May 2004
January 2004
October 2003
May 2003
January 2003
Articles 2002

Berman Jazz Series

Rob Scheps-Zach Brock Quintet

Topeka Jazz Festival

Topeka Yard Party

Topeka Master Class

Darryl White and Bobby Watson

Eldar Djangirov

Kendra Shank

John Carlini

Ingrid Jensen

Nebraska Jazz Orchestra

August 2004

Concert Previews/Reviews, Artist Interviews

Dan Thomas overcomes illness to play again


By Tom Ineck


At age 28, Kansas City saxophonist Dan Thomas is feeling reborn since hisDan Thomas [Courtesy Photo] recent recovery from a diabetic coma. As he regains his lost weight and learns to manage the disease, he is playing with renewed vigor and making plans for a second recording. 


Thomas first appeared on the Berman Music Foundation radar in January, when Butch Berman wrote a glowing review of “City Scope,” the young saxophonist’s debut recording as a leader. The Dan Thomas Quintet will launch the Berman Jazz Series Sept. 19 at the Topeka Performing Arts Center in Topeka, Kan.


Just a few months ago, it was uncertain whether Thomas would live to see September. In early March, he began to exhibit flu and cold symptoms. He made an appointment to see a doctor, also asking for a blood sugar test for diabetes.


He never made the appointment. He suddenly lost more than 70 pounds—dropping 50 pounds in two days. He eventually lapsed into a coma, unable to either talk or walk. There were no vital signs. He remained in intensive care for five days before being moved into the hospital’s general population.


Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, Thomas gives himself daily insulin injections and maintains a healthy diet. Bottoming out at 105 pounds, the 6-foot, 1-inch Thomas has since regained most of the weight he lost. He’s philosophical about his life-changing experience.


“It’s been a life adjustment, but I’m eating healthier now,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I feel strong. For disciplined folks, you can lead a relatively Dan Thomas [Courtesy Photo]normal life. Being a musician, there are a lot of temptations out there that can send your diabetes spiraling. I’m very disciplined, so I just cut out the alcohol and live straight as an arrow. I feel great.”


A native of Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba, Canada, Thomas left home when he was just 17 to pursue a music education and a career in music. He taught in the Portland, Ore., area and played regularly in Portland and Seattle before heading east to finish his graduate work and serve as a graduate assistant at the University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC). He currently holds the position of adjunct professor in the school of music, where this fall he will teach jazz pedagogy and jazz history, as well as some administrative duties.


He was recruited with the promise that the school was scouting a “heavyweight” to revitalize the jazz program. A year later, the legendary Bobby Watson was hired to fill those shoes.


“Bobby’s a real blessing in the community,” Thomas said. “The man has got the biggest heart of anybody you’ll ever meet, and he doesn’t have a head to match, so that’s great. He’s a wonderful human being.” When the life-threatening diabetic reaction landed Thomas in the emergency room, Watson soon appeared at his bedside.


“That’s the type of guy he is,” Thomas said. “It really speaks to his desire to know people and care for people as individuals, not just as musicians.”


Thomas also counts Watson among those jazz saxophonists who most influenced his playing style, along with Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Kenny Garrett.


Dan Thomas [Courtesy Photo]As on “City Scope,” the stellar bop quintet that Thomas will front in Topeka consists of fellow UMKC educator Joe Parisi on trumpet and flugelhorn, Roger Wilder on keyboards, Bram Wijnands on bass and Jim Eriksen on drums. Some fans of KC jazz may be unaware that Wijnands is equally adept on the bass as he is in his stride piano technique. He also provides what Thomas refers to as “another leader.”


“His leadership helps the ensemble. He plays real fundamental, rock-solid bass. He makes things easy. He’s a very easy guy to play with.”


Thomas wants to take the quintet into the studio by October, anticipating a release before year’s end. A distributor already is interested in picking up “City Scope” and the new CD.


Since Sept. 11, 2001, Kansas City jazz musicians—as in other cities—struggle to land gigs in a climate of fiscal restraint and public caution. Clubs that previously hired quartets and quintets have pared down to duo and trios, often leaving horn players out in the cold. Only recently have some venues begun to expand their visions once again.


“One of the strengths in this city, and it may not last long, is that a lot of us young guys read about the history of the music and listen to the records, and in this community you can get tied into that history with these living artists.” Thomas is thankful that he has had the opportunity to play with local veterans like Rusty Tucker and Lucky Wesley, whose careers reach back to the city’s golden age.


Berman Jazz Series


Berman Jazz SeriesThe Berman Jazz Series will include five concert beginning in September and continuing until next March at the Topeka Performing Arts Center in Topeka, Kan. The premiere series is primarily a showcase for prominent Kansas City-based musicians.


For a printable pdf version of the series schedule and order form, click on the image to the right.


The Dan Thomas Quintet kicks off the series with a Sept. 19 performance. The group’s extensive repertoire consists of tunes from the early swing era to bebop and beyond. Thomas’ most recent CD is “City Scope.” A performer and educator, Dan hails from Canada, and has been in the United States for nearly a decade. He was a regular on the West Coast jazz scene. Thomas currently is professor of jazz studies in the music department at the University of Missouri—Kansas City (UMKC).


The Doug Talley Quartet performs Oct. 24. Talley is a familiar face throughout the Midwest as a jazz performer and educator. Formed in 1995, the Doug Talley Quartet has performed throughout the region, including Oklahoma City, Okla.; Dallas, Texas; Elkhart, Ind.; Lincoln, Neb.; and, of course, the band’s home base, Kansas City, Mo. The rest of the band consists of pianist Wayne Hawkins, bassist Tim Brewer and drummer Keith Kavanaugh. The Doug Talley Quartet has three CDs, “Town Topic,” “Night and Day” and the latest release, “Kansas City Suite.”


The Russ Long Trio is scheduled for Nov. 14. Pianist Russ Long is a favorite in the Kansas City area, performing for many years in the city’s jazz venues. His recording “Never Let Me Go” was released in late 2001. Also featured in the Russ Long Trio are bassist Gerald Spaits and drummer Ray DeMarchi.


Luqman Hamza and Lucky Wesley will appear Feb. 13, 2005. Pianist-singer Luqman Hamza is a much-loved presence in Kansas City. Recent recordings include “With This Voice” and “When a Smile Overtakes a Frown.” Bassist and singer Lucky Wesley also has been well-known to KC jazz fans for many years.


George Cables will perform a solo piano concert March 13, 2005. Equally skilled as a leader, a sideman or in solo performance, Cables helped to define modern mainstream jazz piano of the 1980s and '90s. He gained recognition during his stints with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard. He was with Dexter Gordon during the tenor's successful return to the United States in the late 1970s, and became known as Art Pepper's favorite pianist. With more than 20 recordings as a leader, Cables most recent releases are 2002’s “Shared Secrets” and 2003’s “Looking for the Light.”


Tickets for the entire series are $75 through June 30. To order by phone, call (785) 234-ARTS. To order by fax, dial (785) 234-2307. To order by mail, write Topeka Performing Arts Center, 214 SE Eighth Ave., Topeka, KS 66606.



