Friday, April 20, 2018

Solo piano artistry - and then some

Pianist Bobby van Deusen is a master of the keyboard, blessed with an astonishing musical range in terms of genres, sound dynamics and sheer artistry. And those elements were all on display on Friday, April 20 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice.

The Philadelphia native, now based in the Florida Panhandle, is best known for his work in the ragtime, stride and Dixieland genres. But his reach goes much deeper and wider.

On this afternoon, he performed Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" and lesser-known "Sunflower Slow Drag;" "The Last Date," written by his good friend Floyd Cramer, who was a first-call studio pianist in Memphis and Nashville; "Baubles, Bangles & Beads" from the 1953 Broadway musical Kismet (and soon recorded by Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra), and a stunning cover of "Take the A Train," inspired by Duke's 1978 70th birthday concert version at Carnegie Hall. 

The lively afternoon also included vocals and crowd sing-alongs on several popular standards, such as "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "King of the Road."

The powerhouse highlights included two George Gershwin tunes: "Our Love is Here to Stay," which was the last tune he wrote in his prolific career (and van Deusen's all-time favorite tune), and "Rhapsody in Blue." 

The concert gem was the first-set closer: van Deusen's 15-minutes-plus medley of the music from Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera." It prompted a standing ovation.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Celebrating the gypsy jazz legacy

Violinist Keven Aland's Hot Club of SRQ brought its fascinating update of the gypsy jazz tradition to the Venice Art Center on Thursday, April 12, in a concert co-produced by the South County Jazz Club.
Keven Aland

The program built on the Hot Club of France tradition, drawing much material from gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and his disciples. Reinhardt co-led the Hot Club of France Quintet with French violinist Stephane Grappelli, starting in 1934.

Jim Snyder
For this performance, the Hot Club of SRQ was also a quintet, with Aland, guitarists Nikola Baltic and Jon McLaughlin, bassist Glenn Stephenson and clarinetist Jim Snyder. On every tune, Baltic and McLaughlin shifted with ease between melodic solos and rhythm guitar duties.

Nikola Baltic

The Reinhardt material included "Swing de Paris," "Douce Ambiance," "Djangology" and "Minor Swing." The band also performed gypsy bossa versions of Reinhardt disciple Stochelo Rosenberg's "For Sefora" and Ninine Garcia's gypsy jazz standard "Paquito." 
Glenn Stephenson

Other material given a gypsy jazz flavor this night included "The Anniversary Song," Jimmy McHugh's "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" (Aland's first vocal feature), the French tune "J’attendrai,” violinist Stuff Smith's "I's a Muggin" and the Yiddyish tune "Bei Mir Bist Do Schoen." 

Jon McLaughlin
"Honeysuckle Rose" showcased the band's tight yet exuberant sound. "Indifference Waltz" included beautiful segments in which Snyder and Aland seamlessly doubled on the melody on clarinet and violin. 

On "Douce Ambiance," Aland's extended solo included snippets of "Eleanor Rigby" and "Tainted Love." 

Snyder, Aland, Stephenson
In these fine hands, anything seems fair game.
Hot Club of SRQ

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Superb music and whimsy combine for a memorable CCJS season finale

Herb Bruce
Trombonist Herb Bruce's repeat visit to the Charlotte County Jazz Society's concert series with his Herbicide Jazz Band was a night of uncontrolled exuberance. Sometimes it was in the music. More often, it was the self-deprecating humor of Bruce and his merry music makers on Monday, April 9's Dixieland Jazz Night.

Herbicide presented excellent music - not always in the traditional Dixieland style. There were some crowd-pleasing vintage set pieces, some new things - including a new face in the area, some borrowed thing and some blue(s). And it all worked seamlessly.
Jim Snyder

Davey Jones
Bruce was joined by trumpeter Davey Jones, clarinetist Jim Snyder, pianist Judi Glover, bassist Charlie Silva and drummer Eddie Metz Jr. Ken Salvo sat in on banjo and rhythm guitar in his first Port Charlotte gig. The recent Florida transplant is a 10-year veteran of Vince Giordano's New York-based Nighthawks trad band.

Patricia Dean
Patricia Dean, joined the band for four vocal numbers. While Dean has taken a drum feature in past performances, she stuck to the microphone this night. Looking over at versatile all-star Metz, she quipped, "I don't play drums when he's in the county."

