Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Swinging jazz in two different contexts

The Charlotte County Jazz Society opened its 2017-18 concert season on Monday, October 9 with a robust evening featuring two Sarasota-based bands that covered a lot of musical territory in different contexts.

Trombonist Dick Hamilton's sextet and pianist Mike Markaverich's trio performed an hour apiece - and 10 songs apiece as it turned out - at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's newly renamed William H. Wakeman III Theater. The early season event drew a crowd estimated at more than 225 attendees.

Dick Hamilton
Hamilton's main instrument is trombone but one could argue that his main instruments are pen and paper. His peerless skill as an arranger dominated the opening set, as the band dug deep into his complex charts.

Hamilton spent about 45 years as a studio musician and arranger in Los Angeles before returning to Florida four years ago. He now writes and arranges principally for his swinging sextet, which includes Jim Martin on trumpet and flugelhorn, Tony Swain on alto and tenor sax, pianist Matt Bokulic, bassist John DeWitt and drummer Johnny Moore.

His arrangements feature crisp unison horn lines as well as unexpected moments where the other horns add complementing or contrasting textures behind the soloist. The material included Hamilton's arrangements of jazz and Great American Songbook standards plus two originals. Those latter tunes were things he wrote to the chord changes of classic tunes. "Dive/Jump" was based on Irving Berlin's "How Deep is the Ocean (How High is the Sky)" and "Getting Sentimental All Over You" was based on Ned Washington's "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You."

On an ultra-slow version of "Blue Monk," all three horns riffed beautifully behind Bokulic's piano solo on this Thelonious Monk classic. Moore's mallet-work set the exotic tone for Hamilton's arrangement of "Delilah's Theme" from the 1949 movie "Samson and Delilah." Other material included Miles Davis's "Walkin," "Someday My Prince Will Come," ""Prelude to a Kiss," "Love for Sale," "Just Squeeze Me" and the newst chart he'd written for the band, "Falling in Love With Love."

Bokulic, Hamilton, Martin, DeWitt, Swain, Moore

Markaverich, Mopsick, Moore
New Hampshire native Markaverich, blind since birth, moved to Florida 29 years ago after playing jazz piano on Cape Cod for a decade. He quickly became a mainstay on the Sarasota jazz scene.

In the evening's closing set, his music covered a wide stylistic range -  jazz classics, few standards from the Great American Songbook, and a few things you don't often hear in a mainstream jazz context. 

Right from the opening tune, "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm," it was clear that the set would be all about musical conversation between Markaverich, bassist Don Mopsick and drummer Johnny Moore. Throughout the evening, Markaverich reacted with glee to the other players' solos.
Mike Markaverich

The trio performed two Oscar Pettiford tunes, "Tricotism" and "Laverne Walk," as well as trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's chestnut "Up Jumped Spring" and Horace SIlver's "Nica's Dream." 

Makaverich featured pleasant lyric and scat vocals on the Lambert, Hendricks & Ross classic "Centerpiece," "What is This Thing Called Love?" and "The Bare Necessities" from the Disney film "The Jungle Book." He played Rodger's and Hart's "Lover" in 5/4 time rather than the standard 4/4 rhythm, and added some ragtime twists along the way. 

Johnny Moore
The trio closed the evening with an instrumental take on Michael Franks' "Popsicle Toes." This mid-1970s jazz-pop hit isn't heard often without its clever, saucy lyrics, This version relished its beautiful jazz underpinning, from which the pianist revealed glimmering new facets.

The evening's big bonus: a double helping of Johnny Moore's drumming. You'll never hear flash or bombast from this man. His playing is all about finesse, subtlety and unexpected accents. Every note has a purpose.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The home of the red piano

Henry Ford once told his car-makers back in the early 20th century that they could paint his Fords any color - as long as it was black. Just like Ford's vintage Model T's back in the day, pianos are black more often than not.

Once in a while, you may find a white one, or some in their natural wood brown tones. But you really have to search to find an acoustic grand that's red.

The red piano is the visual and aural centerpiece at 88 Keys Florida, where it is a stark contrast to the primarily gray-and-black motif of this modern-looking piano bar and restaurant at the Wyvern Hotel in Punta Gorda FL. 88 Keys features jazz three nights a week. I finally got a chance to visit on Friday and found it quite different than many of the other restaurant gigs in southwest Florida.

