Saturday, December 16, 2017

T'is the season...

Guitarist Nate Najar loves the Christmas season. He brought his annual Jazz Holiday concert program to Sarasota FL on Friday, December 15, one night after the same sextet performed at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg.
Nate Najar

Najar was joined by John Lamb on bass, Mark Feinman on drums, James Suggs on trumpet, Jeff Rupert on tenor sax and special guest Chuck Redd on vibes.
Chuck Redd

Most of the concert featured instrumental holiday fare - done with a jazz twist, of course . They included "Mistletoe & Holly," "Winter Wonderland" and "Angels We Have Heard on High," among others.

Highlights included ex-Ellington bassist Lamb's feature on Duke's "Love You Madly," in which he played duo segments with each other band member, and Redd's vibes feature on the 1953 Eartha Kitt hit "Santa Baby."

Najar is a masterful acoustic guitarist, a St. Petersburg-based musician highly influenced by the late Charlie Byrd. He is starting to get the recognition he so deserves. Rupert and Suggs combined as a strong horn section, both in unison and as passionate soloists.

The Sarasota concert at the Glenridge Performing Arts Center was a South County Jazz Club event. 

Enjoy these photographic moments. 
Najar and Lamb
Lamb and Rupert

Chuck Redd
Najar, Lamb, Suggs, Rupert, Redd, Feinman

Najar, Lamb, Rupert, Suggs, Redd, Feinman

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A bebopper through and through

Greg Abate got hooked on the 1950s hard-bop style that evolved from bebop, and he has made himself a career of bringing that intense sound to audiences across the U.S. and around the globe. Much like two other alto sax players with whom he has recorded, Richie Cole and the late Phil Woods, Abate developed into one of the genre's significant modern ambassadors.
Greg Abate

He brought that sound to the Charlotte County Jazz Society's concert series in Port Charlotte FL on Monday, December 11, for a high-powered quartet performance. His Florida rhythm section included Richard Drexler on piano, Steve Gilmore on bass and Barry Smith on drums.

This was Rhode Island native Abate's fifth visit to Port Charlotte in nine concert seasons - and it was memorable for the way the band clicked throughout the night. Each player got significant solo space and made the most of it.

It was a night for Abate to dig deep into anthemic bop tunes, including Tadd Dameron's "Lady Bird," trumpeter Lee Morgan's "Ceora" and bebop co-founder Charlie Parker's classic "Yardbird Suite," as well as imprint bebop flourishes on other standards from the jazz canon. The latter tunes included "Star Eyes," "You Don't Know What Love Is," "I Remember April," "All The Things You Are" and Frank Foster's Basie band staple "Shiny Stockings."

Steve Gilmore
He shifted to flute for the poignant waltz "Some Time Ago" and his original minor blues "Contemplation," which he recorded with 2012. "Buddy's Rendezvous," written for a longtime friend, was Abate's other original tune shared at this concert.

Gilmore, who now lives in the Florida Panhandle, was Phil Woods' bassist for 40 years. He was a wonderful inclusion in this band. His sound is both robust and melodic - and his solos are filled with creative ideas. The society's concerts have featured many excellent bassists over the years. None have been better than Gilmore.
Richard Drexler, Greg Abate

The band roared through versions of Sonny Stitt's "The Eternal Triangle,"  a splendid showcase for Smith's drumming, and "Yardbird Suite," which included terrific interplay as Abate and Drexler passed the melody back and forth several times.

Barry Smith
The hard bop style is notable for its blistering, emotional cascades of notes - and for the soloists' seamless inclusion of familiar melodic lines from other tunes that fit the moment.

Bands featured at the society's December 2016 and 2015 concerts put jazz twists on holiday tunes as part of their programming. At this concert, Abate and Gilmore reversed that concept. They dropped brief melodic lines from holiday fare into at least five tunes over the course of the evening. For example, Gilmore quoted "Frosty the Snowman" and Abate followed with a snippet of "Sleigh Ride" in their solos on "Ceora." Gilmore dropped a bit of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" into his solo on Abate's "Contemplation."

The concert drew about 230 attendees to the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's William H. Wakeman III Theater.
Richard Drexler, Greg Abate, Steve Gilmore, Barry Smith

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Looking back at 2017's best jazz recordings

‘Tis the season for the outpouring of Top 10 lists, and their many variations, for jazz, world events, etc. The jazz lists always have a lot of variation depending on the individual reviewer's personal tastes, as well as what he or she listened to during the year.* Bottom line, all are extremely subjective.
These choices below (aside from top 10 new songs of the year) were submitted to the Jazz Times, Jazz Journalists’ Association and NPR Music 2016 compilations (the latter is the annual Francis Davis-produced poll that previously was published by The Village Voice and

As I begin preparing my review of significant events and trends in jazz in 2017 for posting on, I thought I'd share my "best of 2017" lists. *Always keep in mind the above caveats.