Together, the band underscored the notion that while jazz is a serious music on many levels, it also can be a lot of fun in the right hands. 
Snyder, Bruce

The highlights included:
  • The band's first-time performance of a Dick Hyman arrangement of "Old Man River," beautiful for its sections of horn riffs and counterpoint.
  • Its versions of "Storyville Blues" and Terry Waddell arrangements of "I Never Knew" and "Royal Garden Blues."
  • Bruce and Snyder doubling their reprise (on trombone and clarinet) of Alphonse Picou's classic clarinet solo on the New Orleans standard "High Society."
  • Jones, subbing for regular trumpeter Don Johnson - who was home mending broken ribs after a fall, delivered exquisite solos all night long in the sometimes growling trad sound. He was featured beautifully on "Pete Kelly's Blues."
  • The band's frenetic delivery of "Cake Walking Babies (From Home)." The 1925 recording by composer Clarence Williams' Blue Five featured a classic head-to-head solo battle between a young Louis Armstrong and soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet.
  • Dean's second-set vocals, which included "Yes Sir, That's My Baby," which became a tip of the hat to Bruce, her husband of nearly 16 years, and a stunning voice-and-bass duet with Silva on "Bye Bye Blackbird." In their hands, it was spare and sultry.
Salvo, Silva
Eddie Metz Jr.
Herbicide's performance drew an audience nearing 300 to the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's William H. Wakeman III Theater in Port Charlotte. It was the largest of the seven concert 2017-18 CCJS season.
Judi Glover


Herbicide Jazz Band

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Honoring and updating a classic saxophone sound and spirit

Bandleader Woody Herman's Second Herd in the late 1940s featured a stunning saxophone section known as the Four Brothers. It featured tenormen Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Herbie Steward, plus baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff. The sound was swinging and vibrant as the four players dug into crisp unison lines and took turns passing solos to one another much like relay runners hand off the baton.

Harry Allen
Seventy years after the Four Brothers made their mark on big band jazz, Harry Allen is having great fun keeping the format and its spirit alive. In October 2016, he recorded a Four-Brothers-style project, The Candymen (Arbors) with his All Star New York Saxophone Band. Allen made the recording with tenorists Eric Alexander and Grant Stewart and baritone player Gary Smulyan. 

Richard Drexler
Allen brought that sound and energy to Hillsborough Community College's Ybor City campus on Sunday, April 7 for a Tampa Jazz Club concert billed as The Four Others. It teamed Allen with fellow tenorists Lew Del Gatto and Jeff Rupert, as well as baritone saxophonist Saul Dautch. Pianist Richard Drexler, bassist Don Mopsick and drummer Eddie Metz Jr. were the afternoon's ace rhythm section.

Eddie Metz Jr.
Much of Sunday's material was drawn from the CD, but Allen also proffered a few new arrangements in the same style. The only composition in the day's program that came from the original Four Brothers lineup was its namesake composition. Allen used Al Cohn's arrangement of the classic Jimmy Giuffre-penned "Four Brothers" as the concert opener, setting the tone for all that followed.

It was an afternoon of hard-driving swing, propelled by Metz's powerhouse drumming, an infectious groove and an array of saxophone textures that fit together as the players added their own musical personalities.
Rupert, Del Gatto, Allen, Mopsick, Dautch

It also showcased Allen's skill as an arranger and composer. He was best known early in his career is a purveyor of the great swing tenor sound - an amalgam at times from torchbearers like Getz, Ben Webster and Lester Young. Now he loves to share his own fine compositions. On this day, they included "The One For You," the frisky "Blues in the Morning," "So There" and "I Can See Forever." 

Rupert, Del Gatto
Don Mopsick
The concert fare also included Rodgers & Hart's "Nobody's Heart Belongs to Me," Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley's "The Candy Man," Duke Ellington's "Jump for Joy," Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan's "The Red Door," and Mulligan's Four Brothers-inspired "Five Brothers." Other gems: the standards "I Wish I Knew," "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," and Howard Arlen & Yip Harburg's "How are Things in Glocka Morra?"