Concert Preview

Scheps-Brock Quintet returns to Lincoln


By Tom Ineck


The Rob Scheps/Zach Brock Quintet returns to Lincoln Oct. 21 for a reprise of its spell-binding performance at the same venue earlier this year.


The Rob Scheps-Zack Brock Quintet performed Jan. 22 at PO Pears. [Photo by Tom Ineck]The quintet made its Lincoln debut Jan. 22 with funding by the Berman Music Foundation, as part of the Thursday night jazz programming by Arts Incorporated.


Saxophonist Scheps, an Oregon native, has lived and worked in Boston and New York City, as well as performing worldwide with artists as diverse as the Gil Evans Orchestra, trumpeters Clark Terry, Arturo Sandoval, Eddie Henderson and Terumasa Hino, trombonist Roswell Rudd, singers Mel Torme, Dianne Reeves and Nancy King, bandleaders Buddy Rich and Mel Lewis, organist Jack McDuff and avant jazz legends Sam Rivers, Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill and Julius Hemphill.


A member of the Mannes College of Music faculty, Scheps has been a workshop clinician at Bowdoin, Dartmouth, Hunter, Lewis and Clark, Warner Pacific and Whitman Colleges, as well as Portland State and the University of Connecticut.


Violinist and co-leader Brock draws on a broad tradition of jazz violin, from Johnny Frigo to Stephane Grappelli and even fusion pioneers Jean-Luc Ponty and Jerry Goodman. Born in Lexington, Ky., he pursued his musical training in Chicago.


Returning with the band are a couple of talented young Windy City musicians, pianist Jordan Baskin and bassist Matt Ulery, and drummer Morgan Childs of Vancouver, B.C. All three are in their early 20s.


Scheps and Brock like to keep the audience guessing, sometimes alternating between the music of Cole Porter and Nirvana. For his finales on “The Cougar,” Scheps pulled out all the stops, first working out on the tenor sax, then combining the flute mouthpiece and the sax body to take a solo on the “saxaflute.”


Like last time, the Scheps-Brock Quintet will make a stop in Nebraska City before its Lincoln appearance, performing Oct. 20 at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts.



Concert Review

7th annual TJF was another music marathon


By Tom Ineck


TOPEKA, Kan.--After taking a year off from covering the Topeka Jazz Festival, the Berman Music Foundation returned to the Midwest’s best jazz party with some trepidation. The seven-year-old event had begun to show signs of premature hardening of the arteries in recent years, so we hoped for the best and feared the worst.


What we got was something in between. The 2004 TJF featured many of the same musicians performing many of the same tunes as in the past, but there were enough surprises and a consistently high level of performance quality to make it enjoyable over the course of the three-day marathon, May 29-31.


Jim Monroe in his last year as artistic director of the Topeka Jazz Festival. [Photo by Tom Ineck]For the seventh consecutive year, TJF Artistic Director Jim Monroe had done yeoman service in booking and scheduling a daunting number of artists for the Memorial Day weekend, this year comprising a series of 40 sets in formats ranging from a duo to a sextet. It was to be Monroe’s final festival, and on the opening morning he was deservedly awarded a plaque for all of his accomplishments as a volunteer organizer.


As several hundred avid jazz fans settled into their seats in the comfortable confines of the Georgia Neese Gray Performance Hall at the Topeka Performing Arts Center, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon kicked things off, fronting a six-piece ensemble that also featured Warren Vache on cornet, Brent Jensen on alto sax, Joe Cartwright on piano, Bob Bowman on bass and Jackie Williams on drums.


Gordon is one of those virtuosi who always keep the listener on the edge of his seat. On Ellington’s “I Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” he played in the old style, using a plunger mute to “sing” the notes and even vocalizing in the growling style of Louis Armstrong. Vache, another adherent of traditional swing, took an appropriately jumping cornet solo. Jensen was an unexpected surprise, playing with a cool, honey-smooth tone reminiscent of alto legend Paul Desmond.


Gordon displayed his slide pyrotechnics on “Donna Lee,” the bop restructuring of “Back Home in Indiana.” Vache and Jensen easily shifted to the more modern approach, and Cartwright showed his typically inventive personality in his brief piano solo. But it was on “Darn That Dream” that Cartwright constructed a masterful solo, as Jensen led the rhythm section through the classic changes and Williams set the mood with superb brush work.


Cartwright led Bowman and Williams in “Invitation” before the full sextet returned for a rousing “C Jam Blues,” with Gordon delivering three choruses of scat vocals. In typical good humor after flubbing a note, Vache shook out his horn and stomped on the offending “bug.”


Now thoroughly engaged, the audience was ready for the duo teaming bassistBassists Jim DeJulio and Jennifer "Lefty" Leitham fool around. [Photo by Tom Ineck] Jennifer Leitham and guitarist Rod Fleeman. The Kansas City-based fret master effortlessly quoted other tunes in his breezy treatment of “East of the Sun (and West of the Moon).” Leitham took the melody on Jobim’s “How Insensitive,” teasing the sustained notes out of the bass in lyrical, emotive fashion. In their dialogue, Leitham and Freeman perfectly illustrated the conversational aspect of jazz improvisation.


On Hoagy Carmichael’s ballad “Skylark,” the two seemed similar in musical temperament, both demonstrating subtle shadings and rococo filigree in their phrasing. Leitham showed her mastery of percussive thumb popping and string slapping on a mid-tempo “Alone Together,” with Fleeman cleverly interpolating “I Got Rhythm.” They finished with a tender reading of “So Many Stars.”


Pianist Paul Smith returned to the festival leading a trio that included bassist Jim DeJulio and drummer Joe LaBarbera, two welcome additions to the TJF mix. Smith’s effortless improvisations, in which he hilariously quotes classical compositions, English dance hall melodies, French art songs, folk tunes and novelty numbers, leave the listener breathless as he tries to identify all the sources. In short order, Smith raced through “It’s All Right With Me,” “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’. Even a solo piano rendition of “Over the Rainbow” was handled in epic fashion with classical flourishes and a fugue.


“The Lady Is a Tramp” was a showcase for LaBarbera, a master drummer perhaps best know for his tenure as Bill Evans’ last percussionist. Smith finally delivered a straight rendition of Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch over Me” before returning to his antics on “Lullaby of Birdland,” introducing the number in a baroque style and quoting “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise.” DeJulio kept the loose ends neatly tied with his solid bass grounding.


British singer Lee Gibson is accompanied by pianist Shelly Berg and bassist Gerald Spaits. [Photo by Tom Ineck]English songstress Lee Gibson also proved a charming surprise, bringing a classy polish to the proceedings as she fronted a quartet that included pianist Jon Mayer, bassist Bob Bowman and drummer Tommy Ruskin. She demonstrated her breezy, lilting style with the familiar opener, “I’ve Got the World on a String,” then turned to the obscure “That’s When I Miss You the Most,” a tune written by a 20-something student of hers. From “Guys and Dolls” she drew a medley of “My Time of Day” and “If I Were a Bell.”


