Ira Sullivan Headed to Ybor City

Ira Sullivan, the legendary jazzer who’s equally adept on trumpet and saxophone, comes to Ybor City on Sunday afternoon, for a show sponsored by the Tampa Jazz Club. I recently spoke with Sullivan, for the St. Petersburg Times. The feature will be in print tomorrow, but it’s already available online here.

Or read the full text of the piece, below:

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Ira Sullivan

Given the depth and breadth of Ira Sullivan’s work in jazz, and the sheer longevity of his career, the list of greats with whom the multi-instrumentalist has played could easily fill up a newspaper feature or two.

Suffice it to say that Sullivan, 78, was 12 when he led his first band, a trio with a drummer and an accordion player, and he’s worked with everyone from drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers to saxophonist and bebop forefather Charlie Parker to electric bass giant Jaco Pastorius.

Sullivan, a five-time Grammy nominee, has shared stages or recording studios with “every major jazz musician in the world,” he said recently from Miami, his home since the early ’60s.

The saxophonist and trumpeter, who comes to Ybor City this Sunday for his 14th or so concert in partnership with the Tampa Jazz Club, in recent years has played with celebrated young saxophonist Eric Alexander. And last year he was heard on pianist Bob Albanese’s “One Way/Detour,” a widely distributed CD on the Zoho label.

Sullivan appeared on several tracks, including the standard “Midnight Sun.” “All I did was play the melody, and that’s the one that disc jockeys freak out about. It proves that with all the convoluted solos you can come up with, there’s nothing like a simple melody.”

His melodies and solos — some straightforward, some marvellously complex — haven’t taken top billing on a recording since 2001. That’s when he last led a CD session, “After Hours,” a set of originals and standards on which he primarily played soprano sax.

So it’s been nearly a decade since Sullivan has released a CD under his own name.

Why the wait?

“I never was interested in recording,” he said. “I’m only interested in playing. The only time I record is when somebody nails me down. First off, I don’t like wear earphones — they take the feeling away from your palette and your jaw, the feeling of your instrument. To me the playing is where it’s at.”

Sullivan’s aptitude for playing in front of audiences practically came naturally. At age four, the Washington, D.C. native learned trumpet from his father, and as a teenager, growing up in Chicago, he took on tenor saxophone at the behest of his mother. And the budding musician could always count on receptive crowds for his early performances, including the families of his father’s 14 siblings.

While in his early ’20s in Chicago, Sullivan fronted a group backing the likes of saxophonists Stan Getz and Sonny Stitt, trumpeter Nat Adderley, and singer Johnny Hartman. And in 1955, he spent a week playing trumpet with Parker, a bebop idol to the younger man.

“He was drunk the first night and it took six of us to lift him into the cab,” Sullivan recounted. “After the second day, he said, ‘Ira, I can’t get drunk.’ That was because the doctors had shot him with B-12. I had a beautiful, alert wonderful Charlie Parker the rest of the week. He was healthy and bright eyed a d bushytailed. We had a wonderful week together. He treated me like the greatest trumpet player he had ever played with. A month later, he died.”

Sullivan regularly switches between tenor sax and trumpet on most gigs, and even did so during his celebrated ’80s touring and recording partnership with trumpeter Red Rodney. For this Sunday’s performance with pianist Michael Royal, bassist Richard Drexler and former Bill Evans Trio drummer Marty Morell, he’s likely to also pick up alto sax, soprano sax, flute, flugelhorn and various percussion instruments.

“I think differently for each one,” he says. “One has nothing to do with the other. I don’t approach any of them as if it were the same instrument. It’s like having five alter egos.”

Remembering David Via, Jazz Drummer

One way of thinking about this: The famous jazzers are a dime a dozen. You know their names. I know their names. Everyone knows their names.

Then there are the guys like David Via, the great Tampa Bay area drummer and drum teacher who passed away Monday after a long illness.

Dave, who loved Tony Williams and Elvin Jones almost as much as he loved the New York Yankees, committed heart and soul to the music, fully lived in the music on stage, and shared his love for the music with everyone he met. He never sought fame, and never got it, really.

But he gained a reputation as a musician’s musician, a guy whose touch was so sure, whose feel for the drums was so sensitive, that few who played with him, or came under his tutelage, or merely heard him play, will ever forget it.

That, at least, is how I remember Dave, with whom I played dozens of trio shows over several years beginning in the mid-’90s, with LaRue Nickelson on guitar, under the name Greenwich Blue. We gigged everywhere from the old Dish restaurant in Ybor City to Borders Books & Music on Dale Mabry in Tampa to a couple of places in St. Petersburg. Dave and I and vibraphonist Sam Koppelman played a private party for the Indianapolis Colts, the third time the Superbowl came to Tampa, in 2001. We “opened” for Jay Leno, the evening’s headlining act, and I recall that big-time rock drummer Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp) was in the crowd. When we played, Aronoff kept his eyes on Dave.

