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Larry Csonka 'Head On' book review - Dec. issue of Palm Beach Arts Paper

It's impossible to reflect on Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Larry Csonka's new memoir [i]Head On[i] (Matt Holt/BenBella Books) without referencing [i]Always On the Run[i] (Random House, 1973), the former Miami Dolphins fullback's previous book of ever-colorful exploits.
As told to [i]New York Times[i] columnist Dave Anderson, that entertaining 50-year-old set of tall-but-true tales was authored with Csonka's former running partner, in more ways than one, Jim Kiick. Unbeknownst to them at the time, they were writing it as teammates in the middle of the Dolphins' perfect 17-0 season, leading to their first Super Bowl Championship in 1972. [i]Head On[i] is less rollicking without Kiick (1946-2020), who died suffering from brain trauma symptoms related to chronic traumatic encephalopathy at age 73 in a South Florida assisted living facility.
Nicknamed "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" by [i]Miami Herald[i] sports writer Bill Braucher (based upon the popular 1969 western of the same name starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford), Csonka and Kiick became hard-partying athletic rock stars in South Florida as running backs for the Dolphins from 1968-1974. Now 75 years old, Csonka is understandably more mature and reflective without his friend, backfield mate, and frequent drinking partner, but no less of a storyteller, especially with a half-decade's worth of extra stories.
Csonka doesn't waste time in getting to that 1972 undefeated season, a feat that has never otherwise been achieved before or since. With the book separated into six different sections, Section One describes the December 21, 2019 gathering of 30 former Dolphins, many of them fellow Hall of Fame members, and their wives/partners in Miami Beach to surprise their Hall of Fame head coach, Don Shula.
As part of its 100th anniversary, the National Football League had recently named the Dolphins' 1972 squad as the logical greatest in pro football history, and Shula had been the coach who transformed the team from perennial losers into back-to-back Super Bowl champs in 1972 and 1973. In ailing health, the coach would die four months later at age 90. Shula and Csonka's shared Hungarian heritage, combined with the coach's taskmaster attitude and the player's rebellious nature, often made for a strained, familial dynamic.
Having long since given up alcohol, Csonka reflects early about the celebrated team's sobering losses: safety Jake Scott, linebackers Nick Buoniconti and Bob Matheson, kicker Garo Yepremian, defensive lineman Bill Stanfill, quarterback Earl Morrall, and offensive linemen Bob Kuechenburg and Jim Langer, many of whom also suffered from CTE.
The author also writes about how Kiick, who would die six months later, "could remember every detail from our playing days, but short-term memories were fleeting." Later in the epilogue, Csonka's description of an improving Kiick's final fall from grace also describes what many suffered through during assisted living facility restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially within its first year:
"Jim's routine was disrupted. No visitors. His disorientation and dementia accelerated. My best buddy died unexpectedly in his sleep on June 19, 2020. Alone."
A lengthy Section Two is devoted to Csonka's 1964-1968 experiences attending Syracuse University in New York, a portion of his life only touched upon in [i]Always On the Run[i]. The school had produced extraordinary running backs like Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Jim Nance, so Csonka trusted head coach Ben Schwartzwalder to help him develop similarly. Which worked for "Zonk" and other backs on the roster, in different ways, like future Denver Broncos halfback Floyd Little and future New York Giants Super Bowl champion head coach Tom Coughlin.
Flashbacks to Csonka's boyhood days on the farm in his hometown of Stow, Ohio show his burgeoning love for animals and the outdoors in an environment that included everything from cats and dogs to pigs and cattle. And his elementary school stories are always humorous, like when he got into trouble for following the girls into the ladies room in first grade. Used to the family outhouse, he simply didn't understand the concept of separate restrooms. Less innocent mischief in his adolescence led Csonka under the wing of Stow High School principal Lawrence Saltis, whose X's and O's football lessons peaked the teenager's interest and perhaps kept him out of juvenile hall.
Much of the oversized Csonka's high school football career involved trying to convince coaches that a player of his stature, assigned to linebacker and defensive lineman positions, could indeed run with the ball on offense. That quest was fulfilled as a sophomore at Syracuse. In a late-season win over West Virginia, Csonka broke Brown's single-game school rushing yardage record with 216. Little added 196, helping to set Syracuse's new single-game team record. The two would combine for 1,860 yards, the highest season total for two backs on the same team in NCAA history.
