Posts Tagged ‘Florida Jazz’
The town where I live–Cape Coral, FL on the southwest coast near Ft. Myers–is not known as a hotbed of Real Jazz. At least not since I moved back here in 2010. I’ve got nothing against other kinds of music one can easily find here, especially downtown where the live music venues are–classic rock/top-40 covers, folksy singer-songwriters, country rock, amped-up urban blues, heavy metal, etc. Nor do I find fault with my neighbors who seek out these flavors. A person likes what he likes; you pays yer money and you gets yer choice. Or something.
In a nutshell, to me “Real Jazz” is the canon of the older, mostly acoustic jazz that swings. You can either dance to it with your feet or in your head. Oliver, Armstrong, Jelly, Bechet, Bix, Waller, Venuti & Lang, Teagarden, Basie, Django, Ellington, Goodman, Bob Cats, Nat Cole, Bird, Diz, Thelonius, Blakey, Trane, Newk, Miles, Thad and Mel, Cannonball, Zoot and Al, Getz, Bill Evans, Phil Woods, Wes, and many others. Since I make my living playing the double bass, the Gods of Jazz Bass Fiddle orbit the heavens: Pops Foster, Milt Hinton, Walter Page, Jimmy Blanton, Oscar Pettiford, Israel Crosby, Mingus, Ray Brown, NHOP, George Morrow, George Duvivier, Richard Davis, Buster Williams, Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Scott LaFaro, Chip Jackson, Steve Gilmore, John Clayton, Ben Wolfe, Paul Keller, Christian McBride, and so on–in short, anyone who gets a sound and lays down The Pocket. I’ve also always been into all things Latino: mambo, bolero, calypso, bossa nova, samba, Afro-Cuban polyrhythm, etc. Any questions? They’re all on YouTube.
I’ve always loved singers for whom swinging is always Job One. I seek out their versions of the Great American Songbook, Blues, Bebop, jazz standards, etc. Bessie, Billie, Sarah, Carmen, Ella, Anita, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, Joe Williams, Frank, Sammy, Mel, Tony, Nat, etc. And, for me, performing the GAS is always a worthy artistic endeavor in itself–I am content to work in bands whose playlist on a given night leans heavily on Berlin, Kern, Gershwin, Porter, Arlen, Warren, and the vast number of “unsung” songwriters who had just a few hits. Newer members of this Pantheon–again as interpreted through the jazz lens–are Mancini, Johnny Mandel, Jobim, Bacharach, Legrand, etc. It’s a very rewarding pursuit to discover well-written songs that are new to me, or to become more adept at improvising on those I should know better.
Taken all together, the above is a wide spectrum within the world of jazz. To varying degrees, almost all my colleagues concentrate on smaller subsets of these elements. Since I was a small child, it’s all felt good to me–so occasionally I get into trouble with some who feel strongly for or against a given approach or groove.
If you want to call me “old school,” I take it as a compliment–and an indication of your refined taste. I’ve heard Real Jazz referred to as “music for consenting adults,” but I’m seeing plenty of twenty-somethings (“Millennials”), especially in and around college towns, who “get it.” Further, “Real Jazz” is now being used to designate a specific radio genre (on Sirius/XM, for example). A recently deceased late-night radio host–whose reruns are still nationally syndicated on public radio networks–called his show “Real Jazz With Bob Parlocha.”
This is welcome news to those of us who choose to spend our time on this earth learning and playing this music. Which brings me back to Cape Coral, mostly up till now apparently a jazz-free zone, with one exception: I played one season with the brilliant pianist Joe Delaney at a restaurant called Brew Babies on Lafayette St. (which no longer features jazz). Since then the great majority of my jazz music-making has been in Ft. Myers at the Roadhouse Cafe, or in Sarasota County at Allegro Bistro in Venice and the Starlite Room and the Blue Rooster in Sarasota. Once in a while I get a call to go as far as Orlando, Tampa, Clearwater, Gainesville, or the east coast towns north of Ft. Lauderdale. For a couple of glorious seasons I was privileged to play in a Real Jazz band at Chef Charles Mereday’s Alto Live Jazz Kitchen in Naples (now closed) co-led by trumpeter Dan Miller and saxophonist Lew Del Gatto.
