Saluting the Tampa Bay area’s guitarists

I hear some folks complaining loudly about the Tampa Bay area music scene, when it comes to the volume of good gigs for local players. Yes, there could be more opportunities for more gigs, and more better-paying gigs. Sadly, that could be said about nearly every area of the country.

What IS unique about the region where I’ve lived for 30 years: We’re home to as many top-shelf jazz and blues musicians as any area in Florida, and probably more good players overall than any place of its size in the US.

And many of those good players — particularly the rhythm-section folks — are staying busy 3-4 nights a week playing gigs. Yes, there are exceptions, and yes there are slower periods. Helllo, summer.

So today, I want a send a big shout-out to the many talented jazz and blues guitarists in our area, several of whom I’ve worked with in bands or on the occasional gig.


At the risk of leaving out someone: (in no particular order) Matthew Swenson (above, my bandmate in Acme Jazz Garage & other groups), LaRue Nickelson (below, my former bandmate in Greenwich Blue), Joel Lisi (my former bandmate in Ghetto Love Sugar), Larry CampPeter Mongaya HogsholmDamon FowlerVincent SimsJon PuhlStephen BurdiJordan GarnoNathaniel Bernard NajarSarasota SlimJohnny G LyonPatty SanphyChuck HillMike Cripe


Nearly all of these folks are open to good-paying gigs: Hit ’em up!

(And if you find yourself in Tampa on a Thursday or Friday night, come see me play bass with Acme Jazz Garage — Matt Swenson, pianist Bryan Lewis and drummer Pat Close at Timpano Chophouse — in Hyde Park Village. We start at 7 both nights.)

French Quarter Fest lineup: Galactic, Astral Project, Ellis Marsalis, Delfeayo Marsalis, Bonerama, Rebirth Brass Band, more.

The French Quarter Festival in New Orleans is a nice alternative to the bigger Jazz and Heritage Festival: Many of the same great New Orleans & Louisiana artists, without the big pop/rock acts.

Admission is free, and the fest is held on stages spread across the Quarter and along the Mississippi River. Meaning: if you get a hotel there, you can walk to everything, and not  hassle with going to and from the Fair Grounds (as you do with Jazz Fest).

The festival will be held April 11-14. The lineup seems to get better every year and, yes, the four-day affair is more crowded than in the early years of the FQF.

astral project

Some highlights of the lineup, just announced:

Thursday, April 11 — Galactic, Jon Cleary, Chubby Carrier, Evan Christopher, Rebirth Brass Band, Tin Men, Sasha Masakowski

Friday, April 12 — Delfeayo Marsalis, The Iguanas, George Porter Jr., John Boutte, Alex McMurray, Leroy Jones, Little Freddie King, Papa Mali

Saturday, April 13 — Bill Summers, Cyril Neville, Ellis Marsalis, Leroy Jones, Paul Sanchez, Shamarr Allen, Walter Wolfman Washington, Jazz Vipers, Treme Brass Band

Sunday, April 14 — Astral Project (above), Bonerama, James Andrews, Dash Rip Rock, Rockin’ Dopsie Jr., Tuba Skinny, James Andrews, Jeremy Davenport

Check it the Offbeat story here.

Remembering the Challenger

I was a young reporter at Florida Today in Melbourne. Had just left the house I was sharing on Cocoa Beach that crisp, cool morning, to drive to the office. Remembered the launch was about to happen, so I pulled off of A1A at a viewing spot near Patrick Air Force Base — something of a front-row seat, as it wasn’t far from Cape Canaveral.

The shuttle shot straight up into the clear blue, began its swerve and then pieces separated, trailing white smoke. I immediately knew that something was wrong.
Several of the folks watching with me were employed by NASA or had friends or family in the space program, which was essential to the lifeblood of Brevard County in those days. Some of them began to cry.

My trusty reporter notebook was in my back pocket — its usual resting place — so I pulled it out and started interviewing folks. As part of my work on the team covering the tragedy, I wound up going to Orlando to interview the parents of Gregory Jarvis. His dad, Bruce Jarvis, had much to say about the failure of the O-rings being the culprit in the disaster.