Gibson injected some of the histrionic of the London stage on “A Foggy Day,” and added the rarely heard verse to “Over the Rainbow.” Her intonation briefly wavered off the mark as she and the band took “Love for Sale” at an uptempo Latin lilt, and she finished with a convincing “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone.”


A set led by festival favorite Ken Peplowski on clarinet was abbreviated to play catch-up with the clock, but not before he performed a lovely rendition of Jobim’s “Louisa” also featuring pianist Bill Mays and bassist Jay Leonhart. Gordon again applied some bluesy plunger-muted trombone and growling vocalise to a tune from the Ellington songbook, this time “Cotton Tail.”


Leitham returned fronting her own trio with newcomer pianist Shelly Berg and drummer Joe Ascione, another festival favorite. This exciting, inspired set consisted almost entirely of original compositions and rarities, proving that TJF music need not be familiar to the audience to be appreciated. Leitham’s own uptempo “Turkish Bizarre” had an Eastern spice with virtuosic bass chording in octaves and an animated solo by Berg, a marvelously gifted improviser. Ascione followed with another inspired solo.


Having undergone a sex-change from John to Jennifer a few years ago, Leitham exhibits a refreshing sense of humor about her transformation, introducing “The Altered Blues” as a tune written for her surgeon, Dr. Alter (really!). It was a haunting piece with a repeated bass motif, an inventive use of harmonics and Ascione’s spirited hand-drumming.


“Riff Raff,” also by Leitham, was an infectious harmonic riff. The trio finished with the poignant beauty of “One Hand on the Heart” from “West Side Story.” Berg’s piano solo was totally enraptured and touched the listener with visceral power.


Giacomo Gates takes off on a scat solo. [Photo by Tom Ineck]We were pleasantly surprised by the soulful sophistication of singer Giacomo Gates, a natural-born hipster with an easy delivery, a throaty baritone voice and an engaging stage presence. Accompanied by pianist Bill Mays, bassist Jennifer Leitham and drummer Todd Strait, he enthusiastically launched into Tadd Dameron’s “Ladybird,” the first of several tunes from Gates’ new release “Centerpiece,” reviewed elsewhere in this issue of Jazz. Combining scat and yodel somewhat in the style of the late Leon Thomas, Gates immediately established himself as a formidable vocal stylist.


Up next was Harry “Sweets” Edison’s “Centerpiece,” with lyrics by Jon Hendricks. Gates’ own lyrics were the focus of “Lullaby of Birdland,” complete with a vocalization of Dexter Gordon’s timeless tenor solo. The lyrics to “Hungry Man” by Bobby Troup are the ultimate in hipster chic, rhyming “chop suey” and “St. Louie,” “steamed clams in a bucket” and “Pawtucket,” “turkey” and “Albuquerque.” Whoa!


Gates slowed the tempo down for “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” and added a very convincing “trombone” solo in his aptly burnished vocal timbre. With a tip of the hat to Thelonious Monk, he ended his first set of the weekend with “Too Many Things,” which is his own lyric version of “Think of One,” and Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser.”


One return act that never gets old and always has something new to offer is the Eldar Djangirov Trio. Now age 17, Djangirov has appeared at every TJF since its inception in 1998. He was just 11 years old, then, and already his enormous potential was obvious. Now playing and composing and leading in a fully mature manner, he has lived up to that potential in every way.


Eldar Djangirov astounds at the keyboard. [Photo by Tom Ineck]From the solo piano introduction to Juan Tizol’s “Caravan,” his astounding speed and dexterity signaled another leap forward for Djangirov since we last heard him. His near-psychic rapport with longtime bandmates bassist Gerald Spaits and drummer Todd Strait also was immediately apparent. With powerful two-fisted block chords, Djangirov lifted Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’” to a new level of blues sophistication, while Monk’s “’Round Midnight” received a gentle treatment and a profound keyboard cadenza.


Djangirov’s funk leanings became even more evident on a rousing “Watermelon Man,” Herbie Hancock’s classic. “Raindrops” showcased the young composer’s own gift, and a very fast “All the Things You Are” had mouths agape as listeners marveled at his ever-developing technique.


Alto saxophonists Gary Foster and Brent Jensen co-fronted a competentKen Peplowski on tenor (left) and Brent Jensen on alto face off. [Photo by Tom Ineck sextet through a varied set. After the whole band performed Lee Konitz’s “Dream Stepper,” which is based on the changes of “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” and Hank Mobley’s rarely heard “Funk in Deep Freeze,” a medley spotlighted individuals—Jensen on “Lover Man,” pianist Jon Mayer on “But Beautiful,” bassist Gerald Spaits on “Someone to Watch Over Me” and Foster on “I Thought About You.” The band reformed for an alto summit on “Friends Again,” Lannie Morgan’s take on “Just Friends.”


Unlike years past, the late evening sets on Saturday and Sunday were staged in the lower-level Hill Festival Hall, formerly the setting for TJF buffet dinners. The setting is intimate, just large enough for the few dozen holdouts who hadn’t given up the ship by 9:30 p.m.


Sunday morning’s opener, a solo set by pianist Bill Mays, was a tour de force. Mays proved his thorough knowledge of the jazz repertoire and the keyboard by taking requests from the audience. Always a risky business, Mays upped the ante by playing them as one long medley. From “Stardust,” he cleverly segued into Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance,” then into a deft deconstruction of “All the Things You Are.” From there, he shifted into “The Nearness of You” and “Misty,” before choosing one of his own favorites, Jelly Roll Morton’s “Grandpa’s Spells,” and finishing with Ellington’s “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart.”


Gary Foster and Ken Peplowski faced off on clarinets to launch a set accompanied by Mays, bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Joe LaBarbera. On “There Will Never Be Another You,” they imaginatively wove interweaving clarinet lines before the rhythm section entered the fray. Switching to alto and tenor saxes respectively, Foster and “Peps” tackled Horace Silver’s “Strollin’,” which also featured some tasteful, restrained but virtuosic drum work.


Good listeners, Foster and Peplowski responded in a heartbeat to each other’s tenor and alto lines on a duet rendition of “Alone Together.” But the blockbuster was “Hot House,” Tadd Dameron’s bop transformation of Cole Porter’s “What is This Thing Called Love.” Mays set the pace with a driving, inventive piano solo, followed by Foster and Peplowski solos, building in intensity and imagination. LaBarbera switched easily from brushes to sticks to increase the momentum and Leonhart swung the bass with a vengeance.


Pianist Paul Smith hovers over the keyboard. [Photo by Tom Ineck]Paul Smith returned for a comparatively straight solo set, beginning with “Yesterdays” and a ballad treatment of Michel Legrand’s “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” with some beautiful chordal flourishes. Classical influences were evident on “Send in the Clowns,” which, Smith joked, was played on the recent election day in California, when some 95 candidates vied for governor. Smith displayed his stride chops on his own composition, “Here Comes Ralph and Dick,” dedicated to Ralph Sutton and Dick Hyman. He finished with “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” an apt description of slack-jawed listeners who marveled at Smith’s uncanny ability.


