Sunday, March 18, 2018

Looking ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview

Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through May.
Alexis Cole
  • Sunday, March 25 – Singer Alexis Cole in concert. Firehouse Cultural Center, Ruskin. 3:30 p.m.
    Warren Wolf
  • Wednesday, March 28 - Vibraphonist Warren Wolf guests with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s All That Jazz series. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 31 – The Bossa Nova All Stars featuring guitarist Nate Najar, vibes player Chuck Redd, saxophonist Harry Allen and singer Maucha Adnet. A South County Jazz Club-Venice Institute for the Performing Arts concert. Venice Performing Arts Center. 7 p.m. 
Herb Bruce
April is Jazz Appreciation Month
  • Monday, April 9 - Dixieland Jazz Night closes out the Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s 2017-18 concert series. Trombonist Herb Bruce and his Herbicide Jazz Band provide the swinging merriment. William H. Wakeman III Theater, Cultural Center of Charlotte County, 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 12 - A Night of Gypsy Jazz with Hot Club SRQ. A South County Jazz Club concert at Venice Art Center, Venice, 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, April 15 - The Four Freshmen. Glenridge Performing Arts Center, Sarasota. 2 p.m.
  • Sunday, April 15 – Trumpeter Chris Botti, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota. 8 p.m. 
  • Monday, April 16 - Trumpeter Chris Botti with the Naples Philharmonic, Hayes Hall, Artis Naples, 8 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 18 - Trumpeter Randy Brecker is the featured guest with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s All That Jazz series. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Monday, April 30 - This is International Jazz Day across the globe.St. Petersburg, Russia is this year's Global Host City.
  • Wednesday, May 16 - The Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra plays The music of Miles Davis in the season finale of the sextet’s All That Jazz series. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 and 8:30 p.m.

Several local restaurants (including J.D.’s in Port Charlotte, 88 Keys Florida and The Blue Turtle in Punta Gorda, Fandango in Sarasota, The Roadhouse and The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in Fort Myers, and Slate’s in Cape Coral) offer jazz steadily. A variety of matinee concerts sponsored all season by the Jazz Club of Sarasota and the South County Jazz Club also keep things swinging for jazz lovers.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Honoring Buddy, Rosie and many more

Buddy Rich and Rosemary Clooney were top of mind when trumpeter-singer David Pruyn brought his Jazz Legacy Big Band back to Port Charlotte on Monday, March 12. Both received multi-song tributes in this artful program. The evening also highlighted the music of other big-band leaders, composers and arrangers - some well known, some deserving of far more recognition. 
David Pruyn
Pruyn drafted an A-team of Florida jazz musicians for this Charlotte County Jazz Society concert, with drummer Eddie Metz Jr. powering the band. Area newcomer Roy Gerson, a nationally known jazz pianist who moved to Naples seven months ago, and bassist Charlie Silva completed the rhythm section. The leader's wife, the talented singer Michele James-Pruyn, spiced up the evening with a half-dozen tunes, five of them from the Clooney hit parade. 

The Buddy Rich tribute was fitting, because hearing drummer Rich's road band live in 1969 as a kid drummer in his father's circus band whetted Pruyn's appetite for big band jazz. The New Orleans native has spent time on a half-dozen of the big-name big-bands that have tour the country over the years. In addition to leading the band heard this night, he also is the new leader of the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra.
Eddie Metz Jr.

The Rich-related portions of the concert included Buddy's traditional opening number, Sammy Nestico's "Ya Gotta Try," (which was Pruyn's opener this night); a big-band take on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave," on which bass trombonist Chris Lundquist's solo floated over the reed section's flute chorus; another longtime Rich opener, "Mexicali Nose"; and a "West Side Story" medley that Rich had commissioned for his band. The latter spotlighted Metz and hornman Scott Melamerson, who had been Rich's lead trumpeter.
Michele James-Pruyn

The Clooney tribute included "Something's Gotta Give," the feverish "Mambo Italiano," "Hey There" from The Pajama Game, "Someone to Watch Over Me" and the frisky "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening." James-Pruyn also delivered a poignant take on the Luis Bonfa bossa nova "The Gentle Rain."

