Sunday, March 1, 2015

The hipster returns

Giacomo Gates, Mac Chrupcala
Jazz singer Giacomo Gates is full of surprises - for his audience, and his bandmates. His performances are richer for it.

Such was the case Saturday night when he closed out February with a South County Jazz Club concert at the Glenridge Performing Arts Center in Sarasota FL. Gates' band for the night, and a pair of jazz bistro concerts scheduled Sunday, March 1 at JD's in Port Charlotte, included pianist Mac Chrupcala, bassist Don Mopsick and drummer Patricia Dean.

He built an instant rapport with the band and the audience, putting each song in context as he blended straight-ahead vocals; scat solos in which he uncannily sounded like a trombone, a double bass and even a flute; and vocalese. It involves singing words to a classic instrumental solo. Eddie Jefferson pioneered vocalese, Jon Hendricks popularized it, and Gates is one of today's great vocalese ambassadors. 

As for the surprises sprinkled among his many gems.
Dean, Gates
  • Gates brought Dean out from behind the drum set to share the vocal spotlight for two tunes. She's one of Florida's finer jazz singers but finds her timekeeping in steady demand. Their vocal duet on "All of Me" was followed by an interesting vocal twist. Gates layered bits of Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" over Dean's version of the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross classic "Centerpiece."
  • Digging deep into the jazz archives, Gates sang the rather obscure tune "If I Were You, Baby, I'd Love Me." Nat Cole recorded it first in 1950 and it is rarely heard anymore.This was the first time Gates' band mates had ever played it. He also rolled out Babs Gonzalez' ode to romance gone wrong, "When Lovers They Lose."
This was Gates' third annual appearance in the area, though it was his first for the South County Jazz Club. No doubt he'll be back.
Chrupcala, Mopsick, Gates, Dean

Friday, February 27, 2015

Florida meets jazz singer Tess Collins

Tess Collins took a circuitous route for her first concert before a Florida jazz audience. It began in her native Maine, wove through several major cities in China where she appears regularly (including Beijing and Shanghai) and her new home base London. 

Tess Collins
The Southwest Florida stop coincided with a vacation visit with relatives on Florida's east coast. She came to the Gulf Coast on Thursday, February 26, to perform as a special guest of pianist Mac Chrupcala's trio at the Venice Art Center. The concert was part of the South County Jazz Club's matinee series.

The band's music was exceptional all afternoon - and Collins stole the show - earning standing ovations at the end of each set. This young singer has great chops, a very strong ability to engage her audience, and a wide-ranging jazz repertoire. 

Mac Chrupcala, John Lamb
Chrupcala, a snowbird who divides his year between the Newport RI and SW Florida jazz scenes, has worked with Collins for about six years in New England. They were joined by two other fine talents, bassist John Lamb and drummer Dave Morgan. They developed an instant musical rapport.

Personal favorites: 
  • Their unusually funky, bluesy romp through "Summertime" that turned the otherwise tired tune into something fresh and vibrant
  • Collins' knowing and poignant interpretation of "Blame It On My Youth"
  • The trio's instrumental version of "Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair?"
  • And the two set closers: Bonnie Raitt's dirty blues "Love Me Like a Man" and their gospel-imbued take on Billy Holiday's "God Bless The Child"
That said, there wasn't a bad moment all afternoon. Collins said she wants to make a return appearance when she next visits Florida, and the full house at the concert made it clear she'll be most welcome.
Morgan, Lamb, Chrupcala, Collins

Sunday, February 22, 2015

RIP Clark Terry

The jazz world lost Clark Terry yesterday at age 94 after more than a decade of declining health. He was a jazz giant whose legacy extends far beyond being a trumpet player. 

Clark Terry
Terry was a true NEA Jazz Master, bandleader and educator. He worked as a sideman in both the Count Basie and Duke Ellington Orchestras at varying times. In the 1960s, he became the first black staff musician at NBC, playing for 12 years in The Tonight Show band. And he was a humorist, best known for his creative and hilarious "Mumbles" versions of scat singing. 

I remember another side of his humor, a moment in which he described what we might call his earliest encounter with "ear training." Educators use the term to refer to the way musicians - solely by hearing - learn to identify the pitches, intervals, melody, chords and rhythms that are part of music. Clark Terry was talking about something quite different as he described  growing up in the St. Louis music scene. 