The Leitham trio again challenged the audience with lesser-known tunes like the bluesy “Bittersweet” by bassist Sam Jones. They performed Henry Mancini’s “Dreamsville” in 5/4 and 6/4 instead of the usual 4/4, and “Besame Mucho” featured a booming, dramatic bass drone. Leitham’s snappy tune “The Studio City Stomp” had bluegrass underpinnings. The closer, Basie’s “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” was taken at a very fast clip.


Gates again mesmerized the audience with a set of smart scat vocals and horn-like legato phrasing on such tunes as “Jeanine,” by Duke Pearson and Oscar Brown Jr., “Lady Be Good,” Eddie Jefferson’s “Disappointed,” which is based on a Charlie Parker solo, and a very slow and bluesy “Route 66.”


The very cool “I Told You I Love You, Now Get Out” was followed by the tasteful ballad “P.S. I Love You,” and Paul Desmond’s “Take Five,” with lyrics by Gates. Ascione’s drum solo in the final tune was reminiscent of Joe Morello, the drummer in Brubeck’s classic quartet.  


Smith returned with his trio for some more keyboard fun and games, including “Here’s That Rainy Day,” a very slow “Makin Whoopee,” “One Note Samba,” “It Might as Well Be Spring,” “Jeepers Creepers,” and “It Never Entered My Mind,” with Jim DeJulio skillfully taking the melody on bass.


Bassist John Clayton [Photo by Tom Ineck]The annual aggregation of bass players yielded some bright moments, despite the disappointing sound quality of six unmiked instruments vying for attention. Gerald Spaits got things rolling with Sonny Rollins’ “Doxy,” and Bob Bowman followed with his “Mexican Happy Hour,” but John Clayton took the prize with a lovely arrangement of “Gales Force,” his tribute to the late bassist Larry Gales. Five bassists bowed their instruments as Jennifer Leitham kept a pizzicato pulse during the somber piece.


Leitham reprised “Riff Raff,” DeJulio contributed a chart for “Amazing Grace,” and Jay Leonhart’s arrangement of “It’s a Wonderful World” had Leonhart, Clayton and other singing along with the song’s cheerful sentiment.


Leaping into Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” with both feet and both hands, Djangirov virtually exploded with a driving attack on the keyboard. He continues to close in on Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum in terms of spellbinding technique, perfectly integrating his two hands and exhibiting a keen understanding of dynamics. The trio created an irresistible funk riff on Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon,” building to an intensity that was nearly overwhelming, due in part to a sound system that was operating in the red zone.


Even on the ballad “Nature Boy,” Djangirov injected incredibly fast right-hand runs. He introduced a solo piano rendition of Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rumba” with a classical flourish not unlike Rachmaninoff might have attempted before taking off at breakneck speed. One doubts that even the virtuosic composer could play it at this tempo.


Ken Peplowski (left) and Warren Vache (right) at 2004 Topeka Jazz Festival [Photo by Tom Ineck]Peplowski and Vache teamed up for an all-star quintet also featuring pianist Berg, bassist DeJulio and drummer LaBarbera. Highlights included a lively “Doggin’ Around,” with “Peps” on tenor and Vache on muted cornet, Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom,” with Peplowski on clarinet and Berg contributing a tasteful and emotive solo, and the bebop standard “Scrapple from the Apple,” on which everyone took a scrappy solo.


Lee Gibson, backed only by a piano trio, was the perfect choice to host the first set of Sunday’s “late-night cabaret.” Her stately British demeanor and personal approach to a lyric connected instantly with her small, but rapt audience as she sang “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” a waltz-time “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” and an uptempo reading of “On a Clear Day.” Breaking from the rigid format, she invited guitarist Rod Fleeman to the stage for a duet on “Cry Me a River,” replicating the hit by Julie London and guitarist Barney Kessel. She also offered such favorites as “Time After Time” and—from Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”—“It Ain’t Necessarily So,” and “I Loves You Porgy.”


Also excelling in the late evening spotlight was a quartet consisting of Gary Foster, Joe Cartwright, Gerald Spaits and Joe LaBarbera. Foster switched to flute for a bossa nova take on “Here’s That Rainy Day,” and LaBarbera’s composing skills were on display on “Bella Luce (Beautiful Light),” a ballad he wrote for the late trumpeter and legendary eccentric Conte Candoli.     


Bassist Jim DeJulio and drummer Todd Strait are in the groove. [Photo by Tom Ineck]The final day of the festival began with an Ellington-heavy set fronted by alto saxophonist Jensen and trombonist Gordon and backed by the superb rhythm section of Mayer, DeJulio and Williams. Gordon soloed on “In a Mellotone” before Jensen segued into “I Let a Song Go out of My Heart.” Both took solos on Joe Henderson’s “Recorda Me (Remember Me),” then the band launched into the ballad “In a Sentimental Mood,” a Gordon vehicle demonstrating his amazing tonguing technique, embouchure control and articulation with a plunger-muted solo. The set ended with an uptempo “Joy Spring,” on which Gordon and Jensen stated the melody in unison.


For its last set of the weekend, the Paul Smith Trio blazed through a series of familiar tunes, including “On Green Dolphin Street,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” and a medley of “Honeysuckle Rose” and ”Scrapple From the Apple.” “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” received the only straight ballad reading by the mischievous keyboard wizard, before he launched into an outrageous rendition of “Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” followed by “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Get Me to the Church On Time.”


Gary Foster and Brent Jensen matched alto saxes on Lee Konitz’s “Subconscious-Lee,” as they co-led a sextet also featuring pianist Cartwright, bassist Clayton, guitarist Fleeman and drummer Ruskin. Foster switched to flute for Jobim’s “Wave,” but Cartwright delivered the standout solo. Jensen and Fleeman, with bass and drums only, evoked saxophonist Paul Desmond and guitarist Jim Hall in their performance of “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.” Ruskin set the pace and Cartwright drove the tempo for an uptempo “Invitation,” with both Foster and Jensen on altos.


Djangirov and company embarked on Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” with another astonishing burst of keyboard brilliance. Benny Carter’s “When Lights Are Low” was followed by “Body and Soul” and a solo piano tour de force on “It Might as Well Be Spring.” After the original composition “Perplexity,” Djangirov wrapped up the set with “Sweet Georgia Brown,” taken at a furious tempo that had bassist Gerald Spaits and drummer Todd Strait straining to keep up. 


Giacomo Gates, Gerald Spaits and Jennifer Leitham share a moment. [Photo by Tom Ineck]The vocal magic of Giacomo Gates returned with pianist Mays, bassist Leitham and drummer Ascione and an original take on Gershwin’s “Summertime,” complete with flute-like whistling. Gates wrote the lyrics for Lee Morgan’s bluesy “Speedball,” replacing the drug-related theme with the more common addition to a woman. In “Since I Fell For You,” Mays cleverly injected a snippet of “’Round Midnight” as Gates sang, “I get the blues for you around 12 o’clock each night.”


