Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Steve Davis's Views on the Clearwater Jazz Holiday

Steve Davis, bass player for the Tomcats big band, has offered his review of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday. I'm told: "Steve is an attorney who owns thousands of jazz CDs, plays lots of instruments well, composes and arranges and is a terrific player."

Here's what Steve has to say ...


Valerie Gillespie - she & her band sounded very good. They must be local guys but I never heard of any of them. Lots of up-tempo bop stuff. She sang too, which was ok, but I preferred her playing.

Jose Valentino Ruiz - I groaned when they introduced this guy. He is a 19 year-old flute player from Tampa. Got some recognition as a high-schooler. However, he was actually quite good. Once you get past the flute part, his band had some really tight latin grooves going on.

Jazz to the Maxx - This was like a who's-who of local guys. Fred Johnson on vocals, Ruben from Citiheat on Bass, Les Sabler (local smooth jazz guitarist) and Allon Sams (local smooth jazz keyboard player) and some other guys. Each of them was promoting their new CD, and thanked the local smooth jazz station for playing cuts of the CD. Enough said.

John Pizzarelli - Ah, much better now. He played a really nice set. Mostly standards like Paper Moon and that sort of thing, sort of in the Nat King Cole tradition, but with jacked-up tempos. He played a lot of nice guitar solos. His pianist was very good as well. The only criticism I had is that he scatted along with his solos a few more times than I would have liked, but that's minor. I will be buying his CDs.

Manhattan Transfer - A solid set. Their bass player was John B. Williams from the old Arsenio Hall show, who I always enjoyed, so that was a treat. The singing was very good, and their set was mostly vocalese versions of old Basie charts. Of course they did Birdland & The Boy From NYC. My big criticism of them has nothing to do with the music, but with their show-biz, "jazz hands" presentation. With eyes closed this would have been very enjoyable. Eyes open and it was schmaltzy.

Overall I'd give Saturday three stars out of five. Weather was perfect, beer was cold, and Andrew Pupke was able to get one of those VIP passes, so dinner & drinks were on the house.

Youth Band led by Frank Williams - It is what it is, and it was ok.

Chuck Owen & Jazz Surge Wow! This was a good set. They played a mixture of music by Astor Piazolla & Steely Dan. The Astor stuff sounded very HARD. They had pianist/accordianist Gary Versace from New York come in and do solos and he was really good. I wasn't sure I'd be into the Astor music, and I don't know the full background on it but it was Argentinian-Tangoey sounding. The arrangements sounded very complex and they pulled it off nicely. Tom had the lion's share of the solos and he sounded wonderful. Better than usual, even. And, the sound guys of course had the sound wrong, but in this case the mistake was having Tom's microphone cranked up way too high, which was of course very much fun to hear, especially when he was squealing out dog whistle notes. Chad Shoopman was a monster as well. The other part of their set was Steely Dan tunes. The arrangments were good, but not as interesting as the other stuff. The cool thing is they also had Walt Weiskopf come in and play tenor solos. He is a noted session guy and has been Steely Dan's choice of sax players for a while now.

Don Byron - Another wow! This might have been in the top 10 of jazz festival sets. Seriously. Of course, he played clarinet, which keeps it from the top five, but he also played quite a bit of tenor. He had Billy Hart on drums, and his pianist (Ed Simon) played accompaniments that were arrangements in and of themselves. The majority of the audience was not into this set, which should tell you something. Standouts were his versions of Giant Steps and Body & Soul.

Buckwheat Zydeco - Ok, now things are slowing down a bit, musically. It was a fun set and had I been drunk, I suspect I would have really enjoyed this.Lots of audience interaction, lots of funny schtick, lots of energy, but only a couple of chords. From my perspective, the bass playing was funky and fun to listen to. It was ok, but it wasn't jazz, and it didn't rise to the level of the prior performances.

Cherry Poppin' Daddies - This sucked. It was the only thing I truly hated. I thought I might enjoy them, but I was wrong. Every song sounded like the one that immediately preceded it. How many tunes can you make from that one Gene Krupa drum groove? Jake & I actually left before they were done.

Overall, I'd also give Sunday three of five stars. What was good was GOOD. What sucked SUCKED.

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