Clark said he asked an old gentleman once how to improve his tone in the lower register. “He told me to grit my teeth and wiggle my left ear. And being a young, naive little brat, I didn’t know any different. I practiced that diligently and reached a point where I could wiggle my ear while gritting my teeth and attempting to play a bigger, lower note. It didn’t make a bigger note… but I got a lot of attention wiggling my ear and gritting my teeth.”
No matter how you remember him, the legacy of Clark Terry  (December 14, 1920 - February 21, 1915) is an indelible part of the jazz world. As it should be.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A rare dose of jazz talent on display

Trumpet prodigy Geoff Gallante was back at JD's Bistro in Port Charlotte FL on Friday night, February 20, sitting in for two sets with singer-pianist Danny Sinoff's trio. Gallante, now 14 (but sounding like a wily jazz veteran in his 40s),  is an interesting talent.

Dean, McCants, Gallante, Bruce
The Fairfax County, Virginia resident started playing the horn at age 4 and mastered it very quickly. Before he turned 6, he sat in with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson at Blues Alley in Washington DC. At age 6, he became the youngest musician to perform at the White House and at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He has appeared with a wide range of high-level jazz artists, big bands, concert bands and symphonies across the U.S.

Danny Sinoff
One thing was readily apparent at JD's this time around, he continues to grow musically. It had been only 11 months since his prior appearance (on March 21, 2014), yet it was clear there was much more subtlety and an even deeper harmonic sophistication to his playing.

Highlights: the band's take on Duke Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" (showcasing those subtleties) and a third-set opener, when the band roared through "On Green Dolphin Street." Trombonist Herb Bruce joined the band for that final set. He and Gallante went head to head on solos and blended seamlessly on riffs supporting the rhythm section soloists. No matter the tune that was called, the kid knew the music, and then some.

Sinoff's Friday night trio at JD's includes bassist Sherrell McCants and drummer Patricia Dean.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Jazz with an R&B-3 twist

Katt Hefner
The rhythm and blues feel is inescapable when you've got a Hammond B-3 organ in the house, and that was the case at Friday's South County Jazz Club matinee concert at the Englewood FL Art Center.

Siblings Katt Hefner and Stan Heffner (yes, they spell their last names differently) teamed up for the first time with saxophonist and flutist Tom Ellison. But you wouldn't have known by the performance that it was their first time blending their talents with the Venice-based reed player.

Stan Heffner, Tom Ellison
Katt Hefner is a Sarasota-based jazz singer. Her brother is based in Pittsburgh (he keeps a B-3 up north and another down here), and flies down whenever Kat has an organ-related gig in Florida. He was no doubt glad to escape the Northeast's winter cold for a few days.

The blues, rumba, and more than a bit of R&B figured into their wide-ranging program. 

Highlights: their takes on the Lou Rawls hit "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Me" and the Al Green hit "Let's Stay Together" - and a teasing romp through "Let the Good Times Roll." Stan Heffner's rhythmic, percussive groove at the B-3 is untypical and most interesting. He displayed it nicely throughout, nowhere better than the band's take on "It's Alright With Me."

It was a treat to hear the versatile Ellison in an R&B context most of the afternoon. His flute work on a rumba version of "Love Walked In" was also delightful. 

The trio had great fun - and so did the audience.
Stan Heffner, Katt Hefner, Tom Ellison

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at CDs by Harry Allen and Jan Lundgren, Jon Davis, George Robert and Joanna Wallfisch….

Harry Allen/Jan Lundgren Quartet, Quietly There (Stunt)
This is a gem, pairing one of today’s versatile swing tenor players with a Scandanavian trio led by Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren. The other fine bandmates are bassist Hans Backenroth and drummer Kristian Leth. Together on this project, recorded last July in Copenhagen, they dig deeply into the Johnny Mandel songbook. In that regard, the project is very similar to Zoot Sims’ 1984 CD Quietly There, which was one of the tenor player’s final sessions. Allen & Co. dig into nine Mandel tunes, ranging from the wistful ballad “Emily” to the Brazilian lilt of “Cinnamon and Clove” and the playful “Suicide is Painless” (better known as the Theme from TV’s “M*A*S*H” series). Lundgren’s intro to “Just a Child is exquisite, setting up Allen’s conversational solo. This beautiful project is a vivid reminder of Mandel’s indelible impact on pop music and jazz. Every one of the nine tracks is something to savor.

Jon Davis, Moving Right Along (Posi-Tone)

New York-based pianist Jon Davis has an adventurous CD in his second Posi-Tone project, Moving Right Along. Favorites include his original, “Beauty and the Blues,” and his interesting interpretations of John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice” and the Beatles (Lennon/McCartney) classic “She’s Leaving Home.” The blend of originals and covers also includes “Portrait of Tracy” and “Dania,” which were written by his 1980s boss, Jaco Pastorius. Davis has fine support throughout from bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi.