 "The Red Door,"  which may have been named after a jam session joint where Sims hung out when he first arrived in New York, was a searing bop feature for the band. Without a doubt, this was one of the most memorable concerts I've heard this year. 
The Four Others

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The future of jazz is in good hands

Miami-area pianist Brandon Goldberg has soaked up jazz like a sponge takes on water. And he’s been doing so for more than half of his 12 years. He’s a normal kid, polite, poised and eager to learn at every opportunity. Those traits serve him well. That he found his way to jazz – and loves it – is something quite remarkable given the wide variety of musical genres bombarding his peer group.

He started playing piano at age 3, and soon became enamored of jazz when his grandparents played a Rat Pack movie featuring Frank Sinatra. His further exploration of other Rat Pack-related music turned him on to Sinatra's classic 1963 recording with the Count Basie Orchestra, Sinatra at the Sands, and other big band jazz. Then Brandon got hooked on Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, who he calls his biggest influences.

So why jazz? “It really shapes everything," Brandon says. "It gives you the freedom to do whatever you want.”
Brandon has attended the Litchfield Jazz Camp for the past two years. He will return to Litchfield again this summer to continue to strengthen his skills as a player and composer.

Brandon and his mother, Ella, were aboard The Jazz Cruise in February. The cruise was an early 12th birthday present for Brandon. He made the most of the opportunity. Several of the featured bands invited him to sit in during the week, further helping showcase and encourage his young talent. Pianist Benny Green even gave him a private lesson on the last night of the cruise.

Brandon was invited to sit in for a song or two with bassist Marcus Miller's band, Trio da Paz, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, pianist Monty Alexander and trumpeter Randy Brecker’s Brecker Brothers Reunion Band, among others. While the M/S Celebrity Summit was made an overnight stop in New Orleans on Feb 4-5, Brandon also sat in with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in the French Quarter.
Brett Williams, Brandon Goldberg

In his first in-board appearance with Marcus Miller, Goldberg played solo and four-handed piano with the band's regular keyboard player, Brett Williams, "on "Cherokee" and "The Flintstones" theme. Monty Alexander first met Brandon backstage two years ago when both were performing at the Miami Jazz Festival. "When I met this guy two years ago he was mean. Now he's even meaner," Alexander said. He brought up then-11-year-old Brandon to perform “Fly Me to the Moon and “On The Sunny Side of the Street” with Monty joining him on melodica and a bit of four-handed piano. The crowds dug each such appearance by the talented young player.

Days later, Brett Williams was still raving about the experience, and about Brandon’s sheer talent at such a tender age. “It’s freakish,” he said. “There’s a man hidden in that little body.”

On January 19 and 20 went into New York’s Samurai Hotel Recording Studio to make his first recording, which has not yet been released. The session featured producer-bassist Ben Wolfe and drummer Donald Edwards, plus saxophonist Marcus Strickland on several tracks.

Brandon certainly is no stranger to the spotlight. He has been featured at several Jazz Foundation of America events, and has appeared on Harry Connick Jr.’s TV show, “Harry,” and NBC’s “Little Big Shots,”. Among others. On April 21 he will make his Canadian performance debut at Stratus Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario as part of the Bravo Niagara! concert series.   A few nights after Brandon performed at a Jazz Foundation of America gala in New York, and presented McCoy Tyner with JFA's lifetime achievement award in the fall of 2016, he went to Greenwich Village to meet and play for for Chick Corea, who was performing his 75th birthday residency at the Blue Note. Brandon was featured at the Blue Note in December 2016. 
Several video clips from several of these significant events follow. Many more are posted at Brandon's Facebook page. 

                                       Playing for Chick Corea after Chick's show at the Blue Note:

                  Brandon's own performance at the Blue Note in December 2016:

                                                On Harry Connick Jr.'s TV show, January 2017:


Sunday, April 1, 2018

A sultry celebration of Jobim, mostly

The Bossa Nova All Stars put their stamp on the sultry sound of Brazil's most popular musical export on Saturday, March 31 in Venice FL, where they focused almost entirely on the extensive songbook of composer Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Jobim was one of the pioneers of bossa nova, a late 1950s fusion of the Brazilian samba and jazz. His contributions to the art form were mighty and are best known. The focus wasn't really surprising, considering that the singer featured in this program, Brazilian native Maucha Adnet, worked with Jobim for the final decade of his career. The band assembled by guitarist Nate Najar also included tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, vibes player Chuck Redd, bassist Tommy Cecil, and drummer Matt Home.
Nate Najar

The band changed configurations and dynamics throughout the evening, providing features for each soloist and presenting the bossa nova in different textures. Adnet's lyric delivery was dreamy, enhancing the music regardless of whether listeners had any understanding of Portuguese. (She did shift from the original to English lyrics at times.)