Roy Gerson
Other big band gems delivered this night included Bob Florence's melancholy composition "Autumn," Phil Kelly's arrangement of "Sweet Georgia Upside Down" (recorded by trombonist Bill Watrous and the Manhattan Wiildlife Refuge),Oliver Nelson's "Baja Bossa,"and Pruyn's take on Woody Herman's vocal hit, "Sonny Boy." He also sang on a Ron McConnell arrangement of the Mel Torme hit "Liza, "Fools Rush In" and the Sergio Mendes hit "Like a Lover."  

The program closed with Mike Barone's "Peachy," which was trumpeter Doc Severinsen's "Tonight Show" closing number when he fronted the band.
Danny Jordan

Tenor saxophonist Danny Jordan was a solo powerhouse, with spotlight moments on the Tom Kubis arrangement of "When You're Smiling," "Autumn" and "Mexicali Nose," among others. Alto saxophonists Peter BarenBregge and Valerie Gillespie were featured respectively on ""Baja Bossa" and Patrick Williams' arrangement of the Ray Noble composition "I Hadn't Anyone 'Til You."   

The concert drew an estimated 375 people to the Charlotte County Cultural Center's William H. Wakeman III Theater.

Jazz Legacy Big Band

Monday, March 12, 2018

A tasty and filling jazz smorgasbord

The Sarasota Jazz Festival took on a jazz party flavor at its 38th annual event, March 8-10, which, under this year's "A World of Jazz" theme, featured 15 musicians from seven countries. 

Its four major concerts blended festival first-timers and familiar faces in a format that  changed combinations of on-stage musicians frequently in creative ways. In his first year as the festival's new music director, reedman Ken Peplowski kept things vibrant and at times surprising - and joined in as a player several times per show. He also used his self-deprecating sense of humor to great effect.
Sinne Eeg

Danish drummer Kristian Leth's Scandinavian Jazztrio with Swedish bassist Hans Backenroth and Danish pianist Ole Hansen, was the featured rhythm section for most of the concert sets.

Here were some highlight moments:
  • Danish singer Sinne Eeg's performance of Lionel Hampton's "Evil Man Blues" in a duet with Backenroth during her Thursday night performance with the trio. The talented vocalist added gender-bending twists to the original Leonard Feather lyrics to turn the song into a teasing ode about "an evil girl."
  • Thursday's second set featured tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene
    Jeremy Pelt
    and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt with the trio.The two horn players are frequent collaborators whose boppish sounds work well together. Pelt stepped away from the microphone and delivered a stunning acoustic solo feature on "Little Girl Blue" - showcasing his beautiful translucent tone and melodic invention. Audience members rose from their seats after this mid-set moment.
  • Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo performed Friday night
    Hyman, Peplowski, Figueiredo
    with Greene and Italian singer Chiara Izzi, and in several combinations at Saturday afternoon's jam-style concert, including a guitar duo with Los Angeles-based Graham Dechter. At the end of Friday set, Figueoredo and Peplowski invited 91-year-old pianist Dick Hyman to come up from the audience. He joined them for a trio version of Luis Bonfa's "Samba de Orpheus."
  • Tenor saxophonist Houston Person and guitarist Dechter performed with the Scandinavian trio in Friday's closing set. Person showed again and again how he is a soulful balladeer on the horn, then brought out Peplowski for a two-tenor take on Bobby Hebb's pop hit "Sunny."
  • The Saturday jam closed with an all-hands on deck version of "Perdido" that featured two drummers - Leth and Jeff Hamilton, who was this year's recipient of the festival's Satchmo Award for his career contributions to jazz.
    Ole Hansen
  • Two fine piano moments stood out at Saturday night's opening set, which featured Peplowski, Israeli-born pianist Ehud Asherie, Backenroth and Leth. To start the show, Peplowski asked Ole Hansen to perform one number with Backenroth and Leth. The Danish pianist, composer and bandleader's feature moment, quite appropriately, was a jazz version of the traditional Swedish folk song "O, Tysta Ensamhet," which translates as Oh, Silent Loneliness.
    Ehud Asherie
    Later in the set, Asherie delivered an impressionistic solo piano take on Fats Waller's classical-tinged "Clothes Line Ballet."
  • Akiko Tsuruga
  • Japanese organist Akiko Tsuruga performed a rousing final set on Saturday in a trio with drummer Hamilton and guitarist Dechter. This rising star in jazz has been part of saxophonist Lou Donaldson's organ quartet for a decade. The three trio members were fueled by each other's energy and ideas throughout the set. They were joined at mid-set by Person, whose spotlight on "My Romance" drew out Tsuruga's subtle side as an accompanist.
With 10 fresh faces and five SJF veterans - Figueiredo, Hamilton, Hyman, Peplowski and Person - this festival had much to offer.

