Thursday, June 30, 2022

Another gem from Randy Despommier

New Orleans-based Offbeat magazine has published my review of saxophonist Randal Despommier's latest CD, A  Midsummer Odyssey, in its July issue.

The Louisiana native's duo project with guitarist Ben Monder explores wide-ranging compositions written by Swedish baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin. You can check out my review here.

 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

CD of Note

Jo Harrop, The Heart Wants (Lateralize)

London-based singer and songwriter Jo Harrop has a winner here. Her lyrics are intelligent and her voice is stunning, sure, smoky and playful as required on the baker's dozen tracks. It includes nine originals, written with a solid team of frequent collaborators, and four covers.

She explores the vagueries of life, loss, romance and renewed purpose. She even touches on the frustrations of the pandemic on “Everything's Changing.” The project includes covers of Duke Ellington's “All Too Soon” (a duet with bassist Christian McBride) and Tom Waits' “Rainbow Sleeves.”

Favorite tracks: her duet with pianist Jason Rebello as they recast Lerner and Loewe's “If Ever I Should Leave You” from Camelot and the anthemic closing track “Weather the Storm,” featuring guitarist Jamie McCredie, Nicky Brown on Hammond organ and a robust backing chorus.

Released last year in Europe, The Heart Wants was an April 25 U.S. release.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

A month for saxophonists

In my mind, June is a month for saxophonists. At least this June. For this jazz journalist.

Let me explain.

The June issue of Hot House jazz magazine, which covers the New York City jazz scene, as well as select venues in neighboring states, includes my profile of tenor saxophonist Harry Allen

I've known Harry since he was a junior in high school back in 1983. It is always great to hear and talk with this musician whose high-quality recording output in the U.S. and abroad is prolific to say the least. 

The June issue of JazzTimes includes my extensive profile of saxophonist Greg Abate

Greg Abate
He talks about his early-career road stint with Ray Charles, his evolution into a hard-bop ambassador, his important collaborations with late alto sax master Phil Woods, and much more. 

Greg was a natural fit for this issue, which spotlights a variety of sax players. They range from early 30s players Marcus Elliot, Julieta Eugenio and Melissa Aldana to Preservation Hall Jazz Band veteran Charlie Gabriel, who is just out with his first recording as a leader at age 89. The others include Eli Degibri, Kenny Garrett, Walter Smith III and Mark Turner, as well as the late Steve Lacy.

Greg and Harry came out of the Rhode Island jazz scene, where I got to know them well over the years. Harry is 55. Greg turned 75 on May 31.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Swinging jazz, no holds barred

The Dan Miller-Lew Del Gatto quartet's weekly gig at the Barrel Room in downtown Fort Myers FL always has a surprise or two, and the Thursday, May 26 edition was no exception.

Jim White
Drummer Jim White, a close friend and occasional band-mate of trumpeter Miller's since 1987 when they were freshmen at the University of North Texas (then known as North Texas State), was a special guest, joining bassist Don Mopsick in the piano-less rhythm section.

White, Mopsick, Del Gatto, Miller
White is a powerful, hard-swinging drummer whose creativity and inventiveness was on display all night long. The one-time road warrior also worked in Nashville for many years before moving to the Rockies. For the past 17 years, he has been on the jazz faculty at the University of Northern Colorado.

Japanese trumpeter Terumasa Hino, a frequent guest who spends half the year living (and golfing) in Southwest Florida, joined midway through the first set. He and Miller are high-note masters who kept pushing each other higher and higher at every opportunity.

Don Mopsick

This was a night of jazz and Great American Songbook standards that gave each band member plenty of solo space to put their own stamps on the material. They also treated the crowd to a first-set mainstay for this band: a Jazz at the Philharmonic-style ballad medley, in which each horn player is featured on one segment. 

Terumasa Hino
Hino played "Body and Soul," then 30-year "NBC Saturday Night Live Band" alumnus Del Gatto dug into "Old Folks" and Miller wrapped up the medley with the Rosemary Clooney 1954 pop hit "Hey There." The song came from that year's Broadway musical The Pajama Game, where it was first sung by star John Raitt (blues singer Bonnie Raitt's father).

