PortFolio Weekly

PortFolio Weekly
September 6, 2005

For Jazz Buffs: A Few Bright Spots on the Horizon

by Jim Newsom

Looking for jazz on a regular basis? There’s a mix of jazz and near-jazz artists from the region performing every Wednesday night at the Chrysler Museum, and a couple of restaurants that feature local jazz musicians on weekends. But if you’re looking for bigger names coming in from out of town, the pickings are slim though not totally nonexistent.

It’s a mostly vocal lineup as Jazz on Granby’s fifth season opens up this fall with two superb jazz singers, travels back in time to pay tribute to a jazz giant of yesteryear, and then journeys to Vegas for the last two concerts next winter.

The series kicks off on October 21st with 73-year old Durham, North Carolina native Grady Tate. Originally known for his prowess on the drums---his recording credits range from Louis Armstrong, Wes Montgomery, Ella Fitzgerald and Benny Goodman to Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon and Bette Midler---it is his rich baritone voice that brings him to the Roper Theatre. A fine but under-appreciated singer, Tate has a way with a melody that is as warm and intoxicating as a good Irish coffee in the middle of January.

Three weeks later, another baritone takes the Roper stage---Kevin Mahogany, the finest male singer of the baby boom generation. Mahogany has been here before, most recently as a featured guest performer and instructor at ODU last November. Performing with the John Toomey Trio, he showed off both his impressive vocal pipes and his witty and entertaining way with a crowd. His new CD, Big Band, reviewed in these pages three months ago, only hints at the pleasures he delivers in live performance.

John Toomey himself makes a return appearance to Jazz On Granby in January, heading up a tribute to legendary pianist George Shearing on Friday the 13th. Shearing had a run of popularity in the ‘50s with a unique quintet sound that featured his own “locked hands” style, playing block chords in close harmony while sax and vibraphone tripled the melody in unison. Joe Locke, the biggest name in vibes these days, will join John and his regular cast of area notables.

On February 3rd, series producer and promoter Blake Cullen will try something different, bringing Las Vegas veteran Bill Acosta in. Known as the “man of 1001 voices,” Acosta recently took his act on the road after a multi-year run in Sin City, bringing his impressions of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Tony Bennett and others to places across the country and in Europe. He’s not a jazz performer by any stretch of the imagination, but his is a brand of entertainment rarely seen around here any more.

The 2005-2006 season wraps up on March 10th with another tribute, a most appropriate one, as Mel Torme’s son Steve brings his “Totally Torme” show to town. Singing songs associated with his father, Steve March Torme doesn’t actually sound like Mel, but he brings much of the same sensibility to a lyric. A better performer in his own right than many “sons of,” he’ll also share video clips, stories and anecdotes about his dad.

The Hope House Foundation’s annual “Jazz for Hope” concert is slated for Thursday, November 5th, at the Granby Theatre. This year’s headliner is girl singer supreme Ann Hampton Callaway, who wowed a packed house at CNU’s Ella Fitzgerald Music Festival in April. She’s a wide-ranging songstress with an entertaining stage presence that’s sassy, brassy and dynamic. This may be the best show yet in this series whose proceeds help support the Hope House gang’s efforts on behalf of adults with disabilities.

Old Dominion University hosts a prominent jazz musician each fall. In October, it’s baritone saxophonist Glenn Wilson, a former Bruce Hornsby sideman who now lives in Illinois. He’ll be in for concert with Toomey’s troops on Monday, October 24th.

Speaking of Hornsby, he’s one of the first performers in this fall’s “Celebrations” series at the Ferguson Center for the Arts at Christopher Newport University. Bruce plays a homestand there on September 17th, with the King of the Blues in the next week for the “B. B. King Blues Festival” on the 25th.

The American Theatre is emphasizing the world music half of its “World Music and Jazz” series this fall, with Portuguese vocalist Mariza on October 4th and Peruvian pop singer Eva Ayllon on November 5th.

If you’re up for a road trip, Georgetown’s Blues Alley opens this week after being closed for renovations with a four-night visitation from Mose Allison. Saxophonist Kenny Garrett is in the week of the 22nd, vocalist Stacy Kent on September 27-28, and Larry Coryell jumps back into the fusion pool at the end of the month. Saxophonic living legend James Moody has a three night stand in mid-October, and Tierney Sutton holds sway on October 28th and 29th. So far, that’s the closest she’ll get to us as she promotes her masterful new CD, I’m With the Band.

Jazz is less prevalent at the Birchmere in Alexandria, but vocalist Jane Monheit is in on Thursday, September 15th, electric bassist Marcus Miller on Sunday the 29th, former Virginian Rene Marie takes the stage on October 23rd, and Nashville’s top violinist/fiddler Mark O’Connor brings his hot swing band in on October 30th.

The University of Richmond has an interesting show on its books for November 16th, with jazz piano giant Kenny Barron joining the Turtle Island String Quartet at the Camp Concert Hall there.

Closer to home, Port Folio Weekly joins with the Granby Theatre to launch a “Fat Tuesdays” jazz series starting in October. Across the street, Scotty Quixx is also adding jazz to its eclectic lineup this fall. Brutti’s continues with jazz on the weekends, Enrico’s is still packing them in on Fridays, and Sterling’s has its jazz brunch lineup booked through the end of the year.

copyright © 2005 Port Folio Weekly. Used by Permission.