Adnet, Allen
Najar, a St. Petersburg-based guitarist whose sound draws much the late Charlie Byrd, noted that Byrd's Grammy-winning 1961 recording of "Desafinado" with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz "brought the bossa nova craze en mass into the United States." It was fitting that Allen was aboard for this event. His tenor sound at times draws much from Getz's influence, and he is one of today's top bossa-nova tenor specialists in mainstream jazz.

Cecil, Adnet
In addition to "Desafinado," the Jobim material included "One Note Samba," "Corcovado" (better known to many in the U.S. as "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars"), "Vivo Sonhando" ("Dreamer"), "Chega de Saudade" ("No More Blues"), "Wave," "Aguas de Marco," "Voce Vai Ver", "Fotografia," "Triste" "Chovendo na Roseira" ("Raining on the Rosebush") and "So Danco Samba."
Najar, Adnet

Najar, Cecil and Home dug into the balladic side of the bossa nova format on "Triste" before kicking up its intensity near the finish. Adnet and Cecil explored Dori Caymmi's "Cantador" ("Like a Lover") as a conversational, intimate voice-and-bass duet. 

Allen contributed a samba-rhythmed original, "I'd Rather Have You," which fit the mood perfectly. Redd, who worked regularly as the drummer in Charlie Byrd's trio for many years, was featured on "Wave," perhaps Jobim's most beautiful and challenging composition.

The band saved the most familiar Jobim tune for last. The mid-1960s global hit "The Girl From Ipanema," with lyrics by Vinicius Moraes, was the program's encore. 

The Venice Performing Arts Center concert was cosponsored by the South County Jazz Club and the Venice Institute for Performing Arts.

Najar, Cecil, Redd, Home
Najar, Adnet, Allen, Cecil (mostly hidden), Redd, Home

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Warren Wolf brings great vibes to Naples

Vibes player Warren Wolf was the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra's special guest on Wednesday, March 28 in the sextet's 2017-18 concert series at Artis-Naples' Daniels Pavilion. His performance was an artful showcase of his instrument's wide range of shimmering possibilities - given the right hands and musical approach. The mallets were indeed in the right hands this fine night.
Warren Wolf

Wolf is blessed with a fertile musical mind and a mesmerizing technique. Indeed, he imbued each solo with something fresh and personal. The material included one original - "Soul Sister," which was so funky it sounded like something from Horace Silver, a wide range of classic bebop tunes, a bit of bossa nova and couple of classics from the Great American Songbook.
Mauldin, Wolf, Del Gatto, Miller, Basham

The Naples sextet includes tenor saxophonist and artistic director Lew Del Gatto, trumpeter Dan Miller, violinist Glenn Basham, pianist Jerry Stawski, bassist Kevin Mauldin and drummer Mike Harvey.

The band's treatment of bossa nova master Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave," with Del Gatto shifting to flute, revealed the softer side in Wolf's playing. "Round Midnight," one of two Thelonious Monk tunes performed back-to-back, was a showcase for the Baltimore-native's style. He'll add surprise accents to enhance the melody or underscore parts of the melody - or he'll let the music breathe with bits of silence in places you least expect.

Wolf, Mauldin
The evening's finest moments included Wolf and Mauldin's vibes and bass duet on "All the Things You Are," and the closing pair of burning bop tunes with the full band: Dizzy Gillespie's "Bebop" and, quite appropriately, vibes player Milt Jackson's "Bag's Groove."

