Bill Meredith

Jazz season previews 2017-2018 story - Oct. issue of Palm Beach Arts Paper

A pleasant sense of unpredictability has crept into the 2017-2018 South Florida jazz season, as younger, rising singers and players (Gregory Porter, Jon Batiste) and gifted female vocalists and instrumentalists (Tierney Sutton, Anat Cohen) dot the landscape, especially south of Palm Beach County. And even some of the more recurrent acts, like the Marsalis brothers -- trumpeter Wynton with his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra; saxophonist Branford with his quartet -- appear from West Palm Beach north to Stuart to offer star power, creative artistry, and superlative musicianship.

It isn't easy for musicians who play at the back of the stage to earn the spotlight very often, but jazz drummers particularly suffer from comparisons to the genre's late titans like Buddy Rich, Tony Williams, Max Roach, and Elvin Jones. Sixty-four-year-old Jeff Hamilton is a rare talent who can co-lead a powerful big band (the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, with esteemed bassist John Clayton) [i]and[i] lead his own sensitive, self-titled trio. An Indiana native, Hamilton studied in the prestigious Indiana University music program, and has credits over the past 40-plus years that include Woody Herman, Count Basie, Monty Alexander, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Rosemary Clooney, and Diana Krall. His trio is rounded out by pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Christoph Luty, who compliment Hamilton's expert use of both drum sticks and brushes. Listeners can expect originals and standards from the trio's half-dozen releases, from [i]It's Hamilton Time[i] (1994) through [i]Great American Songs: Through the Years[i] (2013). See the Jeff Hamilton Trio at 7:45 p.m. on Nov. 8 in the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 S.W. 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale ($55, 954-462-0222).

There may be disparaging claims against the foremost figure in modern jazz, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis -- including co-opting director Ken Burns' 2001 [i]JAZZ[i] documentary toward his own agenda, and lack of female representation in his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (which has several women on its substitute roster, yet none in the primary ensemble). But no one can say that its leader, who turns 56 years old on Oct. 18, is a ball hog or on a star trip within its live performances. Rather than place himself in the spotlight, Marsalis sits in the trumpet section with Ryan Kisor, Marcus Printup and Kenny Rampton. The JALCO is rounded out by saxophonists Walter Blanding, Victor Goines, Sherman Irby, Ted Nash and Paul Nedzela, trombonists Cris Crenshaw, Vincent Gardner and Elliot Mason, pianist Dan Nimmer, bassist Carlos Henriquez, and drummer Ali Jackson. It's yet to permanently replace Joe Temperley, the practically irreplaceable baritone and soprano saxophonist and bass clarinetist who died last year at age 86. See the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at 8 p.m. at the Dreyfoos Concert Hall at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach (561-832-7469, $35 + up).

Thirty-year-old singing keyboardist Jon Batiste channeled his deep Louisiana jazz roots into a career that has headed north, literally and figuratively, over the past 15 years. Born into a musical family in Kenner, LA, he graduated from the heralded New Orleans Center for Creative Arts in 2004 and released his 2005 debut, [i]Times in New Orleans[i], at age 17 with other rising young Big Easy musicians in drummer/​percussionist Jason Marsalis and horn players Donald Harrison Jr. and Christian Scott. Batiste literally headed north to earn his master's degree in piano from the Juilliard School in New York City, where he formed the foundation of his band Stay Human with fellow students Eddie Barbash (saxophones) and Joe Saylor (drums/​percussion). A series of subsequent CDs led the charismatic, dapper Batiste into television as well. He appeared in the HBO dramatic series [i]Treme[i] between 2010 and 2013, and has led Stay Human as the house band for the [i]The Late Show With Stephen Colbert[i] since 2015. See Jon Batiste and Stay Human at 8 p.m. on Dec. 15 at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami ($39 + up, 305-949-6722).

Branford Marsalis may not be as famous as his younger brother, trumpeter and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra leader Wynton, but the saxophonist has arguably charted as important a course through jazz since the 1980s. That was the decade in which Wynton started the "Young Lions" movement, which energized the genre through the slogan "America's classical music." Yet while Wynton was discarding popular music in the process, Branford performed with other jazz musicians (keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, bassist Darryl Jones, drummer Omar Hakim) in the post-Police career of pop star Sting. By simultaneously playing traditional jazz, starting with his 1984 debut [i]Scenes in the City[i], the elder Marsalis has helped to create new generations of open-minded younger jazz musicians, and his dexterity across all saxophone ranges (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone) has enhanced everything from classical ensembles to jam bands. Marsalis' quartet, with pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Justin Faulkner, is likely to include material from last year's release, [i]Upward Spiral[i]. See Branford Marsalis at 7 p.m. on Jan. 8 and 9 at the Lyric Theater, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart ($65, 772-286-7827).