Dave’s playing, on uptempo swing tunes, bossa novas, ballads, and practically everything else, was always supportive, creative, and highly interactive. And his brushes playing was a work of art — crisp, clean, artful, precise, and sometimes cooking so intensely yet so quietly that my rock-damaged ears had a hard time hearing all the intricacies he routinely and with no fanfare unfurled.

Now, for the facts. Dave had just turned 59 when he died, reportedly following a major heart attack. He had been out of commission for several months, following an earlier heart attack in August.

Dave most recently taught drums at Jeff Berlin‘s Players School of Music, and Musicology, in Clearwater, and prior to that he taught at the University of South Florida in Tampa for eight years.

A native of Mayodan, N.C., with the twang in his voice to prove it, Dave studied  with , and Lynn Glassock. “Many many thanks to Otis Brown for selling me my first set of Gretsch drums,” he wrote on his MySpace page.

Dave performed with a long list of name artists, including Mose Allison, Barney Kessel, Charlie Byrd, Dizzy Gillespie (right), Pat LaBarbera, Slide Hampton, Carol Sloane, David Baker, Al Grey, Buddy Tate, Nick Brignola, Jimmy Heath, Claudio Roditi, David Murray, Joe Lovano, Billy Taylor, Kenny Werner, Ira Sullivan, John Abercrombie, Jeff Berlin, Rufus Reid, Sheila Jordan, Ted Rosenthal, Larry Coryell, Frank Kimbrough and Conrad Herwig.

His discography includes saxophonist (and USF jazz studies head) Jack WilkinsArtwork (Koch, 1995); pianist Paul Tardif’s Points of Departure (Koch, 1995);  pianist Ed Paolantonio‘s Dedications; and Minas, Blue Azul (1999)

More info from Dave’s MySpace page: “David has toured extensively with Jon Metzger as part of the USIA Arts America Program in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. These tours involved a rigorous performing schedule as well as teaching numerous clinics. In the States, David has performed in numerous Jazz festivals in Washington DC, Spoleto in Charleston, S.C., Indiana, Kentucky and Clearwater. He also performs with the Billy Siegenfield Jump Rhythm Jazz Project of New York City.”

Dave, we’ll miss you, your spirit, your humor, and your great playing.

Tampa Jazz Notes 1.21.09: Jon Metzger, Ira Sullivan, Jazz at Lenny’s, Gumbi Ortiz

metzgerThe Monday Night Jazz Series at USF (Tampa) kicks off this Monday, Jan. 26, with a performance by vibraphonist, composer and educator Jon Metzger. Also coming soon:

  • The Mindy Simmons Trio’s tribute to Peggy Lee, Friday at the Palladium (Side Door Jazz)
  • The USF Magic Marimba Festival/Conference, this Friday and Saturday on the Tampa campus
  • Big Sam’s Funky Nation, from NOLA, Friday at the Crowbar
  • Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Tuesday at the Van Wezel.

For more details on the above, check out my concert calendar.

The Wednesday night jazz jam session at Lenny’s Latin Cafe in Temple Terrace is alive and well, and continuing tonight. Drummer Don Capone and pianist Chuck Berlin preside. 7 to 10 p.m. Free admission.

Ira Sullivan turned in a typically artful, warmly engaging performance during his Tampa Jazz Club concert, Jan. 11 at the Springs Theater, a former movie theater converted into a recording studio/concert space.

The longtime South Florida jazz giant, 76, mixed and matched instruments — tenor and soprano saxophones, trumpet, cornet, flute — on two long sets, backed by a top-rank trio of Florida-based musicians: pianist Michael Royal, bassist Richard Drexler and drummer Danny Gottlieb.

The quartet turned in plenty of gems that could very well see the light of day, if a CD of the concert indeed is released, as Sullivan mentioned at several points during the show. Sullivan also made a point of instructing listeners in recording-session etiquette.

The first set included “The Way You Look Tonight,” Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes,” Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Mojave,” chestnut “Yesterday’s Gardenias,” Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father,” and Royal’s “Julie’s Lament.”

Set two: “The Toy Trumpet” (preceded by a piped-in tape of Shirley Temple singing that tune), “The Summer Knows,” Thelonious Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser,” “Some Other Time,” “The Song is You,” and Sullivan’s traditional closing piece, “Amazing Grace.”