The sleek and modern designer look is quite unusual. The room holds less than 30 people, which is not ideal, but the featured bands tend to draw regulars who are big fans. Singer-pianist Danny Sinoff's trio with drummer Patricia Dean and bassist Scott Smith performs on Thursdays and Fridays from 7-10 p.m. Pianist Stu Shelton performs solo on Saturdays.
Dean, Smith, Sinoff

Sinoff is always a treat. He digs mightily into the Great American Songbook, particularly Sinatra covers. While he is a fine singer, and has a strong following in that regard, I find his piano solos even more enjoyable as he takes familiar material to unexpected places. 

If you haven't heard him - or heard him lately, check him out at 88 Keys Florida, La Fiorentina Cafe Italiano in Punta Gorda on Tuesdays or the Roadhouse Cafe in Fort Myers, where he performs Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

CDs of Note - Short Takes

This edition considers several new CDs with distinctive orchestral jazz focuses. They are projects by composer Mica Bethea, pianist-composer Alan Broadbent, trumpeter John Vanore, and two saxophonist-composers - Brian Landrus and Brian McCarthy.

The Mica Bethea Big Band, Stage ‘N Studio (self-produced)
Composer and arranger Mica Bethea is a fascinating story unto himself. Twelve years ago, he was a young music student at the University of North Florida. The multi-instrumentalist was driving back to school in Jacksonville, after visiting his parents in Daytona, when a big truck slammed into his car at 85 mph during a traffic slowdown. The accident left Bethea a quadriplegic. He put his life back together, returned to school three years later and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music. He may be unable to play anymore, but he has emerged as a very fine composer and arranger.

This is a two-disc album featuring Bethea’s big band. One disc was recorded in studio, one in concert at UNF. Both discs feature four originals from Bethea plus a mix of his arrangements of six tunes from the jazz canon. All are excellent, with the material written with each player in mind. Favorites include his originals “Frahm Out of Nowhere,” “Jonesin’ for Thad,” “Coal” and “Birth Rite,” and the band’s spirited take on “Hang Up Your Hang Ups,” which Herbie Hancock recorded with an expanded version of his Headhunters’ funk band. The Mica Bethea Big Band’s many standout soloists include pianist Joshua Bowlus, guitarist James Hogan, saxophonist Todd DelGiudice and singer Linda Cole. Check it out.

Alan Broadbent with the London Metropolitan Orchestra at Abbey Road, Developing Story (Eden River)
Pianist Alan Broadbent teamed up with the London Metropolitan Orchestra for this wide-ranging project, recorded at Abbey Road studios. His longtime trio-mates, bassist Harvie S and drummer Peter Erskine, were along for the musical ride. The session opens with Broadbent’s three-part suite, "Ðeveloping Story.” 

Most fascinating are his intricate orchestrations on four jazz classics: Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now,” John Coltrane’s “Naima,” and Miles Davis’s “Blue in Green” and “Milestones.” In each case, Broadbent found ways to celebrate and accentuate the rich nuances of these standards. He also does the same thing for two originals, “Lady in the Lake,” which he wrote for Quartet West, and “Children of Lima,” which he which he wrote in the early 1970s after a Peruvian earthquake. It was recorded in a 1975 collaboration by Woody Herman’s Young Thundering Herd and the Houston Symphony. Broadbent spent three years as pianist in Woody’s big band.

Brian Landrus Orchestra, Generations (BlueLand) 
Baritone saxophonist Brian Landrus used a wide range of musical genres as his inspirations in writing the material for his 25-piece all-star orchestra. He wrote all of the material to focus on each participating player’s sound and strengths. 

The piece de resistance is the opening segment – a four-section piece called “Jeru Concerto.” It was inspired by Landrus’ son Jeru, whose namesake was the nickname of baritone saxophonist Gerry Mullgan. Jeru was not yet born when Landrus started writing the piece. The evocative “Orchids” features harpist Brandee Younger and vibes player Joe Locke. This ambitious project is a contemporary slant on the grand big band tradition.

Brian McCarthy, The Better Angels of Our Nature (Truth Revolution Recording Collective)
The late Phil Woods once had an octet (five horns plus rhythm section) that he called the Little Big Band, which offered a lot of the same firepower and nuance of a much larger ensemble. Brian McCarthy took much the same approach here with his nine-piece band. While not a big band in actuality, it has the musical depth and scope of one. This project has a very different – and very specific - thematic focus. Civil War history buff McCarthy crafted fresh, extended arrangements for Union and Confederate folk songs from that era, and added two originals written to reflect the same spirit and style. Each is a gem in its own way.