The evening also featured compositions in which their writers put a new melody over the chord changes of another tune. They included Ben Webster's "Did You Call Her Today?" - based on Duke Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone," Thelonious Monk's "Bright Mississippi" - based on "Sweet Georgia Brown" and Tadd Dameron's "On a Misty Night" - based on "September in the Rain." If Dragnet's Sgt. Joe Friday had been a jazz fan, he might have said: "Just the contrafacts, Ma'am."

Gerald Augustin
White made the most of his solo space on Red Garland's "Blues By Five," which closed the first set, and "Topsy Part 2." The Count Basie orchestra first recorded the Eddie Durham-Edgar Battle tune "Topsy" in 1938. Cozy Cole had a huge hit 20 years later with his explosive drum feature on "Topsy Part 2," the "B" side of his version.

The second set brought two more personnel additions: tenor saxophone modernist Gerald Augustin, who is a Barrel Room regular, and guitarist Noah Charles. Charles, from Naples, is a University of Central Florida jazz studies major who on Sunday won a $2,500 award at the Central Florida Jazz Society's annual scholarship competition. He was featured on the ballad "All The Things You Are" and the night's closer, the band's take on Sonny Rollins' "Sonnymoon for Two."

Del Gatto, Hino, White, Miller, Mopsick
Del Gatto, Charles, White, Miller, Mopsick

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Casting her musical net far and wide

Singer Halie Loren covered the jazz and popular music waterfront - on the waterfront - in a Sunday, May 15, matinee concert at Selby Gardens' Historic Spanish Pojnt campus in Osprey FL. 

Halie Loren

She took the afternoon in some surprising directions, putting all sorts of music in a jazz context, delivered with a clear voice and deep understanding of the lyrics. She has always looked beyond the stylistic boundaries of jazz and standards for interesting material, and found ways to put her own stamp on it.

There were some jazz and Tin Pan Alley classics. There was a sprinkling of Latin and Brazilian tunes, and three originals. There were five tunes from the likes of Leonard Cohen, Bobbie Gentry, Etta James, Carole King, Bob Marley. A dozen of these gems were drawn from Loren's eight recordings since 2008.

The Sitka, Alaska native, now living in Oregon, was backed by a very fine Florida trio featuring pianist Zach Bartholomew from Miami, bassist Brandon Robertson from the Fort Myers area and drummer Rick Costa from nearby Venice.

Bartholomew, Robertson
The music included Nina Simone's classic "Feeling Good," the French standard "C'est Si Bon" and a samba version of the standard "L-O-V-E," first recorded by Nat King Cole. Then came King's "I Feel the Earth Move," Loren's own "A Woman's Way," the Doris Day hit "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps," and a version of Marley's "Waiting in Vain" that opened as a gentle ballad and built up a bit of steam.

Standard fare on the afternoon's musical menu included "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?," "Blue Skies," "and Fly Me to the Moon." The Brazilian and Latin features included Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Waters of March" (Aguas de Marco) and the 1950s bolero-mambo "Sway" (Quien Sera).

The band locked in with Loren all afternoon, especially on her version of Etta James' classic blues "I'd Rather Go Blind."

She opened the second set with an a-capella take on "High Heel Blues" by Patti Cathcart of the jazz-tinged duo Tuck and Patti, before delivering a bouncy original, "Yellow Bird."

Rick Costa
 The King and Marley tunes were just the start of her exploration of gems rarely heard in a jazz context. They included Gentry's Southern gothic hit "Ode to Billie Joe" and Cohen's delightful "Dance Me to the End of Love." Robertson's bass work was exquisite, particularly as he backed Loren on the Gentry tune.

Those Latin, samba and bossa nova rhythms, finishing with the afternoon closer, "Sway," were a perfect fit on this sultry, waterside afternoon.