George Robert All-Star Quartet, New Life (GPR)
 The Swiss alto saxophonist George Robert recorded this session during two-nights of a 10-night, 10-concert Swiss tour with three other jazz heavyweights: pianist Dado Moroni, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Jeff Hamilton. Robert released it simultaneously with another fine CD Coming Home, a duo project with longtime collaborator Kenny Barron at the piano.. But the intensity of Robert’s live performance in the quartet format rises to a higher level. The lone track from Ascona, the mightily swinging “Blue Ray,” is a composition that Robert wrote for late bassist Ray Brown. It’s a natural for this session, as all four players worked with Brown in some way at various points in their careers. The rest of the CD was recorded five nights later in Zurich. Other favorites: his Cannonball Adderley tribute “Cannonball,” the Pink-Panther films-inspired “Clouseau” and “Hammer’s Tones,” a burner he wrote for Hamilton.

Joanna Wallfisch, The Origin of Adjustable Things (Sunnyside)
Singer and poetic songwriter Joanna Wallfisch is a breath of fresh air on the jazz scene, and on this second CD reveals her considerable talents in a most intimate duo format. The Origin of Adjustable Things pairs Wallfisch’s vocals with the piano improvisations of Dan Tepfer, whose jazz comet is also on the rise as a member of saxophonist Lee Konitz’s quartet. Tepfer complements Wallfisch’s vocals on piano, Wurlitzer, Mellotron and pump organ. Wallfisch’s effects include live-looped vocal harmonies as she and Tepfer course through a dozen tunes, eight of them written by the singer. Favorites: her own “Satin Grey” and “This is How You Make Me Feel,” and their covers of Tim Buckley’s “Song to a Siren,” Radiohead’s “Creep” and an astonishing version of “Wild is the Wind.” This is a March 3 release

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Uncommon jazz trio is spellbinding

Peter Anderson
There is a notable, and rather robust, roster of jazz-playing siblings through the years. A much leaner list of identical twins playing jazz shows that most play different instruments. That makes sense. If you are working together a lot as budding musicians, you need a variety of position players in a band.

Peter and Will Anderson are identical-twin rarities because they play the same instruments.* The saxophone- and clarinet-playing brothers brought their finely honed skills to the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s Artists Series on Monday, February 9. They performed in a non-traditional trio format with guitarist Alex Wintz.

Will Anderson
The Andersons, now 27, dig into the standard jazz songbook with virtuosic skill and an uncanny ability to carry each other’s melodies and improvisations forward. The trio format worked well because the Bethesda MD natives alternated instruments most of the night (Peter on tenor sax or clarinet, Will on alto sax, clarinet or flute). Guitarist Wintz combined the rhythm roles of drummer, bassist and pianist rolled into one, with his solid, understated playing. The Andersons’ arrangements also had the brothers taking a complementary rhythmic role behind each other’s solos.

Alex Wintz
The repertoire at the Charlotte Cultural Center included the uptempo swinger “Seven Come Eleven” by Charlie Christian and Benny Goodman, “Old Devil Moon” and a lovely version of “Desafinado” that featured Wintz before the Andersons entered on tenor sax and flute. Also, among others, Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine,” “Manhã de Carnaval" (also known as "Black Orpheus"), Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca” and two Ellington-associated tunes, Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom” and Duke’s “In a Sentimental Mood.”

In this intimate format, never did the musicians coast. When the Andersons weren’t doubling on a melody, they were playing counterpoint or adding rhythmic patterns behind each other. They played clarinet simultaneously on two tunes, Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” and “Reed Reflections,” which New York-based composer and multi-instrumentalist Kyle Athayde wrote as a symphonic piece for the brothers.

There were several points at the concert where I closed my eyes when savoring their solos. It was almost impossible to tell when one brother stopped playing and the other continued the musical thread. Their clarinet sound draws most from Artie Shaw’s rounded, mellow tone. As Peter reminded us in brief remarks, Shaw retired from the music business in at a rather young age because he got so sick of playing “Begin the Beguine,” his biggest hit, night after night.

The Andersons’ talents and love of classic mainstream jazz made them many new fans in Port Charlotte. It was their first exposure to nearly all of the 300+ audience.

*Footnote: While my brief research turned up eight sets of identical twins playing jazz, or in one case, smooth jazz, I only found one other set besides the Andersons who play the same instruments. They are St. Louis-based saxophonists Dwayne and Dwight Bosman, who have been working together for about 40 years.

Will Anderson, Alex Wintz, Peter Anderson

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A guitar master's take on jazz - It's about much so more than the music

Pat Martino
Guitarist Pat Martino quickly set the tone with a blistering revisit of the boppish "Lean Years" at his concert Wednesday, February 4 with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra. "Lean Years," which first appeared on Martino's 1967 Prestige album Strings!, remains one of his signature tunes. 

The program also included two other Martino originals ("Inside Out" and 1974's "On The Stairs"), and a half-dozen covers of jazz standards that the Philadelphia native has recorded over the years. Those included Dave Brubeck's beautiful ballad "In Your Own Sweet Way," John Coltrane's "Impressions" and the Charlie Christian-Benny Goodman burner "Seven Come Eleven."

