hall.

The Chicago-area native worked with Maynard Ferguson, Harry Connick Jr., the Wynton Marsalis-led Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Tom Jones, Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton and others. It seemed he could do it all - and do it well. He was as passionate about teaching as he was about performing, maybe even more so. 

Dan was a fixture on the New York jazz scene until 2004 when he began spending part of the year in Southwest Florida. He moved here permanently about a dozen years ago, quickly making an indelible impact on the region's music scene - as a performer, educator and mentor.

In addition to leading or co-leading groups, frequently with NBC Saturday Night Live Band alumnus Lew Del Gatto, Dan was on the Jazz Studies faculty at the University of Central Florida and also taught privately. He traveled the country frequently as a guest clinician at high school and college jazz programs. He was a Yamaha Performing Artist and Clinician for more than 30 years.

He taught late pianist Barry Harris's principles of jazz improvisation to students of all instruments. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz players and their recordings - not just the trumpeters whose work he studied in analytic detail. He shared that knowledge freely - and eagerly.

He started and directed the Naples Philharmonic Youth Jazz Orchestra, and led a Naples-based community big band concert series on Sunday afternoons during the snowbird season.

Here's what Wynton Marsalis shared today on Facebook about what he termed his "inexpressible grief" over Dan's death:

“Dan was the essence of our music: soulful, original, virtuosic and consistent. He was a great great educator and even better student. Most importantly, he was deeply engaged with humanity and how it could best be expressed in our interactions with each other, and through the trumpet. Big sound, big spirit, his sudden passing is shocking and a wake up call for us all to savor every moment down this road. Rest In Peace.”

If you want to read more about Dan's impact on jazz here, there and seemingly everywhere, here is an appreciation of his work that I wrote last September.

Friday, August 12, 2022

A third postcard from Newport

Here are more favorites from the 2022 edition of the  Newport Jazz Festival, held July 29-31 at Fort Adams State Park. This was my 41st consecutive trip to historic Newport to cover the  jazz festival. The streak started when producer George Wein brought the event back to Rhode Island in 1981 after a 10-year hiatus.

This year's festival brought a new addition: a small venue called the Foundation Stage near  the edge of the expansive Fort Stage lawn. It featured a variety of bands that played briefly during some of the main stage set changes. They included Sunday's mid-afternoon trio performance featuring trumpeter Michael Dudley. The Cincinnati native was a 2022 winner of an ASCAP Foundation Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award. He performed with drummer Eliza Salem and guitarist Robert Papacica. Dudley teaches in the jazz department at SUNY Potsdam.

Jazzmeia Horn

Theon Cross
Dan Wilson

Christian McBride

Christian McBride, Mike Stern, Brandee Younger

Turtle Island String Quartet (w/Terence Blanchard's band)
Shabaka Hutchings
Randy Brecker



Vijay Iyer

Marilyn Crispell

Lewis Nash

Anat Cohen


The Michael Dudley Trio
Neal Caine

Michael Dudley

Eliza Salem, Michael Dudley, Robert Papacica

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Another postcard from Newport

Here are more favorite images from the 2022 edition of the storied Newport Jazz Festival, held July 29-31 at Fort Adams State Park. This was my 41st consecutive trip to historic Newport to cover the festival. 

The streak started when producer George Wein brought the event back to Newport in 1981 after a 10-year hiatus. He died last September, so this was a quite the tribute weekend. Might I see you there in 2023?

Jon Faddis adjustss Lew Tabackin's wristband

Nubya Garcia

Gary Bartz

Doug Carn

Henry Franklin

Alexa Tarantino

Antonio Sanchez

Norah Jones

Christian McBride's Newport Jawn

Brandee Younger
Jaleel Shaw

esparanza spalding

Friday, August 5, 2022

Postcard from Newport

Here are a few more favorite images from this year's edition of the storied Newport Jazz Festival, held July 29-31 at Fort Adams State Park. This was my 41st consecutive trip to historic Newport to cover the festival. The streak started when producer George Wein brought the event back to Newport in 1981 after a 10-year hiatus.

"Be Hip" is implied
Pasquale Grasso
Norah Jones

Jazzmeia Horn and Samara Joy

Samara Joy

The Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra


Ron Carter

Sullivan Fortner, Melissa Aldana
Joe Lovano

Pianist Hiromi at Sunday's finale


Takuya Kuroda