Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Bobby van Deusen show

When you’ve got a piano marvel in the house, you wind him up and let him go – and then go along for the ride. That was the case Thursday when clarinetist Bud Leeds brought his quartet to the Venice (FL) Art Center as part of the South County Jazz Club’s matinee concert series.
Bud Leeds, Bobby van Deusen
The marvel was Bobby van Deusen, a ragtime and stride specialist who lives in Pensacola but was in the area for this weekend’s Suncoast Jazz Classic. Van Deusen will perform at the weekend-long trad jazz event in Clearwater with the Barbary Coast Dixieland Show Band. 

Bassist Don Mopsick, a 19-year member of the Jim Cullum Jazz Band, and drummer Tony Martin, who had worked with van Deusen previously in New Orleans, rounded out Leeds’ band.
Bud Leeds

Most tunes in the Leeds and van Deusen repertoires turned into medleys of some sort. 

The afternoon’s standout moments:
  • Van Deusen’s two ragtime features. In the first set, he premiered Richard St. Clair’s frisky 1989 piano rag, “Iron Filings,” which was written in 1989 by the Harvard-associated composer, who is best known for a range of classical, choral, sacred and concert band pieces. Van Deusen said "Iron Filings" had never been recorded or even performed before. Near the end of the final set, van Deusen played Johnny Guarnieri’s “Virtuoso Rag,” a complex, extended piece into which van Deusen seamlessly inserted snippets of TV theme songs.
  • Leeds was featured on “Stranger on the Shore,” a mega-hit for British clarinetist Acker Bilk, who passed away earlier this month. The band followed it with a seamless transition into “Am I Blue.”
  • A tribute to late Sarasota bassist Ernie Williford included an instrumental take on his signature vocal feature, Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on my Mind.” 
Van Deusen 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. He seems to never stray far from the piano. He was playing musical bits and pieces during the intermission - and long after concert-goers left the building. The music is in his blood.
Bobby Van Deusen, Bud Leeds, Tony Martin, Don Mopsick

Friday, November 14, 2014

Whether organic or synthetic, jazz is good for the soul....

I walked into this afternoon's jazz concert at the Englewood (FL) Art Center expecting it to be a B-3 kind of afternoon with the Sarasota-based Organic Trio. But keyboard player Robbie Rose decided to bring his electronic keyboards to the South County Jazz Club matinee rather than transport the hefty Hammond B-3.

The dual keyboards produced an organ-like sound, but it certainly wasn't the soulful sound produced by a B-3 and its whirling Leslie speaker. That doesn't mean it was bad. To the contrary. Rose, guitarist Rick Peterson and drummer Art Siegel put on a fine show, displaying individual chops as well as a cohesiveness that only comes with working together steadily. 

 Favorite moments: Peterson's melodic showcase on the jazz chestnut "Have You Met Miss Jones?" and the trio's beautiful cover of Horace Silver's ballad "Peace."
Robbie Rose, Art Siegel, Rick Peterson

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Two FLA jazz book-signing events 11/15, 16

There will be book signing/meet the author events this weekend for "Jazz in the Key of Light" in two Southwest Florida locations. Find out more about the book here.
  • The first is Saturday afternoon, November 15 from 1-5 pm, at Venice Beach Photography, 205 W. Venice Ave, upstairs. If you're in downtown Venice for the Chalk Festival or other goings on, this is a great chance to do some early holiday shopping for jazz fans in your life. If you're the fan, tell your elves about it.
  • The second is Sunday evening, November 16 from 5-7 pm, at JD's Bistro, 1951 Tamiami Trail in Port Charlotte. A portion of book sales will benefit the Charlotte County Jazz Society and the South County Jazz Club. Music by singer-pianist Danny Sinoff, drummer-singer Patricia Dean and bassist Dave Trefethen. Call (941) 255-0994 for reservations. 
I'll also have some signed and matted limited-edition original photographs on display/for sale in both locations..

