Thursday, October 8, 2015

Exploring the Great American and Jazz Songbooks

Danny Sinoff
Singer-pianist Danny Sinoff let his piano chops carry most of the load Thursday when his trio opened the South County Jazz Club's 2015-2016 matinee season at the Venice (FL) Art Center. While he is busy with steady club gigs, principally in Fort Myers and Port Charlotte, this was Sinoff's first appearance in Venice.

Sinoff is best known for his vocal talents - and a repertoire that is heavily weighted toward the Frank Sinatra songbook - but on this afternoon his material drew from many sources - including composers Isham Jones, Cole Porter, the brothers Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, Mercer Ellington, Cy Coleman, Kurt Weill, Jerome Kern and Thelonious Monk. 

Sinoff is a fine singer, but a close listen to his inventiveness at the keyboard reveals that he's a formidable pianist as well. His trio-mates were his longtime bassist Sherrell McCants and drummer Tony Vigilante, both of whom are skilled timekeepers and excellent improvisers and have impeccable bandstand chemistry with Sinoff.

Danny Sinoff
Highlights among the afternoon's 16 tunes were his freshened take on the Ahmad Jamal-associated jazz burner "Poinciana," a romp through Thelonious Monks' "Blue Monk" and a piano-and-vocals version of Brooks Bowman's "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)," which has been recorded by Sinatra and many other jazz vocalists. 

He wound down the afternoon with his own version of Weill's "Mack the Knife," which he introduced in a way the song isn't generally thought of - as an ode about a serial killer. 

Those who missed Sinoff's artistry in Venice, can catch up with him Tuesdays and Fridays at JD's Bistro and Grille in Port Charlotte, and Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Roadhouse Cafe in Fort Myers.
Danny Sinoff, Sherrell McCants, Tony Vigilante

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Ninety birthday candles – and an extended season of birthday wishes

When you are turning 90, the celebration begins early. So jazz festival producer George Wein certainly can have a 90th birthday event this Friday, October 2, even though he was born on October 3, 1925.
George Wein

Wein will spend Friday evening at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola in Manhattan performing with an array of talents, most of whom have been regulars in his Newport All-Stars bands. Those special guests are guitarist Howard Alden, trumpeter Randy Brecker, drummer Lewis Nash and bassist Jay Leonhart, with Frank Kimbrough sharing piano duties with Wein. It shapes up as quite a musical party.

The birthday tributes actually began earlier this year, including the audience singing “Happy Birthday” to Wein on July 31 at the opening night concert at the Newport Jazz Festival. Wein has made this a special year for himself with a 38-day vacation, which concluded last weekend. It included a fine wine and culinary tour of France, Spain, Belgium and Holland, wrapped by transatlantic passage on the “Queen Mary II.”

In his most recent Notes from the Wein Machine, penned during that European adventure, the Newport Jazz Festival’s founding producer was still basking in the 2015 festival successes.

While he and his senior staff already are making plans for the 2016 edition, scheduled next July 29-31, here’s what he said about the 2015 weekend: “…this past summer, with the perfect weather, there occurred a jazz festival that equaled or topped anything we have had the enjoyment of creating. All of you who were there made the success possible and proved that jazz - in a sea of pop, rock, country and funk - is still communicating to those whose musical tastes are directed toward the musicians, for whom playing jazz is their breath of life.”

Wein spent a great deal of his vacation visiting with several of his European jazz festival counterparts. But he said they weren’t talking shop this time around. “It was food and wine. So much so that I will have to go on a diet [of jazz] when we get home.”

So come Friday night or Saturday – or both – raise your glass and toast the man who has done so much for jazz and its makers for more than 60 years.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Jazz has lost another true master - Phil Woods

Phil Woods
Word spread very quickly through the jazz community this afternoon that alto saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master (Class of 2007) Phil Woods passed away today. He was 83

The news came less than a month after Woods told the audience at a September 4 concert at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in Pittsburgh that he had just played his final gig. He had long suffered from emphysema and performed for several years while using oxygen.

The Springfield MA native was a creative player, fine bandleader and a tremendous nurturer of young talent. He had a great sense of humor, acerbic more often than not, and a refreshing level of candor.