The concert concluded the 2021-22 season for the venue's Music in the Garden series, held on the shores of Little Sarasota Bay.

Robertson, Bartholomew, Costa, Loren

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Rooted in tradition, with personal, modern twists

Hammond B-3 player Tony Monaco's music is rooted in a mighty tradition, but isn't stuck there. He can take the B-3 to church, and even into pioneer Jimmy Smith's "chicken shack sound" when he wants, but he is also stretching his sound into something fresh and tasty. Credit that to his own modern twists - with a healthy dose of musical emotion on the side.

Tony Monaco
That was the case on Friday, May 13, as Monaco opened a two-night Florida mini-tour at the Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center in Sarasota. On this night, he was joined by guitarist LaRue Nicholson and drummer Rick Costa.

None had played together before this concert, a fact that underscored the magic of jazz. There was a freshness of ideas fired back and forth, turning the evening into the true essence of jazz - a swinging musical conversation among the players, which then touches the listeners.

LaRue Nicholson

All night long, Monaco's facial expressions revealed how deep he was into the music he and his band mates were making. That visual treat added to the moment. He often had a look of surprise on his 62-year-old face during or at the end of a solo line, as if to say "Did I do that?"

Rick Costa
The band's two 45-minute sets at Fogartyville mixed jazz and popular standards, Monaco originals, tributes from the B-3 archives, and some trips to musical church. A third of them included his vocals, including the Nat King Cole ballad "L-O-V-E" and the sprightly Italian language hit "Quando, Quando, Quando."

The trio was locked in from start to finish, with Monaco giving Costa and Nicholson plenty of space to add to the creative conversation.

His fine originals included a Smith tribute titled "I'll Remember Jimmy," "Called Love" and the funky "Indonesian Nights," which was a showcase for Nicholson's guitar mastery. In addition to the Smith homage, Monaco played a Jack McDuff-style blues in the key of G. Later, he saluted a fellow Columbus, Ohio B-3 native with an exploration of Don Patterson's "Goin' to Meeting."

They also also honored the the rich B-3 and jazz guitar combination with a fine reprise of Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery on Wes's "OGD" (Road Song) from Further Adventures of Jimmy and Wes (Verve, 1969). 

Monaco took the audience to church with a bit of "Amazing Grace" before the break, and a with an extended exploration of Oscar Peterson's jazz standard "Hymn to Freedom" at night's end.

The latter was a welcome musical balm for the audience amid all that's going on in the world today.

Tony Monaco, LaRue Nicholson, Rick Costa

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

More on music from Quincy Davis

The May issue of Hot House includes my profile of drummer Quincy Davis, who performs with his quintet May 20-21 at Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village (see p. 17).

As sometimes happens with extended interviews, this one produced far more material than the magazine's wordage limit could accommodate. 

So here are two additional topics of interest from Davis, who, in addition to his performing career, is on the University of North Texas jazz studies faculty.

I asked Quincy about the positives and negatives of the pandemic on him musically. In other words, how did he make the most of a bad situation?

Similar to a lot of people, it allowed me to breathe and relax. At first you're panicked, then you say, 'OK, this is a chance to reassess and reset,” he said. “I started to write more. Because I had no gigs, it made less motivating to practice.

I also picked up my social media game. I came up with an idea to be on there if I can do something educational that can help people. I came up with this series 'Drummer to Drummer.' I interviewed 50 different drummers. One a week. That kept me pretty busy.” (He also started a YouTube channel called “Jazz Drummer Q-Tip of the Week” that features his educational drum-set lessons.)

It was an opportunity to upgrade (software, cameras, lighting, video editing skills) and learn new things. I am grateful for that time, but it is nice to be back in a normal groove.”

What is the key to surviving and succeeding in today's jazz marketplace?

As great as my peers are, playing with this person or that person and traveling, I can't think of any of my peers who do not teach. It has become kind of the norm. A lot of the people we go to see at the clubs are also teaching at an institution either as an adjunct or full time.