Gates sang the Babs Gonzales lyric for “Ornithology,” Charlie Parker’s treatment of “How High the Moon,” then returned to his own lyric contribution to Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments.” His lyrics to Miles Davis’ “Milestones” are very hip, making one hope that Gates will continue to practice his craft as a wordsmith.


Jensen and Foster again teamed up, this time with pianist Berg, bassist Clayton and drummer LaBarbera, for a set highlighted by two Lennie Tristano tunes. The tricky little number called “317 E. 32nd St.” is the legendary pianist’s restructuring of “Out of Nowhere,” and “Ablution” is his impression of “All the Things You Are.” Both provided a little variety in an otherwise conventional set list that included “My Funny Valentine” and “Stella by Starlight.”


Pianist Bill Mays provided most of the excitement in Lee Gibson’s final appearance, which included Gershwin’s “But Not for Me,” “That Old Black Magic,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “Never Let Me Go” and an uptempo “My Shining Hour.” Mays contributed outstanding solos on nearly every tune.


Ken Peplowski fronted a quartet that put the finishing, swinging touches on TJF 2004. “Peps” delivered some solid tenor sax work, Shelly Berg contributed a Garnerish two-fisted solo and Jennifer Leitham followed with a thick-chorded bass solo on Johnny Mandel’s “Low Life.” Peplowski switched to clarinet for Sergio Mendes’ “So Many Stars,” the TJF veteran’s tribute to Artistic Director Jim Monroe for his long dedication to the festival and to jazz in general.    


I attended 30 of the 40 sets, enough live jazz to satisfy even the most voracious listener. The 7th Annual Topeka Jazz Festival is history, and it is time to set our sights on No. 8, a slight stylistic departure with, among others, headliners Bobby Watson & Horizon, Norman Hedman & Tropique, the Hot Club of San Francisco, Alaadeen & Group 21, the Doug Talley Quartet, the Joe Cartwright Trio, the Russ Long Trio and Interstring. The festival was booked by new TJF Artistic Director Butch Berman and promises to be another enjoyable gathering of world-class jazz.


Stay tuned here for more details as the 2005 TJF approaches.



Concert Review

2004 Topeka Jazz Party primes the pump


By Tom Ineck


TOPEKA, Kan.--In an attempt to entice more area jazz fans to buy tickets for the three-day 2004 Topeka Jazz Festival, organizers ramped up a free pre-fest Friday evening event, called the Topeka Yard Party, featuring festival favorite Karrin Allyson and an all-star assemblage of TJF artists.


Crowd gathers for Topeka Yard Party May 28. [Photo by Tom Ineck]By all reports, the yard party—staged on the lawn west of the Topeka Performing Arts Center—successfully encouraged many participants to spend at least part of their Memorial Day weekend inside TPAC listening to some of the best jazz around. For festival novices, it was a nice introduction to the level of talent and the format that they could expect. For those of us TJF veterans who were going to be there anyway, it was simply a great way to get the long weekend off to a good start.


The TJF all-stars included trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, saxophonist Ken Peplowski, pianists Shelly Berg and Bill Mays, guitarist Rod Fleeman, bassists Jennifer Leitham and Jay Leonhart, drummers Joe Ascione and Jackie Williams and singers Lee Gibson and Giacomo Gates, rotating on and off the stage in “jazz party” fashion. I failed to take detailed notes during this part of the party because I was too busy sampling food by local restaurants, which had set up booths in the street nearby.


Singer Karrin Allyson is accompanied by (from left) Paul Smith, Bob Bowman and Todd Strait. [Photo by Tom Ineck]Allyson’s performance was a treat for area fans who hadn’t seen much of her since her move to New York City a few years ago. Governor Kathleen Sebelius was on hand to introduce the popular headliner, who was accompanied by some of her old Kansas City cohorts, including pianist Paul Smith, guitarists Rod Fleeman and Danny Embrey, bassist Bob Bowman and drummer Todd Strait.


Karrin introduced a handful of tunes from her just-released CD, “Wild for You,” her ninth recording for Concord Records (reviewed elsewhere in this issue of Jazz). But first she turned to a familiar standard, “Nature Boy,” followed by Mose Allison’s “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy” and Tommy Flanagan’s “The Bluebird,” with lyrics by Jay Leonhart.


The first number from the new release was Allyson’s marvelous Latin-tinged interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want.” Fleeman, who usually plays an acoustic instrument, surprised listeners with some hot licks on electric guitar. Allyson followed with the gorgeous Jimmy Webb ballad “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress,” before turning to Jobim’s “So Danca Samba,” an old favorite of the singer’s.


Also on the evening’s set list were Dave Brubeck’s “The Duke,” “Blame it on My Youth,” “Under Paris Skies,” and Melissa Manchester’s “I Got Eyes,” from the new release. Allyson finished with a lively rendition of “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” with guest artists Leonhart on bas, Ken Peplowski on clarinet, and Joe Ascione on drums.


Despite the heat of the evening, the performance perfectly primed the pump for a weekend of air-conditioned comfort and swinging sounds indoors.



Master Class Review

Music education still is "key to the highway"


By Butch Berman


TOPEKA, Kan.--When I think of music education today, the old fabled blues song by Big Bill Broonzy, “Key to the Highway,” always comes to mind. It seems to me that a fair majority of today’s youth seem to have a “lock” on what they think is required listening, due to either our jaded mass media or simple peer pressure. If you ask any kid on the street today, “Whose CD are you buying or downloading?” you’ll probably hear Britney, Brandy or Fantasia. Even references to the Beatles, let alone Elvis, will draw blank stares, as I’m sure all my baby-boomer great ones will seem archaic.


Students and professional musicians gather for master class. [Photo by Butch Berman] That’s why a “key,” or a method to spark curiosity and creativity, must be imposed to unlock their closed minds and keep all the wonderful traditions alive and intact.


Luckily, at least for jazz aficionados, our educational system is on the mark, nationwide offering courses from the history of jazz to discovering one’s own inner talents through improvisation. This was all very apparent as this year’s master class for youth unfolded prior to the 2004 Topeka Jazz Festival in Topeka, Kan.


Fourteen young musicians (all boys…come on gals, I know you’re out there) from three area schools—Topeka High School, Washburn Rural High School and Seaman High School—were chosen to participate in thisGuitarist Rod Fleeman (left) and bassist Jay Leonhart [Photo by Butch Berman] year’s Topeka Jazz Festival All-Star Academy Master Class. They are as follows:


Benet Braun, Topeka High School, piano; Zachary Carr, Washburn Rural High School, bass; Dustin Damme, Seaman High School, baritone sax; Nathan Frost, Seaman High School, guitar; Clinton Jacob, Seaman High School, vocal; Daniel Juarez, Washburn Rural High School, vibraphone; Adam Karol, Topeka High School, vocal; Ben Leifer, Topeka High School, bass; Jason Pulach, Seaman High School, tenor sax; Philip Sanders, Topeka High School, trombone; Charlie Stern, Topeka High School, trumpet; Joe Swann, Seaman High School, trumpet; Lefan Thompson, Topeka High School, guitar; Galen Zachritz, Topeka High School, drums.