He was an easy choice for inclusion in my book "Jazz in the Key of Light (Eighty of our Finest Jazz Musicians Speak for Themselves)." Here's what Phil had to say about his own early evolution as a jazz player, at a time when he felt overwhelmed by the talents already on the scene:

“I remember one time, I got kidnapped by Art Blakey and Dizzy Gillespie. I was working at Birdland. I was drinking too much and unhappy with the band I was playing with, and moaning and groaning, and all that stuff. Dizzy and Art took me to Dizzy’s pad out in Corona where he lived and said: “Now what is your problem, man?’ I said, ‘Oh, man, I’m not ready. I’m a white guy I’m not going to make it in jazz.’ And Dizzy said – ‘ Young man, Charlie Parker did not give this music to any particular race. He gave it to everyone in the world. And if you can hear it, you can have it. You can’t steal a gift.’ I’ll never forget that.”        

Jazz wisdom, passed on from a man who gave so much to the music.  

 RIP Phil. You can breathe easy again.  

Friday, September 18, 2015

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Joe Alterman, Don Braden, Laszlo Gardony, Paul Keeling and Wolfgang Lackerschmid….

Joe Alterman, Georgia Sunset (self-produced) 
Atlanta native Joe Alterman, based in New York City for the past eight years, is a complete young pianist with great chops and a deep appreciation for his 1950s and ‘60s keyboard forbears who have influenced his taste and style. They include Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis, Les McCann and Cedar Walton. This is primarily a trio session with bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, CD producer Houston Person joins the fun with his bluesy tenor sax on five tracks, including a terrific rendition of his own “Snake Eyes” and “The Theme” which Alterman co-wrote with McCann. Alterman goes solo on the beautiful Nat Cole-associated ballad “That Day, That Summer,” Walton’s “I’ll Let You Know” and a no-frills melodic exploration of the Bee Gees’ “How Deep is Your Love?” His own “Georgia Sunset” is a wistful gem loaded with musical imagery.

Don Braden & Organix Quartet, Luminosity (Creative Perspective Music)

Call this soul-jazz for the new millennium. Tenor saxophonist and flutist Don Braden has had a B-3 based group for more than a dozen years with organ player Kyle Koehler and drummer Cecil Brooks III. The terrific guitarist Dave Stryker is a more recent addition to the quartet. Trumpeter Claudio Roditi and alto saxophonist Sherman Irby join the fun on one track apiece (Roditi on “If I Could Write a Book” and Irby going mixing it up with Braden on Herbie Hancock’s “Driftin’”). This is a hot session. Favorite tracks: Stryker’s showcase solo on the Chick Corea tune “Bud Powell,” Braden’s lush solo version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge,” “Driftin’” and the band’s take on Braden’s own “The Time We Shared.”

Laszlo Gardony, Life in Real Time (Sunnyside)

Boston-based pianist Laszlo Gardony’s trio with bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yoron Israel has produced both memorable performances and recordings for more than 13 years. So how do you top that legacy? Gardony did it by expanding the group to a sextet featuring three tenor saxophone players: Don Braden, Bill Pierce and Stan Strickland, who is also featured on bass clarinet on several tracks.  

Life in Real Time features six Gardony originals and two covers (George Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland” and the traditional “Motherless Child”). Favorite tracks: “Bourbon Street Boogie” and “Breakout” (the latter tune featuring solos by Braden and Pierce). This was recorded live in concert at the Berklee Performance Center in September 2014. Five of the six band members are longtime members of the Berklee faculty; Braden directs Harvard’s Monday Night Jazz Band.

Paul Keeling, Ancient Lights (self-produced)

Vancouver-based pianist Paul Keeling is a versatile composer and player, as evidenced on his latest project Ancient Lights. He wrote eight of the nine tracks, the lone exception being late trumpeter Kenny Wheeler’s “’Smatter.” With his core band and guests, the band size ranges at various times from quartet to sextet. Favorite tracks: the Keeling ballads “Hearth” and “Keep Telling the Story,” and the gorgeous “I’m Going With You,” which is a beautiful feature for trumpeter Brad Turner. There is much here to savor.

Wolfgang Lackerschmid Quartet (TCB)

German vibes player Wolfgang Lackerschmid, who has worked with Chet Baker, Lee Konitz and many more well-known bandleaders, collaborated on this project with pianist Lynne Arriale, bassist Mike Sharfe and drummer Steve Davis. The quartet was recorded in November 1999, right after a European tour, but was just released this year. The leader contributed all of the compositions except Arriale’s “The Dove” and “Calypso.” 

