Friday, December 19, 2014

When jazz is a family affair

The South County Jazz Club's matinee concert at the Venice FL Art Center on Thursday, December 18 showed how much fun jazz can be when it's a family affair.

Hod O'Brien
It doesn't hurt to have had a family with considerable chops. Hod O'Brien, a fine bebop pianist  since the 1950s, led the trio that backed his wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian. They brought along a special musical treat - their 20-year-old daughter, Veronica Swift - who is blossoming as a fine singer in the jazz, rock and electronica worlds. 

Jazz standards and Great American Songbook  material were blended with a bit of stride piano, and material associated with singers Billie Holiday, Helen Humes (the blues "Million Dollar Secret"), Ethel Waters and Lee Wiley. Nakasian's engaging lyrical treatments were enhanced by O'Brien's keyboard mastery.

Nakasian, Mopsick
Two southwest Florida jazz stalwarts, bassist Don Mopsick and drummer Patricia Dean,  were aboard for this musical journey with Virginia-based Nakasian and O'Brien (who turns 79 next month).  

In the spirit of the season, Nakasian treated the audience to "Christmas is Really Creepin' Up on Me," a clever, swinging tune that Mopsick wrote about 15 years ago - so long ago, he told me between sets, that he had forgotten about it. Nakasian said she plans to record the song next year.
Veronica Swift


Swift, a junior at the University of Miami's Frost School of Music, was a pleasant surprise for most in the room. She sang three numbers during the afternoon, including a most interesting take on "September in the Rain." As part of an assignment at school, Swift wrote her own vocalese lyrics to saxophonist Lester Young's instrumental solo on his recording of the tune. Swift has remarkable finesse and an uncanny sense of swing. She also has tremendous vocal range that will serve her well. 

Stephanie Nakasian, Veronica Swift
 She joined her mother for a show-closing vocal duet version of "I Got Rhythm." And they certainly did.

Hod O'Brien and Stephanie Nakasian




Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Four Freshmen experience

Stein Malvey, Curtis Calderon
The Four Freshmen have been straddling the jazz and pop genres for 66 years nonstop, though the quartet hasn't had an original member in its ranks since 1992. But everywhere they go, they still pack in full houses.

Sunday's matinee concert at Sarasota's was a case in point.Glenridge Performing Arts Center, sponsored by the South County Jazz Club. The gig was sold out more than a week in advance, with more than 200 turning out to hear classic tunes performed by the band's 23rd combination of singer/players. 

Harmony vocals are the band's hallmark, bridging the vocal tradition associated with 1940s and '50s swing big bands with groups they inspired, notably the Beach Boys and The Lettermen. Clearly the hunger for that sound and style is still there.

The current lineup consists of Brian Eichenberger (lead vocals and bass), Stein Malvey (vocals and guitar), Curtis Calderon (vocals and trumpet), and Bob Ferreira (vocals and drums). was first established in 2013. Malvey is the newest member, joining the band in 2013.

Most interesting moments: The clever back-to-back performance of the 1952 hit "The Day Isn't Long Enough (When I'm With You!)" and its direct opposite, 1950's "Pick  Up Your Tears (and Go Home)." They also paid tribute to the founding members: brothers Don and Ross Barbour, Bob Flanigan and Hal Kratzsch with a reprise of the band's greatest hit: "It's a Blue World." Without those four, this phenomenon may never have happened.

Bob Ferreira, Brian Eichenberger, Stein Malvey, Curtis Calderon


  

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The art of the jazz duo

Pianist Johnny Varro is best known for his interpretations of vintage jazz, most of it dating to the 1920s through the '40s. But Friday afternoon's duo concert with bassist Mark Neuenschwander for the South County Jazz Club gave Varro a chance to spread his wings a bit into material not associated with his Swing 7 classic jazz band.

Their duo came about by accident a few years ago when the drummer never showed for a trio gig. They shifted gears and the third man out wasn't missed.

The duo format works well in the right hands, such as these jazz veterans. Varro and Neuenschwander, one of the finest and busiest bass players in western Florida, know when to lead, when to support, and when to sit out and marvel in the other's solos. 
Eyes on Jazz
This unplugged concert in the acoustically marvelous main gallery of the Venice Art Center included a wide array of jazz standards, most of them romance-inspired. 

Favorites included "Tangerine," the Johnny Mandel's "Emily" (the waltz theme from the 1964 film "The Americanization of Emily"), "Body and Soul," and a Duke Ellington medley that coursed through "Sophisticated Lady," "What Am I Here For?," "Prelude to a Kiss" and "Take the A Train." One surprising number - delightful to these ears - was Varro's inclusion of Thelonious Monk's 1954 bop standard "Blue Monk."

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hard bopper Greg Abate and his high-energy jazz

Greg Abate
High-energy jazz doesn't describe the full feeling of listening to hard bop saxophonist Greg Abate in live performance because so much intensity and idea-making fuels his music. But it comes close. Even his approach to ballads and sambas have that lilt. They start out breezy or laid-back, but they are certain to have their burning moments.Count on it.

