PortFolio Weekly

PortFolio Weekly
May 4, 2004

Jazz Lives!

by Jim Newsom

Amidst the brouhaha over the lack of jazz artists booked for either the Hampton Jazz Festival in late June or the Norfolk Jazz Festival three weeks later, it might be easy to assume that jazz is dead in our area. This would be an erroneous assumption.

Old Dominion University recently hosted a five-day residency by saxophonist and Hampton native Steve Wilson. The culmination of his stay was a performance in the university’s Chandler Recital Hall with the John Toomey Trio. I missed the first half of the show due to an early evening gig with my own group, but I was able to catch the second half. It was superb, jazz of the highest caliber. Wilson is a creative and entertaining player on both alto and soprano saxes, and Toomey, Jimmy Masters and Howard Curtis worked with him like a well-tuned musical engine.

The rhythm section left the stage for the high point of the concert, Wilson and Toomey’s duo version of the pianist’s “Refraction,” the title track from his last CD. Their performance of this fine composition sent shivers down my spine, giving me a new appreciation for Toomey’s tune while taking me back to the great work that Keith Jarrett did with Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek in the 1970s. I had not previously picked up on the Jarrett connection in John’s music, but there it was, laid out in all its beauty.

The foursome closed out the night with Masters’ “Shaggy’s Delight,” a delightful piece of funk and fun. I asked Jimmy where I could find a recording of this whimsically upbeat number, but he told me that, though he wrote it years ago, it has yet to be recorded.

The night after his ODU show, Steve Wilson opened at the Village Vanguard in New York for a five-night engagement with his own group. He is definitely among the bright lights on the current jazz scene, one that we Hampton Roadsters can take great pride in. And he’s a nice guy. I look forward to seeing where his music takes him over the next few years.

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Mark your calendars now for Wednesday, October 13th. On that night, the Hope House Foundation brings the Yellowjackets to town for a “Jazz for Hope” benefit concert at the currently-being-refurbished Granby Theatre. In case you’ve been hibernating for the last twenty years, the Yellowjackets are truly as good as it gets. Russell Ferrante, Jimmy Haslip and Bob Mintzer are among the finest contemporary jazz composers, and with drummer Marcus Baylor, make up a quartet of unparalleled musical excellence.

The Granby Theatre, located at 421 Granby Street in downtown Norfolk, is undergoing renovations in anticipation of a late summer opening. This historic theatre is being restored to its original elegance but without the rows of seats that originally gave it a 1200 person capacity. With occupancy now set for half that, it is going to be a showcase venue for special events and concerts like this one, in which the atmosphere of an intimate jazz club can be created with tables and chairs up close to the performers, but with enough room to accommodate an act as big as the Jackets.

Stay tuned for more information on this Jazz for Hope show. And don’t book anything else for that evening!

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There’s even more great jazz in store around here later this year. One of my favorite singers, Kevin Mahogany, is coming to ODU for a residency this fall, and Blake Cullen is currently putting together a new season of “Jazz on Granby” concerts for the Roper Performing Arts Center.

In the meantime, Sterling’s, at 245 Granby Street, has started a jazz brunch every Sunday from 11:30 am - 2:30 pm. Owner Baxter Simmons tells me it’s gotten off to a good start even though they’ve only publicized it by word of mouth. This month’s lineup includes sax and clarinet man Jerry Fisher on May 9th, vocalist Becky Livas on May 16th, and the Jim Newsom Trio on May 23rd. Call 625-3366 for reservations.

A new summer concert series cranking up this week in the pavilion in the middle of Port Warwick’s Styron Square in Newport News features a mostly jazz lineup. This Wednesday, Jae Sinnett kicks things off with a trio featuring pianist Tim McDonald. Next week, vocalist Charles Darden has pianist Harris Simon, bassist Elias Bailey and drummer Howard Curtis accompanying him for an evening of standards. On May 19th, the Jeff Hall Quartet performs, on the 26th it’s J-Mood with guitarist Nick Kepics, and on June 2nd, CNU music prof Bill Brown fronts his jazz combo there.

The Stockley Gardens Arts Festival, set for May 15-16, features a few local jazz favorites this year. On Saturday, my Jim Newsom Quartet performs from 5:00 to 6:30, followed by Charles Darden playing for the festival’s 20th anniversary party from 7:00 - 10:00. On Sunday afternoon, the Jimmy Masters Trio takes the stage at 1:30 pm with saxophonist Eddie Williams.

The Chrysler Museum continues its eclectic mix of jazz and near-jazz this month, with Sol Libre on May 5th, Swing Time on May 12th, Charles Darden on the 19th, and Ra Jazz on May 26th.

Guitarist Woody Beckner has his Quartet at Kincaid’s in the MacArthur Center every Friday night, and works in a duo setting every Saturday night at Brutti’s in Olde Towne Portsmouth. The Russell Scarborough Trio can give you a Sunday night fix of jazz every week at Central 111 in Virginia Beach starting at 8:00 pm.

Against All Odds plays its mix of smooth and standard jazz, with a dollop of R&B, at the Neptune Spring International Wine Festival on the 17th Street Stage at the oceanfront on May 15th. Charles Peterson and his group also play at the Alley in Newport News Friday night, May 21st, and sneak in before the country music and classic rock throttle up at the Chesapeake Jubilee on Saturday morning, the 22nd at 11:00 am.

On Thursday, May 26th, Jae Sinnett hosts a live jazz fundraiser for WHRO/WHRV public radio at ODU’s Chandler Recital Hall featuring his trio, Co-Op Venture, and vocalist Laura Martier. For tickets to this show, call 889-9440.

Finally, I just received a copy of pianist extraordinaire Tim McDonald’s new eponymous trio CD. He’s planning a release party soon, but for now you can pick up a copy when he’s playing with Jae, Swing Time, or the Russell Scarborough Trio. I’ll have a review later this month.

copyright © 2004 Port Folio Weekly. Used by Permission.