Thirty-three-year-old vocalist Cyrille Aimee's buoyant, unique singing style is owed, in part, to having a French father and a Dominican mother, plus a healthy dose of the late guitarist Django Reinhardt. Born in Samois-sur-Seine, Fontainebleau, France, Aimee snuck out of her house as a child to mingle in the Gypsy encampments with those attending the annual Django Reinhardt Jazz Festival nearby. It would eventually inspire the young singer to travel across Europe, and wind up at the Montreux Jazz Festival -- where she won the festival's vocal competition, allowing her to finance her self-produced debut CD, [i]Cyrille Aimee and the Surreal Band[i], in 2009. Aimee's latest release, [i]Let's Get Lost[i] (2016), is her eighth. For her South Florida performance, Aimee is backed by the Shelly Berg Trio, led by the pianist who's a professor, and also dean, at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. Berg's playing oozes personality, whether his trio includes his longtime rhythm section of bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Gregg Field or Frost School associates Chuck Bergeron (bass) and John Yarling (drums). See Cyrille Aimee & the Shelly Berg Trio at 7:45 p.m. on Jan. 10 at the Amaturo Theater ($55).

Talk about being in the "in" crowd. Pianist Joey Alexander has become, at age 14, one of the strongest natural forces in jazz since moving to New York City from his native Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia three years ago. Self-taught, Alexander's YouTube videos made an instant fan out of no less a jazz authority than trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who invited the young pianist to make his United States debut, at age 10, at the Jazz at Lincoln Center's annual gala. Alexander has since appeared alongside Marsalis on the CBS program [i]60 Minutes[i], performed for two former U.S. presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and earned three Grammy nominations for his first two CDs, [i]My Favorite Things[i] (2015) and [i]Countdown[i] (2016). Alexander appears with 82-year-old pianist Ramsey Lewis, a multiple Grammy-winner whose career stretches back to the 1950s. By the 1960s, the Chicago native led an ahead-of-his-time crossover act, as his jazz trio gained airplay by rearranging everything from pop hits (The McCoys' "Hang on Sloopy") to soul compositions (Billy Page's "The 'In' Crowd") and traditional spirituals ("Wade in the Water"). See Joey Alexander and Ramsey Lewis at 8 p.m. on Jan. 12 at the Arsht Center ($39 + up).

Amid the predictable yet welcome returning artists who appear to dot the South Florida seasonal landscape every one or two years, the Trio Nation collective of British bassist Dave Holland, Cuban drummer Ignacio Berroa and Miami-born pianist Martin Bejerano qualifies as a pleasant surprise on multiple levels. Not only do the trio members hail from different countries, but their ages are also all over the map. The 71-year-old Holland is its best-known quotient, having been a star since playing with trumpeter Miles Davis nearly 50 years ago. Berroa, 64, is likewise known for his 1981-1993 work with a trumpet icon, Dizzy Gillespie, and the comparatively-youthful Bejerano, assistant professor of jazz piano at the University of Miami's Frost School of Music, only began his solo recording career 10 years ago. Yet he, too, has experience playing with a legendary artist in ageless, 92-year-old living drumming legend Roy Haynes. See Trio Nation feat. Dave Holland, Ignacio Berroa and Martin Bejerano at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 13 in the Black Box Theater at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 S.W. 211th St., Cutler Bay ($35-$40, 786-573-5300).

Being born in Kingston, Jamaica has given 73-year-old pianist Monty Alexander standout twists that aren't common within jazz musicians over a career that spans nearly 60 years. Like many other jazz players, Alexander's early training was in classical piano. But he started crafting his unique Caribbean jazz style in Jamaican clubs and recording sessions at age 14 after witnessing performances by influential icons Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole at the Carib Theater. Moves to Miami in 1961 and New York City in 1963, both while still in his teens, showcased Alexander in two different thriving jazz scenes -- particularly the latter, where he performed at renowned venues Jilly's, Minton's, and the Playboy Club. Sessions with the likes of vibraphonist Milt Jackson and bassist Ray Brown followed in the 1960s and 1970s, and Alexander started his solo recording career with his self-titled debut in 1965, an album bookended by more recent recordings like his two volumes of the appropriately-titled [i]Harlem-Kingston Express[i] and his latest, the 2016 Beatles tribute [i]Here Comes the Sun[i]. See the Monty Alexander Trio at 8 p.m. on Jan. 20 at Bailey Hall at Broward College, 3501 Davie Rd., Davie ($11-$46, 954-201-6884).