The 2018 festival had been scheduled for the new Art Ovation Hotel in downtown Sarasota. Because of a delay in the venue's opening, the performances were moved to Riverview Performing Arts Center, which was the festival's home for the past three years.

Here are a few more visual treats:
Jimmy Greene
Graham Dechter

Satchmo Award-winner Jeff Hamilton, Graham Dechter
Houston Person, Akiko Tsuruga
Kristan Leth

Hansen, Greene, Eeg, Backenroth, Pelt, Peplowski, Leth

Graham Dechter, Diego Figueiredo

Chiara Izzi
Houston Person

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Jazz with an unrivaled intimacy

There is nothing quite like the intimacy and congeniality at a jazz house party. That was clear on Thursday, March 1, when bassist Michael Ross and his wife, Amanda, welcomed about 40 friends and jazz lovers into their Sarasota FL home for an evening of music.
Michael Ross

The band for the one-hour-plus set of music included Ross, singer-percussionist Fred Johnson and reed player Danny Jordan, who performed on tenor sax and several flutes.

This was like having jazz in your living room - except for the fact that it was held outside on Ross's lush garden patio as the full moon rose in the distance.

Fred Johnson
St. Petersburg-based Johnson's deft fingers added colors and accents with his cajon, a box-shaped wooden percussion instrument on which he
sat, but his vocal creativity carried the night. 

His delivery is bluesy and soulful, the audience hanging onto every note, many of them stretched or reshaped to fit the emotion of the message or the moment. He also emulated the sound of a slide trombone as a vocal effect - done sparingly and tastefully.

There were several clear highlights.
  • Pointing to the rising moon at appropriate moments, Johnson delivered a beautiful lyric he improvised on the spot. This song was all about the rhythm of the heart - and the first time seeing the moon rising up in the distance so many years ago. 
  • His interpretations of two classic pop hits: Sting's "Fragile" (with Jordan adding a beautiful flute solo) and Bill Withers' "Lovely Day."
  • A wonderful, daring technique that Johnson calls "sound sculpture." He invited audience members to offer various words - though in two cases he was delivered phrases - that he could transform into a song. And what a range: serenity, positivity, bougainvillea, I lost my keys, sexuality, hallelujah, I want to find a room somewhere, plus a few more. After about a minute's reflection, he delivered a cohesive, sometimes humorous song that was beautiful and fit the moment. Impressive to say the least.
Michael Ross, Fred Johnson, Danny Jordan
Johnson, Jordan and Ross are longtime collaborators, frequently with a bigger ensemble, but the trio format for this evening, giving each of them ample room to blend their talents. Other tunes explored included "Every Day I Have the Blues," "Autumn Leaves" and "God Bless The Child."

They will appear in a quintet format with guitarist LaRue Nickelson and  drummer Walt Hubbard, on Sunday afternoon, March 11, at a Tampa Jazz Club matinee concert at Hillsborough Community College Ybor campus in Tampa at 3 p.m.

A bit more about the house party concept. Musicians the with space to do so ought to consider it as a treat for their fans. A donation jar with a suggested amount, like the $15 apiece in this case, means the musicians get paid a decent amount (as much or more than they might get on the usual bar or restaurant gig). 

And if you invite the neighbors, they won't complain about the extra cars parked on the street or in front of their houses. It will also strengthen their appreciation of your musical talents.