The opening track is of special interest. Lackerschmid's “Ain’t No Sunflower” is a beautiful instrumental blend that mashes melodic fragments of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Freddie Hubbard’s jazz classic “Little Sunflower.” Other treats: the Latin-tinged “Shoe It Yourself,” “The Dove” and “Waltz for Berlin.” File this gem under the “Well Worth the Wait” category.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Jazz loses one of its great advocates

Jazz lost one of its finest ambassadors this holiday weekend. Broadcaster "Tom the Jazzman" Mallison died overnight in a head-on collision as he was driving home to Greenville after his weekly Sunday night radio show on North Carolina's Eastern Public Radio. He had been a steady volunteer broadcaster on the station in New Bern for more than 30 years.

Tom the Jazzman at Newport, 8-31-2015
Mallison was a great friend, as well as a tremendous advocate for and promoter of jazz - and a mentor to many younger jazz broadcasters around the country. He was a faithful attendee at the Newport Jazz Festival each summer for several decades. His jazz knowledge and his gentle spirit will be missed at festivals, conferences and seminars galore, and his soothing voice will be missed by his many Eastern Public Radio fans.

California-based pianist Lisa Hilton was stunned when hearing of the overnight tragedy, but also had a keen perspective on Mallison. "The last thing he did was his jazz show. That's Tom - Jazzman until the end."

An Evening with TomtheJazzman was the longest running jazz program in North Carolina. Mallison took great pride in the fact that he never repeated or reran a program. Everything was fresh week-in and week-out.

In 2003, jazz programmers across the United States selected Tom the Jazzman to be the first recipient of JazzWeek's Duke Dubois Humanitarian Award for his efforts in jazz promotion, jazz education, his radio programming and willingness to help other jazz radio programmers and stations.

Condolences at this sad time to his wife, Frances, their children and grandchildren. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

The fine art of musical conversation

Subbing for vacationing drummer-singer Patricia Dean's band, pianist William Evans brought his Tampa Bay-area trio to JD's Bistro & Grille in Port Charlotte FL Thursday night, September 2, for what turned out to be a top-flight night of music.
William Evans

Detroit native Evans splits his time between Florida's Gulf Coast and Basel, Switzerland, where he's a longtime faculty member at the Swiss Jazz School. Evans' band mates on Thursday were two other very fine Tampa Bay-area players, bassist Joe Porter and drummer John Jenkins.
Evans, Porter

Together they engaged in the fine art of musical conversation, where the shared result becomes something far greater than the mere sum of its individual parts. Each of these players is a jazz modernist, able through tone, touch and musical ideas to transform any song into a fresh gem with many facets. To use a bit of art analogy, they were like three sound painters sharing one canvas.

They avoided the "tired tunes" repertoire entirely - which is rare for a club or restaurant gig - and the music was better for it. The trio  did include one so-called standard, albeit one that was a hit so long ago that most listeners wouldn't remember it. The Marty Palitz-Alec Wilder ballad "Moon and Sand" was first recorded back in 1941 by Xavier Cugat with his Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra. It is always great when a musician dusts off some of the infrequently visited pages of the Great American Songbook.

The evening's repertoire also included a bit of Joe Henderson ("Black Narcissus"), Cedar Walton, Wes Montgomery and Thelonious Monk ("Eronel"), among others. Evans, Porter and Jenkins put their own collective stamp on them. And a fine stamp it was.

What a way to get prepared for the forthcoming jazz concert season in southwest Florida. 
William Evans, Joe Porter, John Jenkins

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Looking Ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview

The 2015-16 jazz concert season will start heating up in southwest Florida in September and continue through May, mirroring the gradual arrival and departure of the snowbirds. 

Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through November. I’ll post updated lists as the season progresses.
  • Tuesday, September 8 – Singer Lorri Hafer with the Helios Jazz Orchestra. The Palladium Theatre’s Side Door Cabaret, St. Petersburg. 7:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, September 23 – Guitarist Nate Najar, drummer-vibist Chuck Redd and bassist Tommy Cecil. The Side Door Cabaret at the Palladum Theater. St. Petersburg. 7:30 p.m.
  • Monday, October 12 – Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s Artists Series opens its new season with a double bill featuring singer-drummer Patricia Dean with the Stu Shelton trio, plus the Jim Martin-Dick Hamilton quartet. Cultural Center of Charlotte County, Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Friday, October 23 – St. Petersburg-based O Som Do Jazz performs Brazilian jazz at Artis Naples’ Daniels Pavilion. 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. shows.
  • Wednesday, October 28 – Baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan is featured guest with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra for its All That Jazz season opener. Daniels Pavilion, 6 and 8:30 p.m.
    Dee Dee Bridgewater
  • Wednesday, November 4 – Singer Dee Dee Bridgewater joins Irvin Mayfield &  the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. Straz Center’s Ferguson Hall, Tampa, 7:30 p.m.
  • Monday, November 9 – Pianist Jerry Stawski’s Jazz Ensemble. Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s Artists Series concert at Cultural Center of Charlotte County. 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, November 15 – Guitarist Julian Lage’s trio. The Side Door Cabaret at the Palladum Theater. St. Petersburg. 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, November 18 – West Coast singer Kenny Washington joins the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra for the sextet’s  monthly All That Jazz concert. Daniels Pavilion, 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • November 20-22. Dixieland and trad jazz take over Clearwater Beach for the 25th annual Suncoast Jazz Classic, featuring bands from across Florida and across the U.S. in performances at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort and the Marriott Suites on Sand Key. Details at the group’s website.
  • Saturday, November 28 – Smooth jazz saxophonist Dave Koz brings his 2015 Christmas tour, with special guests, to Artis Naples. Hayes Hall, 8 p.m.
Several local restaurants (including J.D.’s in Port Charlotte, The Orange House in Punta Gorda, Fandango in Sarasota and The Roadhouse in Ft. Myers) 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.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Another view of Newport

You could call this one Jazz on Sunny Days. 

Justin Brown
Eyewear spotted on the various 2015 Newport Jazz Festival stages last weekeend was a combination of fashion statement, utilitarian - or both. 

Here's a look at some of the more interesting sightings.  Be sure to note the red, white and blue predominating trumpeter Arturo Sandoval's eye wear.

Shoko Nagai

Cecile McLorin Salvant

Lucky Peterson
Solomon Dorsey

Irvin Mayfield

Steve Lehman

Grace Kelly

Arturo Sandoval

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Newport Jazz Festival photo gallery is posted

My 2015 Newport Jazz Festival primary photo gallery has been posted at Take a stroll through it and enjoy. Here's a direct link. Here's a link to more images of New Orleans-related musicians at Newport posted by Offbeat.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Newport Jazz Festival marathon

The 2015 edition of the Newport Jazz Festival, granddaddy of them all, was one of the finest in  recent memory... with spectacular weather, a wide range of engaging music, and combined attendance exceeding 23,000. Saturday was the more robust day at Fort Adams State Park with 8,000 attendees.

While I continue to prepare photos for publication assignments, let me share some personal favorite moments: 
  • Splendid sets on Saturday by guitarist Pat Martino's organ trio with Pat Bianchi on the
    Tom Harrell
    B-3 and Carmen Intorre Jr. on drums; and trumpeter Tom Harrell's quintet, both on the tented Harbor Stage. I hadn't seen Harrell live in many years, and it was a reaffirmation of his power as a player, as well as the depth and beauty of his music. The overflow crowd hung on every moment - moments that seemed spiritual at times.
  • 12-year-old Joey Alexander, a native of Bali, Indonesia with the jazz chops of a much, much older player, displayed his piano mastery and engaging way with crowds, including two network TV teams documenting virtually his every move on stage and backstage for "60 Minutes" and Japan's NHK channel.
  • Alto saxophonist Grace Kelly, a frequent Newport player in recent years (who was considered a prodigy when she was 12 and throughout her teens) performed Friday night and Saturday afternoon with pianist Jon Batiste's high-flying band Human Spirit. Batiste begins his next high-profile gig in September as musical director for Stephen Colbert's edition of the CBS "Late Show" formerly hosted by David Letterman. Human Spirit will be his TV band.
    Jon Batiste
  • Batiste performed four times in Newport last week: Sunday, July 26 at the companion Newport Folk Festival, Friday, July 31, at the evening traditional opener at Newport Casino; Saturday afternoon, August 1 at Fort Adams; and at a Saturday night gala to benefit the Newport Festivals Foundation.  
    Lucia Micarelli, Richie Goods, Chris Botti
  • Trumpeter Chris Botti ostensibly was the Friday night headliner at Newport Casino, site of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, but Batiste picked his pocket in terms of engaging musicality. But there was one superb moment at the start of Botti's otherwise predictable show, which rarely varies. As part of a weekend celebrating Miles Davis's Newport debut 60 years ago - and his Newport legacy through the years. Botti opened his set with a beautiful version of "Concerto de Aranjuez (Adagio)" - the hallmark piece from Sketches of Spain. This inspired Botti version featured Lucia Micarelli on violin and Ben Butler on flamenco guitar. For this Sketches of Spain lover, it was a goosebumps moment.
  • Festival producer George Wein introduced one of Sunday's supercharged sets, a piano duet featuring Michel Camilo and Hiromi. "Thais one's for me," Wein said. "These are two of my favorite people in the world and two of my favorite pianists in the world."
    James Carter
  • James Carter's sextet performed the music of Don Byas on the Quad Stage on Sunday afternoon. His channeling of the Byas spirit no doubt was enhanced by playing Byas's tenor saxophone. Carter played it at a Byas centennial concert in the Netherlands and arranged to buy it from its owner. "Seven months after the centennial hit," Carter said, "I brought his horn home." And last weekend, to Newport.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Keeping the beat

