Tampa Jazz Notes: Nate Najar, Whitney James, Al Di Meola; reflections on Pat Metheny, Dr. John & Sunshine Music Fest

These days, there’s no shortage of worthwhile jazz (and beyond) concerts, by national and local artists alike, at Tampa Bay area venues. Too much music, not enough time, or, in the case of the too often overpriced arena and theater events, not enough expendable dough.

At any rate … happy to report that I’ve been able to catch several good shows in the last few weeks (see below), and there are plenty ahead.

Fusion-guitar heads will explode about this just-announced show: John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring, with their respective bands, are playing a double bill Nov. 25 at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

And, speaking of notable guitarists, the Tampa Bay area’s own Nate Najar is celebrating the release of his new album, “This is Nate Najar,” on the Candid label, with a show Thursday night in St. Petersburg (details below). Check out Sharon Kennedy’s feature, in the Tampa Bay Times. Najar tours nationally. His new CD is the eighth most added recording on this week’s JazzWeek radio-play chart.

On the way (a selective list):

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Nate Najar with trumpeter James Suggs, bassist John Lamb and drummer Mark Feinman — Feb. 9, The Studio@620, St. Petersburg, 7:30 pm

Whitney James’ Jazz Valentine, with guitarist LaRue Nickelson and La Lucha guys John O’ Leary on piano, bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Mark Feinman — Feb. 10, Palladium Side Door, St. Petersburg, 8 pm

Al Di Meola “Elegant Gypsy 40th Anniversary (Al’s band includes Tampa Bay area talent — percussionist Gumbi Ortiz, bassist Elias Tona and drummer Luis Alicea) — Feb. 13, Capitol Theatre, Clearwater, 7:30 pm

Richard Thompson & Blind Boys of Alabama — Feb. 14, Capitol Theater, 8 pm

St. Petersburg Jazz FestivalRobotman (Feb. 22), Martin Bejerano Trio (Feb. 23), Joshua Breakstone (Feb. 24), Jason Lee Bruns (Feb. 26) — Palladium Side Door, 7:30 pm

St. Petersburg Jazz Festival: The Helios Jazz Orchestra with Whitney James & Fred Johnson — Feb. 25, Palladium Hough Hall, 7:30 pm

Frank Greene (trumpet) & Danny Gottlieb (drums) with USF Jazz Ensemble, directed by Chuck Owen — Feb. 27, USF Concert Hall, Tampa, 7:30 pm

Tony Bennett — March 2, Mahaffey Theater, 7:30 pm

Boogie Woogie Blues Piano Stomp: Bob Seeley, Dr. Billy C. Wirtz, Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues, Rob Rio — March 4, Palladium Hough Hall, 8 pm

Whitney James with guitarist LaRue Nickelson, organist/pianist Chris Rottmayer and drummer Dave Rudolph — March 5, HCC Ybor Performing Arts Center Mainstage Theatre, 3 pm

Norah Jones — March 7, Ruth Eckerd Hall, 8 pm

Taj Mahal (solo acoustic) — March 8, Capitol Theatre, 8 pm

Rickie Lee Jones & Madeleine Peyroux — March 11, Capitol Theatre, 8 pm

Gasparilla Music Festival: The New Mastersounds, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Shamarr Allen & the Underdawgs, Ryan Adams, Ghostface Killah, Have Gun, Will Travel, Curtis Hixon Park, Tampa, March 11-12

“The Sound: The Music of Stan Getz” (Jeff Rupert, Veronica Smith, others), Palladium Side Door, March 12, 6 pm

Tampa Bay Blues Fest (Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Coco Montoya, Stephen Stills, more), Vinoy Park, St. Petersburg, April 7-9.

John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension & Jimmy Herring and the Invisible Whip — Nov. 25, Ruth Eckerd Hall, 8 pm.

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LOOKING BACK

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I caught Dr. John, with my friend Roland Guerin on bass, at Clearwater’s beautifully renovated Capitol Theater on Jan. 17. The tickets were a Christmas present from me to my wife Callie — good seats and no reviewing duties. The band,with trumpeter Leon Brown, guitarist Eric Struthers and drummer Doug Belote, was in fine form. As usual, it was a treat hearing Dr. John sing and play some of the most memorable tunes from his repertoire, including “Iko Iko” and, of course, “Right Place, Wrong Time.”

But I’d be lying if I didn’t note that Mac seems to have lost some of his performance power. His vocals, and his piano playing, that unique mix of jazz, blues and New Orleans R&B descended from a long line of NOLA’s piano professors, including Professor Longhair, simply aren’t as robust as even a few years ago, when he played with his previous band at the Sunshine Music Festival. Some of that decline, of course, is understandable — he’s 76, and, as documented in his readable and entertaining autobiography “Under a Hoodoo Moon,” he lived a hard life in his hometown and in Los Angeles before moving to New York and adopting a more mellow lifestyle in later years.