The remainder of Csonka's career at Syracuse included him marrying high school sweetheart Pamela Conley; moving off-campus from his dorm to live with her, and the birth of their first son Doug in 1966. Their younger son Paul becomes part of the story later, and Csonka's daughter Lori -- the result of his sperm donation to a requesting Florida couple, with the agreed stipulation that she not know his identity until adulthood -- becomes the book's unforeseen plot twist much later in 2000, when Csonka was 53 years old.
As a Syracuse senior, Csonka broke Little's school rushing record and was Most Valuable Player in postseason college all-star games the East-West Shrine Bowl and the Hula Bowl. All of which led to the bruising fullback being the first running back chosen, and the #8 player overall, in the 1968 NFL draft by a new expansion team, the Miami Dolphins -- charting his future course into NFL history.
That history encompasses the even lengthier Section Three, and includes him befriending Kiick, who he met for the first time when the two were named to play against the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers in the 1968 Chicago College All-Star Game. They bonded immediately as roommates, sneaking down the fire escape to go out drinking; finding out Evanston, Illinois was a dry town, taking a taxi to decidedly-wetter Chicago, and getting back to the hotel undetected at 2 a.m.
Under original Dolphins head coach George Wilson, Csonka and Kiick endured losing seasons and injuries through 1968 and 1969. Those included concussions for Csonka, who's lucky to have thus far avoided the CTE that many of his former teammates endured, and one of multiple broken noses, which eventually resulted in the protective U-shaped addition to his helmet seen on the book's cover. Yet pieces were being put in place toward winning. Csonka helped talk the Dolphins into signing offensive lineman Larry Little, and the team traded for Buoniconti and drafted defensive end Stanfill and halfback Eugene "Mercury" Morris.
Those moves helped the losing stop once the more intense and disciplined Shula took over, in spite of opposition by players used to Wilson's more casual, relaxed set of rules. The new coach had an attention to detail honed from playing defensive back for the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts for seven seasons, and he'd coached the 1968 Colts to Super Bowl III, losing to the New York Jets. He valued intellect, and his teams were always among the league's least penalized. Shula also had important, cerebral assistants like offensive coordinators Howard Schnellenberger and Monte Clark and defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger.
During the 1970 season, the Dolphins went 10-4 and played their first playoff game, losing to the powerful Oakland Raiders 21-14 with important new additions like Kuechenburg, Langer, Scott, Yepremian, receiver Paul Warfield, tight end Jim Mandich, and linebackers Mike Kolen and Doug Swift. Kiick gained more than 1,000 yards between rushing and pass receptions, and Csonka became an even more feared ground force, including earning a rare personal foul penalty as a running back for the forearm shiver he delivered to Buffalo Bills safety John Pitts during a tackle.
Section Three also includes a couple dramatic, death-defying sidebars by Csonka. One was as part of 17 NFL players sent by the USO to entertain troops in Vietnam in early 1971. Wrongly assuming he'd be sent to non-combat zones, Csonka recounts spending time in bunkers with the soldiers during battles; barely missing being shot down by snipers while flying out, and then spending time in the Philippines to visit wounded soldiers, many of them missing limbs and suffering from napalm burns.
Thirty-four years later in 2005, the divorced Csonka and longtime life partner Audrey Bradshaw got more adventure than they'd bargained for in Alaska, a state with rugged terrain that appealed to the former NFL star. Csonka and Bradshaw would live in Wasilla, and produce and co-host 364 episodes of the adventure TV series [i]North To Alaska[i] from 1998 to 2013. Returning by boat from the village of Nikolski on Umnack Island in the Aleutian Islands after filming an episode, they nearly capsized multiple times in freezing waters during a vicious storm.
After having to ride out 40-knot winds and 20-foot waves for 17 harrowing hours, the couple and three others were basket-rescued by the United States Coast Guard, segments of which appeared on another TV show, [i]Inside Edition[i]. The ship, the Augusta D, had to be abandoned and was never recovered.
In the 1971 season, Miami improved to 10-3-1 and reached their first Super Bowl, along the way playing against another perennial power, the Kansas City Chiefs, in what was the NFL's longest game in the first round of the playoffs. In many ways, the thrilling, double-overtime 27-24 win at Kansas City -- which started at 4 p.m. and delayed many a Christmas dinner on what was also Csonka's 25th birthday on December 25, 1971 -- put the Dolphins on the national map. Miami then dominated Baltimore 21-0 in the American Football Conference title game.