That was a very sad day for America. Remember how we all shared in the mourning? Hard to believe that it has been 33 years — a lifetime ago.

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays from Jazzlands

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and yours from May this season be filled with meaningful reflection, pleasant times with family and friends, and lots of great music.

THANK YOU for reading this blog. Comments always appreciated. And so are new readers.

I stay busy with my day job, as well as gigs with Acme Jazz Garage, Swan City Jazz Project, and other groups, and writing for several national publications, including JazzTimes, Jazziz, and Relix magazines.

I write in this space as time permits. In 2018, I also contributed to the Washington Post, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and SawPalm.

In the spirit of the season, here’s a holiday-ish tune, “Last Call,” from the debut CD by Acme Jazz Garage.

It’s a swinger, with a ’40s-set story about a couple taking a romantic walk across Manhattan on a snowy night during Christmas season; they pass through Times Square and stop at a jazz club, encountering some legendary musicians along the way.

For this track, our core group — pianist Bryan Lewis, guitarist Matt Swenson, me on upright bass, and former drummer Tim Diehl — was joined by singer Whitney James, trumpeter Ron Wilder, and vibraphonist Sam Koppelman. The tune’s chorus, with its tightly clustered vocal harmonies (all by Whitney), might remind some of Manhattan Transfer.

“Last Call” is the only vocal cut on our CD, which had a nice run in 2016. The CD was heard on more than 30 stations across the country, including Tampa’s WUSF, 89.7 FM and WMNF, 88.5 FM, staying on the Jazzweek radio-airplay chart for several months. It received good reviews from national and regional press, including Relix magazine, LA Jazz Scene, Tampa Bay Times, Creative Loafing  (Tampa), The Toledo Blade, Ken Franckling’s Jazz Notes, and Tie Your Shoes Reviews.

The CD is available for purchase via iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, and at our gigs.

Acme Jazz Garage has been together since 2011. If you find yourself in the Tampa Bay area on a Thursday or Friday night, please come hear us play at Timpano Chophouse in Hyde Park Village, Tampa, starting at 7. We mix jazz standards with blues, bossa novas, funky stuff, pop/rock instrumentals and originals.

We’ve recently returned to the Springs Theatre in Seminole Heights, where we recorded our debut CD, and have nearly completed work on four new tracks of original material. We hope to release something in 2019.

(BTW, Acme Jazz Garage is more than open to partnering with a label for our next release. If interested, contact me directly —

“Clapton biography portrays a restless rocker forever bolting his bands” — my review for the Washington Post

clapton book

My review of “Slowhand,” Philip Norman’s new bio of Eric Clapton, is published in today’s Washington Post. See the full review here.

” ‘Have I ever been satisfied? Definitely for one night, yeah,’ Eric Clapton told Rolling Stone last year. He referred fondly to a 1968 show in Philadelphia with Cream, his innovative and enormously successful band with drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce. Nearly four decades later, the trio reunited for a four-night stand at London’s Royal Albert Hall that sold out in less than an hour.

When it comes to musical genres, bandmates, relationships with women and even his place in the rock universe, Clapton has always been driven by an unquenchable thirst for genuine satisfaction, Philip Norman contends in “Slowhand.” It’s a comprehensive and often illuminating account of the life and career of a musician who has had an outsize influence on generations of guitarists.

Norman, a former journalist best known for his 2,000-plus pages of Beatles biographies, opens with a scene at a lunch spot near the English city of Leeds in December 1969. Surrounded by young female fans, George Harrison introduces his pal Clapton as “the world’s greatest white guitarist . . . Bert Weedon,” the author of a popular guitar tutorial. It’s a rare moment of comic relief in a 419-page tome that’s mostly as sober as its subject is not.”


25 OTHER Notable Jazz Discs of 2018

Given the profusion of top-shelf jazz recordings released throughout the year, my Top 10 list barely scratched the surface of the new and notable.

So here are 25 more of 2018’s best jazz releases, worthy of your time and attention.