Such was the case on Monday, December 8, when the New England-based jazz man performed in the Charlotte County Jazz Society's concert series. He visits every two years for a Port Charlotte stop and a few other gigs in the area. And why not? It's a great way to escape harsher northern weather for a few days.

Matt Bokulic
Abate was joined on the gig by a stellar Florida rhythm section, with Matt Bokulic on piano, Richard Drexler on bass and Ian Goodman on drums. Abate hadn't worked with Bokulic in about 20 years, and had never performed with Goodman previously, but Drexler had been with Abate on previous visits. 

As is sometimes the case in jazz - and is always the goal - this band locked in on Abate's concept and performed with a cohesive chemistry that was very special.  

Richard Drexler
Alto sax was Abate's primary instrument for this concert, though he shifted to flute on two originals, a waltz called "Morning of the Leaves" from his newest CD Motif, and the minor blues "Contemplation." 

The evening's highlights were Abate's grooving interplay with the rhythmic section members at various points. He and Goodman locked in mightily on another original, the burner "Roger Over and Out." He and Bokulic had some wonderful solo conversations on "Contemplation," and the Abate-Drexler teasing back-and-forth intro to "Body and Soul" was delightful.


Ian Goodman
Most material came from the jazz canon, including Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite" and "Groovin' High," which Parker co-wrote with Dizzy Gillespie. Others included Benny Carter's "When Lights Are Low," Billy Strayhorn's elegaic "Blood Count," and "The End of a Love Affair."

Abate is one of the masters of seamlessly dropping in quotes from other tunes, as ideas pour through him - and out of his horn. He just does it faster than most other players and then moves on to something else. The original samba "Bittersweet" saw him work in snippets of Freddie Hubbard's "Sunflower" and The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby." On the closer, "All the Things You Are," which Abate dedicated to the audience, came bits of "Lullaby of Birdland," "I Love You" and, in the spirit of the season, "Sleigh Ride." "Winter Wonderland" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" also popped into his ideas earlier in the evening.
Bokulic, Drexler, Abate, Goodman

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

2014’s Top 10 Jazz Listings…. One Scribe's Take

This 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 had a chance to hear during the year.* Bottom line, all of these are very subjective.

My choices below (aside from top 10 new songs of the year) were submitted to the Jazz Times and NPR Music 2014 compilations. (The latter is a Francis Davis-produced poll that previously was published by The Village Voice and Rhapsody.com).

 As I begin preparing my review of significant events and trends in jazz this year for allaboutjazz.com, I thought I'd share my "best of 2014" lists. *Always keep in mind the above caveats.

 The 10 best new jazz releases of 2014

1.   Cava Menzies/Nick Phillips, Moment To Moment (Nick Phillips Music)

2.   Barb Jungr, Hard Rain (Kristalyn)

3.   Pat Metheny Unity Group, Kin (↔) (Nonesuch-Metheny Group Productions)

4.   Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra, Habitat (Justin Time)

5.    Sonny Rollins, Road Shows, Volume 3 (Doxy/OKeh)

6.   Craig Handy, Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith (OKeh)

7.   George Cables, Icons & Influences (HighNote)

8.    Alan Broadbent and NDR Big Band, America The Beautiful (Jan Matthies)

9.   Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow and Bobby Previte, The New Standard (RareNoise)

10. Suzanna Smith, Between Heaven & Love (Ink Pen)

 
The best historical/reissues of 2014 (includes any recordings made over 10 years ago, whether newly released or reissued):

1.   Gene Ludwig-Pat Martino Trio, Young Guns (HighNote)

2.   Francy Boland, Playing With The Trio (Schema Rearward)

3.   John Coltrane, Offering: Live At Temple University  (Resonance)

4.   Miles Davis, Miles at the Fillmore - Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3 (Columbia/Legacy)
 
The 10 best new songs from CDs released in 2014, listed alphabetically:

1.   Noah Baerman, “Lester” from Ripples (self-produced)

2.  Laura Dubin, “Thank You For Your Time” from Introducing the Laura Dubin Trio (self-produced)

3.   Alex Garcia, “11:11 Spirit” from Alex Garcia’s AfroMantra, This Side of Mestizaje (AfroMantra)

4.   Kaszuo Ishiguro and Jim Tomlinson, “The Summer We Crossed Europe in the Rain” from Stacey Kent, The Changing Lights (Warner Bros).