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Spotlighting obscure tunes with toe-tapping swing

Johnny Varro
Pianist Johnny Varro seems most at home in obscure jazz material - not only 50 or more years old, but in some cases, obscure even when it was first performed. Such was the case with more than half of the compositions he presented Monday night, November 11, with the Florida edition of his Swing 7 band at the Charlotte County Jazz Society concert series.

Charlie Bertini
Sure, there were a couple of Duke Ellington staples ("What am I Here For?" and ""Black and Tan Fantasy"), as well as the jazz chestnuts "Corner Pocket" by Basie Band rhythm guitarist Freddie Green, "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise," "On the Sunny Side of the Street" and Kurt Weill's "Speak Low." But Varro & Co. also swung mightily through a lot of lesser-known gems. 

Rodney Rojas
For example: Ellington's "Stompy Jones," first recorded in 1934 as a showcase for alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, Franz Lehar's "Yours is My Heart Alone," Dick Carey's frisky "Swing Down to New Orleans," Benny Carter's John Kirby-like "Pom Pom," tenor saxophonist Al Cohn's "Brandy 'N Beer," and the closer, Mel Powell's "Mission to Moscow." 

Craig Christman
With 84-year-old Varro still going strong, this edition of the Swing 7 had a couple of roster changes from its  2012 appearance at the Charlotte Cultural Center. It included Charlie Bertini on trumpet, Craig Christman on alto sax and clarinet, Jeff Lego on trombone, Mark Neuenschwander on bass, Greg Parnell on drums and Rodney Rojas on tenor sax. 

They had toes-a-tappin' as they worked through Varro's intricate arrangements, charts that roared at times, but more often were filled with subtle modulations that enabled the full brass section to shine without players stepping on each other. Each band member had substantial solo space throughout the night.

Christman and Rojas turned in notable performances on Hodges' composition "You Need to Rock" as the night wound down. "And he wasn't talking about rock 'n' roll," Varro told the concert crowd. The band rocked and roared through it in swing fashion.Give Varro, house pianist at Eddie Condon's in New York back in the day, extra credit for avoiding tired material. 
Varro, Lego, Bertini, Christman, Rojaz, Neuenschwander, Parnell

Sunday, November 9, 2014

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at CD’s by Omer Avital, Nancy Kelly, and Gabriel Espinosa & Hendrick Meurkens

Omer Avital, New Song (Motéma)
Still need proof that jazz has globalized in a big way? Check this new CD from bassist Omer Avital. It blends jazz with the exotic melodic, rhythmic and tonal influences of the Middle East and North Africa. Israeli jazz veteran Avital’s talents as a player and composer became apparent soon after his arrival on the New York jazz scene in 1992, New Song is his ninth recording as a leader, and it is a gem. His collaborators on this all-originals quintet project include trumpeter Avishai Cohen, tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm, pianist Yonathan Avishai and drummer Daniel Freedman. Favorite tracks: the opener, “Hafla,” the ballad “Avishkes,” the uptempo “New Middle East” and the desert-march-infused ”Bedouin Roots.” The group cohesiveness here is strong and trumpeter Cohen stands out as a soloist. Jazz truly has become an international language.

Gabriel Espinosa & Hendrik Meurkens, Samba Little Samba (Zoho)

If you love Brazilian-style jazz, tinged with a bit of Latin, this CD is one to check out - and relish. Bassist-singer Gabriel Espinosa and harmonica player Hendrik Meurkens have put together a gem in this second partnership as co-leaders. Their strong supporting cast includes Anat Cohen on clarinet and tenor sax, Misha Tsiganov on piano, and Antonio Sanchez and Adriano Santos splitting the drum work. Alison Wedding provides superb vocal work on eight of the CD’s 10 tracks. Singer Tierney Sutton steps aboard for a dreamy vocal duet with Espinosa on “Besame Mucho,” in an Espinosa arrangement that also features guitarist Serge Merlaud. Every track here is filled with seamless beauty and a steady yet lilting energy. Meurkens’ plaintive harmonica work and Tsignanov’s delicate keyboard fills dominate Espinosa’s original bolero “Fe,” which he wrote as the father/daughter song for his daughter Adriana’s wedding. Samba Little Samba is outstanding. There is much to love from the opening notes to the last.