The title track, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” is a musical interpretation of Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address. “Shiloh” is an aching ballad that reflects on the first battle of the Civil War that saw large-scale death and suffering, and features McCarthy on soprano sax. The other players on this project include saxophonists Andrew Gutauskas, Stantawn Kendrick and Daniel Ian Smith, trombonist Cameron MacManus, trumpeter Bill Mobley, pianist Justin Kauflin, bassist Matt Aronoff and drummer Zach Harmon. This is terrific from concept to delivery.

John Vanore, Stolen Moments (Acoustical Concepts)
Philadelphia-based trumpeter John Vanore assembled this all-star ensemble to celebrate Oliver Nelson's musical legacy. This year would have been the 85th birthday of Nelson, who passed away in 1975. Featuring a 14-piece band augmented by percussion on one Latin track, this is Nelson’s music as reimagined and arranged by Vanore. 

The CD includes six Nelson originals, “Blues and the Abstract Truth,” “El Gato” (written to honor Gato Barbieri), “I Hope in Time a Change Will Come” (featuring saxophonist Steve Nelson),“Reuben’s Rondo,” “Self-Help is Needed” and “Stolen Moments.” Vanore’s band  also updates three of the standards that Nelson arranged and recorded - “A Taste of Honey,” “Greensleeves” and “St. Louis Blues.” This was a long-overdue way to spotlight Oliver Nelson’s important contributions to jazz – and freshen the material rather than merely do a repertory stroll through his charts.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Looking ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview

The snowbirds will start trickling back this fall, which means it’s almost concert season again. Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through November. (I'll freshen this every six weeks or so, right through spring.)

  • Friday, September 8 – Singer Tony Bennett at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Saraasota. 8 p.m. (Postponed until a date TBD in 2018 because of Hurricane Irma.)
  • Monday, October 9 – The Charlotte County Jazz Society opens its 2017-18 concert season with a double cocert featuring the Dick Hamilton Sextet and the Mike Markaverich Trio. Cultural Center Theater, Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, October 19 to Sunday, October 22 Clearwater Jazz Holiday. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Postmodern Jukebox are the two closest things to jazz among the seven headliners. Jazz acts include Jon Cleary, Jason Miles with the Music of Weather Report, Theo Croker, Shaun Martin, Mino Cinelu and Gerald Veasley. Otherwise lots of blues, indie rock and vintage Motown. Coachman Park.
    Russell Malone
  • Wednesday, October 25 – Guitarist Russell Malone is special guest with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s season opener at Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, November 12 – A concert celebrating the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, featuring trumpeter Dan Miller, violinist Glenn Basham and  11-year-old piano sensation Brandon Goldberg. East Naples United Methodist Church.  3 p.m.
  • Monday, November 13 – Pianist Johnny Varro’s Swing Seven in concert. The Charlotte County Jazz Society, Cultural Center Theater, Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, November 15 – Tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart is special guest with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s monthly performance at Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Friday, November 17 to Sunday, November 19 Suncoast Jazz Classic at Clearwater Beach. The wide-ranging lineup includes the Bill Allred-Allen Vaché Florida All Stars, Dave Bennett, Danny Sinoff, and the West Coast trad jazz band High Sierra. 
  • Saturday, November 25 – Guitarists John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring’s Meeting of the Spirits tour, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. 8 p.m. 
  • Wednesday, November 29 – 20th anniversary tour of Dave Koz Christmas, teaming the alto saxophonist with fellow smoothies David Benoit, Rick Braun, Peter White and Selina Albright. Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. 7:30 p.m.
Johnny Varro
Several local restaurants (including J.D.’s in Port Charlotte, 88 Keys Florida and The Turtle Club in Punta Gorda, Fandango in Sarasota, The Roadhouse and The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in Ft. Myers, and The Side Door Jazz Club at Slate’s in Cape Coral, offer jazz steadily). A variety of Friday matinee concerts sponsored all season by the Jazz Club of Sarasota and the South County Jazz Club also keep things swinging for jazz lovers.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

If you dig music, dig a little deeper

The Jazz Foundation of America's Musicians Emergency Fund stepped up big time to help New Orleans musicians after Hurricane Katrina and its catastrophic flooding aftermath. And it is preparing to reach out to Texas jazz, blues and roots musicians affected by Hurricane Harvey.