Sullivan, talkative and friendly, had lots to say on varied subjects, including:

  • His Christian faith: “I don’t know why Jesus led me to play jazz, but he certainly did.”
  • The meaning of jazz: “Jazz is America and freedom. That’s what it stands for.”
  • Why jazz is seemingly cherished more abroad than in its home nation: “A prophet is not without honor, even in his own country” (a New Testament quote)
  • The future for jazz: “Lo and behold, the world is going back to bebop.”
  • Hearing Charlie Parker play one of Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts.
  • Playing with the likes of regulars Tony Castellano (piano) and Steve Bagby (drummer) and many others, including Jaco Pastorius and Michel Legrand, during 14 years of performances at a Unitarian Universalist Church.

It’s great to see that my old friend Gumbi Ortiz, a superb conga player based in St. Petersburg, is on the road again with RTF guitarist Al Di Meola’s World Sinfonia. The group, touring in support of the just-released live album La Melodia, Live in Milano, recently played a New York show that was given a glowing review in Relix. The tour, with the sextet emphasizing the music of tango master Astor Piazzolla, continues in the U.S. through February, and then continues in Europe and Israel. Sadly, no Florida dates are on the itinerary.

Jazz in January: Ira Sullivan, Kenny Drew, Jr., Richard Drexler

Top-shelf jazz shows are often in short supply in the Tampa Bay area.

So it’s reassuring to report that the new year is kicking off with three impressive jazz shows.

Kenny Drew, Jr., still viewed by many as one of the greatest jazz pianists of his generation, plays tonight at 8 at the Springs Theatre in Sulphur Springs (Tampa).

Kenny, who makes his home in St. Petersburg, frequently tours the world, playing jazz and classical concerts. In recent years, he’s worked with the Mingus Big Band and other high-profile groups. For this concert, he’ll be joined by bassist Joe Porter and drummer John Jenkins.

The show is sponsored by WMNF, 88.5 FM. Tickets are $10 advance, $15 at the door. For all the details, click here.

ira-sullivan1Next Sunday, Jan. 11, legendary saxophonist/trumpeter Ira Sullivan (above) returns to the Tampa Bay area for a 3 p.m. Tampa Jazz Club concert at the Springs Theatre.

Sullivan, a longtime South Florida musician, made his breakthrough on the Chicago scene in the ’50s, and he’s played with everyone from bebop trumpeter Red Rodney to drummer/bandleader Art Blakey to electric- bass great Jaco Pastorius (who played in Sullivan’s quartet).

For this performance, Sullivan will be joined by pianist Michael Royal, bassist Richard Drexler, and drummer Danny Gottlieb (formerly of the Pat Metheny Group). Admission is $23, $18 for jazz club members, and $5 for students.

The Springs Theatre, a former movie theater converted into a recording studio and performance space (my band, Trio Vibe, recently recorded our CD at the venue) is one block south of the Bird Street exit of northbound I-275. Parking is available at the adjacent Harbor Club. For more information on the theater, call (813) 915-0075 or visit the theatre’s web site.

Drew and Drexler, this time on piano, will play a “keyboard explosion,” with bassist John Lamb and drummer Don Capone, on Friday, Jan. 16 at the Mahaffey Theater’s Bayview Room in St. Petersburg.

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m.; Tickets are $20, and $15 for students. For more information, go to www.rickgeesjazzjamm.com

Tampa Bay area Concert Calendar – Jazz, Blues, Jamband, New Orleans, Americana, Rock, More

Selected concerts — jazz, blues, jamband, New Orleans music, Americana, worldbeat, pop/rock and more — on the music calendar of the Tampa Bay area and environs:

  • May 1 – Jimmy Thackery & the Drivers + Rev. Billy C. Wirtz, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8 p.m.
  • May 3 – UB40, Jannus Landing, St. Petersburg, 8 p.m.
  • glsalley-pic-without-logoMay 8 – Ghetto Love Sugar, Infinite Groove Orchestra, Rocksteady@8, Yeoman’s Road, Davis Islands, Tampa, 9 p.m.
  • May 8 – Kings of Leon + The Walkmen, USF Sun Dome, Tampa
  • May 15 – War + Derek Jive & the Funky Five + Soul Purpose, State Theatre, St. Petersburg, 7 p.m.
  • May 16 – WMNF Tropical Heatwave: Chuck Prophet, Trombone Shorty, Bonerama, Michael Burks, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Sara Borges, James Intveld, BeauSoleil with Michael Doucet, Kinobe and Soul Beat Africa, Magadog, the Vodkanauts, Will Quinlan and the Diviners, and more, Cuban Club, Ybor City, Tampa, 5 p.m.
  • May 28 – Side Door Jazz: TRIO VIBE with singer Edgar Wilcox,  Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg, 7:30 p.m.
  • May 28 – Stanton Moore, the Crowbar, Ybor City
  • May 29 – Damon Fowler Group + Shawn Kellerman, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
  • May 30 – Legendary JCs + TBA, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8 p.m.
  • May 31 – WMNF Jazz Jam: Sam Rivers, Infinite Groove Orchestra, PBS, World Afro-Cuban Ensemble, Impromptu, and Trio Vibe, Skipper’s Smokehouse, 4 p.m.; $12 advance, $15 day of show
  • June 12 – Eric Lindell, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
  • July 18 – The Avett Brothers, Cuban Club, Ybor City (Tampa)
  • June 19 – Cope + Diocious, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
  • July 11 – 4th Annual WMNF Americana Fest: Blue Mountain, Ted Lukas and the Misled, Will Quinland & the Diviners, Have Gun Will Travel, Thomas Wynn & the Believers, Nervous Turkey, Black Finger, Mike Dunn & the Kings of New England, Matt Butcher, Nine Volts, and Roppongi’s Ace, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 4 p.m.
  • August 12 – Dave Matthews Band + Robert Earl Keen, Ford Amphitheatre, Tampa
  • October 9 – U2, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa

Also handy for concertgoers: Creative Loafing’s recent piece on the area’s Top 20 concert venues.