Nancy Kelly, B That Way (BlueBay)

When you think of a combo with a Hammond B-3 organ at the core, tenor saxophone or guitar come to mind most often as one of the other key instrumental ingredients. Nancy Kelly as added something else: vocals. This upstate New York singer swings hard, and blends beautifully on this outing with Dino Losito on B-3, Jerry Weldon on tenor sax, Peter Bernstein on guitar and Carmen Intorre on drums. This project was a natural fit for Kelly, who was house singer with a local organ trio at a Philadelphia jazz club called Jewel’s in the early 1980s. That four-year adventure served her well. Favorite tracks: Curtis Lewis’s “The Great City,” a romp through Charlie Parker’s “Billy’s Bounce” (with lyrics by Jon Hendricks), and the band’s plaintive take on Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain.” One ballad to savor is Carroll Coates’ “Here’s Looking at You.”

Friday, October 31, 2014

Jazz singer shares new understanding of certain songs

Transformative moments in life have an impact on music. Sometimes they inspire it. Sometimes they underscore the meaning within the lyrics, or help listeners - and singers -  better appreciate them. 

June Garber
Such was the case Thursday, October 30, when singer June Garber performed at the Venice (FL) Art Center at a South County Jazz Club matinee concert, backed by saxophonist-flutist Tom Ellison, pianist Eddie Tobin, bassist John Lamb and drummer Dave Pruyn.

A bit of background here to put the concert in context. Garber and her husband, Bob Doherty, moved to the Sarasota area two years ago, uprooting themselves from Toronto in favor of a more temperate climate. She quickly immersed herself in the area jazz scene and was welcomed as a splendid addition to the talent mix with her very high level of musicianship and her presence.

She was very busy until mid-November 2013, when her world fell apart. Doherty, her husband of 30 years, died unexpectedly. Garber, a longtime resident of Canada and native of South Africa, did not have American citizenship. She moved back to Toronto and begin the process of emotional healing.

She's back visiting southwest Florida for a couple of weeks, and sharing her voice, her heart and her memories of "Bobby" through song in a handful of performances before flying north again. 

John Lamb, June Garber
June Garber, Tom Ellison
On Thursday, Garber sang a blend of songs that Bob loved, or for which she has drawn a deeper appreciation since his passing. Examples: "The Man That Got Away" (best associated with Judy Garland), "I Thought About You" (which began as an intimate duo with Garber's voice and John Lamb's conversational bass technique), "You Go to My Head," "It Could Happen To You," "Just Squeeze Me," "You're My Thrill" and "I'm Gonna Live 'Til I Die."

Doherty may not have been in the room, but his emotional presence was palpable. The audience gave Garber a standing ovation after she closed with her extended interpretation of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." It was one of Doherty's favorite tunes, and, as she said a couple of nights earlier, "that's where he is."

It was great to see and hear Garber again, realize that she is indeed bouncing back and sounds even stronger now as a singer. She'll be back in Florida in March for a Sarasota Jazz Festival concert. She'll be backed by the Sarasota Jazz Project big band.
Eddie Tobin, John Lamb, Dave Pruyn, June Garber, Tom Ellison

Thursday, October 23, 2014

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a closer look at CD’s by the Hutchinson Andrew Trio, the Mike Longo Trio and Marianne Solivan….
Hutchinson Andrew Trio, Prairie Modern (Chronograph)
This one is like a fine wine that sits on the rack, unopened for many months, getting better and better with age. Then you pop the cork, or pop it into the CD player, and say “wow.” It’s a 2013 release that somehow didn’t grab my attention until a week or so ago. The Western Canada-based Hutchinson Andrew Trio hails from the prairie country of Alberta. Pianist Chris Andrew, bassist Kodi Hutchinson and drummer Karl Schwonik are the principals here, joined on six of 13 tracks by New York-based saxophonist Donny McCaslin and on three tracks by percussionist Rogério Boccato. All of the music conjures up breathtaking images of the sweeping open country that the trio calls home. Kudos to the edgy and versatile McCaslin for settling right in to sound like an integral part of the modern, adventurous band. Favorite tracks: the opening ballad “Mountain Rose,” “Wilds,” “Ponderado,” “Mintaka” and “Prairie Wind.” Chris Andrew, who wrote all 13 tracks, (two in collaboration with Hutchinson), is a powerhouse composer inspired by his surroundings, be they friends or majestic settings. Wow.