Pat Martino, Kevin Mauldin
The 75-minute concert blended Martino's talent with the resident jazz sextet. The excellent band includes tenor saxophonist (and "Saturday Night Live" band veteran) Lew Del Gatto, trumpeter Dan Miller, pianist Jerry Stawski, bassist Kevin Mauldin, drummer Mike Harvey and violinist Glenn Basham. Martino's special guest appearance drew a full house at 283-seat Daniels Pavilion at Artis-Naples. The evening's late concert was also sold out.

There were two favorite moments:
  • Martino and the rhythm section's beautiful exploration of Bill Evans' ballad "Blue in Green." 
  • A co-feature in which Martino and Basham, whose "day job" is concertmaster of the Naples Philharmonic, turned Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" into a melodic conversation.
The evening showcased Martino's blazing technique, his swinging pulse and the deep, dark sound he gets from his guitar - ingredients that have been part of his music since he burst on the scene in the early 1960s. 

Every audience that hears Martino ought to be thankful they've had the opportunity. In 1980, he underwent emergency neurosurgery to repair a congenital brain aneurysm. He then had to relearn the guitar and his style by studying his vintage recordings. After a 15-year near-absence from recording and performing, he was back on the scene in the mid-1990s.

Martino, now 70, has a keen outlook about how the experience changed him. "The guitar is of no great importance to me," he says. "The people it brings to me are what matter. They are what I'm extremely grateful for, because they are alive. The guitar is just an apparatus." 

In a Facebook posting today, trumpeter Dan Miller called Martino "an inspiration both musically and personally. Not only is he a great artist who lifts the bandstand with his genius, but spiritually he emboldens you to live in the moment and embrace the now. An unforgettable day of music and discussion." 

Each month during the concert season, the band brings in a special guest. Next up are  tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath on March 4 and trumpeter Jon Faddis on April 1. 
Lew Del Gatto, Mike Harvey, Pat Martino, Dan Miller

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Looking Ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview (February and March)

The 2014-15 jazz concert season is running hot in Southwest Florida. Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, in February and March.
Pat Martino

  •  Wednesday, February 4 – Guitarist Pat Martino is the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra’s special guest. Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
  • Monday, February 9, 2015 – Twin saxophonists Peter and Will Anderson are featured in the Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s Artists Series. Cultural Center of Charlotte County. 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, February 12 – Trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa.
  • Saturday, February 21 – 10th annual Punta Gorda Wine & Jazz Festival, Laishley Park, Punta Gorda, 1-6 pm. Saxophonist Mindi Abair (back for her seventh consecutive year), guitarist Nick Colionne and saxophonist Dave Koz are featured at this smooth jazz event. The mainstream jazz portion of the weekend is at the Isles Yacht Club Sunday jazz brunch, which is sponsored by Presley Beane Financial Services. The brunch will feature drummer-singer Patricia Dean, trombonist Herb Bruce, pianist Jeff Phillips, bassist and guitarist Dave Trefethen, and trumpeter John DiPaola. All will mix it up in varied combinations between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • Wednesday, February 25 – Singer Rene Marie. Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa.
  • Saturday, February 28 – Singer Giacomo Gates, South County Jazz Club concert series, Glenridge Performing Arts Center, Sarasota, 8 p.m.
  • Sunday, March 1 to Saturday, March 7 – 35th annual Sarasota Jazz Festival. The lineup includes pianist Dick Hyman, clarinetist Ken Peplowski, singers Freddy Cole, June Garber, Karla Harris, and Kitt Moran. Concerts are at the Riverview High School Performing Arts Center in Sarasota.
  • Wednesday, March 4 – Saxophonist Jimmy Heath is the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra’s special guest. Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, March 8 Trumpeter/sanger Bria Skonberg. South County Jazz Club concert series, Glenridge Performing Arts Center, Sarasota, 2 p.m.
  •  Monday, March 9  – Trombonist Bill Allred’s Classic Jazz Band in concert, Charlotte County Jazz Society’s Artists Series. Cultural Center of Charlotte County. 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 14 and Sunday, March 15  – Banjo player Cynthia Sayer. South County Jazz Club concert series, Glenridge Performing Arts Center, Sarasota. Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
  • -Friday, March 20 – Singer Carla Cook with the Dan Miller-Lew Del Gatto Quintet. Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, Fort Myers.
Several local restaurants (including J.D.’s in Port Charlotte, The Orange House in Punta Gorda, The Roadhouse in Ft. Myers, and Alto in Naples) offer jazz steadily. Be sure to check the Alto and JD's websites for occasional guest headliners. 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.