The Jazz Foundation will help them rebuild, repairing homes, replacing belongings and treasured instruments and even replacing work.

Here's a link where you can join me and others in the music community in supporting this great effort.

Some background if you're unfamiliar. The Jazz Foundation brought over 1,000 musicians and their families back after Katrina by rehousing them, donating top-shelf instruments and creating paying gigs for hundreds. 

It also was there for hundreds affected by Superstorm Sandy. It also helped rebuild the homes of the musicians who lost everything in last year's devastating floods in Baton Rouge.

For 26 years, the Jazz Foundation has been keeping jazz and blues alive by helping the musicians who have played with everyone from Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday to Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. It assists in more than 5,000 cases a year nationwide.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Swinging the heck out of gypsy jazz

There is something simultaneously exotic, passionate and downright swinging about gypsy jazz. That's the all-strings musical style that guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli popularized with their Hot Club of France collaborations in the 1930s and '40s.
Keven Aland

Southwest Florida has its own splendid version of that Hot Jazz/Jazz Manouche sound. Sarasota-based Hot Club of SRQ, directed by violinist Keven Aland, plays regularly all over the area with groupings that range from duo, trio and quartet to larger possibilities depending on the event or venue's needs - and budget.

I caught them two Sundays ago at the tap room at Fat Point Brewery in Punta Gorda. This time out, the band was the trio - with Aland, guitarist Jon McLaughlin and bassist Glenn Stevenson. They dug into a wide range of material, not just from the gypsy jazz canon. But they performed it in that mesmerizing, collective style.

On any given gig, their repertoire may weave through Parisian jazz, rumba flamenco, bebop, bossa nova, tango, Afro-Cuban music and the Great American Songbook as they explore fresh facets in the music of Rienhardt, Stochelo Rosenberg, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Bireli Lagrene, Dizzy Gillespie. Listen close and you may hear a Beatles lick worked into a gypsy-jazz tune.

Aland and McLaughlin performing 
Sidnet Bechet's "Si Tu Vois Ma Mere."

Aland is a classically trained violinist who fell in love with gypsy jazz during his college days when he heard Grappelli-Reinhardt recordings. While working in a variety of musical contexts, he started putting together a band with authentic gypsy-jazz instrumentation around 2001. The band and the sound have been evolving ever since.

"This style is a great vehicle for expression," Aland says. "A lot of people who may say they don't like jazz come up to me and say they like our music."

The lineup for quartet and quintet gigs, has included guitarist Nikola Baltic, bassists Don Mopsick or J.P. Coley, and clarinetist Jim Snyder. 

The Hot Club of SRQ Quintet, featuring Aland, Baltic, McLaughlin, Stevenson and reed player Rodney Rojas, performs Sunday, September 24 at the Side Door at The Palladium in St. Petersburg at 3 pm.

Hot Club of SRQ performs every Saturday at the State Street Eating House in downtown Sarasota, and alternates Sunday afternoons between Fat Point Brewery in Punta Gorda  and Cask &  Ale in Sarasota.

Thursday nights, the duo version of the band is at The Cottage Restaurant on Siesta Key. Aland performs with McLaughlin or Nick Baltic on guitar.
Stevenson, Aland, McLaughlin at Fat Point Brewing
Hot Club of SRQ performs in a variety of other locations as well. Check out the band schedule for details.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Assignment Newport

George Wein
This was the 37th consecutive year that I've gone to Newport on assignments to cover the Jazz Festival and/or the Folk Festival. 

That long  run started when George Wein brought the jazz festival back to the City-by-the-Sea in 1981 after a 10-year absence. 

This year' s coverage was for Jazz Times and New Orleans-based Offbeat magazine, as well as this blog.

Here is a link to my photo coverage for JazzTimes.  

Here is a link to images of New Orleans musicians published by Offbeat.  

It's been a splendid run so far. I look forward to 2018 and documenting the festival's continuing evolution.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Newport Jazz Festival looks to its future

There was a palpable shift in the musical air at this year's Newport Jazz Festival, the first year in which the new artistic director, Christian McBride, put his stamp on the event. 
Christian McBride, George Wein

Founding producer George Wein, 91, still heads the Newport Festival Foundation that runs the jazz and folk festivals in Newport. But the musical choices mostly were McBride's, and that lineup delivered the largest weekend attendance the festival has seen in quite a few years.