More and more of my peers are really seeking full-time positions because of the benefits, not having to worry about where their next paychecks will come from, having some stability. The future jazz musician, to stay viable, will be a performer who educates and an educator who performs -- like me. They go hand in hand.”

Monday, May 2, 2022

Looking ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview

Chiara Izzi
Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through early June. 

Keep in mind the reality of COVID-19 protocols, expect possible cancellations, and mask up to keep yourself and others safe.

May

  • Monday, May 9 – Singer Chiara Izzi performs 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, May 13 – Tony Monaco's Hammond B-3 Organ Trio, with guitarist LaRue Nicholson and drummer Rick Costa, performs at Fogartyville. Sarasota. 8 p.m.
  • La Lucha
    Sunday, May 15 – Singer Halie Loren performs at Selby Gardens' Historic Spanish Point campus as part of its garden music series. Osprey. 1 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 18 – Vibraphonist Warren Wolf is special guest with the The Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra as the quintet concludes its 2021-22 season. Artis Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Monday, May 23 – The Tampa-based trio La Lucha performs 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.
    Diego Figueiredo

June

  • Thursday, June 2 – Guitarist Diego Figueiredo performs at Fogartyville. 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; The Roadhouse and The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in Fort Myers; and Slate’s in Cape Coral.

Jazz at Two Friday matinee concerts sponsored by the Jazz Club of Sarasota and Morrie Trumble's South County Jazz With Morrie series in Venice also keep things swinging for jazz lovers.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Back on the road, with love

When Japanese pianist Makoto Ozone last visited New York City, a not-so-funny thing happened. He was in the Big Apple in January 2020, planning to visit friends in advance of his next scheduled trip, an April 2020 appearance with his trio at Dizzy's Club.

“I was supposed to be there only for a few days, but I got COVID as soon as I got there. So I had to lock myself up for about 12 days. I had to cancel a gig in Germany because I couldn’t fly out,” Ozone emailed me. He couldn't return that April because his Dizzy's Club gig, and virtually all others in the jazz world, vanished thanks to the pandemic.

Shortly after his 2020 touring plans bit the dust, he started live-streaming solo piano concerts from his Tokyo home. He played every night for 53 consecutive nights. That initiative, “Welcome to Our Living Room,” drew more than thousands of viewers nightly. They included many musician friends and collaborators.

“My wife (Misuzu Kanno), an excellent actor, and I saw this lock-down situation as our chance to thank all of our fans back from all these years for their love and support. But you know what? The hundreds and thousands of comments we received from people gave us so much happiness and power to live on. We wanted to give them our love but we got more back from them.

“We had over 5,000 viewers every night from all over the world, including my dearest musician friends like Bob James, Branford Marsalis, Joey Calderazzo, Jeff 'Tain' Watts, Chick Corea, Peter Erskine, Tommy Smith. Wynton Marsalis called me on my cell during my performance and I stopped playing to answer. I said to the audience, 'Excuse me, I have to take this one!' 

This incredible communication reminded me about the real essence of music, which I first felt when I started to play and perform in front of people: how exciting and fun it was. It is a very simple thing, I play and they enjoy. It totally brought my mind back to that initial humbleness.”

That feeling was also the inspiration for his newly released jazz recording OZONE 60 – Standards (Universal), which was recorded shortly before his 60th birthday. It supplements a two-disc OZONE 60 project that includes both classical and jazz material.

When Ozone returns next week for a two-stop North American mini-tour, it will be his first performance here since before the start of the pandemic. 

He'll play Dizzy's Club in Manhattan with his trio (including bassist Yashushi Nakamura and drummer Clarence Penn) on April 20, then they will head north to Toronto for an April 23 performance at Koerner Hall as part of the Oscar Peterson International Jazz Festival. The Toronto concert is most fitting because the late piano giant was Ozone's first jazz hero.

