Whitney James Wows Crowd at the Palladium

Whitney James came to the Palladium Theatre in St. Petersburg on Friday night, and conquered: The fast-rising jazz singer broke the box-office record for the venue’s “Side Door Jazz” series, held in a comfortable nightclub-style space below the main hall.

James, who splits her time between residences in Tierra Verde and Astoria, Queens, was joined by New York pianist Joshua Wolff, Tampa Bay area musicians Jeremy Powell on tenor saxophone and Alejandro Arenas on bass, and Brooklyn-based drummer Mark Feinman (formerly of the Tampa Bay area).

In front of an enthusiastic crowd, James, for her first set, touched on music from her recently released debut CD, The Nature of Love. Opening with “Tenderly,” she moved to “Long Ago and Far Away” before expertly navigating the leaps and sharp twists of Jimmy Rowle’s “The Peacocks.”

The group alternated between funk-edged Latin and swing on “How Deep is the Ocean,” which concluded with James’ tete-a-tete with Powell, the MVP soloist of the night. James offered the swaggering bounce of Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” and the medium-swing of Bill Evans’ “In April” before closing with a dramatic duo reading of “The Meaning of the Blues,” on which she was backed only by Wolff.

Those unable to get into the sold-out SRO concert, sponsored by the Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association, get another chance: James returns Feb. 13 for an encore performance, a Valentine’s Day-themed concert.

Gov’t Mule Forges On With “By a Thread” Tour

Warren Haynes has day jobs with Gov’t Mule and the Allman Brothers, and moonlights with The Dead and his own solo projects.

And Gov’t Mule has to be one of the hardest-working jambands around.

Following a six-hour New Year’s Eve performance at NYC’s Beacon Theatre in NYC, the band is headed to Jamaica next week for the first “Gov’t Mule’s Island Exodus.”

Next, the Mule kicks off the first 23-date 2010 leg of its tour in support of superb new CD By a Thread — the group’s first studio effort since 2007; see my review here — in Fort Lauderdale on Feb. 20. The next day, the band plays the Ritz Theater in Ybor City, Tampa, my neck of the woods.

Fans of the band have access to what has to be one of the easiest-to-retrieve archives of live shows by any band out there.  Every show the band has played since October can be downloaded (for  a price) by visiting http://www.muletracks.com

The soulful, hard-rocking first single from the CD, “Broke Down On The Brazos,” with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, is available here.

Robert Earl Keen, Leftover Salmon Among Suwannee Springfest Headliners

Gifted Texas singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen and influential Colorado jamgrass band Leftover Salmon are among the headliners slated to play this year’s Suwannee Springfest.

The 14th annual festival of Americana, folk, country and bluegrass music is slated for March 25-28 at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, a sprawling, scenic campground in Live Oak, Florida.

Leftover Salmon, who rarely play Florida, are celebrating their 20th anniversary as a band. Salmon mandolinist Drew Emmitt, lately busy with the Emmitt-Nershi Band, recently told Glide Magazine that Salmon won’t be getting back to its hard-touring days anymore. The group last played Dec. 30-31 in Boulder, and currently has just five shows (including Springfest) on its 2010 calendar.

“There’s been the possibility of doing a string of shows, but even that’s far-fetched now,” Emmitt said. “We’re really enjoying the one-off situation, to tell you the truth: do festivals or a couple of shows, and go home. What we’ve worked for and where we’ve gotten to now is a situation where we can do that and not do the full on thing. And I think the fact that we have all our side projects really helps the freshness when we do get back together.”

What to expect at Salmon shows:  “We’re doing a little bit of the music from our most recent records, bringing in a bunch of songs from our solo records, and maybe if Vince has some new songs, we’ll work those in,” he said. “The main focus is to bring back the old Salmon material, and keep it the reunion feel. We’re kind of leaving the idea of newer stuff to the side.” Click here for the rest of the Glide magazine story.

Also slated to play are two groups associated with Americana favorites the Duhks (now on hiatus) — Duhks leader Leonard Podalak is bringing the Turtle Duhks, while original band vocalist Jessie Havey is debuting a new band at Springfest.

Springfest, as laidback, wel-organized and full of high-quality music as any outdoor festival I’ve ever attended, for its 2010 edition will also include new group 18 South, led by singers Jon Randall and Jesse Alexander, and including former members of the Del McCoury Band and Emmylou Harris‘s group; and the Belleville Outfit, from Louisiana, a 2009 nominee for an Americana Music Association award.

Also expected to play are several Springfest regulars, including singer-songwriters Peter Rowan and Guy Clark, Southern jamgrass group Blueground Undergrass, and multi-instrumentalist Joe Craven.

Springfest is sister to the fall’s Magfest, also organized by Randy and Beth Judy. For more details and ticket information, go to the festival’s official site.