Combined attendance was 25,500 for the three afternoons at Fort Adams State Park and a sold-out opening night concert at historic Newport Casino on Friday, August 4. Saturday's attendance at Fort Adams was 9,600, just 500 tickets shy of a sellout for the day.
Maceo Parker

The biggest crowd draws were Maceo Parker and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones on Friday, the collective Snarky Puppy on Saturday, and Sunday's main stage closing act, The Roots, the hip-hop and rap-laced backing band on NBC's Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.  

Benny Golson
McBride drew mightily on his native Philadelphia's music scene for the 2017 festival, blending adventourous, talented players from the jazz tradition and beyond. The grand old man of this year's performers, Benny Golson, 88, is a Philly native. 

Other talents from the City of Brotherly Love included McBride's own powerful big band, B-3 organ player Joey DeFrancesco, pianist Orrin Evans, and drummer Questlove. The Roots drummer also teamed with McBride and pianist Uri Caine  for a Quad Stage combination they called "Philadelphia Experiment" with DJ Logic as a special guest.

Introducing DeFrancesco's set that closed out the Quad Stage on Friday, McBride said "This feels like a Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts reunion." (DeFrancesco, Questlove (Amair Khalib Thompson) and The Roots' rapper Black Thought (Tariq Trotter) were classmates of McBride.

Favorite weekend acts for these eyes and ears:
  • Benny Golson's quartet with pianist Mike LeDonne, bassist Buster WiIlliams and drummer Carl Allen.
  • The modern bop collective One For All, now in its 20th year of performances. The band includes tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Jim Rotondi (who flew in for Austria for the gig), trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth.
    Spalding and Carrington
  • Terri Lyne Carrington and Esparanza Spalding's poignant "Flying Toward the Sound" celebration of late band mate Geri Allen, who died from cancer in June. Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer and Christian Sands shared the piano duties.
  • On the main stage, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene's quartet on Friday, the Christian McBride Big Band, with special guests Warren Wolf (vibes) and Sean Jones (trumpet) on Saturday, and Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra on Sunday.
  • Joey DeFrancesco's quartet, The People.
  • The Danilo Perez-led Jazz 100 project, which honored the music of Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Mongo Santamaria and Ella Fitzgerald on the centennial of their births in 1917.
  • Trumpeter Dominick Farinacci's octet featuring vibraphonist Christian Tamburr, and drummer Antonio Sanchez & Migration.
  • The supergroup Hudson, with drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Larry Grenadier, pianist John Medeski and guitarist John Scofield, whose powerful set blended jam band-style originals and jazz covers of classic rock tunes.

Trombone Shorty
Newport for many years has solidified its link to the birthplace of jazz. New Orleans musicians were a solid presence again this year, with clarinetist Evan Christopher, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, pianist David Torkanowsky and saxophonist Branford Marsalis’s quartet.

At the start of his Friday afternoon set on the Quad Stage at Fort Adams State Park, Christopher told the crowd his band, Clarinet Road, “is not even about the clarinet anymore. It’s about presenting the great music of New Orleans, which turns 300 next year.”

Trombone Shorty, who plays trombone, trumpet and sings, headlined Friday’s opening night concert at the International Tennis Hall of Fame at Newport Casino, the charming original home of the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954.

The Newport Jazz Festival's presenting sponsor is Natixis Global Asset Management.

Here is a link to my photo coverage for JazzTimes.  

Here is a link to images for Offbeat.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Exceptional jazz with firepower

John Allmark’s Monday evenings at the Met Café in Pawtucket RI generally feature his very fine big band. This past Monday, Allmark presented his octet, a brass-rich band that gives each player a bit more time in the spotlight than the big-band format permits.

For that evening, the horn line included Allmark (trumpet), Tucker Antell (tenor sax), Mark Vint (alto sax), Angel Subero (trombone) and Bob Bowlby (baritone sax), Dennis Hughes (piano), Bill Miele (electric bass) and Jim Lattini (drums) comprised the rhythm section.

Allmark, Antell
The octet’s first set included a wide range of bop classics from the likes of Horace Silver, Benny Golson and Kenny Dorham, artfully arranged to feature the textures and possibilities of the horns. The band also dug deep into Dave Holland’s “Blue Jean,” which was a feature for Bowlby, and a spirited take on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” that closed the set.

