Tampa Jazz Notes: Ybor Jazz Fest Concludes; Nate Najar CD Release Show at Studio@620; Helios Jazz Orchestra at Nova 535; Corey Christiansen at HCC Ybor; Christian McBride Returns in April; Jazz Calendar

(Photos courtesy of Alex Spassoff)

The third annual Ybor Jazz Festival on Sunday concluded five days and nine concerts’ worth of performances by locally based artists with a standing ovation for Rayzilla’s Dreamboats, reports fest director Keith Arsenault. The group, with Ray Villadonga on bass and guitar (left), saxophonist Jeremy Powell, guitarist Alfredo Rivero and drummer/percussionist Joe Bencomo, played following Jazztek (pianist Ben Winkler, bassist Jon Shea, and drummer Tim Diehl, below).

The festival, held at two stages at the HCC/Ybor Performing Arts Building, again “showcased the very best of the resident jazz community of Central Florida which is a truly gifted and talented group of dedicated musicians with national and international credits who have chosen to live and work here and grace our community,” Arsenault said. “Cooperation and collaboration between artists was inspiring to watch and listen to and audiences were enthusiastic and pleased with the wide variety of jazz styles that were presented.”

Arsenault promises something “bigger” for next year’s fest. Stay tuned.


Nate Najar (right) and ex-Ellington bassist John Lamb play a CD release show Thursday night, featuring music from their new duets disc, “What’s New.” Copies of the CD will be available at the show, 7:30 at The Studio @620, 620 1st Avenue South in St. Petersburg. Admission is $20. For more info, call the venue at 727 895-6620 and/or visit Najar’s site.


The Helios Jazz Orchestra, one of the favorites at the Ybor Jazz Fest, will be joined by singer Amy Morgan (left) on music drawn from the Great American Songbook, Nov. 20 at Nova 535.

The show — another in the orchestra’s monthly third-Thursday events — will feature dancing, catered treats, cabaret seating, and a full bar. The venue is at 535 Dr. M.L. King Jr. Street North (Ninth St. North) in St. Petersburg; valet parking is available. For more information, visit the Helios site or the Nova 535 site.


Corey Christiansen (right), a guitarist who logged time on  Tampa Bay area stages when he was in the graduate jazz program at USF, plays the Mainstage Theatre at HCC/Ybor’s Performing Arts Building on Dec. 2. at 3 p.m. Christiansen is a well-traveled guitarist with good recordings to his credit, and teaching gigs at Utah State University and Indiana University on his resume. Tickets are $20 advance, $25 day of show for the concert, sponsored by the Tampa Jazz Club. More info to come.


Tampa Bay area jazz fans who missed the Christian McBride Trio at the Mahaffey last Friday (my review) get another chance to hear the bassist. The much-recorded jazzer is returning to the area for Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour, April 13 at the Straz Center’s Ferguson Hall. McBride is musical director for the band, which also includes veteran jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, rising-star trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and three other top-shelf players — tenor and soprano saxophonist Chris Potter, pianist Benny Green and drummer Lewis Nash. The show starts at 7:30, and tickets start at $36.50. For more information, click here. (Photo by Bridge Burke)


Other upcoming jazz shows:

Nov. 26 – Monday Night Jazz: USF Jazz Ensemble 1 with Rex Richardson, trumpet, USF MUS concert hall, 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 11 – Flavor of Jazz 11, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, 8 p.m.

Dec. 15 – Nate Najar Holiday show, with bassist John Lamb, drummer Steve Bucholtz, and guests Ken Peplowski, clarinet, Chuck Redd, vibes, Palladium, St. Petersburg, 8 p.m.

Feb. 10 — Ira Sullivan, HCC Ybor, 3 p.m.

Feb. 17 — Preservation Hall Jazz Band & Del McCoury Band, Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg, 7 p.m.

March 24 — Chick Corea and Bela Fleck, Ruth Eckerd Hall, 8 p.m.

April 3 — Diana Krall, Ruth Eckerd Hall, 8 p.m.