Whitney James Celebrates Release of Debut CD

Rising-star jazz singer Whitney James, who splits her time between residences in Tierra Verde (the Tampa Bay area) and Astoria, Queens, has just released a startlingly impressive and mature debut CD,  The Nature of Love, which also features the playing of acclaimed trumpeter and flugelhorn player Ingrid Jensen.

She performs Friday at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg, in a concert presented by the Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association.

My feature on Whitney was published today in the St. Petersburg Times’ Weekend entertainment section. Click here to link to the story.

Or see below for the extended “director’s cut” of the piece:

A dance student since age five, and a musical theater enthusiast since the days when she and her sister and neighborhood kids put on shows and charged a dime a seat, singer Whitney James first took the stage at age nine. That’s when she played Dorothy in a children’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

The Chicago native, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, switched her focus to singing at age 10, when she embarked on classical vocal lessons with an opera singer.
But the jazz bug bit hard when James was 13, courtesy of her mom, who bought the budding vocalist a pair of cassette tapes by legendary jazz singer Sarah Vaughan and bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker.

“I absolutely fell in love with Sarah Vaughan. I couldn’t get enough of her sound,” said James, a Tierra Verde resident since relocating to the Tampa Bay area from Seattle in 2007. “The songs were so romantic and the lyrics were beautiful.

“That tape really set me on the jazz path,” she said. “You had to be yourself and interpret the lyric, certainly, but you also had to infuse yourself into the song. That way, you can really expand and explore the boundaries of your voice. Charlie took a little longer to grow on me. Sarah Vaughan and Charlie Parker were my gateway drugs to the jazz world, if you will.”

James demonstrates her allegiance to the jazz vocal tradition — she also cites Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McCrae and Shirley Horn as major influences — on her just-released debut CD, The Nature of Love.

She’s joined by New York jazz heavy hitters, including trumpeter and flugelhorn player Ingrid Jensen and a rhythm trio led by pianist Joshua Wolff, on a set of standards including “How Deep is the Ocean” and “The Very Thought of You.” The singer also offers smart readings of a challenging Jimmy Rowles ballad, “A Timeless Place (The Peacocks)” and Benny Golson‘s hard-swinging “Whisper Not.”

For her CD-release concert, Friday night at the Palladium in St. Petersburg, James will be backed by Wolff and three stand-out local musicians — saxophonist Jeremy Powell, bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Mark Feinman.

Although continuing to embrace recordings by jazz singers, James eventually rebuilt her jazz-singing concept on the sound of instrumentalists, she said.

“Miles is a huge influence — his tone and the way he plays is so gorgeous, so transformative,” she said. “And I love Bill Evans, and Keith Jarrett, and Dexter Gordon. I had soaked myself in a lot of jazz singers, including Dinah Washington and Etta James. But I made a very conscious effort when I was 17 to stop listening to singers and start listening to horn players and guitar players and piano players.”

James continued her music studies at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, where she studied with singer Jay Clayton. She stayed in the Pacific Northwest for 13 years, finding her way to jazz and neo-soul gigs, along with opportunities to record commercial jingles.

Clayton, who served as the CD’s artistic consultant, suggested that James ask the Canadian-born Jensen to play on the recording. It made for a rather organic process, as James had worked with pianist Wolff and Jon Wikan, the CD’s drummer, around Seattle. And Wikan is married to Jensen. James also has spent much time in New York in recent years, as she and her husband have a second home in Astoria, Queens.

James spent one day rehearsing with the rhythm section and a second day with the band joined by Jensen before heading to the Brooklyn studio, where the group recorded live, playing no more than three takes of each tune.

Jensen wound up on five of the CD’s nine tracks, and the singer and the trumpeter come off as natural-born foils, particularly on the extended, open-ended conclusions of “Tenderly” and “How Deep is the Ocean.”

“The interplay between the voice and the horn is very special,” James said. “I wanted someone to feature, as well as to complement what was going to happen vocally. I was very lucky to have her. When you play with players like that, they really bring out the best in you.”

For more information on Whitney, visit her MySpace page or go to her new web site.

Tampa Bay Area Music Calendar (An Entirely Subjective and Selective Listing)

(Feel free to send concert info, including corrections/updates. This list is not intended to be comprehensive.)