Pink Martini comes back to South Florida by popular demand every season recently, and with good reason. Pianist and founder Thomas Lauderdale's self-described "little orchestra" features 15 members -- with two female lead vocalists, China Forbes and Storm Large, plus horn and string sections -- and is capable of performing songs across the musical spectrum of jazz, pop, classical, and world music. Lauderdale founded the band while working in politics in his hometown of Portland, OR, as an across-the-aisle remedy to the underwhelming performers he heard at most political functions. It was an outside-the-box idea by a politician who's certainly continued that ideology. He recorded the Charlie Chaplin standard "Smile" with comedienne Phyllis Diller for the 2013 album [i]Get Happy[i], and has invited guest performers from National Public Radio host Ari Shapiro to harpist Maureen Love for studio sessions. Clearly musical and political globalists rather than nationalists, Pink Martini's latest CD, [i]Je dis oui![i], features vocals in English, French, Armenian, Farsi, Portuguese, Arabic, Xhosa and Turkish. See Pink Martini at 8 p.m. on Jan. 24 at the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center ($36.50-$116.50).

[i]Space Jam[i] may have blended film animation with live-action sports on the big screen more than 20 years ago, but the members of the California Guitar Trio's space jams actually earned the distinction of becoming the wake-up music for the NASA astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor. Formed in 1991, the trio's members -- Paul Richards from Salt Lake City, Utah; Bert Lams from Affligem, Belgium, and Hideyo Moriya from Tokyo, Japan -- met during a guitar course taught by Robert Fripp, and the CGT earned greater notoriety while opening tour dates for Fripp's band, King Crimson. With its United Nations-worthy ancestry and universal appeal, the trio's music is a meshed sum of complex interwoven guitar parts. Few other groups could conceive of such instrumental arrangements of the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations," The Ventures' "Walk Don't Run," Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," Pink Floyd's "Echoes," Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells," Santo & Johnny's "Sleepwalk," plus an entire album of classical pieces by the likes of Bach, Beethoven and Schubert called [i]Masterworks[i]. See the California Guitar Trio at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 10 at the Black Box Theater ($30-$35).

Seventy-four-year-old guitarist and vocalist George Benson rose to prominence as an instrumentalist in the mid-1960s as a result of his inimitable playing technique on stellar albums like [i]It's Uptown[i] and [i]The George Benson Cookbook[i]. Both were recorded with Benson's famed quartet, with organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber, and drummer Jimmy Lovelace, and featured a blend of original compositions and standards from the Gershwins' "A Foggy Day" to Lester Young's "Jumpin' With Symphony Sid." Ten years later, Benson's increasing singing output made him a bigger star as he entered adult contemporary and smooth jazz realms through both instrumentals ("Breezin'") and vocal numbers ("On Broadway"). It's telling that the Pittsburgh native -- a fine pop singer, yet an incendiary, otherworldly guitarist -- has recent CDs that include a tribute to vocalist/​pianist Nat King Cole (another great instrumentalist who rose to greater fame by singing), and his recent touring includes co-headlining status with soprano saxophonist and smooth jazz star Kenny G. See George Benson at 8 p.m. on Feb. 16 at the Arsht Center ($39 + up), and at 8 p.m. on Feb. 17 at Dreyfoos Concert Hall ($25 + up).

Call it the little trio that could. Trio da Paz features three of Brazil's finest jazz exports, though none are household names in the United States. Still, guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist Nilson Matta and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca continue to gain steady traction from ever-scintillating live shows since forming in 1986. Lubambo is likely the best-known of the three; a classical guitarist and native of Rio de Janiero who's also recorded as a solo artist since 1990 and worked as a sideman with the likes of Wynton Marsalis, Pat Metheny, Yo-Yo Ma, Gato Barbieri, and Diana Krall. Upright bassist Matta's credits include Paquito D'Rivera, Joe Henderson, Herbie Mann, and Hermeto Pascoal; Da Fonseca's include Kenny Barron and Joanne Brackeen. Trio da Paz has managed to release seven CDs between [i]Brasil From the Inside[i] (1992) and its latest, the 30th anniversary disc [i]30[i] (2016) in-between its busy members' solo and sideman schedules. Listeners can expect spirited improvisation and interplay between Lubambo's supple finger-picking, De Fonseca's dexterity with drum sticks, brushes, and mallets, and the simpatico mesh that Matta's fingers provide. See Trio da Paz at 8 p.m. on Feb. 17 at Bailey Hall ($11-$46).