But Super Bowl VI was in New Orleans, and Csonka recounts having too much fun along Bourbon Street with Kiick and defensive line teammates Manny Fernandez and Jim Riley leading up to the game. Facing the Dallas Cowboys, the team that had lost the previous Super Bowl, the comparatively-unfocused Dolphins were humiliated by all-business head coach Tom Landry and quarterback Roger Staubach, 24-3. As Landry had, Shula shrewdly used the lopsided loss as immediate motivation toward the 1972 season.
That magical year will forever be etched into NFL and Miami history, with the team's home games played at the downtown Orange Bowl (the crowd at which became a home-field advantage Csonka called "the twelfth man"), since vacated in 1987 and demolished in 2008.
Making the perfect season that much more impractical was the fact that Bob Griese, the Dolphins' veteran starting quarterback and outstanding field general, suffered a broken ankle in a 24-10 Week 5 win over the San Diego Chargers. Thirty-eight-year-old backup quarterback Morrall took over, and kept the team undefeated until Griese was able to return as a starter midway through the AFC Championship and all of the Super Bowl.
Part of the Dolphins' 1972 success involved Morris becoming a bigger part of the team's backfield. Kiick had actually outgained Csonka in total yardage as a starter from 1968-1970, but unhappily accepted becoming a role player in 1972, albeit one who tallied six touchdowns and nearly 700 yards total. Kiick became the goal line specialist as a runner and receiver; Csonka bludgeoned defenses for 1,117 rushing yards, and lightning-quick breakaway threat Morris gained 1,000 even. The fullback and halfback became the first-ever backfield tandem to gain 1,000 yards or more each in a season.
Sure, there were regular season blowouts like the 52-0 home win over the New England Patriots, but there were nail-biters that could've derailed Dolphins history -- 16-14 away against the Minnesota Vikings with Griese starting; 24-23 over Buffalo and 28-24 over the Jets, both in Miami with Morrall under center.
Even the playoffs were close, including 20-14 over Cleveland, 21-17 in an astonishing [i]away[i] AFC Championship win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, when home field was dictated before the playoffs and not based on a won-loss record, and finally 14-7 over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII in Los Angeles. Shula craved ever-elusive perfection, and had finally led a team to achieve what had been thought impossible. And earned a Super Bowl title in his third try.
The perfect season, along with [i]Always On the Run[i], furthered the celebrity of Csonka and Kiick, who appeared afterward on programs like [i]The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson[i]. Csonka had also befriended actor Burt Reynolds, who'd once been named to Florida's all-state football team as a fullback for Palm Beach High School (now Dreyfoos School for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach).
In director Michael Ritchie's 1977 film adaptation of Dan Jenkins' book [i]Semi-Tough[i], a Miami-based pro football team stars the Csonka-resembling Reynolds as running back Billy Clyde Puckett and Kris Kristofferson as his buddy, wide receiver Marvin "Shake" Tiller -- who approximated Kiick with his long hair and beard (Shula forbade full beards, so the rebellious Kiick would shave a hole beneath the chin to avoid being fined).
While the NFL made the obvious choice in naming the undefeated 1972 Dolphins as its greatest single-season team ever, the franchise may have had one that was even better. That would be the 1973 team, which Csonka references as "a better, tighter, more seasoned team...even stronger than the '72 squad." Punter Larry Seiple, an all-around athlete who actually led the team in receiving before punting for both championship rosters, has also said, "I thought our '73 team was better than our '72 team."
Yes, the 1973 Dolphins would lose two regular season games, finishing 15-2 after a second consecutive Super Bowl win in Houston. After winning their season opener, one could almost see the team exhale, and the pressure released, when it lost to the Raiders in Week 2. That ending to the 18-game winning streak, and a meaningless loss late in the season to the Colts as Miami rested players for its playoff run, were overshadowed by a dominant remainder of the regular season.
Unlike '72, there were very few tight games. The Dolphins would win every other contest by seven or more points except for its Week 12 home game on a Monday night against the ascending Steelers, who would win their first Super Bowl the following year. Safety Dick Anderson returned two interceptions for touchdowns, and Griese, healthy and starting all season, helped offset a furious comeback in the Dolphins' 30-26 win in the Orange Bowl.