Also present was educator Cliff Manning from Washburn Rural High School, a swell chap who reminisced with me about old ‘60s r&b bands, i.e. The Fabulous Flippers from the Kansas-Missouri circuits. Filling in for pianist Shelly Berg was Marilyn Foree of Seaman High School.


New York drummer Joe Ascione again led the esteemed collection of all-starCliff Manning [Photo by Butch Berman] mentors this year. Aiding him were vocalist Lee Gibson of London, KC guitarist Rod Fleeman, Mr. New York himself, Jay Leonhart on bass, and the one and only reed master, Ken Peplowski, to round out this incredible crew of players and educators.


Topeka Jazz Festival Artistic Director Jim Monroe gathered everyone in coffee-laden, round-table discussions to administer all the proper introductions, whereupon Joe Ascione took over leadership of the proceedings.


After introducing the teachers to the students, a panel discussion was in order, mostly led by Joe, Jay and Ken. Many superb tips and developmental ideas and thought patterns were projected unto these eager young musicians’ minds. Standouts among these were as follows:

1)     Everything in music reflects who you are.

2)     You may or may not make a lot of money in the music biz.  Either way, you must be true to yourself, and be happy just to be able to follow your dreams.

3)     Technique is important, so absorb as much as you can…then just let go and blow.

4)     Music chooses you.

5)     After you’ve tried to master jazz theory, learn the blues and “rhythm changes,” then concentrate on getting to know each song, its meaning and lyrics if applicable.

6)     Jazz education can be the best thing that can happen to aspiring players, but you HAVE TO LEARN TO LISTEN.

7)     You NEVER stop learning.

Bassist Jay Leonhart demonstrates technique. [Photo by Butch Berman]Both the educators and students adjourned to the stage for some hands-on teaching of their instruments and lots of jamming. Lucky kids. When I was young we learned music by the old “note” or “rote” methods. It’s amazing that some of us got enough out of it all to end up as musicians, professional or not.


The Berman Music Foundation is proud to be able to help support this most important endeavor, the musical education of our children. Can’t wait until next year. 



Concert Review
Darryl White records live in KC with Watson


By Tom Ineck


KANSAS CITY, Mo.—When a Lincoln-based musician and educator travels to Kansas City to team up with a group of heavyweights for a two-night live recording, it’s newsworthy.


So when Darryl White, University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor of trumpet, announced his intention to tape performances July 29-30 at Kansas City’s Bobby Watson (from left), Darryl White and Gerald Dunn at the Blue Room in Kansas City [Photo by Beverly Rehkop]famed Blue Room with saxophonists Bobby Watson and Gerald Dunn, pianist Jeff Jenkins, bassist Kenny Walker and drummer Mike Warren, I made plans to cover the second evening for the Berman Music Foundation.


With the exception of Warren on drums, it was the same lineup that gathered for a 2003 Jazz in June concert in Lincoln. The drummer on that occasion was Matt Houston, but Warren fit the bill admirably.


White and his longtime Denver-area associates Jenkins and Walker always work well together, but the addition of Watson and Dunn ups the ante considerably, making for an exciting and challenging musical exploration as the virtuosic Watson continually pushes the envelope and Dunn lends his soulful, full-bodied tenor sound to the mix. Billed as a White-fronted sextet, it was in fact a meeting of like minds and musical equals.


Watson announced the opener, “Alter Ego,” as a tribute to the recently deceased composer, the brilliant pianist James Williams, who died July 20 of liver cancer at age 53. First recorded by Williams 20 years ago, it was the perfect homage to the fallen master, with solo contributions by White on flugelhorn, Dunn on tenor and Watson on soprano sax.


“Lynn,” by Jenkins, also a gifted composer, was a funky number set up with a percussive riff stated by the three-horn front line of muted trumpet, alto and tenor saxes. Dunn and White—on open horn—punctuated the proceedings with appropriately funky solos.


Victor Young’s romantic ballad “Beautiful Love,” was given a searching, uptempo treatment, a variation of the version White recorded for his 1999 debut CD, “Ancient Memories.” White’s trumpet solo soared with a bright, piercing tone. Watson, whose wealth of ideas and technical mastery are always a joy to listen to, dove into a typically exciting alto solo, prompting Jenkins to deliver a similarly inspired piano solo.


Jeff Jenkins [Photo by Beverly Rehop]Jenkins’ moody arrangement of “America the Beautiful” seemed an odd choice, but proved musically rewarding. Flugelhorn, alto and tenor saxes stated the melody in a wistful harmony with a tempo that shifted in and out of waltz time. Solos by Jenkins, Watson, White and Walker gave new meaning and depth to a time-worn patriotic anthem.


The horns again joined forces on the funky Charles Mingus tune, “Nostalgia in Times Square,” a favorite of White’s that he recorded for his 2002 CD “In the Fullness of Time.” Like that version, the live performance was highlighted by Jenkins masterful comping and Walker’s intensely swinging bass solo.


Darryl White [Photo by Beverly Rehkop]“Beatitudes” comes from a 1983 Watson recording of the same name. Watson’s astounding breath control and virtuosity on alto sax command your attention. In response, White delivered a bravura trumpet solo and Dunn chimed in with a swinging tenor statement, demonstrating his beautifully burnished tone. For White’s lovely ballad “Nanpet (The Called of God),” the three horns stated the melody before Watson switched to flute, sweetening the sound. After another inventive piano solo, the trumpeter-composer dug into the melody with feeling.


“Blues for E.J.” is a jaunty little number purportedly “composed” by Jenkins’ four-year-old son, Ellington Jenkins. The elder Jenkins explained that he merely transcribed a melody that “E.J.” was singing while they rode in a car together. Everyone got a solo spotlight during the loping blues progression, climaxing with some lively exchanges between Jenkins and Warren, who firmly and persuasively held the rhythmic reins throughout the evening.


Wayne Shorter’s “United” was another showcase for the entire ensemble, with exceptional solos offered by White on flugelhorn, Dunn on tenor, Watson on soprano sax, Jenkins on piano and Warren on drums. Dunn was especially impressive in a Trane-inspired solo. “When the Saints Go Marching In,” another White favorite, ended the second set with flair.


Thanks go to Kansas City photographer Beverly Rehkop for the excellent accompanying photographs.


Stay tuned here for details on the CD release date.



Concert Review
Eldar Djangirov's skill continues to impress


By Tom Ineck


Eldar Djangirov’s appearance June 1 in the lead-off performance at this year’s Jazz in June series in Lincoln, Neb., was actually the capper on a generous four-day exposure to the 17-year-old’s pianistic accomplishments.


