PortFolio Weekly
August 13, 2002

Get Ready to Swing

by Jim Newsom

A few weeks ago, Port Folio Weekly's cover story stated that one of the keys to the success of a thriving metropolitan area is "a vibrant local music scene." Sought-after cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Boston and Austin first acquired their cachet of coolness as a result of their local music scenes.

Around these parts, one hears complaints from musicians about the woeful inadequacy of support for our local scene. Among the would-be supporters, the complaint is an undersupply of musical talent in Hampton Roads, or at least the lack of venues in which to hear those talented players they do know or those they may not even be aware of.

I can't personally speak for the rock scene these days, but on the jazz front in Hampton Roads, there are many fine musicians working, though the opportunities for original expression are limited. And although there are no local folks performing at the climactic Saturday night event (Aug. 17) in Town Point Park, Jazz Norfolk is offering area jazz fans the chance to hear several of our best locally-based players over the course of its five-day run.

On Wednesday night (Aug. 14), a superb quartet of Hampton Roads jazz players will support New York-based vocalist Diane Hubka at the Chrysler Museum Theater (see accompanying story). The next night, Jae Sinnett brings his nationally known Trio into the same venue for an invigorating evening of originals and rearranged standards.

Later Thursday night (Aug. 15), Blues Alley Bistro Café on Granby Street begins its "Late Night Jazz" concert series with the Just Us Trio. The series continues Friday night with the Russell Scarborough Quartet and winds up after the Town Point Jazz Fest Saturday night with my group, the Jim Newsom Quartet. On Sunday evening (Aug. 18), the Red Coats big band wraps things up at Ocean View Park.

Drummer/composer/bandleader Jae Sinnett has been the most prolific jazz musician living in Hampton Roads for the last decade and a half. His discography includes six albums, and recently he produced an instructional video. His fourth recording, 1997's Listen, reached the top spot on the national jazz radio charts, and his next disc, The Better Half, also hit the Top Ten in radio airplay. Off the Myopic Avenue, released in 2000, was a showcase for Sinnett's percussive potency and provided ample evidence of his band's musical strength.

The current edition of the Jae Sinnett Trio has been together for seven years, and their lengthy time together as a working unit has produced a tight-knit live performing ensemble. Bassist Terry Burrell is a versatile player, at home playing straightahead on the acoustic doghouse or getting lowdown funky on his electric ax. Pianist Allen Farnham is a monster player, composer and arranger. His 15-year tenure with California-based Concord Records saw him working with artists like Mel Torme and Susannah McCorkle, producing more than 40 recordings for other artists on the label, and putting together several well-received recordings under his own name. A 1983 graduate of Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Farnham has lived in New York since 1984.

Sinnett and company recently recorded a new album, to be called Confluence. Featuring new material by pianist Farnham and Sinnett himself, plus new takes on the standards "As Time Goes By" and "Old Devil Moon," the CD should be out around the first of the year. Sinnett says it's his best work yet, capturing the trio in full creative flower. We can expect to hear some of the new tunes at the Chrysler Museum Theater Thursday evening.

Several blocks away, Blues Alley's Late Night Jazz series kicks off Thursday (Aug. 15) at 9 p.m. with the Just Us Trio. Led by trombonist Leonard Barks, the Trio also includes Crenshaw Bridges on keyboards and Lawrence Weston moving the groove along from the drum throne. The Just Us Trio plays a blend of straightahead jazz and blues, emphasizing well-known standards and tunes of jazz greats like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.

Following Cyrus Chestnut's hightly anticipated show at the Roper Theatre Friday night (Aug. 16), take a short walk down Granby Street to Blues Alley, where the Russell Scarborough Quartet will be in session. Scarborough's been a part of the local music scene for many years, and was playing jazz back when most of his contemporaries were still slogging away in rock cover bands. He's one of the best known drummers in the region, working as a bandleader as well as playing with a variety of other groups.

In his Quartet, Scarborough has surrounded himself with an accomplished group of jazzmen. Trumpeter Blake Wallace reminds me of Freddie Hubbard in his '70s heyday, David Hufstedler keeps the bottom bubbling with his five-string electric bass, and versatile guitarist Mike Durig's range runs from Wes Montgomery-style octaves to Al Dimeola-like electric fire.

The Russell Scarborough Quartet finished recording a new CD this spring. Life's Rich Tapestry is scheduled for release in October, and features original material composed by Durig and Hufstedler. Scarborough previously issued Pollo Grande in 1995, also featuring trumpeter Wallace.

After digging the incendiary Afro-Caribbean party with Eddie Palmieri and Los Hombres Calientes at Town Point Park Saturday night, jazz lovers needing an additional fix o'flute 'n funky jazz can once again head down the street to Blues Alley, where my group, the Jim Newsom Quartet, will hold sway. Besides my flute, guitar and vocals, the Quartet features Ron Hallman on trumpet, fluegelhorn and bass trumpet; Joe Durant on six-string electric bass; and Bruce Hagwood on drums.

Hallman was an original member of the Rhondels in the '60s, and has led a number of jazz ensembles himself over the last three decades. Durant, who grew up down the road from James Brown in Augusta, Georgia, has held down the bass chair with me for eleven years. Hagwood is a gifted drummer, at home with the brushes on a ballad or pounding full force a la Billy Cobham on a fiery flight of rhythmic jazz. He's also a drum maker himself, turning out a full line of hand-made custom drums under the RBH name.

The Jim Newsom Quartet will be entering the recording studio this fall to produce a new disc for spring release. There are two earlier CDs currently available, Crazy Dreams and On the Prowl.

Finally, Ocean View Park will be filled with the big band sounds of the Red Coats Sunday night, Aug. 18. Playing an assortment of well-known, time-honed standards, the Red Coats will bring this year's Jazz Norfolk to a sassy, brassy conclusion.

copyright 2002 Port Folio Weekly. Used by Permission.