5.   Pat Metheny, “Born” from Kin (↔) (Nonesuch-Metheny Group Productions)

6.   Ellen Rowe, “And Miles To Go (Part 2)” from Courage Music (PKO)

7.   Gonzalo Rubalcaba, “Volcan Durmiente” from Volcán (5Pasion)

8.   Jamie Saft, “Blue Shuffle” from The New Standard (RareNoise)

9.   Anton Schwartz, “Dawn’s Song” from Flash Mob (Antonjazz)

10. Herb Silverstein, “Wish You Were Here” from Monday Morning (self-produced)
 
2014’s best vocal recording:
Barb Jungr, Hard Rain (Kristalyn)
                                                  
2014’s best Latin/Brazilian jazz recordings:

1.  Volcán, Volcán (5Pasion)

2.  Omar Sosa, Real Live: The New AfroCuban Quartet Live in Japan (Otá)

3.  Afro Bop Alliance, Angel Eyes (Zoho)

4.  Yosvany Terry, New Throned King (5Pasion)

5.  Gabriel Espinosa and Hendrick Meurkens, Samba Little Samba (Zoho) 

2014’s best book about jazz:
“ART: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman,” by Laurie Pepper (APMCorp)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Jazz Times.com has posted excerpts from my new book, “Jazz in the Key of Light,” that spotlight nine of its 80 featured musicians.

The coffee-table-style book is drawing five-star reviews. 


Here is a sampling:

  • “Just want to let you know I'm getting a late piano start today and it's YOUR FAULT! I got your book, and I decided to read it this morning instead catching up on the latest health and terrorist crises in our world. What a treat your book is! I'm not sure if I've seen something like this before, and I have a lot of books. Great photos with insightful words. Very cool!" – pianist-composer Lisa Hilton
  • “Some non-musician/non-musical friends, who were here on a visit, began looking at the book on my coffee table. The format interested them enough to ask intelligent questions about jazz. There is obviously a wealth of enjoyment for the jazz enthusiast, but I saw that the book can both intrigue and draw-in the beginner. You've got a winner here!” singer-guitarist Tony Boffa 
  • “This book is going to be a collector's item. It is beautiful and thoughtful, marrying masterful photographs with telling quotes from each profiled musician. Author Ken Franckling has harvested decades of his work to capture the vitality and spirit of the jazz world for anyone who loves this type of music (and how can you not?).” reader Michael Blumstein (posted on Amazon)

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.

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.

Monday, November 10, 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.

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

Friday, October 31, 2014

Jazz singer shares new understanding of certain songs

June Garber
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. 

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.

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….

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.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Two different yet effective jazz vocal approaches

The Charlotte County Jazz Society opened its 25th anniversary season Monday night with a double concert featuring Dave Pruyn and Paulette Pepper. The two Florida-based singers have very different, yet very effective, approaches to the Great American Songbook and jazz canon.

Monday, October 6, 2014

A generations-leaping jazz adventure

I’ve spent the last few days listening closely to Cheek to Cheek, the ambitious new recording by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. It debuted September 23 and soared to #1 on the Billboard 200 list. It also topped the Jazz Albums and Traditional Jazz Albums charts. Cheek to Cheek sold 131,000 copies in the week ending September 28, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Bennett is 88 and Lady Gaga is 28, yet they found common ground in exploring the Great American Songbook, which has always been Bennett’s forte. Gaga has also loved it, to a larger degree than most of her fans knew or appreciated.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at CDs by Dr. John, Mark Elf, Fred Hersch and Jane Potter.…

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A jazz matinee with Larry Camp, Marty Morell, Bruce Wallace

Larry Camp
Bassist Bruce Wallace opened the South County Jazz Club's 2014-15 concert season Friday afternoon with a top-notch trio whose members had never worked together in this personnel grouping. It featured guitarist Larry Camp and drummer Marty Morell, best known in jazz circles for his seven-year stint in pianist Bill Evans' trio from 1968 to 1975.


Marty Morell
Musically, it was a fine, and poignant, afternoon at the Venice (FL) Art Center. This was Wallace's third consecutive season opener for the jazz club. Powerhouse pianist Kenny Drew Jr. had been pencilled in for the gig - until his unexpected death on August 3.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at CDs by Roberto Magris, Dan Moretti and Ernie Watts….

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Jazz In The Key of Light

I’m pleased to announce that my new book, “Jazz in the Key of Light” (Eighty of our Finest Jazz Musicians Speak for Themselves), is being self-published in a limited edition on October 15. 

This is not your typical fine art photography book. Images of the featured artists, in performance or moments of personal reflection, are paired with illuminating quotes from interviews I had with those musicians in assignments for a variety of mainstream and music publications over the past 30 years.  
The spotlighted musicians range from legends Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan to a variety of today’s rising stars. Newport Jazz Festival producer George Wein wrote the Foreword. 

“Ken has leveraged his backstage pass to bring jazz fans closer to the music’s human source. Jazz In The Key of Light’s connection of words and images is a powerful complement to the music, since listeners often have no other statement from artists besides their art. As a result, we feel closer to the musician as a person.” 
        – Al Basile, poet, songwriter, and jazz & blues cornetist

“Jazz in the Key of Light,” published in hardcover format with dust jacket, retails at $59.95 (plus tax where applicable, and $5.99 shipping and handling). It is also available for purchase through Amazon.com.

Orders for signed or inscribed copies can be made directly, payable by check or through PayPal. Contact me for details at kfjazzpix@aol.com.