To call George Winston a solo pianist for all seasons, or even every month, could be a stretch. Yet his sophomore recording [i]Autumn[i], from 1980, put Winston on the map, and his fourth effort, [i]December[i] from 1982, has become a holiday classic through his original compositions and arrangements the likes of Bach's "Joy" and Pachelbel's "Kanon." Now in his late 60s, Winston is a Michigan native who grew up in Montana, Mississippi and Florida. His Southern exposure may help explain the influence of neighboring New Orleans R&B pianists Professor Longhair and James Booker. Mix in the jazz inspiration of Fats Waller and Teddy Wilson, and one gets a hint of the underpinnings of Winston's unorthodox style. First an organist influenced by The Doors' Ray Manzarek, Winston has also released a tribute to that band, two to jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi, several pastoral odes to other seasons ([i]Summer[i]) and places( [i]Forest[i], [i]Plains[i]). Less predictably, the quintessential solo artist has a 2013 release, [i]Harmonica Solos[i], and benefit CDs toward hurricane relief and cancer research (his latest, 2017's [i]Spring Carousel[i]). See George Winston at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 27 at the Amaturo Theater ($35-$75).

Dr. Seuss has nothing on vocalist Gregory Porter, the new cat in the hat. The Sacramento, CA-born singer always sports an unusual cap with fabric that also covers his ears and chin, a look initially to mask the effects of skin surgery that's now become his signature style. With his gifted, expressive baritone voice, Porter has earned "Best Jazz Vocal Album" Grammy Awards for his two latest releases, [i]Liquid Spirit[i] (2013) and [i]Take Me To the Alley[i] (2016). Yet the late-blooming singer, now 45, took a circuitous route toward jazz success. A football star at Highland High School in Bakersfield, CA, Porter received a full athletic scholarship to play at San Diego State University before a nagging shoulder injury ended his career as a lineman. He moved to Brooklyn, NY years later to work as a chef, occasionally performing at the restaurant where he worked, plus other neighboring venues, before taking up music full-time. With a new tribute CD, [i]Nat King Cole & Me[i], set for release in late October, it's clear that Porter's talents know few if any boundaries. Perhaps a rhyming children's book might even be next. See Gregory Porter at 8 p.m. on March 2 at the Arsht Center ($39 + up).

A perennial "talent deserving of wider recognition" in jazz, soaring, scatting vocalist Tierney Sutton may well be living proof that some artists aren't starts simply because they have other priorities. The 54-year-old singer, born in Omaha, NE and raised in Milwaukee, WI, has paid forward her estimable vocal gifts as an educator for two decades -- whether teaching in the Jazz Studies Department at the University of Southern California, as the vocal department chair at the Los Angeles Music Academy, or privately. Along the way, she's nurtured talent like rising jazz vocalists Gretchen Parlato and Sara Gazarek, along with classical soprano Natalie Dessay. The Tierney Sutton Band has also been a priority for nearly 25 years, with a talented and unorthodox quintet lineup that features two bassists (Trey Henry and Kevin Axt) along with pianist Christian Jacob and drummer Ray Brinker. Its latest efforts include the 2016 releases [i]The Sting Variations[i] (with solo and Police compositions by the British singer/​songwriter) and the soundtrack to director Clint Eastwood's film [i]Sully[i]. See Tierney Sutton at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. on March 3 at the Black Box Theater ($40-$45).

It isn't often that concert-goes can experience one of the world's leading all-time musicians on any particular instrument, but such is the case regarding the forthcoming appearance by Mumbai, India-born tabla drummer Zakir Hussain. The 66-year-old's hand drums usually come in pairs involving a smaller, higher-pitched daya tabla and a larger, lower-pitched baya tabla, and the drums are most closely associated with Hindustani classical music. Hussain, however, has transformed their use since starting his staggering scroll of recording credits with the 1970 album [i]Evening Ragas[i] with Indian sarod player Vasant Rai. A long partnership with Grateful Dead drummer and world music expert Mickey Hart has ranged from [i]Rolling Thunder[i] (1972) through [i]Planet Drum[i] (1991) to [i]Mysterium Tremendum[i] (2012). Hussain has also crafted long partnerships with guitar icon John McLaughlin (particularly the 1970s band Shakti) and recorded banner releases with the likes of sitar master Ravi Shankar and banjoist Bela Fleck. For this performance, Hussain's duo partner is Indian composer/​flutist Rakesh Chaurasai. See Zakir Hussain and Rakesh Chaurasai at 8 p.m. on March 15 at Dreyfoos Concert Hall ($15 + up).