Eldar Djangirov at the 2004 Jazz in June concert. [Photo by Rich Hoover]Those of us who attended the 2004 Topeka Jazz Festival already had basked in the glory of his playing over the entire Memorial Day weekend, in three daily sets with bassist Gerald Spaits and drummer Todd Strait. After marveling at that steady infusion of Djangirovian genius, there were few surprises during his two-hour, outdoor Lincoln concert. Nonetheless, we continued to marvel at his mastery of the keyboard, as did the crowd of nearly 3,500.


Gerald Spaits [Photo by Rich Hoover]For his Lincoln appearance, made possible with funding by the Berman Music Foundation, Djangirov was joined by Spaits and drummer Tommy Ruskin, another Kansas City stalwart sitting in for Strait, who returned to his Oregon home after the Topeka gig. Having performed and recorded with Djangirov for several years, Spaits has developed an innate sensitivity to the pianist’s whims. Ruskin, an accomplished and swinging timekeeper, was new to the trio but adapted easily. Even when he missed one of Djangirov's rapid-fire cues, he quickly recovered.


Djangirov opened with Juan Tizol’s “Caravan,” one of his favorite showcases for his amazing speed and drive. Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’” showed a penchant for unusual harmonies with swinging, two-fisted block chords in mid-tempo. “Body and Soul,” of course, offered the perfect opportunity to demonstrate his skills with a ballad. Among many jazz musicians, it has become the standard for excellence in that tempo.


Tommy Ruskin [Photo by Rich Hoover]As Djangirov’s musical taste develops, he seems to be acquiring a preference for more modern jazz masters, especially Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter, whose compositions are beginning to play a more prominent role in his setlists. During his Lincoln performance, he played no fewer than three Hancock tunes, in addition to a solo piano performance of Corea’s “Armando’s Rumba” and a stunning rendition of Shorter’s “Footprints.”


Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” was showcased in the first set, with his “Dolphin Dance” and “Cantaloupe Island” grouped together in the second set, making for a powerful funk groove, especially in his exciting interpretation of the latter soul-jazz classic.


The impressionistic “Raindrops” was the only original composition that Djangirov chose for this evening. Instead, he drew primarily from the more familiar standards of swing, bebop and the Great American Songbook. He and Spaits took the melody line in unison on the superfast “Scrapple from the Apple.” “Nature Boy” received a very slow reading with lush arpeggios contrasting with rapid single-note runs.


Eldar concentrates. [Photo by Rich Hoover]For a second solo piano showcase, Djangirov wisely chose the timeless “It Might as Well Be Spring.” He applied orchestral shadings to his treatment of the Sinatra classic, “Fly Me to the Moon.” As is often the case, he completed the regular performance with a rip-roaring rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” before returning for an encore performance of “Take the A Train.”


Spaits and Ruskin repeatedly proved the adage that a good accompanist can raise the entire playing field to a new level of perfection. They deserved the audience's spontaneous standing ovation as much as their teen-age employer.


One can only wonder, with much anticipation, what direction Djangirov will take under his new multiple-CD contract with Sony Records. His first entry on that label is due for release in August, with John Patitucci on bass, Todd Strait on drums and a special guest appearance by saxophonist Michael Brecker.



Concert Review
Kendra Shank returns to Lincoln in good form

By Tom Ineck


Kendra Shank and bassist Dean Johnson [Photo by Rich Hoover]Kendra Shank’s much-anticipated return to Lincoln after nearly 10 years was on June 8, a perfect spring evening for the 3,000-plus audience attending the outdoor Jazz in June concert. The appearance was made possible with funding by the Berman Music Foundation.


Shank has come a long ways from her days as a folksinger-guitarist plying her trade in Seattle. Inspired later in life by the vocal magic of Billie Holiday and other jazz stylists, she made a career change that has brought her to New York City and to the forefront of modern jazz vocal technique. But rather than abandon the essential elements of her folk and pop music craft, she blended them seamlessly into her new musical direction, creating a uniquely personal sound.


Frank Kimbrough [Photo by Rich Hoover]For her Lincoln appearance, Shank was joined by a group of New York musicians who are not afraid of new directions and unique sounds, pianist Frank Kimbrough of the Jazz Composers Collective, bassist Dean Johnson and drummer Tony Moreno.


Shank showed her scat-singing expertise on a mid-tempo rendition of “Alone Together,” with Kimbrough also contributing an interesting choice of backing chords, which were anything but predictable. As she is preparing for the release of a CD tribute to the uncompromising music of singer and composer Abbey Lincoln, Shank performed several of Lincoln’s tunes throughout the evening, beginning with “Throw It Away,” which she and this same combo already recorded on her “Reflections” CD.  


Stylistically, Shank seems very closely attuned to Lincoln’s unusual approachBassist Dean Johnson [Photo by Rich Hoover] to music and lyrics, exhibiting a rare compatibility with the life-affirming message of tunes like “Throw It Away.” She also did justice to the expansive, joyful Lincoln anthem “Wholly Earth,” which featured a great piano solo by Kimbrough, and “The Music is the Magic,” a hypnotic riff which was created by Shank on kalimba (or “thumb piano”) and by the inspired playing of Kimbrough, Johnson and Moreno. Kimbrough also contributed “For Duke,” a wonderful ballad with lyrics by his wife.


“This Is New,” composed by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Ira Gershwin, got an uptempo workout to close the first set. The standard “Beautiful Love” kicked off round two, beginning slowly then moving uptempo. Shank is not afraid to try something unfamiliar, such as “I’m Never Sure” by Seattle bass player Jeff Johnson.


Tony Moreno [Photo by Rich Hoover]Lincoln’s wonderful “I’ve Got Thunder (and It Rings)” was followed by the Jimmy Rowles masterpiece “The Peacocks,” but the unusual, exotic melody defies vocalization and, as a result, the lyrics by Norma Winstone do not scan very well.


Shank exhibited a powerful vocal presence on the traditional folk tune “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.” Best of all was the finale, an exquisite rendition of Lennon and McCartney’s “Let It Be,” with a gorgeous solo by Kimbrough that expanded on the spiritual nature of the tune.



Concert Review

Something missing in Carlini performance


By Tom Ineck


John Carlini [Photo by Rich Hoover]When the John Carlini Quartet took the stage June 15 for the third concert in the 2004 Jazz in June series in Lincoln, all the elements were in place for a performance reminiscent of last year’s appearance by the Don Stiernberg Quartet.


Here was a foursome of competent musicians wielding instruments usually associated with bluegrass music (guitar, mandolin, upright bass and drums) but possessing sufficient jazz smarts to deliver an incendiary performance. Here, in fact, was Stiernberg himself, a virtuoso mandolinist returning to a Jazz in June setting that seemed so ideal in 2003. The weather cooperated, and the audience swelled to over 3,000 people.


But it seemed something was missing, and I don’t think it was merely that theDon Stiernberg [Photo by Rich Hoover] novelty of the jazz mandolin had worn thin. Stiernberg’s playing was as inspired and his stage banter was as captivating as last year’s. For some reason, this quartet, with a stellar rhythm section consisting of bassist Brian Glassman and drummer Phillip Gratteau, did not generate the same level of excitement. Perhaps it is just one of those musical mysteries.