Makoto and I emailed back and forth last month as I was preparing a brief preview of his Dizzy's Club gig for the April issue of Hot House. (see below)

Inspired by Oscar Peterson’s formidable sound, Ozone shifted from organ to piano as his instrument of choice at age 12. That was back in 1973 in his native Kobe, Japan. After graduating from Berklee College of Music in Boston and working in vibes player Gary Burton’s band for six years, he carved out his own international career. He’s been a revered educator, performer and bandleader since returning to Japan in 1989. His dynamic playing is marked by deeply intense swing, whether the mood of the moment be breezy or power-driven.

Ozone just completed a tour with Japan's NHK Symphony Orchestra. His New York-Toronto itinerary will be preceded by two solo piano concerts in São Paolo, Brazil.

After the Toronto concert on April 23, he jets to Germany to premiere his full-orchestra arrangement of Mozart's “Piano Concerto No.9 in Eb major” (a.k.a. “Juenehomme”) with the Stuttgart Philharmonie. Then he heads to Hungary for a duet concert in Budapest with vibraphonist Richard Szaniszlo that was planned for 2020, then canceled.

“I am so grateful that I can still play music and share this happiness with the audience,” Ozone says.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Levity accompanies vintage jazz mastery

Trombonist Herb Bruce and his Herbicide Jazz Band closed the Charlotte County Jazz Society's 2021-22 concert season on Monday, April 11 in Punta Gorda FL with a wide-ranging trip into the world of classic jazz. It featured a stage full of all-star players, accompanied between songs by the leader's self-deprecating humor.

Herb Bruce

This was Herbicide's third visit to the CCJS concert stage. There was a bit of repetition of favorites from the 2015 and 2018 sets, but the evening was mixed with fresh material, principally from 1920s and '30s Dixieland and New Orleans repertoires. All of it was delivered well by the sextet.

No matter whether he is playing classic jazz, swing jazz or bebop, Bruce is a master of the trombone – in technique, expressiveness and the musical passion that burst from his horn. 

Patricia Dean
For this evening, he was joined by trumpeter Randy Sandke, clarinetist Valerie Gillespie, pianist Judi Glover, bassist Mark Neuenschwander and drummer Eddie Metz Jr., with Bruce's wife, the fine vocalist Patricia Dean, joining for two songs each set.

The band opened with a New Orleans staple, Lil Hardin Armstrong's “Struttin' With Some Barbecue” from 1927, then moved a couple of years earlier with "Cake Walking Babies (From Home)." The original 1925 recording by composer Clarence Williams' Blue Five featured a classic solo battle between a young Louis Armstrong and soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet. “Storyville Blues” competed the band's opening Crescent City trilogy. A few songs later, came another: the band's take on James P. Johnson's "Louisiana."

Valerie Gillespie
Dean joined the fun for two 1930s jazz/pop classics: “I'm Gonna Sit Right Down (And Write Myself A Letter)” and the Kansas Joe McCoy blues “Why Don't You Do Right?” Peggy Lee recorded the latter tune with the Benny Goodman Orchestra in 1942. This most popular of Lee's records with Goodman was the springboard for her solo career – and it was right in Dean's expressive wheelhouse. Gillespie switched to tenor sax for each of Dean's songs, adding much to the mood.

Randy Sandke, Herb Bruce
The strongest moments included the band's lengthy take on “Granada,” written in 1932 by Mexican composer Agustín Lara, with Sandke's clarion trumpet highlighting the extended, intricate arrangement that closed the first set. Bruce was in the musical spotlight after intermission on “Wabash Blues,” which was first recorded in 1921 by the Isham Jones Orchestra. His sound was growling at times, plunger muted at others.
Mark Neuenschwander

Sandke was featured on the “Theme from Pete Kelly's Blues,” which was a natural choice. Actor Jack Webb played trumpeter/bandleader Pete Kelly in the 1955 film. The band dug deep into a hit of Fats Waller (“Yacht Club Swing”) and the Hoagy Carmichael ballad “New Orleans” before Dean returned to share two Duke Ellington songbook early classics “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me" and “Three Little Words.” The latter popular song was recorded in 1930 by The Rhythm Boys (including Bing Crosby), accompanied by the Ellington orchestra.