Being from Toronto, Ontario, Canada doesn't exactly hint at prowess within Afro-Cuban jazz styles, but that's but one reason why Canadian soprano saxophonist, flutist and pianist Jane Bunnett stands out. A classical pianist studying at Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music at first, Bunnett (who turns 61 years old on Oct. 22) switched both instruments and genres because of a case of tendonitis at age 20. The multi-instrumentalist started her jazz recording career more on the traditional path with her 1987 debut [i]In Dew Time[i], featuring saxophonist Dewey Redman and pianist Don Pullen. By her fourth release, [i]Spirits of Havana[i] (1991), it was clear that she had a musical Cuban alter-ego, one that's led to her current group, Maqueque. With five Canadian Juno awards and two Grammy nominations for its self-titled 2014 debut and 2016 release [i]Oddara[i], the group also features Cuban artists Danae Olano (piano/​vocals), Elizabeth Rodriguez (violin/​vocals), Celia Jimenez (bass/​vocals), Yissy Garcia (drums) and Magdelys Savigne (percussion/​vocals). See Jane Bunnett and Maqueque at 8 p.m. on March 17 at Bailey Hall ($11-$46).

Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes turns 76 years old on Oct. 9, yet looks, acts and plays like an artist who's significantly younger -- and one who has nonetheless found ways to channel more than 50 years of experience as a performer, composer, arranger and bandleader into his artistry. Like his father, pioneering pianist Bebo Valdes (1918-2013), his decades of creativity have broken new ground in Latin jazz, including the 45-year-old Cuban musical melting pot ensemble Irakere. Valdes formed the group in Havana in 1973 as an offshoot of the famed Orchesta Cubana de Musica Moderna, and Irakere's members have included saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, and percussionist Miguel "Anga" Diaz. Valdes left Irakere in 2005 to focus on his solo career, but assembled a collection of younger musicians for his Irakere 40 anniversary project, resulting in the [i]Tribute to Irakere[i] live CD that won him his sixth and most recent Grammy. Irakere 45 is likewise a spirited blend of Valdes' inimitable playing and his youthful ensemble's musical exuberance. See Cubismo! Chucho Valdes: Irakere 45 at 8 p.m. on April 20 at the Arsht Center ($39 + up).

Portland, Oregon-born trumpeter Chris Botti's latest recording, the 2012 CD [i]Impressions[i], earned him a Grammy Award for "Best Pop Instrumental Album." Yet a combination of formidable talent in multiple musical tributaries, plus matinee idol looks, helped to lead him to that pinnacle. Botti, who turns 55 years old on Oct. 12, studied at Indiana University, but left before graduating to tour with icons in swing and big band jazz (singer Frank Sinatra, drummer Buddy Rich). He also toured and recorded with the 1998-2000 fusion group Upper Extremities, led by the then-King Crimson rhythm section of bassist Tony Levin and drummer Bill Bruford, and started long associations with pop stars Paul Simon and Sting during the 1990s. Named one of [i]People[i] magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" in 2004, Botti's solo recording career started with the 1995 CD [i]First Wish[i], and his 2008 release[i]Italia[i] and 2010 effort [i]Chris Botti in Boston[i] also earned Grammy nominations. See Chris Botti at 8 p.m. on April 17 at Parker Playhouse, 707 N.E. 8th St., Fort Lauderdale (954-462-0222, $50.12-$75.50), and at 8 p.m. on April 18 at Dreyfoos Concert Hall ($25 + up).

Selected Works

Story
One of the more creative and successful South Florida singer/songwriters of this young century, and likely the most successful ever from Lake Worth, John Ralston gives the area a last double hurrah before moving to North Carolina -- a brand-new album, 'IV,' and a going-away album release show on Dec. 7 at Voltaire in downtown West Palm Beach, FL.
Without as many classic rock stars as usual, and with newer, younger acts like Kings of Leon, Bruno Mars, and The Killers, the 2017-2018 season in South Florida pop music feels like a long-expected changing of the guard.
From the expected suspects (the Marsalis brothers, trumpeter Chris Botti) to rising stars (Gregory Porter, Jon Batiste) and female instrumentalists (Jane Bunnett, Anat Cohen), the 2017-2018 season in South Florida jazz is as a strong as usual and higher in unpredictability.