That said, the cool swing of “Blues Al Dente” got things off to a good start, with Carlini and Stiernberg doubling on the melody. Bluegrass master Tony Rice’s composition “Devlin” was taken with at a shuffle rhythm and the jazz standard “Secret Love,” usually performed as a ballad, received an uptempo reading with Stiernberg leading the way on mandolin. The tune appears on “Angel Eyes,” the latest recording by Stiernberg and Carlini, which is reviewed elsewhere on this website.


Brian Glassman [Photo by Rich Hoover]The band followed with another jazz standard from the new release, a bossa-styled version of Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are,” which segued neatly into Juan Tizol’s “Caravan, perhaps the highlight of the evening. Stiernberg, Carlini and Gratteau turned in exemplary solos.


"Bittersweet,” from Carlini’s CD “The Game’s Afoot!” is a melancholy minor-key melody that received an aptly wistful performance. The quartet’s take on Gershwin’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” was a recasting of Errol Garner’s live improvisation on the classic 1955 recording “Concert by the Sea.”


Carlini’s “Kook Kitsch,” also from “The Game’s Afoot!” was taken at a fast clipPhillip Gratteau [Photo by Rich Hoover] and featured a dexterous solo by Glassman. The final standard of the evening was Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight.” Taken uptempo, the tune was a showcase for Stiernberg’s playing and a segment of impressive mandolin-bass trades, although the two instruments are sonically lopsided.


Carlini contributed a fine ballad “So It Goes,” and Stiernberg finished the second set and the concert with his clever vocalizing of “Brain Cloudy Blues,” with apologies to Kokomo Arnold’s “Milk Cow Blues.” All in all, the capable Carlini quartet was disappointing only when compared with the special magic of last year’s Stiernberg-led band.



Concert Review

Jensen Quartet delivers stunning concert


By Tom Ineck


Ingrid Jensen on flugelhorn [Photo by Rich Hoover]The wild card of the 2004 Jazz in June series came on June 22, with a stunning performance by the relatively unknown trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and her quartet.


Born in Vancouver, B.C., and a veteran of the Lionel Hampton big band and the all-female orchestra Diva, she has established a reputation with her own small groups in more recent years. The hard-charging outfit she fronted in Lincoln also featured Seamus Blake on tenor sax, organist Gary Versace and drummer Clarence Penn. All come with impressive credentials and a common desire to push the envelope and challenge the musical status quo.


They began with an explosive opening salvo with Jensen weaving an intricate trumpet line, Versace aiding and abetting on the Hammond B-3 and Blake contributing a free-blowing solo. Versace’s composition “Now as Then” is a haunting piece, which featured Jensen on flugelhorn.


Seamus Blake [Photo by Rich Hoover]Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind” was treated with unconventional harmonies as Jensen launched on a flight of fancy with Versace switching to piano. As the tune evolved into “Flowers,” he moved back to the organ, soon followed by solos on tenor sax and flugelhorn. Versace layered an organ solo over a single-note drone to dramatic effect.


The quartet next performed the original ballad “Silver Twilight.” Constructed from muted trumpet with sax and organ, the piece reflected the group’s knack for group improvisation. In her arrangement of “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” Jensen reimagined the standard by beginning at mid-tempo, shifting upward and back down in a free-flowing performance.  


Gary Versace [Photo by Rich Hoover]Jensen performed at least two compositions by her sister. On “Red Roads,” Jensen stated the melody on flugelhorn. “Harrell’s Mirror,” dedicated to trumpeter Tom Harrell, was a fast blues featuring trumpeter Darryl White of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Music as guest soloist, doubling with Jensen. Everyone got a solo spotlight. White’s own statement soared, but with great control.


It should be emphasized that drummer Clarence Penn held this veryClarence Penn [Photo by Rich Hoover] adventurous unit together with some astounding playing. It is no accident that he has worked with a long list of today’s most skilled and renowned band leaders, including saxophonists Joshua Redman and David Sanchez, trumpeters Dave Douglas, Jon Faddis and Randy Brecker, vibraphonist Stefon Harris, pianists Joey Calderazzo, Cyrus Chestnut and Makoto Ozone, bassist Christian McBride and singers Betty Carter, Jimmy Scott and Kevin Mahogany.    


Not easy listening music or background music for casual conversation, Jensen’s music demands attention as it develops, slowly metamorphosing into a thing of beauty. It is unfortunate that few in the Jazz in June audience of several thousand are willing to devote that attention to such challenging music. Jensen, like all serious jazz artists, deserves more.



Concert Review
NJO plays to 13-year record audience of 6,000


By Tom Ineck


Saxophonist Dave Sharp takes a solo. [Photo by Tom Ineck]The five-week 2004 Jazz in June concert series was brought to a roaring conclusion June 29 with the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra, a local favorite for nearly 30 years. Ideal weather and the special appearance of guest vocalist Annette Murrell helped boost attendance to an estimated 6,000 people, a record for the 13-year-old outdoor performance series.


The NJO kicked things off with a challenging Dave Sharp arrangement of Cole Porter’s “Easy to Love” that gave the ensemble something on which to sharpen its wits for the evening ahead. Musical Director Ed Love took a nice soprano sax solo on a reinterpretation of the classic “Dinah.” New to the NJO songbook is Fred Rogers’ familiar ditty “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” with Love taking a playful tenor solo.


The NJO plays to a record crowd of 6,000. [Photo by Tom Ineck]Murrell took the stage for three numbers in the first set, beginning with a mid-tempo rendition of Gershwin’s “Our Love is Here to Stay” and continuing with another Gershwin favorite, the ballad “The Man I Love.” Murrell demonstrated her innate ability to turn a jazz standard into a soul excursion, playing very loose with the original melody and immediately improvising with sliding, blues-tinged harmonies.


An added treat in the NJO lineup was the inclusion of Dennis Schneider in the trumpet section and taking a solo on “The Man I Love.” Schneider, retired professor of trumpet at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is too seldom heard in the Capital City these days.


Murrell completed her first appearance with the band by taking “All of Me”

uptempo, a performance capped by an outstanding Bob Krueger trumpet solo.


The NJO continued the set with Don Menza’s “Gravy,” a funky blues tune that Scott Vicroy blows baritone solo on "Moanin'." [Photo by Tom Ineck] was given a nice piano introduction by Dan Cerveny. Chris Acker followed with a trombone solo before Love, on tenor sax, traded fours with alto saxophonist Mark Benson.


The highlight of the first set was its concluding number, “Moanin’,” a fast and furious composition by Charles Mingus. It was baritone saxophonist Scott Vicroy who excelled here, blazing through the opening statement and setting up subsequent solos by Sharp on alto sax and Darren Pettit on tenor sax.


It was unfortunate that I had to leave halfway through the concert for a previous engagement. It is, however, comforting to know that I will likely have other opportunities to hear Nebraska’s most talented jazz ensemble when it resumes its regular season of performances this fall. Stay tuned for later developments.




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