Judi Glover

Then it was back to New Orleans for the last segment, with the band sharing “Basin Street Blues” and its traditional closer, “Farewell Blues” from one of Bruce's favorite Dixieland sextets. The Basin Street Six, formed in 1950 with young clarinetist Pete Fountain, as one of its founders, is the band that inspired him to form Herbicide.

Eddie Metz Jr.
Bruce lived and worked for years in Nashville, playing with Boots Randolph, the Nashville Brass and Mr. Jack Daniel's Original Silver Cornet Band. After his Nashville phase, he led the Main Street Rhythm Rascals at Walt Disney World and Rosie O'Grady's Goodtime Jazz Band in Orlando.

Herbicide also has a vibrant Nashville connection. It is home base for arranger Terry Waddell, a drummer and big band leader who wrote most of the band's charts.

The Herbicide concert drew a full house of about 275 to the Gulf Theater at the Military History Museum. Bruce's zany barbs back and forth with his band mates - and the audience - enhanced a joyous moment. CCJS completed a full concert cycle, on the heels of the pandemic-related cancellation of its final April 2020 concert and the entire 2020-21 season.

Smiles and laughter were in order.

Herb Bruce and the Herbicide Jazz Band

Sunday, April 10, 2022

The sheer joy of swinging jazz

 You can hear it in the music, and you can see it in the faces.

Jazz at its best touches the audience, and is celebrated deeply in the musical communion among its makers. No matter the age gap, or the almost immeasurable decades of experience by most participants.

Dan Miller

Such was the case on Sunday, April 10 when the Dan Miller-Lew Del Gatto quintet performed at Naples United Church of Christ. The quintet featured 16-year-old Miami-area pianist Brandon Goldberg - and for this 90-minute performance, he clearly was the center of attention in a band that was made up of jazz heavyweights.

They included trumpeter Miller, a veteran of the Harry Connick Jr. and Maynard Ferguson bands, and Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra; 30-year NBC Saturday Night Live Band alumnus Del Gatto; first-call Miami bassist Chuck Bergeron; and Philadelphia drummer Tony Vigilante, who spent 20 years touring with Ben Vereen. 

Brandon Goldberg
Whenever Goldberg soloed, it was fascinating to watch the faces of his on-stage jazz elders. Smiles of appreciation and rapt attention abounded. Like the audience, they too were digging the continued progress he has made as a young musician since they'd last worked with him a couple of years ago. He now has two four-stars recordings to his name, Let's Play! and In Good Time. The latter session, released last September, featured drumming great Ralph Peterson Jr., who died of cancer in March 2021, just four months after it was recorded.

Miller first heard Goldberg in Miami five years ago when he was guest director for the Miami-Dade All-County Honors High School Jazz Band. Brandon was the piano player for the group, even though he was a 10-year-old middle school student.

Lew Del Gatto
Then as now, he was passionate about jazz, and has developed into what Miller describes as a "incredibly swinging and inventive player."

That was apparent throughout the band's set. It included Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser," Jerome Kern's "Look for the Silver Lining," Duke Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone," the Johnny Mandel ballad "Emily," Peter Nero's "Sunday in New York," George Gershwin's "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and the Count Basie band chestnut "Topsy" before going full circle to Monk for the finale, a romp through "Bright Mississippi," which he based on the chord changes to "Sweet Georgia Brown."

Chuck Bergeron
Goldberg performed with just bass and drums accompaniment on "Emily," which came from the soundtrack to "The Americanization of Emily." On this cusp-of-evening, the young pianist explored and added his own impressions to its lush melody. He went solo a couple of tunes later with his playful, extended take on the Gershwin standard. 

"Topsy," a swinger first recorded by Count Basie in 1937, showcased Bergeron's rich and inventive bass soloing.

The way the band swung through these extended eight tunes, the music flew by. It was so riveting, it didn't feel like we'd been listening for 90 minutes.

Goldberg, Bergeron, Del Gatto, Vigilante, Miller