And while the '72 playoffs were a series of close games, the '73 Dolphins took no prisoners. Repeating as champions is arguably harder than winning a first title, requiring a swaggering confidence that doesn't cross the line into cockiness. This Dolphins team knew how good it was, and that the regular season was just a tune-up. Miami took the AFC title with 34-16 and 27-10 playoff wins over the Cincinnati Bengals and Raiders, respectively.
In the '72 postseason, the Dolphins' combined margin of victory across three games was 17 points. In '73, it would be 52, including 17 alone in the 24-7 demolition of the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl VIII. Csonka's 145 yards, two touchdowns and MVP honors followed his third straight 1,000-yard season, and capped a three-game postseason in which he gained 333 yards and scored six TDs. Selflessly, he gave all credit to offensive line teammates like Little, Langer, and Kuechenberg, who should be with them in the Hall of Fame.
[i]Always On the Run[i] ends with the bang of the Dolphins' first Super Bowl title. [i]Head On[i] can't match that a half-century later, so for Dolphins die-hards, "Section Four: WFL and Exile" might ring as anticlimactic. Still contracted through the 1974 season by the Dolphins, Csonka, Kiick and Warfield all sign for 1975 with the Memphis Southmen of the upstart (and short-lived) World Football League, getting paid much more in the process but perhaps creating a distraction that derailed Miami's chances of a three-peat.
Playoffs were practically a given for the 11-3 team, but old nemesis Oakland ended the Dolphins' season in the first round when Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler improbably lofted a late touchdown pass to Clarence Davis, who caught the ball despite being triple-covered by Miami defenders in the 28-26 loss, known as the "Sea of Hands" game.
The WFL folding led Csonka into acting, and then a return to the NFL with the lowly New York Giants, before "Section Five: Homecoming" describes his return to Miami in 1979. In what would be his final season, Csonka went out in style, leading the Dolphins in rushing with 837 yards and 12 touchdowns and being named NFL Comeback Player of the Year. His 10-6 team made the playoffs, losing 34-14 in the first round to the Steelers, now a dynasty on its way toward its fourth Super Bowl title in six years. Unable to agree with the Dolphins on a salary for 1980, Csonka retired.
After football, Csonka and Bradshaw moved to Alaska in the 1990s. "Section Six: Gone Fishin'" recounts how old backfield mates Kiick and Morris flew north in 2014 to join the fullback for an angling expedition, recorded for an episode of NFL Films' [i]A Football Life[i] called "The Perfect Backfield."
Every year, surviving Dolphins greats like Csonka, Griese, Warfield, Little, Morris, Fernandez, Seiple, and Anderson have a champagne toast, together or separately, whenever the latest undefeated NFL team loses. Some seasons, it's later than others. The 2007 Patriots went all the way to Super Bowl XLII before losing 17-14 to a Giants team coached by Csonka's old Syracuse backfield mate Coughlin.
The greatest Dolphins player ever? The Top 10 list likely includes six from those Super Bowl-winning squads, all Hall-of Famers: Griese, Csonka, Warfield, Little, Langer, and Buoniconti. The others are probably more recent Hall-of-Famers in quarterback Dan Marino, center Dwight Stephenson, defensive lineman Jason Taylor, and a linebacker who should be there, Zach Thomas.
And it probably boils down to two choices. The most popular is Marino, the rocket-armed quarterback who helped turn the NFL from a running to pass-first league on offense during the 1980s. But he had an AFC peer in the San Diego Chargers' Hall of Fame signal-caller, Dan Fouts. And Marino was bested by the National Football Conference's best, Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, in Marino's lone Super Bowl appearance, a 38-16 throttling by the San Francisco 49ers to end the 1984 season.
Csonka's 8,081 career rushing yards still have him in the Top 50 on an all-time list consisting almost entirely of halfbacks. He was one of the few fullbacks in history that opposing defenses actually had to game-plan for, with his ability to power out three or more additional yards after initial contact. And his blocking abilities and 235-pound frame (similar to most tight ends) practically made him an additional offensive lineman when he didn't have the ball. The fullback position started dwindling through the 1980s, and there are only a few currently playing it, perhaps in part because no one could equal his success.
Shula, who would also lose to the Washington Redskins 27-17 in Super Bowl XVII following the 1982 season, would go 2-4 in such NFL title games. Csonka chose Shula to introduce him upon his 1987 induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the coach never did win a Super Bowl without his head-on presence. No one has ever worn #39, or the Dolphins uniform, better.