The 10 best new jazz releases of 2017

1.   Jimmy Scott, I Go Back Home (Eden River)
2.   Hudson, Hudson (Motéma)
3.   Matt Wilson, Matt Wilson’s Honey and Salt (Palmetto)
4.   Jeff Rupert and Richard Drexler, Imagination (Rupe Media)
5.   Ingrid and Christine Jensen, Infinitude (Whirlwind)
6.   Benedikt Jahnel Trio, The Invariant (ECM)
7.   Yoko Miwa Trio, Pathways (Ocean Blue Tear Music)
8.   Joachim Kühn New Trio, Beauty & Truth (ACT)
9.   Gary Meek, Originals (self-produced)
10. University of Northern Colorado Jazz Lab Band I, The Romeo and Juliet Project (Artist Alliance)
2017’s best vocal recording:
Jimmy Scott, I Go Back Home (Eden River)

The best historical/reissues of 2017 (includes any recordings made over 10 years ago, whether newly released or reissued):
1.  Wes Montgomery / Wynton Kelly Trio, Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse (1966) (Resonance)
2.  Thelonious Monk, Les Liaisons Dangerouses 1960 (Sam/Saga)
3.  The Three Sounds featuring Gene Harris, Groovin’ Hard: Live at the Penthouse 1964-1968 (Resonance)
4.  Nat King Cole Trio, Swiss Radio Days Vol 43 – Zurich 1950 (TCB)
5.  Art Pepper, Art Pepper Presents West Coast Sessions! Vol. 3: Lee Konitz (Omnivore)

2017’s best Latin/Brazilian jazz recordings:
1.  Eliane Elias, Dance of Time (Concord Jazz)
2.  Ignacio Berroa, Straight Ahead from Havana (Codes Drum)
3.  Antonio Adolfo, Hybrido – From Rio to Wayne Shorter (AAM)
4.  Steve Khan, Backlog (Tone Center)
5.  Gabriel Alegría Afro-Peruvian Septet, Diablo en Brooklyn (Saponegro)

The 10 best new compositions from CDs released in 2017, listed alphabetically:   
  • Ambrose Akinmusire, “Withered” from A Rift in Decorum (Blue Note)
  • Lili Añel, “Another Place, Another Time” from Another Place, Another Time (Wall-I)
  • Roxy Coss, “Free to Be” from Chasing the Unicorn (Posi-Tone)
  • Jack DeJohnette, “Song for World Forgiveness“ from Hudson (Motéma)
  • Akua Dixon, “Let’s Dance” from Akua’s Dance (Akua’s Music)
  • Miles Donahue, “The Bug” from The Bug (Whaling City Sound)
  • Art Hirahara, “Kin-Ka: Gold Coin” from Central Line (Posi-Tone)
  • John Hollenbeck, “The Kiss” from University of Northern Colorado Jazz Lab Band I, The Romeo and Juliet Project (Artist Alliance)
  • Benedikt Jahnel, “The Circuit” from The Invariant (ECM)
  • Mike Longo, “Only Time Will Tell” from Mike Longo Trio, Only Time Will Tell (Consolidated Artists Productions)

Friday, December 1, 2017

Al Hixon knows talent when he hears it

Al Hixon, John Lamb
It's almost a rite of passage for newly arrived jazz musicians in Southwest Florida. Those who have resettled from northern climates or are wintering here quickly find their way to15 South Ristorante Entoteca, a restaurant on toney St. Armand's Circle in Sarasota. On Monday night's, of course. That's when drummer Al Hixon holds his weekly jam sessions upstairs in a crowded room.

He's been holding his weekly jams for a total of 27 years in Sarasota since retiring as a land use planner in New England and moving south to nearby Longboat Key, and has hosted the Monday night jams in season (October through May). at 15 South for nine years. Al is a gracious and congenial host at his jams. 

Pro players and amateurs get their shot at local exposure. All are there because they love jazz. The same goes for the crowds who pack the place. When Al really digs what he hears, chances are good that he'll find encouraging work for those players - sometimes with the outfit he fondly calls his Underheard Herd.
Pete BarenBregge

One of the newest local Hixon recruits, who climbed those stairs at 15 South after his move to the area this past summer from Maryland, is saxophonist Pete BarenBregge. He was part of Hixon's band at a South County Jazz Club matinee concert in Venice on Friday, December 1, where most attendees were hearing him for the first time. BarenBregge has splendid credentials as a performer, clinician and educator. He spent 20 years as a member of the US Air Force's Airmen of Note, including an extended stint as the Washington-based group's musical director.