Antell turned the evening from something very fine into something way over the top – in a good way. The southwest Florida native, now based in Boston, is blessed with limitless ideas as a soloist and possesses incredible endurance as a player. He was on fire on Golson’s “Blues After Dark.” But that was just a precursor for the night’s finest moment.

Tucker Antell
Allmark featured Antell on Sonny Stitt’s “The Eternal Triangle,” which Stitt recorded with Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins on Gillespie’s 1957 album “Sonny Side Up.” Allmark introduced that Antell spotlight by quipping “the rest of us are going to go home now and kill ourselves.” The other horn players exited the stage but were within earshot for what transpired.

With just the trio backing him, Antell launched into a seven-minutes-plus solo with wave upon wave of musical passion. It was reminiscent of tenor player Paul Gonsalves’ famous “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” interlude on Duke Ellington’s career-reviving 1956 appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival.

It was stunning to say the least. [Here's a link to his live feed on Facebook that evening.]

Allmark will be back at The Met on August 7 with his big band, the John Allmark Jazz Orchestra.  
Allmark, Antell, Vint, Subero, Bowlby, Lattini

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Musical impacts linger in jazz and beyond

If you’ve ever experienced a musical epiphany, you know of what I write.

It’s about those special encounters with music – not necessarily jazz – where you walk away with goose bumps from the experience. The memories linger for a long time. Perhaps it was the band’s chemistry and musical conversation, perhaps some other intangibles, something that leaves you almost speechless, beyond saying “wow.”

I was reminded of that impact of music last weekend in western Massachusetts at Mass MoCA, the sprawling contemporary art museum in North Adams, housed in a 250,000 square-foot former mill complex.

Mass MoCA’s many exhibits include Dawn DeDeaux and Lonnie Holley’s collaborative installation, Thumbs Up For The Mothership. 

Their multi-faceted installation consists primarily of found objects that were recrafted and are exhibited in ways designed to provoke serious thinking about the issues facing our planet.

The Strength of Music.....
Holley’s portion of the exhibit space included the folk artist and musician’s installation called Vox Humana III: The Strength of Music Lives After the Instruments Are Destroyed.

This Alabama-born artist, now based in Atlanta, combined a wide range of junked/destroyed musical instruments into a visual commentary. To me, it said, the best musical experience lingers long after the notes ebb into the night.

Other viewers may have different takeaways. That's just fine. That's art's purpose. Right?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

When less is more

Simplicity can be a breath of fresh air in jazz. One such example occurred on Thursday, July 20 when drummer-singer Patricia Dean performed at the Venice FL: Performing Art's Center's Local Spotlight Festival, an intimate summer lobby series.

Patricia Dean
Dean appeared with bassist Don Mopsick and guitarist Dave Trefethen as "Patricia + 2." Their performance was inspired by singer Sarah Vaughan's classic 1962 recording Sarah + 2 with guitarist Barney Kessel and bassist Joe Comfort.

The slimmed-down format brought simplicity and sensitivity to the material they dug into because none of the musicians got in each other's way. The result often was simultaneously cool and sultry, with Dean offering beautiful vocals and preferring brushes to drumsticks most of the night.
Dean, Mopsick, Trefethen

The material favored the Great American Songbook - with a few pleasant exceptions. There were two Jobim bossa novas ("Once I Loved" and "Corcovado"), Bobby Troup's "Baby, Baby, All The Time," the Etta Jones staple "Don't Go to Strangers" and Dean's cool version of the Kingston Trio hit "Scotch and Soda." Dean also stepped away from her drum kit to update Nancy Wilson's classic take on "Guess Who I Saw Today."

Trefethen had terrific solo spotlights on the Bill Evans ballad "Sometime Ago" and "I'm Old Fashioned." Mopsick was featured on "I'm Confessin' That I Love You" and "Love Was Made for Me and You."

It was quite fitting that Dean included one tune from Sarah Vaughan's classic Sarah + 2 recording. It was "Key Largo," which jazz great Benny Carter wrote for the Humphrey Bogart movie of the same name. This version was wistful and understated, ideal qualities in this context.