Jazz Season Peviews - October issue of Palm Beach Arts Paper

In 1998, a quartet of jazz/fusion veterans started an instrumental group in which they interpreted music by seminal jam band the Grateful Dead. More recently, a rising jazz record label started mixing in elements of hip-hop to draw new and younger fans to America's time-honored genre.
Both are called Jazz Is Dead.
Yet this isn't an obituary for live jazz, rather further indication that it's becoming an offshoot of popular music -- in that both are approaching drastically different forms of our country's classical music: nostalgic and mostly on the shelf. It's live music, jazz's lifeblood, that's actually dying, other than overpriced festivals in which classic rock icons pay tribute to themselves. Jazz is collateral damage.
As orchestras do, jazz musicians now perform concerts of material in tribute to artists from a previous century: Ellington, Goodman and Monk, Basie, Buddy and Bird. And/or tour on their own venerable material and reputation, like some of this smattering of artists is doing in 2022-2023. There are many talented young music students graduating from so many top-shelf music universities in South Florida. Too many of them become teachers to make ends meet. And that downward cycle, albeit based in paying it forward, may continue to decrease the already-shrinking number of South Florida jazz shows.

What do you call a group that mixes its acoustic guitar beginnings with more recent forays into electric jazz? Acoustic Alchemy. The group's roots actually stretch back to 1979, when Simon James (playing acoustic nylon-stringed guitar) and Nick Webb (acoustic steel-stringed guitar) came up with its concept in London. James would leave the band in 1985, signaling a revolving door of personnel over its subsequent decades. Nylon-stringer Greg Carmichael replaced James and still co-leads the band with steel-stringed acoustic and electric guitarist Miles Gilderdale, who replaced Webb after his 1998 death due to pancreatic cancer. But Webb lived long enough to see the group achieve success during the 1990s, from that year's release [i]Reference Point[i] (which featured a popular cover of the Dave Brubeck Quartet's "Take Five") through his final contributions on [i]Positive Thinking[i] (1998). Acoustic Alchemy has released a dozen albums since, while adding personnel like guitarist Gary Grangier, brother and drummer Greg Grangier, saxophonist Eddie Mininfield, and bassist Julian Crampton. 8 p.m. Oct. 6 at Boca Black Box, 8221 Glades Rd., #10, Boca Raton (561-483-9036, $46.50-$61.50).

Of all the bassists who've approached the mantle of fretless jazz/fusion master Jaco Pastorius since his 1987 death, Victor Wooten may be the one who's come the closest. A master of both fretted and fretless basses and a dazzling live performer, the 58-year-old has bedazzled the most with Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, the group the namesake banjo master started in 1988 with keyboardist/harmonica icon Howard Levy and "Drumitar" drum synthesizer player Futureman (actually brother Roy Wooten). Still intact with the original lineup, the Flecktones' blend of jazz, bluegrass, and funk has made it one of the most original fusion acts since its 1990 self-titled debut. Wooten's incredible finger-style and slapped playing were rightly honored through the name of his 1996 solo debut, [i]A Show of Hands[i]. And his session credits include Vital Tech Tones (with guitarist Scott Henderson and drummer Steve Smith), guitarist Mike Stern, and SMV (with fellow bass stalwarts Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller). Wooten's touring Bass Extremes trio will include gifted fretless bassist Steve Bailey and drummer Derico Watson. 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Suite 70, Fort Lauderdale (954-564-1074, $53-$54).

He was the drummer for the most mercurial jazz/fusion band of all-time, the Mahavishnu Orchestra; has session credits with icons like Miles Davis, James Brown, and George Benson, and a solo recording career -- starting with his incredible debut, [i]Spectrum[i] (1973) -- spanning 50 years. In Billy Cobham's Crosswinds Project, he'll perform material from his second solo LP [i]Crosswinds[i], from 1974. That classic featured performances by late greats John Abercrombie (guitar), Michael Brecker (saxophone), and George Duke (keyboards), plus veteran trumpeter Randy Brecker. Now 78 years old, the ambidextrous Cobham can still play with the fire of his youth, like when he matched Mahavishnu leader and guitarist John McLaughlin, keyboardist Jan Hammer, violinist Jerry Goodman, and bassist Rick Laird beat-for-note while in his 20s. The Panama-born drummer's Crosswinds Project includes guitarist Mark Whitfield, keyboardist Scott Tibbs, and bassist Tim Landers on the album's gems like the suite "Spanish Moss -- A Sound Portrait," "The Pleasant Pheasant," and the drummer's solo spotlight, "Storm." 6 and 9 p.m. Oct. 14 & 15 at the Funky Biscuit, 303 SE Mizner Blvd., Boca Raton (561-395-2929, $55-$75).

