Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Clearwater Jazz Holiday Opens Today

If it's mid-October in the Tampa Bay area, then it's time for the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, an always pleasant festival that mixes a handful of blue-chip jazz artists with other acts.

Highlights of the festival's 29th edition include revered veteran crooner Tony Bennett, B-3 organ wizard Joey DeFrancesco, in-demand New York vibraphonist Stefon Harris, acclaimed teenage saxophonist Grace Kelly, former wunderkind pianist Eldar, and a group led by Dave Brubeck's sons Darius (trombonist-bassist) and Dan (drums).

Read my story in the St. Petersburg Times, or read an expanded version of my comments, below.

The festival kicks off tonight, with Bennett (8:30 to 10 p.m.) topping the bill. Here's Sean Daly's interview with Bennett. He'll be joined by guitarist Gray Sargent, pianist Lee Musiker, bassist Jim Hughart and drummer Harold Jones.

Also tonight is the debut area performance by Kyle Eastwood (7 to 8 p.m.), a fast-rising bassist with a famous father – Clint Eastwood – whose jazz leanings likely influenced his son's career path. Eastwood, last heard on 2006's decidedly smooth Now CD, will be joined by a group including trumpeter Graeme Flowers, saxophonist Graeme Blevins, and keyboardist Andrew McCormack.

Eastwood got his start playing rock 'n' roll and R&B tunes as a teenager, switched his passions to jazz while studying film at USC, and released his debut album on Sony a decade ago. In recent months, he finished work on the score of his father's forthcoming film, Changeling. A new album is due next spring.

Gates open at 5 p.m. today. Also playing:

5:30 to 6:30 p.m. – Alto saxophonist Bernard "B.K." Jackson, a student at Blake High School for the Performing Arts in Tampa, in June won the "Capital Jazz Challenge" at this year's Capital Jazz Fest Competition in Washington, D.C.



Stefon Harris & Blackout (6 to 7:15 p.m.), led by the in-demand New York vibraphonist and marimba player, is a band built on an intriguing mix of acoustic music and progressive sounds, as demonstrated on the group's 2004 CD Blackout, with keyboardist Marc Cary, alto saxophonist Casey Benjamin, bassist Darryl Hall and drummer Terreon Gully.

Harris, who played the USF Tampa campus in June, showcased his considerable skills as a composer with the 2003 CD The Grand Unification Theory, an 11-movement piece drawing from jazz, African, Latin and classical traditions.

He describes his work recording 2006's African Tarantella CD, emphasizing music from three Duke Ellington suites, as something akin to a spiritual experience. "For me as a young African American I look at this art form and I really see that it's not just something that is an interesting science," he said in an interview for "It's a part of my cultural heritage, and is an incredible lineage I can look back to and find myself inspired by and see that the bar is set incredibly high, so it really gives me a great deal of motivation. I spent months just studying scores and getting inside Ellington and Strayhorn's mind as well as I could, and allowing that influence to come through me. But also being very clear that when we do play the music, it's not to imitate."

Gates open at 4 p.m. on Friday. Also playing:

4:30 to 5:30 p.m. – Singer-pianist Karen Benjey, a stalwart of the Tampa Bay area jazz scene, last year released the CD All of You with a great band - trumpeter Randy Brecker, pianist David Goldblatt, bassist Terry Plumeri, and drummer Joe La Barbera. Benjey said that for this performance she'll play piano and will be joined by tenor saxophonist George Allgaier, guitarist LaRue Nickelson, and bassist Glenn Stevenson.

7:45 to 9 p.m. – Joe Sample made his name as a founding member of the Jazz Crusaders, playing funky, blues-drenched electric piano lines on 1979 single "Street Life." Last year he re-teamed with that hit's singer, Randy Crawford, for the CD Feeling Good.

9:30 to 11 p.m. – David Sanborn's ultra-bright alto sound has influenced a couple of generations of saxophonists. For his just-released 23rd album, Here & Gone, the former star of the scintillating, decidedly eclectic "Night Music" television series is joined by guests Eric Clapton, Sam Moore and Joss Stone for a jazz-funk tribute to Ray Charles.



Grace Kelly (5:30 to 6:45 p.m.) is a 16-year-old alto saxophonist and singer recently dubbed "a new jazz star" by NPR, and called "a startlingly gifted young jazz talent by the Los Angeles Times. Her sound, on a cover of Bill Withers hit "Ain't No Sunshine" and other tracks from Mood Changes, her forthcoming fifth CD, is surprisingly deep and mature.

Kelly, in an email interview, said that she started playing at age 10, and strives to listen to as wide a range of jazz artists as possible. Her general approach to playing? "I like to stay as spontaneous as possible.," she wrote. "Improvising in the moment is my goal – and staying free of clich├ęs, if possible."