Wolf, 38, is best known for his vibes playing, but the busy musician is a formidable multi-instrumentalist. He plays plays the drums in alto saxophonist Tia Fuller's group, and plays piano in singer Rachael Price's band. You could see Wolf sitting back on his stool, his head cocked, reveling in Stawski's exquisite keyboard solos.
Stawski, Wolf, Del Gatto, Mauldin, Miller, Basham, Harvey

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Steve Allee's compositions - and playing - in the spotlight

Pianist Steve Allee is a musical quadruple threat - as a player, arranger, composer and educator. All four of those roles were on display on Monday, March 26 when he was the featured artist at the University of South Florida in Tampa. 

Steve Allee
The Indianapolis native, now an assistant professor of music at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music, held a master class for jazz students at USF, then performed Monday night with the excellent USF Jazz Ensemble I, a big band directed by Chuck Owen, and a Faculty Jazz Ensemble.

Allee, a versatile performer who's been a member of bassist Rufus Reid's band for the past decade, has serious compositional chops. His originals are filled with sparkling musical imagery that evokes the visual delights of their inspirations.

The student band, with Allee at the Steinway, performed two of his compositions, the uptempo "Pure Spirit" and the more idyllic "Dragonfly." They also dug into "Thick and Thin," a composition by saxophonist Gary Campbell, an Indy native who teaches at Florida International University in Miami. The latter was an extended solo feature for tenor saxophonist Jack Wilkins, who directs the USF Jazz Studies Program.

Allee, Wilkins
The Faculty Jazz Ensemble portion of the evening was a multi-faceted set that teamed Allee with Wilkins, bassist Mark Neuenschwander and drummer Ric Craig. The quartet performed "Tippin'" from a new Rufus Reid recording, and premiered a new Allee tune, "Hesitation Point." The latter was inspired by a beautiful overlook in Brown County State Park near his country home and studio outside Indianapolis. Then Allee and Wilkins teamed up for a piano-sax duet on "But Not For Me." 

Allee's deep solo piano exploration of Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" was filled with teasing nuance before he dug into the full melody midway through, and then continued to explore variations built off its chordal structure. The  Faculty Jazz Ensemble, buoyed by trumpeter James Suggs and alto saxophonist Jon Cestero, grad students who are section leaders in the student ensemble, closed out the evening with the pianist's "Arts Groove."

Full disclosure: This was my first time to meet and hear Allee in person. However, I talked at length with him by phone 10 years ago when I wrote the liner notes for his recording Dragonfly (Owl Studios). It's a splendid trio session with bassist Bill Moring and drummer Tim Horner, and I've been revisiting it a lot lately.
Allee, Wilkins, Neuenschwander, Suggs, Cestero, Craig

Monday, March 26, 2018

A magical afternoon of jazz

Singer Alexis Cole wound up a three-stop Florida mini-tour on Sunday, March 25, treating the Firehouse Cultural Center audience in Ruskin to a rather unusual source of material for a jazz band. Quite simply, it was all about what she called "The Magic of Disney Love Songs."

Alexis Cole

She mined the Disney songbooks extensively to find these heart-felt ballads from Disney-produced films, including Aladdin, The Aristocats, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, The Great Mouse Detective, Jungle Book, Lady and the Tramp, Pete's Dragon, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Pocahantas, Robin Hood, Snow White, and even The Parent Trap.

The charming and talented singer put her own spin on each song, and took the time to place each of them in context, talking about their splendid mix  of songwriters and often sharing her own interpretation of the lyrical messages.

John Olearchick

John Warcholak
Cole was backed by three Orlando-area musicians, pianist John Olearchick, bassist John Warcholak and drummer Gerald law.
Gerald Law

Gems included "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" and "So This is Love," both from Cinderella, "The Second Star to the Right" from Peter Pan, "For Now, For Always" from The Parent Trap, "There's Room For Everyone" from Pete's Dragon, the jazz-tinged "Everybody Wants to be a Cat" from The Aristocats, and the saucy "Let Me Be Good to You" from The Great Mouse Detective.

The program reinforced the notion that it's a small world, after all. And she made sure to include "It's a Small World," written by two prolific Disney songwriters, brothers Robert and Richard Sherman.

Cole performed a dozen such Disney tunes on her 2016-US-released album Someday My Prince Will Come (Venus Records). She delivered many of those, and a lot more, in Ruskin. The Florida tour also included an in-studio performance at WUCF in Orlando and a concert at the South Florida State College Performing Arts Center in Avon Park.