The pairing of Herb Alpert & Lani Hall not only includes marriage since 1973, but Latin jazz royalty status since the early to mid-1960s. Trumpeter Alpert led the famed Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass starting in 1962, Hall was vocalist for one of that band's few '60s contemporaries, Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66, led by its namesake Brazilian keyboardist. Now 87 years old, Alpert may be most remembered for the Tijuana Brass' 1965 album [i]Whipped Cream & Other delights[i]; co-founding A&M Records with Jerry Moss (for which the two were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006), and landing No. 1 hits as both a vocalist ("This Guy's iI Love With You," 1968) and instrumentalist ("Rise," 1979). He was also presented a 2012 National Medal of Arts award by President Obama at the White House in 2013. Hall, now age 76, appeared on Brasil '66 releases between 1966 and 1971; a dozen solo albums since 1972, and several more recent efforts with her husband, including [i]Anything Goes[i] (2009), [i]I Feel You[i] (2011), and [i]Steppin' Out[i] (2013). 7:30 p.m. Dec.2 at the Amaturo Theater, 201 SW 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale (954-462-0222, $119-$279).

The Randy Brecker & Ada Rovatti Quintet features veteran trumpeter Brecker in a familiar setting -- paired with a saxophonist. For decades, that pairing was with the 76-year-old's younger brother Michael Brecker (1949-2007) before the virtuoso tenorist succumbed to myelodysplastic syndrome after a matching stem cell donor couldn't be found. As the Brecker Brothers, they released albums between 1975 and 1994, and charted incredible session recording careers, both together and separately. In addition to his solo career since 1969, Brecker's credits include Blood, Sweat & Tears; George Benson, Jaco Pastorius, Tina Turner, Paul Simon, Chaka Khan, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Horace Silver, Parliament/Funkadelic, and Frank Zappa. In 2005, when his brother was unable to travel to Russia for Brecker Brothers dates, Brecker's wife, Italy-born, Berklee College of Music-trained tenor saxophonist Ada Rovatti, first sat in for him. Married since 2001, Brecker and Rovatti's latest recording together is [i]Brecker Plays Rovatti: Sacred Bond[i], with pianist David Kikoski, bassist Alex Claffy, and drummer Rodney Holmes. 8 p.m. Jan. 14 at Arts Garage, 94 NE 2nd Ave., Delray Beach (561-450-6357, $45-$50).

Of all the established stars in modern jazz, saxophonist David Sanborn, headliner for the free Jazz Fest Pompano Beach, certainly has one of the more star-crossed lifelines. Now 77 years old, the Tampa native grew up in Missouri, suffering from polio during his formative years. Taking a doctor's advice, he started playing saxophone instead of piano because of the instrument's breathing requirements. None of which kept him off of stages with blues acts as a teenager, or off the one at Woodstock with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1969. Sanborn's session recording credits include jazz stars (George Benson, John McLaughlin, Jaco Pastorius) and pop icons (David Bowie, James Brown, Bonnie Raitt), and he's been a contemporary jazz star since his chart-topping 1980 release [i]Voyeur[i]. The alto master was also a member of the [i]Saturday Night Live[i] band in 1980; a regular guest on [i]Late Night With David Letterman[i], co-host of [i]Night Music[i] with Jools Holland in 1988-1989, and host of the syndicated radio program [i]The Jazz Show With David Sanborn[i] through the 1990s. 8 p.m. Jan. 21 at Jazz Fest Pompano Beach at Old Town, 41 NE 1st St., Pompano Beach (954-786-4600, free, $65-$100 VIP).