  • Donna the Buffalo, Jan. 7-8, Skipper’s
  • Byron Stripling and the Florida Orchestra: Louis Armstrong tribute, Jan. 7-9 (Straz Center, Mahaffey Theater, Ruth Eckerd Hall, respectively)
  • Michael Ross Quartet, Jan. 9, Palladium Theater
  • Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Jan. 13, Crowbar
  • Marcia Ball, Jan. 14, Skipper’s
  • Mofro, Jan. 15 (w/Daryl Hance) and 16 (w/Damon Fowler), Skipper’s
  • Infinite Groove Orchestra (CD release show), Jan. 15, The Local 662,  St. Petersburg
  • Holy Ghost Tent Revival, Jan. 15, New World Brewery
  • Galactic, Jan. 20, Ritz
  • Drive-By Truckers, Jan. 21, Ritz
  • Terrance Simien with the Gumbo Boogie Band, Jan. 21, Skipper’s
  • SPC Jazz Festival: Helios Jazz Orchestra with Denise Moore, Jan. 27, SPC Music Center
  • SPC Jazz Fest: Alex Berti Trio, Jan. 28, SPC Music Center
  • McCormick Marimba Festival, Jan. 28-29, USF Music Recital Hall, Tampa
  • SPC Jazz Fest: Ronnie Burrage Trio, Jan. 29.  SPC Music Center
  • Robin Trower with Sean Chambers Band, Jan. 29, Jannus Live
  • Pinetop Perkins & Willie “Big Eyes” Smith with Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues, Feb. 4, Skipper’s
  • Diana Krall, Feb. 4, Ruth Eckerd Hall
  • Yonder Mountain String Band, Feb. 5, Jannus Live
  • Dark Star Orchestra, Feb. 12, Straz Center
  • Willie Nelson, Feb. 16, Ruth Eckerd Hall
  • Whitney James, Feb. 19, Palladium
  • Arturo Sandoval, Feb. 24, Ritz Ybor
  • Ira Sullivan, Feb. 27, HCC Performing Arts Building, Ybor
  • Old 97’s with Those Darlins, March 2, Skipper’s
  • G. Love and Special Sauce, March 12, Jannus Live
  • The Avett Brothers, March 25, Ruth Eckerd Hall
  • Acoustic Africa, April 10, Straz Center



Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association

Capitol Theatre, 405 Cleveland St., Clearwater

Crowbar, 1812 17th St. N., Ybor City (Tampa); (813) 241-8600

Dali Museum, 1000 Third Street S., St. Petersburg; (727) 823-2767

EMIT series; (727) 341-3463

Enoch Davis Center, 1111 18th Ave. S., St. Petersburg; (727) 893-7134

Hillsborough Community College Performing Arts Theater, Palm Avenue and 14th St., Ybor City

Jannus Live, 1st Avenue N. & 2nd Street N., St. Petersburg; (727) 565-0550

La Grande Hall @ Yamaha Piano, 6710 Ulmerton Road #101, Clearwater

Mahaffey Theater @ Progress Energy Center for the Arts, 400 First Street S., St. Petersburg; (727) 892-5798

Marriott Hotel, 12600 Roosevelt Blvd., St. Petersburg

Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive N.E., St. Petersburg; (727) 896-2667

Musicology, 2576 Sunset Point Road, Clearwater; (727) 723-1000

New World Brewery, 1313 E. Eighth Avenue, Ybor City, Tampa; (727) 248-4969

The Palladium Theater at St. Petersburg College, 253 Fifth Avenue. N., St. Petersburg; (727) 822-3590

The Ritz Theatre, 1503 E. Seventh Avenue, Ybor City (Tampa); (813) 247-2555

Royal Theater, 1011 22nd St. Petersburg; (727) 327-6556

Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N. McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater; (727) 791-7400

Sacred Grounds Coffee House, 4819 E. Busch Blvd., Tampa; (813) 983-0837

Skipper’s Smokehouse, 910 Skipper Road, Tampa; (813) 971-0666

The Studio @620, 620 First Ave. S., St. Petersburg; (727) 895-6620

Straz Center, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa; (813) 229-7827

Tampa Bay Blues Festival, Vinoy Waterfront Park, downtown St. Petersburg; (727) 502-5000

Tampa Jazz Club

USF Monday Night Jazz Series



Vincent Sims and the Sidewinders: A Tribute to Blue Note – Aug. 13, Palladium, 8 p.m.

Sunday Jazz at the Royal Theater: Ron Gregg Trio featuring Billy Pillucere and Richard “Stretch” Bruyn with Jeremy Carter – Aug. 15, Royal Theater, 4 to 8 p.m. (open mic for musicians and vocalists)

Natalie Merchant – August 24, Ruth Eckerd Hall

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers + Joe Cocker – Sept. 16, St. Pete Times Forum

Hammond B3 Summer Spectacular: Joe Crown Trio with Walter Wolfman Washington and Russell Batiste + John Gros + Dave McCracken: – Aug. 21, Palladium, 8 p.m.

Kings of Leon + The Black Keys + The Whigs – Sept. 18, USF Sun Dome

Rush – Oct. 1, Ford Amphitheatre

Clearwater Jazz Holiday (lineup TBA) – October 14-17, Coachman Park

Ybor Jazz Fest – Nov. 3-7, HCC, Ybor City

Roger Waters: The Wall – Nov. 16, St. Pete Times Forum