Nevertheless, Dr. John remains a total original, and I was thrilled to hear him again. And I couldn’t help but wonder — who, aside from the likes of Jon Cleary and maybe Marcia Ball, will be exponents of that infectious, rolling rumba-boogie style of piano playing after Dr. John is gone? I’m sure there are others carrying on that tradition, particularly in New Orleans. Somebody hip me to ’em, please.

The day before (Jan. 14), we had a great experience at the fourth annual Sunshine Music Festival, formerly known as the Sunshine Blues Festival; it was my third time attending, having missed last year’s edition. The fest, held on waterside Vinoy Park in downtown St. Petersburg, offered good-to-terrific sets by the blues-rocking Tedeschi Trucks Band (the “host” artists), soul/R&B legend Mavis Staples, jamgrass guys Railroad Earth, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers, Dave Mason and the North Mississippi Allstars. My review will appear in the March print edition of Relix magazine.

And just last Wednesday (Feb. 1), for the umpteenth time I had the pleasure of catching a Pat Metheny concert, this one at the Mahaffey Theater, almost exactly three years after his last performance at the same venue. For his latest tour, he’s joined by longtime musical associate Antonio Sanchez on drums, rising-star upright bassist Linda Oh, and a newcomer (to me), young Brit-born pianist Gwilym Simcock. The quartet touched on seemingly every phase of the guitarist’s long career; as usual, he made a joyful sound on his several guitars.

I ran into several area jazz folks at the show, including Bob Seymour and Mike Cornette, the former and current jazz directors at WUSF, and singer Whitney James, who happens to be a part-time announcer at the station (I also did some announcing there, briefly, in the late ’90s). I also connected with Jim Leonard, a Metheny aficionado/expert who deserves a shout-out for his invaluable help with song titles. My review of the show, for JazzTimes mag, is posted here.

 

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Tampa Jazz Notes 2.11.09

Valentine’s Day goes with jazz like Christmas goes with brass choirs, and I’m not just saying that because “My Funny Valentine” was the song I asked the band to play for the first dance at my wedding.

That was way back in 1993, and my friend and sometime bandmate Joe Teston, on tenor sax, sat in with the trio that I hired for the occasion — guitarist Ted Shumate, bassist Michael Ross and percussionist extraordinaire Gumbi Ortiz.

The wedding must have “worked,” as I’m still married. The guys in the wedding party, or in attendance, were among my bandmates of that period or shortly later — I played with Joe in Greenwich Blue, with Joe and guitarist Domenick Ginex in Bop City, and with Dom and guitarist Bryan Zink in Liz Back on Booze.

But I digress. Several special shows, jazz and jazzy, are slated for Saturday night, Valentine’s Day, in the Tampa Bay area.

Among those are:

  • The Blind Boys of Alabama, the great long-running gospel group, whose Down in New Orleans CD was one of last year’s finest. Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8 p.m. The Gary Brown Band opens this show, presented by WMNF, 88.5 FM, and tickets are $25.

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“God’s Trombones,” a celebration of the work of major African American writer James Weldon Johnson, a Florida native, is slated for Monday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. at The Studio@620 in St. Petersburg.

Admission is free, but donations of canned goods, to support area food banks, are accepted.

Ex-Ellington trombonist Buster Cooper will participate in the program, which honors Black History Month and is a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the NAACP (Johnson was exec secretary from 1920 to 1930).

Here’s what’s on tap for the event, according to the venue’s web site:

  • Individual readings of the volume’s poems by local actors, poets, and ministers: Bob Devin Jones, Studio@620; Leroy Mitchell, actor, Johnson performer; Louis Murphy, minister; John Conlon, actor; Aleshea Harris, actor, poet; Sharon Scott, actor; Vikki Gaskin-Butler, professor, minister.
  • Trombone/musical interludes by Buster Cooper.
  • Visual renderings along the walls of the Aaron Douglas images that accompany the first (1927) edition of Johnson’s text .
  • Discussion period/question-and-answer session following the performance with Humanities scholar Dr. Julie Buckner Armstrong, USFSP.

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Also just ahead on the Tampa Bay area jazz calendar:

  • Guitarist Nate Najar’s Trio (with ex-Ellington bassist John Lamb) will be   joined by singer and banjo player Cynthia Sayer (of Woody Allen’s band), at the Palladium Theater, Thursday, Feb. 19, in the venue’s Side Door Jazz series. Show is at 7:30 p.m., and admission is $20. 
  • Kenny Walker, the busy area bassist (Helios Jazz Orchestra, Gumbi Ortiz) and monthly jazz host on WMNF, 88.5 FM, on Saturday, Feb. 21 will give a lecture on jazz history at the St. Petersburg Museum of History. His talk will be part of the museum’s fourth annual African American Author lecture series, from 2 to 4 p.m.