Like hot summers, allergy seasons, and blues artist Tab Benoit's appearances on the pop season side, trumpeter Chris Botti playing in South Florida has become an expected annual event. Botti might be most recognizable for his toothpaste-model looks, and best-known for having once dated TV celebrity Katie Couric, but his playing speaks far louder than such distractions. Set to turn 60 years old on October 12, the Portland, Oregon native was in his senior year at Indiana University when he was hired for separate tours by a couple artists who demanded quality, Buddy Rich and Frank Sinatra. In the late 1990s, he recorded two albums with Bruford Levin Upper Extremities, a group featuring progressive rock titans Bill Bruford (drums), Tony Levin (bass), and David Torn (guitar). Additional credits include work with Sting, Paul Simon, Al Jarreau, and George Benson, and Botti's solo recording career spans his debut [i]First Wish[i] (1995) through [i]Impressions[i] (2012), a Grammy Award winner for "Best Pop Instrumental Album." 8 p.m. Jan. 24 at Wells Hall, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale (954-462-0222, $82-$317), and 8 p.m. Jan. 25 at Dreyfoos Hall, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach (800-572-8471, $143-$241).

The namesake pianist and leader of the Shelly Berg Trio may be better-known as the veteran dean at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, but don't underestimate his instrumental prowess. The Cleveland-born Berg, the Frost School's dean since 2007, came to Miami from another lauded educational program, the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, where he was on the faculty from 1991 to 2007. An effervescent live performer, Berg also has a lengthy recording career as a leader, from his 1996 debut [i]The Joy[i] to his latest, [i]Gershwin Reimagined: An American in London[i] (2018). Additional recording credits range from Arturo Sandoval and Patti Austin to Renee Fleming and Keb' Mo', and the pianist has the entire university from which to draw a rhythm section, including bass chair Chuck Bergeron and drum instructors Dafnis Prieto, Steve Rucker, John Yarling, and David Chiverton. And by the way, kudos to the Gold Coast Jazz Society for not only the quality of its series of concerts, but also its affordable ticket prices, which look like a throwback to the 20th Century compared to the exorbitant fees charged elsewhere throughout South Florida. 7:45 p.m. Jan. 18 at Amaturo Theater ($35).

As tribute acts go, this one gets more creative points than most. Big Band of Brothers is a jazz ensemble paying homage to the Allman Brothers Band, the Georgia-spawned act that defined Southern rock by including elements of soul, jazz, country and blues during its 1969-2014 run. The group's 2019 debut, [i]Big Band of Brothers: A Jazz Celebration of the Allman Brothers Band[i], was released in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Allmans' debut, and featured guest artists like trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, slide guitarist Jack Pearson (an ABB member from 1997-1999), and vocalists Marc Broussard and Ruthie Foster. The big band's saxophonists (Dick Aven, Jimmy Bowland, Steve Collins, Mace Hibbard), trombonists (Billy Bargetzi, Bill Huber), trumpeters (Rob Alley, Mart Avant, Chad Fisher, Barney Floyd, Chris Gordon), guitarists (Matt Casey, Tom Wolfe), keyboardist (Andy Nevala), bassist (Abe Becker), drummer (Mark Lanter), and percussionist (Dave Crenshaw) are certain to play classics like "Dreams," "Les Brers in A Minor," and "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" with guests in original ABB drummer Jaimoe and vocalist Lamar Williams Jr., son of the band's late second bassist. 8 p.m. Jan. 27 at Amaturo Theater ($118-$257).

Trombone is not necessarily the wind instrument one takes up to become a jazz star. But when the namesake leader of the Delfeayo Marsalis Quintet was born, he already has older brothers who would become household names playing saxophone (Branford Marsalis) and trumpet (Wynton Marsalis). But make no mistake -- this trombonist is as accomplished on his bulky instrument as those two sibling luminaries -- plus younger brother Jason Marsalis on drums and percussion -- are on theirs. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, the trombonist has a 30-year career of recordings under his own name, and experience touring and recording with drummers Elvin Jones and Jeff "Tain" Watts, pianists Monty Alexander and Ellis Marsalis (the family patriarch), and even Yugoslavian blues vocalist/guitarist Ana Popovic. The first family of New Orleans jazz, the Marsalises earned a collective National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award in 2011. Witnessing the 57-year-old trombonist's advanced technique and incredible breath control more than illustrates why. And seeing a Marsalis in this Gold Coast Jazz Society presentation for only $35 practically qualifies as priceless. 7:45 p.m. Feb. 8 at Amaturo Theater ($35).