Antonio Adolfo: Encontros — Orquestra Atlantica (AAM)

Ambrose AkinmusireOrigami Harvest (Blue Note)

Roni Ben-Hur & Harvie SIntrospection (Jazzheads)

Anat Cohen & Fred HerschLive in Healdsburg (Anzic)

Chick CoreaThe Musician (Concord)

Rob Dixon Trio featuring Charlie Hunter & Mike ClarkCoast to Crossroads (Rob Dixon)

Bill FrisellMusic IS (Okeh/Sony)

Aaron GoldbergAt the Edge of the World (Sunnyside)

Jimmy Haslip/Scott Kinsey/Gergo BorlaiArc Trio (Blue Canoe)

Carlos HenriquezDizzy Con Clave (RodBros)

Fred Hersch TrioLive in Europe (Palmetto Records)

Charles Lloyd & the Marvels + Lucinda WilliamsVanished Gardens (Blue Note)

Medeski Martin & Wood with Alarm Will SoundOmnisphere (Indirecto)

Brad Mehldau TrioSeymour Reads the Constitution! (Nonesuch)

Hendrik Meurkens/Bill CunliffeCabin in the Sky (Height Advantage)

Francois Moutin & Kavita ShawInterplay (Dot Time)

Bill O’ConnellJazz Latin (Savant)

Houston Person & Ron CarterRemember Love (HighNote)

Charles Pillow Large EnsembleElectric Miles (MAMA)

Dan Pugachi NonetPlus One (Unit)

Cecile McLorin SalvantThe Window (Mack Avenue)

SFJAZZ CollectiveOriginal Compositions & the Music of Ornette Coleman, Stevie Wonder & Thelonious Monk (SFJAZZ)

John ScofieldCombo 66 (Verve)

Dr. Lonnie Smith, All in My Mind (Blue Note)Jim Snidero & Jeremy PeltJubilation! Celebrating Cannonball Adderley (Savant)

Kamasi WashingtonHeaven and Earth (Young Turks)

Jazz in Nashville? Well, yes.

F1F658D0-9D60-4AE7-825E-524C2408CF24.JPG25EDBA6B-DAA6-4E6C-8D30-41C9816C60B4.JPGNashville, of course, is ground zero for country music — at least, for most of the country music that lands major radio airplay.

But Music City long has been home to lots of superb players who are also accomplished jazz cats. In recent years, that list has grown to include the likes of saxophonist Jeff Coffin, guitarist Larry Carlton, banjo man Bela Fleck, bassist and Belmont prof Roy Vogt, and friends and former Florida residents Jeff Berlin, the virtuoso bass guitarist, and Mike Pachelli (with whom I’ve played on several occasions over the years).

Rudy’s Jazz Room is the (relatively) new jazz spot in town, and I’m happy I got a chance to stop in on Monday night, for the weekly performance by Charles Treadway‘s organ trio, with Nashville guitar cat Pat Bergeson (Lyle Lovett, Suzy Bogguss, and the late Chet Atkins) and, on this gig, drummer Jordan Perlson.

The three, playing on a slightly elevated stage in front of a red curtain, turned in a set of jazz standards, blues, fusion, boogaloo, and old school R&B/funk that ranged from mellow to swinging to absolutely schmokin’.

Their repertoire, easy to love, included Duke Ellington’s “Reflections in D,” Benny Goodman’s “Don’t Be That Way,” Duke Pearson’s “Idle Moments” (popularized by Grant Green) and three written by and/or associated with noted B3 men — Dr. Lonnie Smith‘s “The Man From Toledo,” Bobby Pierce’s “To Newport With Love” and Jimmy McGriff’s “Healin’ Feeling.” Pretty sure I was hearing their creative take on the Bee Gees’ “How Deep is Your Love” on the way out.

Rudy’s is a comfortable, beautifully appointed place, with cleverly named specialty drinks and good food — I had the gumbo. Photos, posters and other artwork related to jazz icons including Miles, Monk and Louis Armstrong adorn the walls. And ornate lantern-style lights hang from the bare, industrial-looking low ceilings.

I’ll be back one day, I hope.