Mike Longo Trio, Celebrates Oscar Peterson Live (CAP)

Pianist Mike Longo, featured in his longstanding trio with bassist Paul West and drummer Ray Mosca, has another gem here. Longo spent an intense six months studying with pianist Oscar Peterson back in 1961, and this is his homage to the master. There is no outright duplication, for that’s the last thing OP would have wanted. Instead, Longo celebrates Peterson through the traits he absorbed – unbridled swing and chordal/melodic invention, thundering or delicate as needed – as the band explored standard jazz and popular standards that were part of Peterson’s repertoire. Favorites: their takes on Duke Ellington’s “Love You Madly,” “Always,” an adventurous tease through “Love For Sale,” “Tenderly” and a most appropriate “I Remember You.” 

Marianne Solivan, Spark (Hipnotic)

Singer-composer-educator Marianne Solivan has absorbed mightily from listening to jazz greats over the years, and her absorption from singers and instrumentalists has turned her into a charming and gifted talent. You’ll immediately dig her sense of time, her phrasing, and her ability to make a song all her own. She avoids overly familiar material, focusing instead on originals and material deserving to make its way to fresh ears. On this, her second CD, Solivan is backed by a superb trio, featuring Xavier Davis on piano, Matthew Parrish on bass and Greg Hutchinson on drums. Clear favorites: her original “Spark,” which opens the CD, and her take on Francesca Blumenthal’s “The Lies of Handsome Men.”

Monday, October 20, 2014

Looking Ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview

The 2014-15 jazz concert season is under way. Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, between now and the end of the year.

  • Monday, October 27 – The Music of Horace Silver performed by the University of South Florida Faculty Jazz Ensemble (Jack Wilkins, Tom Brantley, Matt McCarthy, LaRue Nickelson, Mark Neuenschwander, Chris Rottmayer, Ric Craig), USF Concert Hall, Tampa, 7:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, October 29 – Vibes player Jason Marsalis (younger brother of Branford, Delfeayo and Wynton) is the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra’s special guest for this concert. Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
  • Monday, November 10 – Pianist Johnny Varro’s Swing Seven. Charlotte County Jazz Society’s Artists Series. Cultural Center of Charlotte County. 7 p.m.
  • Friday, November 21-Sunday, November 23 – The 24th annual Suncoast Jazz Classic pretty much takes over two Clearwater Beach hotel resorts (the Sheraton Sand Key and the Marriott Sand Key) for its annual traditional jazz bash.
  • Monday, December 8 – New England-based hard-bop saxophonist Greg Abate makes his biennial visit to the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s Artists Series. Cultural Center of Charlotte County. 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, December 10 – Pianist Uri Caine is the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra’s special guest. Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
  • POSTPONED UNTIL APRIL 16, 2015 DUE TO ILLNESS: Saturday, December 13 – Singer-pianist Diana Krall. Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota.
  • Sunday, December 14 – The Four Freshmen, South County Jazz Club concert series, Glenridge Performing Arts Center, Sarasota, 2 p.m.
  • Thursday, December 18 – Bop pianist Hod O’Brien with singers Stephanie Nakasian and Veronica O’Brien (their daughter). South County Jazz Club concert, Venice Art Center, 2 p.m.
  • Thursday, December 18 – Grammy-winning jazz singer Gregory Porter, Straz Center, Tampa, 8 p.m.
  • Harry Allen
  • Saturday, December 20 – Guitarist Nate Najar’s trio with special guest Harry Allen, South County Jazz Club concert series, Glenridge Performing Arts Center, Sarasota, 8 p.m.

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. 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.