Her chief inspiration was late saxophonist Stan Getz. "His sound on the saxophone was so gorgeous and so attractive," she wrote. "His sense of melodicism is incomparable. Charlie Parker was a big influence as well. He created the real sounds of bebop, and every solo is like a masterpiece. Lee Konitz is one of my favorites, a true artist, from his early stuff with all the cool (Lennie) Tristano lines to his stuff now – so pure and honest. I love Cannonball (Adderley) as well, and contemporary people such as Kenny Garrett, Joshua Redman, Mark Turner, Kurt Rosenwinkel."

The Massachusetts native has already worked with a who's who of name jazz artists, and has performed everywhere from Carnegie Hall, Birdland, and Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in New York to the Jazz Bakery in L.A., and clubs, concert halls and festivals around the world. Next September, she begins studies at Berklee College of Music.

Gates open at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. Also playing:

3:45 to 5 p.m. – The Ken Loomer Big Band, led by the busy Tampa Bay area drummer, is a hard-swinging group of 15 musicians specializing in charts by contemporary composers Don Menza, Jeff Jarvis and John LaBarbera as well as new arrangements of familiarities by Woody Herman, Buddy Rich and Count Basie.

7:15 to 8:45 p.m. – The Brubeck Brothers Quartet, with trombonist-bassist Chris and drummer Dan (sons of jazz legend Dave) recently released the CD Classified, which features a classically flavored five-part suite and a creative cover of their dad's "Blue Rondo a La Turk."

9:15 p.m. to 10:45 p.m. – Neo-swing hipsters Big Bad Voodoo Daddy became '90s sensations thanks to an appearance in the acclaimed independent comedy Swingers. The septet's "Mr. Pinstripe Suit" was heard recently on the Fox television show "So You Think You Can Dance."

10:45 p.m. – fireworks



Joey DeFrancesco (6:30 to 8 p.m.) is probably the best-known inheritor of the B-3 organ jazz tradition exemplified by Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff. The Philadelphia native, a third-generation jazz musician, was a finalist in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition, and he toured with Miles Davis in the late '80s before starting his solo career.

DeFrancesco connected with one of his heroes, Jimmy Smith, for 2000's Incredible! CD, and he's gained critical acclaim for his performances and recordings with the likes of guitarist Pat Martino and saxophonist George Coleman. Likewise for his just-released Joey D! CD, on which he joins tenor saxophonist Jerry Weldon and drummer Byron Landham for barn-burning versions of Miles Davis's "Dig," "Besame Mucho" and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Maybe he'll take a stroll through that last one in honor of our Rays?

For this show, DeFrancesco will be joined by legendary drummer Idris Muhammad (!!!)and guitarist Paul Bollenback. If I recall correctly, last time I saw the excellent Bollenback was with Brother Jack McDuff, 13 years ago at the Jazz Cafe in London.

Live, as demonstrated by a DeFrancesco/Martino performance I caught at the Montreal Jazz Festival, he turns in knockout solos while giving generous space to his bandmates. "It's not about one person," he said during a February interview on radio station KPLU-FM. "It's about how it sounds together. It's about the music for me."

Gates open Sunday at 1 p.m. Also playing:

1:45 to 2:30 p.m. – Ruth Eckerd Hall/Clearwater Jazz Holiday Jazz Youth Band with bassist Billy Norris features the former Tampa Bay area stand-out (and ex-Times teen movie critic), now at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music. I heard great things about Billy's performance at a recent edition of the WMNF jazz series.

3 to 4:15 p.m. – The Venturas, fronted by singer Ally Couch, is a Sarasota-based band (formerly Jennifer and the Venturas) that mixes bebop tunes and standards with swinging jazz- and blues-based material.

4:45 to 6 p.m. – The Eldar Djangirov Trio is led by the 21-year-old pianist, a native of Kyrgyzstan in the former Soviet Union. The former wunderkind keyboardist and his blue-chip rhythm section – bassist Armando Gola, drummer Justin Brown – are fresh from a run at New York's Blue Note nightclub. The trio will play music from last year's Grammy nominated "Re-Imagination," as well as brand-new tunes.

8:30 to 10 p.m. – Patti Austin and the Clearwater Jazz Holiday Orchestra pairs the '80s R&B hitmaker ("Baby, Come To Me," "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" "The Heat of Heat") with the Orlando-based Craig Turley Orchestra, augmented with a string section. They'll perform pieces from the book of great jazz composer/arranger Pat Williams. Austin's most recent CD, 2007's Avant Gershwin, landed a Grammy.

The Clearwater Jazz Holiday is held at breezy Coachman Park in downtown Clearwater. Admission is free. Food and drinks, coolers, pets (except registered guide dogs), audio- and video-recording equipment, umbrellas, grills, tents and overnight camping equipment are on the list of items not permitted.

For more information: (727) 461-5200 or

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