Perhaps the most diverse band of the 21st Century thus far, Pink Martini & China Forbes also seems to find a way to tour through South Florida every year. The brainchild of founder, pianist, and Portland, Oregon native Thomas Lauderdale, the self-described "little orchestra" was literally his hands-on approach to improve the quality of music at fundraisers as he worked in politics in the Pacific Northwest in 1994. Lauderdale insisted on more variety, and Pink Martini's prowess across everything from jazz and pop to classical and world music makes it practically capable of appearing in every genre of previews in this issue. China Forbes, one of the leader's classmates at Harvard University, has been a vocal mainstay since, singing in 15 different languages. Another vocalist, Storm Large, has also been a constant, and Lauderdale's troupe of 10-12 musicians has included guitarist Dan Faehnie, drummer Andrew Borger, and trombonist Achilles Liarmakopoulos. Recordings range from [i]1969[i] (2011), with Japanese singer Saori Yuki, to [i]Dream a Little Dream[i] (2014), with the singing von Trapp siblings from the film [i]The Sound of Music[i]. 8 p.m. Feb. 11 at the Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami (305-949-6722, $59-$728).

The leader of the Jeff Hamilton Trio has been one of the best, if least celebrated, drummers in jazz for decades. Primarily known as a co-leader of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, with equally under-the-radar brothers John Clayton (bass) and Jeff Clayton (saxophone) since its 1985 inception, the 69-year-old drummer never sought the spotlight the way big band-leading drummers like Chick Webb and Buddy Rich did. The Indiana-born Hamilton's trio features pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Jon Hamar, and will have a surplus of material from the drummer's 50-year scroll from which to choose. He has a 30-year recording career as a leader; and touring and recording credits that constitute a who's-who of jazz over the past half-century: Ella Fitzgerald, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Rosemary Clooney, Diana Krall, Ray Brown, Michael Buble, Mel Torme, and Herb Alpert. In Hamar and Hendelman, pianist with his trio since 2000 and with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra since 2001, the drummer has the perfect young foils for this Gold Coast Jazz Society performance, which will display his world-class brushwork; impeccable meter, and exquisite taste, tone and technique. 7:45 p.m. April 12 at Amaturo Theater ($35).

Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox launched on the internet just over 10 years ago, when the Queens, New York-based pianist and his friends started creating YouTube videos of their jazz renditions of pop hits by artists like Leonard Cohen, U2, Lady Gaga, Billie Eilish, and Katy Perry. Advertised on its website as "Today's Hits Yesterday," and now an international touring sensation, the ensemble might be an even more popular throwback export from the New York borough than a former President of the United States. Bradlee's stable of female vocalists includes online performances by Sarah Potenza (singing Huey Lewis & The News' "The Power of Love"), Effie Passero (Cohen's "Hallelujah"), and Abilgail Brooks (Eilish's "Happier Than Ever"). And the pianist's attempt to make jazz great again includes a touring ensemble featuring singers Aly Ryan, Annie Bokco, Ariana Savalas, and Annie Goodchild; tap dancers Anissa Lee, Alex MacDonald, Demi Remick, and the duo Caley and Kelsey, plus bassist Adam Kubota, drummer/bassist Dave Tedeschi, drummer Arthur Vint, and the saxophonist, clarinetist, trumpeter, pianist, flutist, guitarist, and melodica player known as Ben the Sax Guy. 8 p.m. April 13 at Dreyfoos Hall ($119-$245).

Three masters of their acoustic instruments playing together again is cause for celebration, especially when it's the unique mix of Bela Fleck, Zakir Hussain & Edgar Meyer. Fleck is the New York City-born banjo virtuoso who's played bluegrass with the New Grass Revival, and revolutionized jazz/fusion with Bela Fleck & the Flecktones since 1988, winning 15 Grammy Awards in the process. The Bombay-born Hussain is the premier tabla player in the world, having worked with guitarist John McLaughlin in the group Shakti and drummer Mickey Hart in the ongoing global percussion group Planet Drum. And Meyer is the Tennessee-born upright bassist whose compositions have been recorded by the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Emerson String Quartet. Anyone attending can expect everything from bluegrass to Middle Eastern and classical styles. Fleck and Meyer have collaborated on classical projects, and when the two were commissioned by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra to compose a trio concerto in 2006, the result was the live [i]The Melody of Rhythm[i] CD with Hussain. 8 p.m. April 29 at South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211th St., Cutler Bay (786-573-5216, $46-$80).