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 a 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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The music community helps its own


When a musician gets in a life-altering jam, the music community tends to respond in a very big way.

One of the latest instances involves West Coast bass player Marc van Wageningen. He and drummer David Garibaldi were injured severely on January 12 when struck by an Amtrak train while were walking to a Tower of Power performance at Yoshi’s in Oakland CA.

Marc VW, a 30-year fixture on the Bay Area’s jazz, funk and Latin music scene, has been subbing in the funk band since 2002. He was the most seriously injured of the pair. He underwent surgery to remove his spleen and repair broken bones and facial fractures. Like many musicians, he had no health insurance.

Multi-instrumentalist and music producer Peter Michael Escovedo organized a benefit concert to help van Wageningen and Garibaldi. He also set up a session the next day to record a studio album to benefit the bassist, called Raise the Marc. The many participating Bay Area musicians included saxophonists Dave Koz and Marc Russo, percussionists John Santos, Jesus Diaz, Pete Escovedo and his daughter Sheila E., guitarist Ray Obiedo and pianist Peter Horvath.


The CD will be released July 14 on the producer's Peter Michael imprint. It’s now available as a digital download here. One track, "Oakland in Da House," was included from an earlier Sheila E. album, captures her band onstage at Yoshi's. It is the only song on Raise the Marc on which Marc VW plays. All proceeds from the CD and digital download sales will benefit Marc and his family, who have been facing substantial medical expenses.

Van Wageningen and Garibaldi were hit by a train near Jack London Square about 20 minutes before the band’s scheduled show at Yoshi’s. Police said four people tried to cross the tracks — while the warning guard arms were still down — after a freight train slowly chugged by. They didn’t see an Amtrak train traveling from the opposite direction on another track. Garibaldi and Van Wageningen were not able to jump out of the way.

In addition to January benefit concert to help both musicians, a Go Fund Me initiative has raised more than $55,000. A second GoFund Me effort has raised an additional $81,000 to date toward van Wageningen’s considerable expenses. 

Dig in and help if you can.

Monday, June 5, 2017

CDs of Note – Short Takes


Taking a look at new CDs by Antonio Adolfo, Mike Longo, Yoko Miwa, Norbert Stachel, and John Stein and Dave Zinno.…

Here’s a fascinating tip-of-the-hat to jazz composer Wayne Shorter by pianist and arranger Antonio Adolfo. He re-arranged eight classic Shorter tunes in ways that give each of them Brazilian rhythmic cushions. The material includes “Deluge,” “Footprints,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Prince of Darkness,” “Black Nile,” “Speak No Evil,” “ESP” and “Ana Maria.” 

Adolfo at various points uses the baião, guarânia and samba rhythms to great effect. The exotic results are quite beautiful, such as the octet’s guarânia treatment of “Footprints,” which features Ze Renato on wordless vocals, and the horn section’s major feature on “Speak No Evil.” Marcelo Martins’ tenor and soprano sax, and flute work is marvelous throughout. Adolfo closes the project with “Afrosamba,” a propulsive original that combines samba and the afoxé musical genre to celebrate Shorter’s influences on his own work.

Mike Longo Trio, OnlyTime Will Tell (Consolidate Artists Productions)
Pianist Mike Longo spent 26 years as Dizzy Gillespie’s pianist and musical director. This fine recording is Longo’s 26th CD as a leader since forging his own musical path as a composer and player in the early 1990s. In addition to performing several originals, Longo, bassist Paul West and drummer Lewis Nash put their own updates to classic jazz material and one unexpected popular standard: a samba version of “Tomorrow,” the hit song from the musical “Annie.” Favorites: their romp through Oscar Pettiford’s “Bohemia After Dark” and Longo’s poignant and beautifully evocative title track.

Yoko Miwa Trio, Pathways (Ocean Blue Tear Music)
Japanese-born pianist Yoko Miwa won a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in 1997, intending to stay just one year. Twenty years later, she’s still in Boston – where she has developed into an integral force on the area’s thriving jazz scene with her fine, straight-ahead playing and creative spirit. Pathways is Miwa’s first CD in about five years. It stacks up as one of the finest releases to cross my desk so far in 2017. 