Monday, February 26, 2018

An artful blending of two musical genres

Jazz and classical music rarely intersect. But they make interesting bedfellows when brought together by two musicians who are well at ease in both fields.

Such was the case on Saturday, February 24 when pianist Dick Hyman and reed player Ken Peplowski joined forces with a  47-member orchestra conducted by Yakov Bergman. The "Symphony of Broadway" program at the Venice (FL) Performing Arts Center featured a wide variety of band formats..

Dick Hyman and Ken Peplowski
Hyman, who turns 91 on March 8, has been a prolific pianist, organist, composer, arranger, bandleader, composer of film scores and orchestral works in his long and distinguished career. He was honored last April as a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master.

Peplowski, best known as a proponent of swinging mainstream jazz, also delves into the classical world on occasion, and has been a frequent collaborator with Hyman for many years in many contexts.

Hyman opened the program with a solo piano version of "Lullaby of Broadway" that at times was delicate, playful and bold as he segued through a wide range of jazz  styles. Then came two piano-clarinet duos, "Forty-Second Street" and "Broadway," that celebrated the Hyman-Peplowski rapport. The evening for the most part also paid homage to the vibrant music scene that dominated New York City's Broadway and the jazz clubs that were clustered along the famous thoroughfare or its side streets..
The sextet

The first set ended with  Hyman's delicate four-part "Sextet for Clarinet, Piano and Strings," which they performed with a string quartet.
Peplowski with strings attached

The second half of the program was the most ambitious and impactful. It opened with the world premiere of "Three Delights for Clarinet and Orchestra," which Hyman composed and dedicated to Peplowski. The rest of the evening took on a jazzier feel, sometimes enhanced by the full orchestra. At other times, with just a jazz quartet format. 
Emulating a dusky jazz club

Hyman had the stage lights dimmed to create a dusky jazz club feel for a quartet version of "Lester Leaps In," the first of several tunes that featured Peplowski on tenor sax. The quartet, with Alejandro Arenas on bass and Mark Feinman on drums, got subtle orchestral backing for "How Long Has This Been Going On." Peplowski shifted back to clarinet on Cy Coleman's :With Every Breath I Take" from the film City of Angels. He then featured Hyman on George and Ira Gershwin's ballad "Liza" from the 1929 Ziegfeld musical Show Girl. 

The evening came to a rousing finish with Hyman's Dixieland-style arrangement of "Give My Regards to Broadway," performed with the full orchestra and featuring solos by Herb Bruce on trombone and Peplowski on clarinet.

The concert was co-produced by the Venice Institute for Performing Arts and the South County Jazz Club. 
Ken Peplowski, with Yakow Bergman at the podium
Hyman and Peplowski were featured with a 47-piece orchestra.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

More moments to savor from The Jazz Cruise's 2018 edition

From late morning to early the next morning, the music was varied - and a constant - on the 2018 edition of The Jazz Cruise, aboard the M/S Celebrity Summit on its February 3-10 sailing out of Fort Lauderdale.

It's Mardi Gras time
Here are more musical moments, captured visually. The cruise, for the first time, made a 27-hoour stop in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz. This year, the Crescent City is celebrating its 300th birthday.

Christof Luty
James Morrison and Eric Marienthal
David Alvarez III
Bobby Floyd, Wycliffe Gordon
Emmet Cohen, Veronica Swift
Troy Roberts, Joey DeFrancesco

Emmet Cohen
Lewis Nash
The Clayton Brothers, Jeff and John
Ameen Saleem

The Jeff Hamilton Trio with Tamir Hendelman & Christof Luty

Graham Dechter, Ernie Adams, Gary Smulyan

Trio Da Paz

Emmet Cohen, Veronica Swift, Ann Hampton Callaway

Renee Rosnes

Musical Director Shelly Berg
Benny Green

John Pizzarelli, Ken Peplowski

Shelly Berg, David Finck

Konrad Paszkudzki, Nicki Parrott

Rickey Woodard, Martin Wind, Graham Dechter up close
Joe LaBarbera, Jeff Hamilton & Ernie Adams honoring Lewis Nash
The Rendezvous Lounge often was standing room only, including Benny Green's performances

The Cookers