So since 2011 or so my travels in search of The Groove have taken me to everywhere in Florida but the town in which I live. I don’t mind driving a long distance–say an hour or two depending on the gig–as long as there’s something groovy at my destination. Several of my Florida colleagues feel the same way. So far I’ve put on about 33K miles a year on two Priuses.
September is the month in which presenters and musicians line up their seasonal gigs, and this year in Lee County there are more restaurateurs willing to take a chance on Real Jazz. A new Real Jazz Thursday started up recently at a club in downtown Ft. Myers called the Barrel Room, featuring a quartet with Dan Miller, Lew Del Gatto, veteran Philly drummer Tony Vigilante and young bassist Brandon Robinson. There is a growing movement in the Cape Coral City Council to extend bar hours in the South Cape to 4 AM, aiming at attracting a younger late-night clientele. If finally passed, the measure would help establish more late-night venues for music in the South Cape area. A new venture, the Big Blue Brewing on SE 10th Pl. is set to open soon with craft beers, a creative menu and live jazz.
Chefs Allan and Nancy Cotter operated the renowned and award-winning Blue Moon Restaurant and Jazz Club on St Croix, USVI for 16 years. After relocating to Cape Coral in 2010 they opened Slate’s, located at 4820 Candia St. At Slate’s Allan presented Traditional Jazz with Pat O’Brien for his Sunday Brunch for about 3 seasons, and this year he acquired the space next door, opened a doorway, and created an intimate, cozy room with a tiny bandstand, bar, comfortable couches and art on the walls. He named the new space the “Side Door Jazz Club.” He intends for it to be a “home for jazz in Cape Coral” where people come to listen to the music. Accordingly, the hours are later than usual–7:30-10:30, Wednesday through Sunday.
At the Side Door I will be playing in a quartet on Saturday nights called “Swing to Bop.” The personnel are myself, guitarist/vocalist Bob Leary of Naples, trombonist Herb Bruce of North Port and clarinetist/saxophonist Jim Snyder of Winter Garden. Everyone in this group at one time or another paid dues working as staff musicians at Walt Disney World in Orlando, which is how we all met. In recent years we played a few jobs and concerts together as a band–which were too much fun! Each of us brought a lifetime of experience, chops and sick humor to a wide spectrum of jazz genres. It dawned on us that we should try to get ourselves a regular gig somewhere. Our debut at the Side Door Jazz Club was Saturday, September 10.
Now here’s the thing about this band: each member is an in-demand top player with prior commitments, so we have a unique opportunity to showcase other top players from the region and state to come to downtown Cape Coral to play a night of Real Jazz with us–however they like it. The idea is that you in the audience will catch some of the fun we’ll be having up on the bandstand.
For example, guitarist Bob Leary was out of town on the opening night, so we got the great guitarist Pete Bordonali to sub for him. Pete is another Disney alumnus we all worked with. He’s had an amazing career as a jazz guitarist backing up Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bobby Short, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Ray Charles, Steve and Edie, Louie Prima, and others. He’s lived in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas (where he worked for years at the Sands hotel and is on many of the classic recordings made there). Pete also has an ongoing career as a recording producer in Nashville. He has worked there as musician and producer with Ronnie Milsap, Barbara Mandrell, Amy Grant, Joe Tex, Debbie Boone, Dolly Parton, Mickey Gilley, Tanya Tucker, George Jones, Trisha Yearwood, George Strait, Shania Twain, Merle Haggard and Lyle Lovett. Pete currently lives in Naples, FL and will be appearing with us again on 9/24.
Other “special guest star” appearances with the Swing to Bop Quartet in September and October at the Side Door Jazz Club:
Trumpeter Mark Pettey 9/24
I’ll be telling you more about them and other guests in future posts. In the meantime, do try to come out on 9/10 if you can!
By 1986 I had already been in Florida for 9 years. I was graduated from the Manhattan School of Music in May, 1977 and immediately moved down to Ft. Myers to take a steady 6-night-a -week music job there. By 1983 I made the move to the Orlando area and soon thereafter landed a staff job at Disney World.