James Suggs
Hixon's band on Friday also included former Ellington bassist John Lamb, pianist Dick Reynolds (who was house pianist at Mr. Kelly's in Chicago in its heyday) and trumpeter James Suggs. Singer Synia Carroll joined the fun for two tunes in each set. Virtually all of the performers have made that climb up the stairs at 15 South at some point. 
Synia Carroll

Concert highlights included BarenBregge's soprano sax feature on "Emily," Suggs' plunger-mute artistry on Duke Ellington's "In A Mellow Tone," Lamb's stunning arco duet with Reynolds on The Beatles' hit "Yesterday"and Carroll's explorations of Quincy Jones' "Miss Celie's Blues" from The Color Purple soundtrack and "The Nearness of You."

The concert was at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice, one of four different venues the South County Jazz Club in using in this, it's seventh season.
Al Hixon, John Lamb, Pete BarenBregge, James Suggs, Dick Reynolds

Monday, November 20, 2017

Bud Leeds goes Bob-Bob-Bobbying along

Clarinetist Bud Leeds was in fine company - and good spirits - for the South County Jazz Club's first concert of the 2017-2018 season on Monday, November 20.

Bud Leeds
His quartet included multi-instrumentalist Bob MacInnis, Bob Leary on banjo, rhythm guitar and occasional vocals, and piano marvel Bobby van Deusen. (Leeds could have named the band Three Bobs and a Bud.

Together, they delved deeply into ragtime, Louis Armstrong fare and other classic jazz staples.The free-and-easy repertoire included "Struttin' With Some Barbecue," cornetist Wild Bill Davison's theme song "I Never New," "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?," "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee," Bix Beiderbecke's "Singin' the Blues," Scott Joplin's "Rose Leaf Blues," and "Back Home in Indiana," among others.

Bobby van Deusen
Van Deusen, a master of the ragtime and stride piano styles, reached a few decades ahead from his usual repertoire to include "That's All, and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (by request), along with a stunning solo take on the ballad "Laura." The Pensacola resident was a fixture in New Orleans for many years, working with Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, The Dukes of Dixieland and on the Delta Queen riverboat. Leary worked with him on that latter gig.

Bud Leeds, Bob MacInnis
MacInnis was featured primarily on cornet but he also doubled with Leeds on clarinet on several tunes. The clear concert highlight was their twin-clarinet take on a medley that segued from "My Mother's Eyes" to the poignant Sidney Bechet classic "Si Tu Vois Ma Mere" (If You See My Mother).

Bob Leary
Leary's fine vocal takes on "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" were a stark contrast with the corny tunes that he seems to sneak into all his performances, whether or not he's leading the band.

This time Leary included 1947's "Huggin' and Chalkin'" and his exaggerated falsetto take on The Ink Spots pop hit "I Don't Need to Set the World on Fire." They lose their humorous impact the second or third time you've heard him. For me, this was number four.

The matinee concert was held at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice. 
Van Deusen, Leary, Leeds, MacInnis

Looking ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview

Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through January.
  • 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.
  • Saturday, December 2 –the Dan Heck Blues and Truth Sextet, featuring trumpeter Dan Miller, performs the Music of Charles Mingus and Oliver Nelson. CAPA at the Wang Center, Naples. 7:30 p.m.
  • Monday, December 4 – Dan Miller-Lew Del Gatto Orchestra holiday concert featuring the finest players from Miami, Orlando, Tampa and SW Florida, North Naples United Methodist Church. 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 9 – Trumpeter Bobby Shew is featured with The Naples Philharmonic Youth Jazz Orchestra. Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 4 p.m. free.
  • Monday, December 11 – Bebop saxophonist Greg Abate’s quartet, Charlotte County Jazz Society concert series, William H Wakeman III Theater, Cultural Center of Charlotte County, Port Charlotte, 7 p.m.
    Greg Abate
  • Wednesday, December 13 – Singer Carmen Bradford guests with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra in the sextet’s concert series at Artis-Naples’ Daniels Pavilion. 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Friday, December 15 – Guitarist Nate Najar's Jazz Holiday with Chuck Redd, Jeff Rupert, John Lamb, Mark Feinman and James Suggs. A South County Jazz Club concert at the Glenridge Performing Arts Center, Sarasota. 8 p.m.  
Nicki Parrott
  • Monday, January 8 – Joe Delaney and Friends in concert at the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s Latin Jazz Night. William H Wakeman III Theater, Cultural Center of Charlotte County, Port Charlotte, 7 p.m.
  • Wed, January 10 – Ramsey Lewis & John Pizzarelli in concert with their Straighten Up and Fly Right tribute to Nat King Cole. Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota, 8 p.m.
  • Wednesday, January 24 – Tenor saxophonist Harry Allen and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon with the Ed Metz-Rossano Sportiello-Nicki Parrott trio. A South County Jazz Club-Venice Institute for the Performing Arts concert. Venice Performing Arts Center. 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, January 27 – Singer Kenny Washington is featured with the Dan Miller-Lew Del Gatto Quintet, Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center. Fort Myers, 8 p.m.
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 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.