The jazz portion of this Venice Institute for the Performing Arts summer series concludes on Friday, August 4 with vibes player Dave Morgan's trio (originally scheduled for August 10).
Patricia Dean, Don Mopsick, Dave Trefethen

Friday, July 14, 2017

Pianist will be remembered at Newport

Suffice it to say, Geri Allen will be there in spirit.

The pianist had been scheduled to perform at this year's Newport Jazz Festival on Saturday, August 5 in the all-star, all-woman trio that has featured her with bassist Esparanza Spalding and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington.
Geri Allen at Newport, August 2004

That changed late last month when Allen succumbed to cancer.

Under the new plan, Allen will be honored with a one-set performance being called Flying Towards the Sound: For Geri, With Love. Carrington and Spalding will share the stage at Fort Adams State Park with three pianists who were proteges, collaborators and/or friends of Allen: Vijay Iyer, Jason Moran and Christian Sands. 

"Geri was a beautiful person whose impact on the music she loved will last forever. She was a unique artist, dedicated to the rights of men and women. She cannot be replaced. I'm glad to have known her for so many years," said George Wein, Newport Jazz Festival founder in a news release from Newport Festivals Foundation.

Festival producer Danny Melnick said the musicians "will honor and celebrate Geri's life and music in a poignant and personal way." 

It should be quite emotional for the performers and the audience.  

Natixis Global Asset Management is the Presenting Sponsor of this year's festival, scheduled August 4-6 at Fort Adans and the International Tennis Hall of Fame at the Newport Casino. 

Other artists in the extensive lineup include The Roots, Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, Snarky Puppy,  the One For All collective, Joey DeFrancesco, saxophonists Benny Golson, Branford Marsalis and Maceo Parker, the Christian McBride Big Band with special guests, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, and the supergroup Hudson with Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski & John Scofield. Also, Trombone Shorty, clarinetist Evan Christopher, trumpeters Dominic Farinacci, Sean Jones and Wadada Leo Smith, and singers Cyrille Aimee, Andra Day, Rhiannon Giddens, Leslie Odom Jr. and Cécile McLorin Salvant.

For the complete lineup and more information, visit www.newportjazz.org.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Gates and Morgan – two different takes on vocal jazz

Giacomo Gates
Hot House, New York City’s long-running monthly jazz guide, asked me to profile singer Giacomo Gates, as well as preview singer Melissa Morgan’s metro-area gigs for its July issue, which is now out.

It can be read online or downloaded - or picked up at the many metro NYC jazz venues. 

Gates and Morgan have their own jazz vocal niches because of their approach and specialties. 
Melissa Morgan

You can read here about Giacomo, a master of many trades.

Melissa’s spotlight is available here

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The jazz of summer

The concert season in southern Florida pretty much mirrors the months when the area has the most visitors and seasonal residents.... say October through late April or early May. While that makes great sense, some programmers are also taking note that a considerable number of Floridians don't go north for the summer, or for the full summer.

A fair number of restaurants still offer jazz entertainment for their patrons year-round and there are concert gigs if you look for them.

Here's one of the latest examples. The Venice Institute for Performing Arts is running a Local Spotlight Festival throughout June, July and August in the lobby of the Venice Performing Arts Center. It includes a Summer Jazz Series of once-a-month concerts featuring fine area musicians.
Dick Hamilton

The first such jazz event was a Thursday, June 22 concert by Dick Hamilton's quartet, which featured the leader on keyboard and trombone, guitarist Steve Martinucci, bassist John DeWitt and drummer Johnny Moore. All four musicians are based in Sarasota.

Their fare included a wide range of jazz staples and material from the Great American Songbook. 

Dick Hamilton & Steve Martinucci
The finest moments included Martinucci's feature on "Emily," which revealed his beautiful warm instrumental tone, and several tunes on which Hamilton shifted to trombone and went head-to-head with the guitarist in trading melodic ideas. They included Harold Arlen's "A Sleepin' Bee," "Here's That Rainy Day" performed with a bossa-nova feel, and "You Stepped Out of a Dream."

The Venice-based South County Jazz Club now holds several of its major concerts at VPAC (three are scheduled in the 2017-2018 season) and helped the Institute with the programming for this new summer series. The remaining concerts feature drummer-singer Patricia Dean's trio (with bassist Don Mopsick and guitarist Dave Trefethen) on Thursday, July 20, and vibraphonist Dave Morgan's trio on Thursday, August 10.
Johnny Moore, John DeWitt, Dick Hamilton, Steve Martinucci