In those days Orlando had a wealth of accomplished jazz players, a few of them holding down full-time positions at one of the Disney theme parks. The biggest jazz star in Orlando was the great drummer Mousey Alexander. A teeny bit of a guy, Mousey had toured and recorded with Benny Goodman for over 15 years, played a long New York residency at the Half Note with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, and was often hired by such leaders as Clark Terry, Sauter/Finegan and Doc Severinsen to provide his happy, swinging propulsion to their big bands.
Mousey was a member of a very rarefied elite of top swinging jazz drummers, but in 1980 he suffered a stroke and heart attack that left him paralyzed on one side. He decided to slow down, rehabilitate and move to Longwood, FL near Olrando. He continued to play drums. He organized a Monday night jam session at a series of night clubs and restaurants in the area. Mousey’s Monday nights became the epicenter of the jazz scene in Orlando, where players could get known, network, and sit in with Mousey and the best players in town.
After I got to town Mousey invited me to play some of the Monday jams. I became a regular and got to play other gigs, concerts and jazz cruises with Mousey. Then one day in 1986 he invited me to go down to Sarasota to play a concert with him for the Jazz Club of Sarasota. Mousey’s friend Hal Davis had founded the club in 1980. Hal had been Benny Goodman’s publicist, and the two men had a long professional and personal association and friendship. Hal was then executing his plan of greatly expanding the club’s membership by presenting quality concerts featuring the great swinging players he had known in New York, among them many Goodman Band alumni.
Hal was a master of promotion–he had been the president of a major New York advertising and PR firm. Right on his concert program notes Hal would include a short paragraph introducing the featured artist for the next concert, along with a short explanation: “These artists are new (to you),” but nonetheless the member would be rewarded for discovering them. In this way Hal educated his membership and provided the artistic leadership that built the brand of the Jazz Club of Sarasota into what it eventually became by the time of his passing in 1990: one of the largest and most active jazz societies in the US.
After my first JCofS concert with Mousey, Hal hired me for many more. He was very encouraging to me. He told me, “All of the guys I’ve brought down from New York have told me how much they enjoyed your playing.” The feeling was mutual. Clearly I had found a home. Before my eventual move to San Antonio in 1991 I was privileged to appear at Sarasota Middle School and Van Wezel Hall, almost on a monthly basis, it seemed, with some of the true greats of swinging jazz: Don Lamond, Don Goldie, Spanky Davis, Dick Meldonian, Bob Rosengarden, Warren Vaché Jr., Scott Hamilton, Joe Wilder, John Bunch, Ira Sullivan, Ken Peplowski, and the late clarinetist Kenny Davern.
The Jim Cullum Jazz Band began auditioning bass fiddle players after the death in 1990 of Jack Wyatt, who had held the position for decades. For ideas on replacements, Cullum called his friend Kenny Davern, with whom I had by this time played at the JCofS. Davern recommended me for the job. On New Years Day 1991 my wife Rosie and I and our dog headed out for the long drive to San Antonio with all our possessions. For over 18 years I played nightly with Cullum’s band at the Landing Jazz Club on the Riverwalk in San Antonio and toured the US and abroad with them. I recorded many hours of radio shows with them and their guests, many of whom I already knew from the JCofS dates. I also got to work with and know Dick Hyman and Bob Haggart, both of whom settled in the Sarasota area.
Rosie and I made the return trip in 2010 to resettle in Cape Coral. Since then I have become reacquainted with the JCofS and some of its leaders who have taken over for Hal. One notable concert was in 2011 with the young swinging jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein at Holley Hall. Another memorable appearance for me was introducing to the JCofS (at a “Fridays at Two”) the quintet with which I work in Naples and Fort Myers during the season, co-led by trumpeter Dan Miller and saxophonist Lew DelGatto. Coming up next October 16 and 17 I will be representing the JCofS leading a group of my favorite players from North Port and St. Petersburg, comprised of pianist Billy Marcus, drummer/vocalist Patricia Dean and trombone champion Herb Bruce, for the Ringling International Arts Festival “Jazz Sunsets on the Bay.”