Tampa Jazz Notes: Christian McBride Rules at the Mahaffey; Ybor Jazz Fest Continues; Rickie Lee Jones Cancelled

Christian McBride
, easily the most recorded and most honored jazz bassist of his generation, brought his trio to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg  Saturday night for two impressive sets’ worth of standards and original compositions.

Much of the music was taken from McBride’s new CD, due early next year on the Mack Avenue label.  It wouldn’t be overstating things to say that the group, with McBride (Mahaffey photo by Bridge Burke) joined by monster young pianist Christian Sands and similarly talented drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. (photo by Bridge Burke), played the hell out of the material.

Unlike some of his recent ventures, McBride’s current trio is focused on the acoustic bebop, hard bop and swing side of jazz, with a nod to funk and R&B only coming only at the end of the show, courtesy of a version of Johnny Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love” that also referenced Michael Jackson’s “Gonna Be Starting Something” and Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”

Sands, 23, throughout displayed astonishing chops that were sometimes reminiscent of the likes of Oscar Peterson, and he also showed a lighter, more genteel touch, in the vein of the late Billy Taylor, one of the New Haven, Conn. native’s early teachers. Owens demonstrated precise, intuitive playing, throwing unexpected accents and bomb drops into the mix, and sometimes switching to brushes.

McBride, of course, was the show’s star, turning in jaw-dropping runs, chords, slides and harmonic plucks, and offering beefy tone and walking grooves that were heavily influenced by Ray Brown and Ron Carter, while still distinctly his own.

The trio offered standards and familiar pieces — “Monk’s “I Mean You,” “My Favorite Things,” Billy Taylor’s “Easy Walker,” Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe” — as well as McBride’s smartly turned originals.

Nice seeing McBride back in the Tampa Bay area so quickly, after bringing his “Kind of Brown” quintet to last year’s Clearwater Jazz Holiday; before that, he was last here with Pat Metheny‘s Trio, with drummer Antonio Sanchez, at the Tampa Theatre. McBride more than once told the audience how much he felt at home. So maybe he’ll make it an annual tradition?

(I’m writing a more detailed review of the fest for a jazz mag; I’ll link to it in this space when it’s published)


If the Mahaffey audience felt like a hometown crowd to McBride, maybe that owed in part to the number of locally based jazz musicians and jazz aficionados in attendance for what felt like a must-see on this year’s jazz calendar. We ran into pianists Kenny Drew, Jr. and Stan Hunter, drummers Ian Goodman, Mark Feinman and Steve Bucholtz (my old rhythm-section mate from the University of Florida jazz band), and bassist Alejandro Arenas, as well as Bob Seymour, the longtime jazz director for WUSF, 89.7 FM. Several musicians, and students, had a chance to attend a Q&A with McBride during sound check on Saturday afternoon.

That “just like home” feeling probably stemmed, too, from the fact that some McBride family members were in the audience, including a cousin, Faith Walston. McBride took a few minutes to give a shout-out to Walston’s recent book, “All Paws In: Lessons Learned From Loving My Rescue Dogs.”


Many of the above-mentioned locally based musicians are on the bill for the third annual Ybor Jazz Festival, which continues through Sunday at the HCC Performing Arts Building in Ybor City. Drew plays tonight, with Latin supergroup Guisando Caliente. Sunday, the trio Jazztek will be followed by Rayzilla’s Dreamboats. Admission is $15 daily. For more information, click here.


As mentioned on my Facebook page, I was REALLY looking forward to hearing Rickie Lee Jones, next Sunday (Nov. 11) at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg. Jones’ voice, jazz-pop songs and arrangements and great bands first impressed me back in the summer of ’79, when Chuck E.’s in Love” was part of the soundtrack of my teenage life (and background for an early romance). She had me at hello.

Unfortunately, the show was suddenly cancelled this week. I’ve not made any official inquiries as to why it’s no longer happening. On a whim, I contacted Rickie Lee through her Twitter account, and this is what she wrote in response: “Cancelled by promoter and manager. Come to the other date n florida.”

She’s also playing Nov 7 in Little Torch Key, Nov. 9 in Ponte Vedra, and Nov. 10 in Orlando. For more info, visit her site.