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All That Jazz

In New Smyrna Beach, Fla., the century began on a high note that has been celebrated every year. We speak of the Jazz Festival in late September, the 19th now in the history books. Jazz lovers everywhere, this is an event

Marc Monteson and a jazz fan

I discovered the New Smyrna Beach Jazz Festival last year, and was blown away by the almost 30 combos that performed two days and four nights, all in indoor venues. The whole town is involved, with businesses up and down the streets hosting performances. And amazingly, all but one are free. Festival promoter Marc Monteson orchestrates a logistic and diplomatic tour de force in organizing the event. His dictum has prevailed: Jazz should be heard indoors. Indeed, it can be compared to classical chamber music, which requires acoustics not provided by outdoor settings.

Unlike chamber music, however, there is an informality and exuberance to jazz that makes for intimacy and allows for socializing – which of course entails conversation in bars and restaurants. That’s not a problem in spirited, high-volume numbers, and jazz buffs ordinarily keep it hushed for renditions of, for example, Lush Life. That was one of two highlights of the Jeff Rupert Quartet at the CorkScrew Bar & Grille on Saturday night.

Jeff Rupert

In fact, if I had to pick a favorite performance, it would be that combo. Rupert,

It was a 180-degree turn from the previous selection, Horace Silver’s Song For My Father, on which Rupert plied an extended tenor saxophone solo that surely was among the very few most virtuosic and passionate pieces I’ve ever heard on the instrument – well, maybe except for one or two by the legendary Ira Sullivan. Rupert pulled out all the stops. He is heard on more than 100 record albums with, among others, Mel Torme, Diane Schuur, Benny Carter and Maynard Ferguson, whom he toured with for several years.

Linda Cole

But there were so many performances to choose from – too many to attend, as a man remarked to his wife upon entering one spot just as the band finished: “Well, we can’t catch them all.” Just prior to the Rupert show, the Joshua Bowlus trio and vocalist Linda Cole captivated an audience at The Hub on Canal, an art gallery. Cole, of the famous Cole family (Nat, Natalie, Freddy), is as much a story-telling actress as a singer, resplendent in long lashes and sequins glittering around her eyes. She wrung all of the sadness out of Everything Happens to Me. Then she pulled the audience out of the mood with The Frim-Fram Sauce, made famous by the Nat King Cole Trio. The jocular song closed with pianist Bowlus and drummer Ben Adkins doing a crashing, high-decibel finale that had them cracking up with the joy of it.

Rupert presided over a show at Traders Sports Pub, where “students” of his jazz program performed. I use the word students loosely, because these five played like pros, and the tenor saxophonist’s rendition of bebop standard Cherokee was mesmerizing.

Ray Guiser

Another highlight was the Ray Guiser Quartet on Friday at the SoNapa Grille a little off the ocean. Tenor saxophonist Guiser brought to the gig his rich background of association with Grammy Award-winner Phil Driscoll and the renowned Les Brown band, as well as celebrated television  appearances. The bassist, drummer and guitarist excelled individually as well as a trio, with young guitarist Abe Alam shining especially in scintillating improvisations on diverse standards.

A British jazz fan at the SoNapa heard the Dave Sheffield Trio at Limoncello South on Sunday, and raved about the group headed by the veteran artist on trombone and piano.

John DePaola

The festival began on Thursday (Sept. 26) with a concert by the Navy Band Southeast VIP Combo at the Brannon Center. Folks who attended spoke of it in superlatives.

The kick-off, however, was a paid event Friday (which included food and drink) at the Flagler Tavern by the John DePaola Quintet. The five wowed a packed house, as trumpeter DePaola displayed the chops that he brought to gigs with biggies such as Ray Charles, Sammy Davis Jr. and Bob Hope, and to touring Broadway shows including West Side Story, A Chorus Line and Hello Dolly. There wasn’t a weak link among his sidemen – a saxophonist who burned and a rhythm trio.

Keep this affair in mind for its 20th anniversary celebration in 2020. You’ll have more fun than a pig in a mud hole.

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