Want a great summer read that you'll find hard to put down? 

Check out novelist Mary Morris's fine new work, "The Jazz Palace" (Doubleday's Nan A. Talese imprint). This is her 10th novel. It is a beautifully crafted work that Morris worked on for two decades amid other projects.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Jazz singers are in today’s spotlight. Taking a look at a variety of stunning new CDs by Thana Alexa, Keri Johnsrud, Gillian Margot, Joanna Pascale and Charenée Wade….

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Pat Bianchi, Brian Charette, Jason Miles & Ingrid Jensen, Josh Nelson and Donald Vega….

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Looking forward to Newport

There is pretty much something for every jazz fan at the 2015 Newport Jazz Festival this July 31-August 2, no matter your stylistic or demographic preferences. A lot of crowd favorites are back - like Maria Schneider's Orchestra, pianists Hiromi  and Michel Camilo, and singer-pianist Jamie Cullum. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

What a wonderful change of pace

The jazz concert season is pretty much gone in Florida from May until the snowbirds start returning in the fall. While there are regular club and restaurant gigs to fill in the gap, it was a treat to have an actual concert to attend.
Najar, Lamb, Feinman, Suggs, Ellison

The Venice Art Center and the South County Jazz Club teamed up to present a Louis Armstrong tribute concert on Thursday, June 25, featuring a quintet led by fine young trumpeter James Suggs. He's an engaging player with family roots in Newport RI, but who grew up in Ohio. He moved to St. Petersburg area in 2014 after having spent the prior eight years living and working in Argentina.

Monday, June 22, 2015

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Tony Adamo, Dave Bass, Maria Schneider, Chris Washburne and Kenny Werner….

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

JJA's 2015 winners

Congratulations to the many winners announced and awarded yesterday at the Jazz Journalists Association's 2015 JJA Jazz Awards event at the Blue Note jazz club in New York City. Here's a rundown of the winners, including the Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism Award to Chicago-based Neil Tesser. 

Full disclosure: two of the jazz journalism outlets to which I am a long-time contributor won repeat honors. JazzTimes was named Jazz Publication of the Year. was named Jazz Website of the year. Kudos to both and all of the other category winners and nominees.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A key to success at Newport

The best businesses – and arts organizations – don’t stand still. They find ways to enhance what they do. They making the experience better for their customers and supporters while building on their success. Need a concrete example? Look no further than the many enhancements over the past decade that the owners made at Fenway Park in Boston, starting with the seats atop the Green Monster overlooking left field. 

Here's a jazz example. The Newport Jazz Festival for many years consisted of a succession of performance sets on one stage. That was the case in the 1950s and 1960s at its succession of homes at Newport Casino, Cardines Field, Freebody Park and Festival Field through 1971. With the festivals’ return to Newport in 1981 after a decade-long absence, it’s new more spacious home at Fort Adams State overlooking Newport Harbor provided the ideal space for a venue evolution.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Hitting the jazz highway

Salinger-Ridley, Ko, Jensen, Zamora, Barnick *

Building your jazz skills isn’t just about playing your instrument, singing your songs, developing your style and strengthening your improvisational skills. It’s also about dealing with challenges on the road, disruptive sleep patterns, and getting along with your band mates as you jump on the van and head to the next gig.

Four students from the Boston-based Berklee College of Music will absorb a lot of that experience starting Thursday when they join trumpeter Ingrid Jensen on a five-date concert tour winding through parts of New England and the Mid-Atlantic. They’ll perform five gigs in five nights.