She’s teamed with her longstanding trio mates, bassist Will Slater and drummer Scott Goulding, who is her husband. Brad Barrett has since taken over the bass role, and plays here on the final track, her exploration of the Lennon-McCartney ballad “Dear Prudence.” Every track here is a gem. The band’s 11-minute exploration of Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” is the most stunning. Other favorites include two originals, the McCoy Tyner-ish “Lickety Split” and the dreamier “Lantern Light,” and a romp through Marc Johnson’s “Log O’Rhythm.” Check this one out.

Norbert Stachel, Shades of the Bay (Cheeseburger)
Saxophonist Norbert Stachel is a talented instrumentalist who has been working for decades as a sideman and section player for many big-name jazz, pop, rock and soul groups. On this project, we get to hear many of his facets as a writer and a player. While a dozen other players are featured on various tracks, Stachel is all over the place thanks to multi-tracking. On some tunes, he’s a virtual reed chorus all by himself. 

Here’s one example: “Step On It,” layers Stachel’s playing on soprano and baritone saxes, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet and shaker. Others include tenor and bass saxophones, tambourine, keyboards, African shells, and bass. The gems here include “Crawdaddy Dance,” the funky “Last Minute Blues,” and “For Tito,” which he wrote to honor Tito Puente, one of many bandleaders he worked with over the years. His sidemen here include Karl Perazzo on congas, Ray Obiedo on guitar and Dave Mathews on piano and organ. Stachel sticks to flute alone for his wistful “Goodbye Elgin Park.

John Stein and Dave Zinno, Wood and Strings (Whaling City Sound)
The fine art of musical conversation, rooted in timeless jazz standards that become a shared vocabulary, is at the heart of this fine new CD from two New England jazz stalwarts. Guitarist John Stein and bassist Dave Zinno showcase their talents as improvisers who respond deeply and inventively to each other’s ideas. They allow those ideas to linger and sink in, not talking over each other. In addition to four originals from Stein and one from Zinno, they explore the nuances of nine jazz standards. Favorites: Stein’s sprightly “Switch-a-roo,” Zinno’s “Song for Now,” Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius De Moraes’ pensive “Modinha,” as well as  Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen’s timeless “But Beautiful.” But in these hands, everything here is a gem to be savored. 


Friday, May 12, 2017

Living his jazz mentors’ advice

Bass player and educator Brandon Robertson practices what he teaches.

Brandon Robertson
Robertson earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in music performance at Florida State University in Tallahassee, where his mentors had sage advice. “They’ve all told me to go out and make my own name for myself. Make my own success,” Robertson says. “I just want to be positive, be professional and play as well as I can play.” 

He’s a busy addition to the Southwest Florida jazz scene since moving here summer. He performs regularly at area jazz venues in addition to his day job as an adjunct professor of instrumental studies at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. He has subbed the regular bass player in the Count Basie Orchestra. (More on that later.)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Lili Añel, Ron Boustead, Laura Dubin, Diego Figueiredo, Steve Khan, Joachim Kühn, Sarah Partridge, and The Three Sounds....

Friday, April 28, 2017

Oh, have times changed in Newport

There was a time after the first phase of the Newport Jazz Festival (1954-1971), that jazz pretty much was a dirty word in Newport. The city, known as a playground for the super-rich, was a Navy town transitioning into a tourist mecca. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Always a night with musical surprises

You never know just what's in store when the Dan Miller Quartet performs on Tuesday nights at the  Roadhouse Cafe in Fort Myers FL. There are always musical surprises, and that's a good thing in this case.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

It's JAM time again. Get your jazz on.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month - and it is flying by.

The Smithsonian Institution decreed the month's status 16 years ago as a way to spread appreciation for - and interest in - the music genre. Many activities now find themselves under that celebratory jazz umbrella.

The National Endowment for the Arts moved its annual NEA Jazz Masters induction concert from January to April, and, six years ago, UNESCO added International Jazz Day to the mix. That global celebration closes the month on April 30. It reaches more than 190 countries with thousands of performance, education and community service programs in cities and town large and small.