ARCHIVE LIST

2009 shows

  • April 17-Sunday, April 19 – Stringbreak Music Fest: The Waybacks, Hoots & Hellmouth (photo, left), Randy McAllister Band, Thomas Wynn & the Believers, The Greencards, Larry Keel & Natural Bridge, Todd Charles, Have Gun Will Travel + more, Sertoma Ranch, Brooksville
  • April 17 – The Waybacks + Wildlife Refugees, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8 p.m.
  • April 16 – Side Door Jazz: Denise Moore & Then Some, Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg, 7:30 p.m.
  • April 10 – Dickey Betts & the Great Southern Band + Fastgun + Angels with Dirty Faces, State Theatre, St. Petersburg
  • April 10 – Saffire the Uppity Blues Women + Julie Black, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8 p.m.
  • April 7 – Cedric Burnside & Lightnin’ Malcolm, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
  • April 5 – Old School Tampa Reunion Concert: Beanstalk + Joe Popp, My Little Trotsky, and Maggie Council, Skipper’s Smokehouse
  • April 5 – Ribbon of Highway: Jimmy LaFave, Joel Rafael, Kevin Welch, Ray Bonneville, Ronny Elliott, Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johny Irion, Tampa Theatre
  • April 4 – Bill Wharton The Sauce Boss, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8 p.m.
  • April 4 – Freddie McGregor + Junior Reid + Jahfari, Jannus Landing, St. Petersburg, 8 p.m.
  • April 3 – Ben Folds + Jukebox the Ghost, The Ritz, Ybor City (Tampa)
  • April 3 – Allman-Tyler Band (with Gregg’s son Michael), Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8 p.m.
  • April 2 – Side Door Jazz: Stan Hunter (photo, left) Quartet with trumpeter Bob Swisher, bassist Michael Ross, and drummer Ron Gregg, Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg
  • March 28 – North Mississippi All Stars + Hill Country Revue, State Theatre, St. Petersburg
  • March 27 – Charlie Louvin + Will Smith and the Diviners, New World Brewery, Ybor City (Tampa)
  • March 27 – Toubab Krewe, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
  • March 26-Sunday, March 29 – Suwannee Springfest: Donna the Buffalo & others, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak (see my post on this)
  • March 20-22 – Tampa Bay Blues Fest: Fabulous Thunderbirds, Delbert McClinton, Irma Thomas, Bernard Allison + more, Vinoy Park, St. Petersburg
  • March 20 – “Swing Into Spring: A Tribute to Benny Goodman” : Ken Peplowski (photo, left) with Kenny Drew Jr. Trio (including bassist Joe Porter and drummer John Jenkins), The Palladium, St. Petersburg
  • March 20 – Spiritual Rez + The Hip Abduction, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
  • March 20 – The Original Wailers, Jannus Landing, St. Petersburg
  • March 19 – George Benson: Tribute to Nat Cole, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater
  • March 10 – Helios Jazz Orchestra with singers Rita Wilson, Joanna Rose, and Michael Cerone, First Unity Church, St. Petersburg, 7 p.m.
  • March 15 – Bonnie Raitt, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, 8:30 p.m.
  • March 15 – Terry Adams Crazy Trio + Vodkanauts, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
  • Friday-Saturday, March 6-7 – TRIO VIBE (Philip’s band), Della’s Delectables/Della’s After Dark, Brandon
  • Friday, March 6 – COPE with Middle Rhythm Session, Skipper’s Smokehouse, 8 p.m.
  • March 5 – The Organic Trio, Side Door Jazz @ Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg, 7:30 p.m. (Al Downing TBJA)
  • March 5 – Richard Drexler (performing and discussing his music), St. Petersburg College HS 109
  • March 5 – George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic, Jannus Landing, St. Petersburg
  • March 3 – Helios Jazz Orchestra, with saxophonist Butch Thomas, and singers Rita Wilson and Paul Wilborn, Palladium Theater
  • March 1 through Saturday, March 7 – Sarasota Jazz Festival: Dick Hyman, James Moody (photo, above), John Allred, Bill Allred, others, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Holley Hall and other venues, Sarasota
  • Feb. 28 – The Subdudes + The Ditchflowers, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
  • Feb. 28 – Mardi Gras Mambo: Neville Brothers + Dr. John and the Lower 911, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota
  • Feb. 28 – Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials, Ace’s Lounge, Bradenton, 8:30 p.m.
  • Feb. 23 – Bill Moring, bassist (photo, above), with USF Jazz Faculty Ensemble, USF-Tampa Monday Night Jazz Series, USF Music Recital Hall 
  • Feb. 23 – Bill Moring master class (open to the public), FAH 107, USF Music Building
  • Feb. 5-6 – Perpetual Groove, The Crowbar, Ybor City (Tampa)
  • Feb. 5 – B.B. King + Buddy Guy, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater
  • Feb. 5 – Kenny Drew, Jr. (above) Trio with bassist Richard Drexler and drummer John Jenkins, Side Door Jazz Series @ Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg (Al Downing TBJA)
  • Feb. 4 – Pato Banton, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
  • Jan. 31 – SPC Jazz Festival: Sue Terry Quartet (w/ Richard Drexler, Mark Neuenschwander and Tracy Alexander), SPC Music Center
  • Jan. 30 – SPC Jazz Festival: Alfredo Rivera & Manigua + O Som Do Jazz featuring Andrea Moraes Manson
  • Jan. 29 – Dark Star Orchestra, Jannus Landing
  • Jan. 29 – St. Petersburg College Jazz Festival: Helios Jazz Orchestra featuring saxophonist Sue Terry (photo, above) and singers Joanna Rose & Rita Wilson, SPC Music Center
  • Jan. 27 – Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota
  • Jan. 27 – Keller Williams, Jannus Landing
  • Jan. 26 – Jon Metzger, vibraphonist, with USF Jazz Faculty Ensemble, USF-Tampa Monday Night Jazz Series
  • Jan. 24 – USF-Tampa Magic Marimba Festival/Conference, FAH 101 & 102
  • Jan. 23 – Big Sam’s Funky Nation +  The Trio, The Crowbar
  • Jan. 23 – Side Door Jazz: Mindy Simmons Trio – A Tribute to Peggy Lee, Palladium Theater
  • Jan. 23 – USF-Tampa Magic Marimba Festival/Conference, FAH 101 & FAH 102
  • Jan. 18 – Donna the Buffalo, Skipper’s Smokehouse
  • Jan. 16 – Richard Drexler and Kenny Drew, Jr. (“Keyboard Explosion”) with bassist John Lamb and drummer Don Capone, Mahaffey Theater  Bayview Room
  • Jan. 11 – Ira Sullivan (photo, above) Quartet with  Michael Royal, Richard Drexler and Danny Gottlieb, Springs Theatre, (Tampa Jazz Club)
  • Jan. 9 – Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe,  State Theatre
  • Jan. 9 – Pinetop Perkins + Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues, Skipper’s Smokehouse (Philip’s preview, St. Petersburg Times)
  • Friday, Jan. 9 & Saturday, Jan. 10 – TRIO VIBE (Philip’s band), Della’s Delectables, Brandon
  • Jan. 8 – Guisando Caliente Latin Jazz Quintet (with saxophonist Jeff Rupert and pianist Kenny Drew, Jr.), Side Door Jazz, Palladium Theater (Al Downing TBJA)
  • Jan. 3 – Bonerama, Aces Lounge, Bradenton (Philip’s preview, St. Petersburg Times)
  • Jan. 2-3 – J.J. Grey & Mofro + Inca Maya, Skipper’s Smokehouse (Philip’s preview, St. Petersburg Times)
  • Jan. 2 – Galactic + the Lee Boys, Jannus Landing (Philip’s preview, St. Petersburg Times)

2008 shows