So how are you honoring Jazz Appreciation Month this time around? 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

An evening of artful exuberance

In the right hands, Dixieland jazz is more of a feeling than a specific repertoire. It’s not what you play, so much as how you play it. Bob Leary’s sextet closed out the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s 2016-17 concert season exploring a wide array of vintage material that had toes a-tapping.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Eric Alexander shares many shades of bebop

Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander fully embraced the rich and vibrant sound of bebop in his formative years as a jazz player - and continues to help it evolve a quarter-century later.
Eric Alexander

That was the takeaway after his Wednesday, April 5 appearance with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra at Artis-Naples' Daniels Pavilion. Despite the big name, the band is actually a sextet. They explored a wide range of standard material, finding ways to add their own energetic stamp on it. In each case, the music was stretched for expansive and interesting solos by all of the participants.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Guitar mastery on full display for jazz fans

Diego Figueiredo's Brazilian guitar artistry will make your jaw drop. His nylon-stringed acoustic guitar is merely the vessel for astonishing sounds that come out of his musical psyche, delivered by unusual blends of technique.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A robust sound rooted in early jazz

Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon is a modern-day ambassador for classic jazz dating back nearly a century. He digs the repertoire and style, putting his own stamp on it whether performing vintage songs or his own newer material.
Wycliffe Gordon

Such was the case on Friday, March 24 when Gordon performed at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in Fort Myers as part of its Jazzy Nights concert series. He was backed by four Southwest Florida jazz all-stars: tenor saxophonist Lew Del Gatto, pianist Joe Delaney, bassist Don Mopsick and drummer Tony Vigilante.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Joe Bourne, Andrea Claburn, Ingrid and Christine Jensen, Jeff Rupert & Richard Drexler, and Jimmy Scott….

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Looking ahead: Southwest Florida jazz calendar


Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through April when the 2016-2017 concert season winds down.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Celebrating Stan Getz and other jazz giants

Tenor saxophonist Jeff Rupert & Friends, featuring rising star singer Veronica Swift, wound up a 10-day Florida concert tour on Sunday, March 19, with a stunning matinee performance in Venice.

Jeff Rupert
 Rupert, who directs the University of Central Florida's Jazz Studies Program, was joined for this performance by fellow faculty members Richard Drexler on piano and Marty Morell on drums, plus Swift and bassist Don Mopsick. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

New Orleans on parade - and other surprises


Singer Lisa Kelly and trumpeter JB Scott had a few surprises up their sleeves for their return performance at the Charlotte County Jazz Society on Monday, February 13. The Jacksonville-based musicians spent about one-third of their two-hour concert digging deep into music associated with New Orleans. They also.brought a larger band than anticipated and featured Scott on several vocal numbers in addition to his solid trumpet artistry.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Celebrating a man and his music


The depth and breadth of pianist, arranger and composer Dick Hyman’s career seems astonishing by any musical standards. Most aspects of his career, which began in the late 1940s in the thriving Manhattan music scene, were touched upon Tuesday, March 7 at the 37th annual Sarasota Jazz Festival.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Trad jazz with a few twists

Clarinetist Bud Leeds brought musicians together from near and far - in this case, mostly far - for his annual South County Jazz Club matinee performance on Sunday, March 5 in Venice FL. His "Trad Jazz Ensemble" featured players who are right at home in the traditional jazz/Dixieland genres, but the afternoon touched on more recent music as well.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Jane Monheit digs Ella - and plans to keep on digging

Jazz singer Jane Monheit's musical home is the Great American Songbook. She showed a Naples, Florida audience on Friday, February 24, that with sensible bits of personal redecorating, it is still in very good hands.
Jane Monheit

She performed two 75-minute sold-out shows at Artis Naples' Daniels Pavilion, sharing her love for "First Lady of Song" Ella Fitzgerald. Material from Monheit's recording Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald (released last year on her own label, Emerald City Records) made up half of the night's repertoire. The other half consisted of Ella-related songs that Monheit has not yet recorded as part of this project.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Afro-Cuban jazz under the banyan trees

Chuchito Valdes
Latin fire is in pianist Chuchito Valdés' genes. He's the son of Chucho Valdés and grandson of the late Bebo Valdés, two of Cuba's venerable jazz pianists.Though now based in Cancun, Mexico, he carries on the family tradition, much like his globetrotting father. 

Chuchito shared many elements of his Afro-Cuban jazz technique with a crowd beneath the majestic banyan trees at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota FL on Sunday, February 19.

Friday, February 17, 2017

A jazz event 50+ years in the making...

To say it was long overdue is an understatement. Joshua Breakstone and Don Mopsick grew up in Linden. NJ. Their families knew each other and sometimes hung out together back in the 1960s, long before either man had any designs on a career in music.

Joshua Breakstone
Guitar modernist Breakstone and Mopsick, best known as the bassist in Jim Cullum's Jazz Band for more than 18 years, performed together for the first time on Friday,. February 17 at a South County Jazz Club matinee concert at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice.