March 2006
Articles 2005
Articles 2004
Articles 2003
Articles 2002

Jim Monroe Memorial Concert


Monroe Commentary


Jazz in June


Giacomo Gates and Joe Cartwright Trio


Volcano Insurance


Ed Polcer and His All-Stars in Colorado


Curtis Salgado


NJO Alumni go Latin

September 2006

Concert reviews and commentary

Performance Review

Memorial concert draws audience of 600


By Tom Ineck


TOPEKA, Kan.—The purpose of the Jim Monroe Memorial Concert was two-fold—to pay homage to the late, world-class jazz promoter and to raise funds for a scholarship that would help ensure the continuation of Monroe’s legacy.


In both respects, the free July 23 event at White Concert Hall on the Washburn University campus was a success. Some three dozen musicians from all over the country showed up to pay their respects and to play in the rotational-set format that Monroe perfected during his seven years as music director of the Topeka Jazz Festival (TJF). From 1 p.m. to after 8 p.m. on this celebrative Sunday, players and singers moved on and off the stage in various combinations, often performing together for the first time.


Gerald Spaits and Bob Kindred [Photo by Tom Ineck]As always in such cases, results were mixed, sometime producing awkward moments of musical and personal incompatibility, but occasionally yielding surprising camaraderie among seemingly disparate players. As Monroe himself might have argued, it is that sense of surprise that is at the heart of all jazz improvisation.


Even before the concert, donations to the Jim Monroe Scholarship Fund had exceeded $31,000, and an additional $5,500 was collected at the door, according to Marcene Grimes, executive director of Topeka Jazz Workshop Inc. The fund was expected to net about $26,000 after expenses, she said.


An estimated audience of 600 turned out for the memorial concert. An exact count was difficult since, like the players, they rotated in and out of the auditorium throughout the day. What follows is a recap of some of the most memorable musical moments.


Gary Foster [Photo by Tom Ineck]Gary Foster was the perfect choice as the day’s artistic director. The woodwind player, based in Los Angeles, was a longtime friend of Monroe’s and a TJF regular. Foster and saxophonist Bob Kindred paired up for a wonderful rendition of “Beautiful Friendship.” Boston-based trombonist Phil Wilson sat in on a couple of numbers before adding West Coaster Stacy Rowles to the mix on flugelhorn. They matched nicely on Cole Porter’s “I Love You,” starting in ballad tempo then moving uptempo. Rowles proved a fine vocalist on “’S Wonderful.”


Rowles and Wilson later teamed up again with pianist Joe Cartwright, bassistJim DeJulio [Photo by Tom Ineck] Gerald Spaits and drummer Tom Morgan—a very compatible quintet—for a very satisfying set that included “Time After Time” and Ray Noble’s sadly obscure ballad “Why Stars Come Out at Night,” with Rowles caressing the vocal and Cartwright interjecting a typically outstanding solo.


Bassist Jim DeJulio had the luxury of traveling from L.A. with his own trio, which also featured pianist Ted Howe and drummer Joe LaBarbera. After expertly essaying “How High the Moon,” they turned to an off-kilter rumba version of Juan Tizol’s “Caravan,” an inspired rhythmic workout for the inventive LaBarbera. On “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me,” the piano and bass stated the melody in tandem.


Harry Allen and Dan Barrett [Photo by Tom Ineck]Trombonist Dan Barrett tipped his hat to the Mills Brothers on “If I Didn’t Care.” The great young tenor saxophonist Harry Allen joined Barrett on Ellington’s “All Too Soon.” Barrett’s take on “Besame Mucho” began as a rumba before shifting to a swing tempo and back.


Singer Julie Turner, with husband Tommy Ruskin on drums, Paul Smith on piano and Jennifer Leitham on bass, were impressive on Rodgers and Hart’s “Where or When,” and a fast rendition of “You Do Something to Me,” with admirable solos by Leitham, Smith and Ruskin, whose brushwork was especially notable at this tempo.


Tiger Okoshi [Photo by Tom Ineck]In typical grandiose style, trumpeter Tiger Okoshi began with a bravura and dramatic solo reading of “Ave Maria,” piercing the upper reaches of the auditorium without a microphone. He also exhibited his bright and brilliant, diamond-cut precision phrasing on “Some Day My Prince Will Come.” Dueting with bassist DeJulio on “Days of Wine and Roses,” Okoshi resorted to every trick in the book—including leaps, trills, valving and tonguing techniques. As if that was not enough, he set a blazing tempo on “Yesterdays,” trading licks with drummer Ruskin as he reached for the stratosphere.    


Baritone saxophonist Kerry Strayer fronted a fine six-piece ensemble whose front line also featured trumpeter Stan Kessler and trombonist Paul McKee, with pianist Paul Smith, bassist Bob Branstetter and drummer Joe LaBarbera. “Alone Together” was followed by a wonderful arrangement of “Out of Nowhere,” with an outstanding solo by Kessler and Strayer sounding a lot like his main influence, Gerry Mulligan.


Gary Foster and Bob Kindred [Photo by Tom Ineck]Gary Foster on alto and Bob Kindred on tenor returned for a soul-searching marriage of “I Thought about You” and “Body and Soul.” But it was tenor saxophone great Harry Allen who earned the day’s most enthusiastic ovation, as he illustrated his technique and soulfulness on “Just One of Those Things,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” and an incredibly fast-paced “The Man I Love,” which challenged the rhythm section (pianist Roger Wilder, bassist Branstetter and drummer LaBarbera) to hold its own. LaBarbera was most successful, tearing loose with a dynamic and driving percussion solo.


Ted Howe, Jim DeJulio, Harry Allen, Tom Morgan and Dan Barrett [Photo by Tom Ineck]Allen’s set would have been the logical high point at which to end the day’s proceedings and send everyone home smiling. In a programming faux pas that Monroe never would have made, two male vocalists with similar styles—David Basse and Giacomo Gates—were scheduled to perform consecutively. Programmed earlier in the day and in sets separated by instrumentalists, they both would have had a greater impact, especially Gates, who is one of the most underrated vocalists on the scene.


Giacomo Gates, Joe Cartwright, David Basse, Gerald Spaits and Tommy Ruskin [Photo by Tom Ineck]Instead, Gates had to follow a lackluster performance by Basse as time was running short. Backed by the compatible rhythm section of pianist Joe Cartwright, bassist Gerald Spaits and drummer Tommy Ruskin, Gates instantly connected with the audience on “Lady Be Good” and the ballad “P.S. I Love You,” proving himself a master storyteller of the heart. Gates and Cartwright share an affinity for the music of Thelonious Monk, apparent on the Monk tune “Well You Needn’t.” In a gracious gesture, Gates invited Basse back to the stage for a duet on “Centerpiece.”    


Overall, the concert lacked the “star power” of classic TJF programs, where (in 2001, for example) it was not unusual to encounter Ray Brown, Monty Alexander, Scott Hamilton, Eldar Djangirov, Karrin Allyson, Ken Peplowski, Jay Leonhart, Gerry Wiggins, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton all in the same day.


As homage to Jim Monroe, however, it was fitting to have so many Kansas City-area musicians participate with such enthusiasm and genuine love for the man and the music.  




Monroe succeeded despite abrasive style


By Tom Ineck


Jim Monroe at 2004 Topeka Jazz Festival [Photo by Tom Ineck]Jim Monroe’s single-minded, authoritarian style as director of the Topeka Jazz Festival from 1998 to 2004 occasionally irked musicians accustomed to more artistic freedom. After recruiting them from all over the country, Monroe would then dictate who would perform with whom and even what tunes they would play. 


It was a degree of micromanagement that often worked against the spontaneity that makes jazz so unpredictable. It also anchored the festival in the staid style of the swing era, precluding attendance by a younger audience and, ultimately, dooming the festival to oblivion.   


On the other hand, it is testimony to Monroe’s dedication and determination that the TJF survived against all odds for seven years under his leadership and that the Topeka Jazz Workshop Concert Series that he helped to found in 1969-70 continues to this day. It is likely that nothing could have saved the festival, although Butch Berman bravely carried on as artistic director for its eighth and final year.   


No one can dispute Monroe’s love and enthusiasm for jazz. He became hooked on the music while growing up in Kansas City, Kan., and as a retired insurance agent he attended jazz festivals around the nation, befriending musicians and fellow jazz fans and luring them to Topeka for the annual festival. He tirelessly worked the phones, wined and dined and pressed the flesh of prospective donors in order to guarantee that the Memorial Day weekend event was sufficiently funded, though it never made money. The Berman Music Foundation was a sponsor of the Topeka Jazz Festival from 1998 to 2002 and again in 2004.


Monroe was president of the Topeka Jazz Workshop Concert Series from 1977 until his death last year. He led the marketing effort to increase membership and oversaw the establishment and growth of several youth jazz scholarship funds to encourage more young musicians to study and play jazz. Along these lines, the Berman foundation sponsored the Topeka Jazz Festival Academy in 2002 and 2004. The workshop has been supporting young musicians since 1966, awarding a total of 212 scholarships.


Monroe was vacationing in southern Africa with his wife when he suffered a fatal heart attack and died Nov. 7 at age 76. Net proceeds of some $26,000 from the July 23 memorial concert will bolster the Jim Monroe Memorial Scholarship Fund and ensure that his legacy as jazz impresario and promoter will not be forgotten.



Performance Review

Christiansen and Trolsen best of Jazz in June


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—Overall, the 15-year-old Jazz in June weekly concert series has seen better days musically. The audiences and goodwill donations for the free performances, however, continue to grow.  


I attended only the final two of this year’s four Tuesday evening concerts, and by all reports they were the most musically satisfying of the lot.


Rick Trolsen and Gringo Do Choro [Photo by Tom Ineck]Rick Trolsen and Gringo Do Choro, a quintet from New Orleans, fused European melodies and Latin rhythms in that infectious Brazilian song form known as choro when they performed June 20. Trolsen’s intricate trombone lead lines blended nicely with Brazilian-born pianist Eduardo Tozzatto, mandolinist John Eubanks, bassist Peter Harris and drummer Wayne Maureau. The marriage of trombone and mandolin was especially interesting.


Rick Trolsen and Gringo Do Choro [Photo by Tom Ineck]“Tico Tico” evoked memories of Carmen Miranda in its exotic exuberance. Jobim’s “O Pato (The Duck)” also provided a firm footing for the evening’s Latin motif. Trolsen took the melody on his composition “Medicine Lodge” before turning it over to a playful interchange between piano and drums.


Trombone and mandolin merged on Jobim’s masterpiece “No More Blues (Saudade)” Other highlights included Jobim’s “No More Fighting” and the classic “Brazil.”  


Even more of a pleasant surprise was the relatively unknown Corey Christiansen Quartet, who appeared June 27. Based in the St. Louis area, Christiansen is adjunct guitar instructor at the University of South Florida and has authored more than 40 Mel Bay instruction books. Jazz in June committee member Ted Eschliman had recommended the young guitarist after seeing him perform last year at a Mel Bay workshop.


Corey Christiansen [Photo courtesy Corey Christiansen]Adding to Christiansen’s own considerable fretwork abilities were the combined talents of his cohorts—Swedish pianist Per Danielssen, bassist Ben Wheeler and drummer par excellence Danny Gottlieb, formerly of the Pat Metheny Group. It made for a volatile quartet of pros.


“Alone Together” got a swinging treatment, with Gottlieb sizzling on the cymbals and Wheeler providing some very impressive bass work. Gottlieb showed his sensitive and skillful brush work on a ballad rendition of “Darn That Dream.” The drummer reminds the listener of the great Shelly Manne, the ultimate in skill and sensitivity.


Christiansen arranged “All Blues” in a jazz shuffle beat that again illustrated Gottlieb’s talents. The drummer improvised over a riffing pattern that led into an astounding guitar solo. Another original arrangement transformed “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise,” in a minor key with a loping beat. With Gottlieb again using brushes, Danielssen took a bluesy solo that segued into a guitar statement that had echoes of John Scofield’s pinched tone and slithering lines.


Christiansen’s excellent “Roads” was followed by Denzil Best’s “Wee,” a swinging tune based on the ubiquitous “I Got Rhythm” changes. The guitarist soared on this one, alternating chords and single-note passages in an outstanding display of virtuosity, which in turn inspired a powerful drum solo in which Gottlieb gave a lesson in creating a one-handed roll on the snare. 


Jazz in June will no doubt continue to thrive. The free event drew a record audience of 7,000 at its second Tuesday concert this year. Just as important, however, is to maintain a high standard of musical quality. Let’s hope that the series organizers take that lesson to heart.



Performance Review

Planets aligned for Gates and Cartwright


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—Singer Giacomo Gates is a human barometer, able to instantly “read” a room and respond accordingly. He also possesses that rare personality trait that can bend an audience to his will, the gift of emotional interaction. No listener need feel “out of the loop.” All are made welcome to Gates’ very personal musical experience.


Giacomo Gates and bassist Geral Spaits [Photo by Rich Hoover]More than anything, that is what made his performance of April 7 at the Melting Spot in downtown Lincoln such a memorable event. That, and the fact that he was accompanied by Kansas City’s finest rhythm section, fronted by pianist Joe Cartwright and also featuring bassist Gerald Spaits and drummer Ray DeMarchi. The planets were aligned that evening, and those lucky enough to be in the intimate company of such artists were blessed.


Their appearance was made possible by the Berman Music Foundation.


The Cartwright trio kicked things off with a stunning rendition of that bit of Latin exotica called “Poinciana,” most memorably associated with pianist Ahmad Jamal. Gates then channeled Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s instructive lyric to the sprightly Miles Davis melody “Four.” Thelonious Monk’s “Let’s Cool One,” with original lyrics by Gates, showed the singer’s penchant for Monk’s music and his ability to negotiate the composer’s difficult changes.


Joe Cartwright, Giacomo Gates, Gerald Spaits and Ray DeMarchi [Photo by Rich Hoover]Even the standards of Tin Pan Alley find their way into Gates’ varied repertoire, as beautifully exemplified by his take on Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.” On Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments,” Gates delivered a full-throated scat interlude containing yodeling effects reminiscent of the great Leon Thomas. Cartwright’s bluesy piano solo expanded on Gates’ primal emotive power.


More than any other singer who came before him, Gates is indebted to Eddie Jefferson, both for his lyrical wordplay and his phenomenal vocalise. Gates paid homage on “Lester Leaps In/I Got the Blues,” while establishing his own unique approach to the changes on “I Got Rhythm.” Spaits injected a suitably rhythmic bass solo.


Charlie “Bird” Parker’s classic 1947 solo on “Lady Be Good” was the inspiration for Gates’ vocal gymnastics on the tune. Next, he whistle-mimicked a flute on Gershwin’s “Summertime,” even trading licks with Spaits. Cartwright took a brilliant solo before turning it over to Spaits for a bowed bass statement to end the first set.


Duke Pearson’s “Jeanine,” with lyrics by Oscar Brown Jr., provided a very hip and swinging vehicle for Gates and his smooth baritone voice. Monk returned with “Ask Me Now,” transformed by the Jon Hendricks lyric into “How I Wish.” One of the most satisfying performances of the evening was on “Five Cooper Square,” the Gates lyric to Monk’s “Five Spot Blues.” Cartwright and Gates proved their shared affinity for Monk’s music with Cartwright infusing Monk quotes throughout. It is obviously a tune with very personal resonance for singer and pianist alike.


Not even a speaker malfunction could darken the room’s spirits. Gates good-naturedly addressed the problem with the old saw, “When the speakers hum, it’s because they don’t know the lyrics.”


With consummate style and aplomb, Gates the storyteller introduced “Since I Fell For You,” establishing the mood and drawing the audience into the narrative circle. The Miles Davis-Oscar Brown Jr. standard “All Blues” was, indeed, very bluesy. For his rendition of “I Cover the Waterfront,” Gates turned to Eddie Jefferson’s lyrics inspired by the James Moody improvisation on the ballad standard, renamed “I Just Got Back in Town.”


Monk returned again to the program in the form of “Too Many Things,” a Gates lyrical transformation of “Think of One.” Feeling comfortable with the small, but enthusiastic audience in the intimate confines of the Melting Spot, Gates launched into a hilarious version of the soliloquy from “Julius Caesar,” liberally laced with hipster jargon.


It’s hard to imagine a more compatible unit than Gates, Cartwright, Spaits and DeMarchi. It is fitting that since this performance the singer and pianist have managed to collaborate on several club dates in the Kansas City area. We can only hope they will continue to work together whenever possible.



Performance Review

Twin Cities trio reunites in musical exploration


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—Jazz improvisers, and iconoclasts in general, are at their best when in the company of fellow free thinkers. Even more liberating is the opportunity to reunite with hometown friends who are equally open to mutual, musical exploration.


Such a rare opportunity was presented by the Berman Music Foundation June 3 at the Zoo Bar in Lincoln, where guitarist Luke Polipnick fronted the provocatively named trio Volcano Insurance. All three developed their jazz chops in Minneapolis, a musical hotbed that they still consider their home base. Bassist Chris Bates has been on the leading edge of that city’s new music movement since his tenure a decade ago with The Motion Poets, who performed in Lincoln in 1997. Drummer Joey Van Phillips and Polipnick, now in their mid-20s, have been friends since their teens.


It was apparent that the threesome was stoked and ready to burn when they took the stage around 10 p.m., and most of the audience of friends and curious jazz fans was receptive to experimentation. What follows are some random reflections on the evening.


“I-80 West” was inspired by Polipnick’s many hours traveling that long stretch of Interstate highway. It was aptly explorative and apprehensive, sort of like the uncertain feeling of passing a loaded semi-trailer truck at 80 miles per hour in a roaring blizzard.


On “Miles Mode” the guitarist expertly utilized the volume pedal, creating intensity and a sonic bite while running through arpeggios. Switching to electric bass, Bates kept a funky, infectious dub rhythm going on his composition “3x3=8,” which also had Polipnick dipping into dissonant chords and arrhythmic passages ala Bill Frisell.


“Legs on a Stick” employed complex changes, stop time and a fuzz-tone fade for effect. Bates took off on a blues shuffle, detouring on a solo acoustic bass excursion. Local sax phenomenon Chris Steinke took the stage for several tunes, including the standard “Alone Together,” performed in an unconventional manner with Bates on electric bass and Phillips showing his extraordinary skill in driving the trio while exhibiting frequent flashes of rhythmic brilliance.


The blues later emerged in its most elemental form when Polipnick dug into a fast and bluesy tune reminiscent of John Scofield. Lest the audience fail to recognize the blues progression as it flew by, the trio slowed down for a classic late-night blues improvisation.


Polipnick and his wife remain residents of Lincoln, but the guitarist will undoubtedly continue to explore new and interesting musical terrain.



Performance Review

"When Broadway meets Swing Street"


By Dan Demuth


Ed Polcer and his all-stars swung into Colorado Springs on Saturday March 25, leaving an SRO crowd in a swinging mood. Judging by the audience reaction during and after the concert, cornetist Polcer, vocalist Judy Kurtz and a hot quintet fulfilled all expectations. All of these musicians are at ease establishing rapport with the audience.


John Cocuzzi, Mike Weatherly, Tom Fischer, Ed Polcer and Tom Artin. [Photo by Dan Demuth]Perhaps mimicking too closely the touring days of yore, the “band van” suffered a breakdown in the wee hours of the morning en route to the Springs from Jackson Hole, Wyo. The venue, a large private room in Giuseppe’s Old Depot restaurant (a beautifully restored turn-of-the-last-century railroad station) provided a club atmosphere not totally removed from what one could have found on “The Street” in New York City when the likes of Eddie Condon and Benny Goodman were holding court. A friendly and efficient wait-staff, good food and bar service surrounding the entire event added to the ambiance.


Selections ran the gamut of Broadway standards, swung in a jazz mode but still retaining their original flavor. The first set included “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise,” “I Love Paris,” “Getting to Know You,” “Just One of Those Things,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,” “My Gal Sal,” “In My Solitude,” “I’m Beginning To See the Light” and “Strike Up the Band”. 


Mike Weatherly and Tom Fischer with singer Judy Kurtz and drummer Kevin Dorn. [Photo by Dan Demuth]Some brief bios are in order. Trombonist Tom Artin worked with the Smithsonian Jazz Repertory Ensemble, Louis Armstrong Alumni All-Stars, the World’s Greatest Jazz Band, Wild Bill Davison, Mel Torme’s big band, and Bob Wilber’s Benny Goodman revival big band, plus years as the house sliphorn at Eddie Condon’s in New York. John Cocuzzi on piano and vibes (who can also hit the skins) worked with Jim Cullum’s Jazz Band (“Live from the Riverwalk Landing”), performances in the D.C. area, and was the piano driving the Big Joe and the Dynaflows jump blues group.


Drummer Kevin Dorn, who is also an alumnus of Cullum’s band, has been featured with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, The Flying Neutrinos, Leon Redbone, The Manhattan Rhythm Kings and TV exposure on “After Breakfast” and “Good Day New York.” Tom Fischer, doubling on clarinet and sax, teaches jazz clarinet at the University of New Orleans. Well known at festivals and clubs in the Big Easy, his resume’ includes recording dates with Al Hirt and Banu Gibson.


Bassist Mike Weatherly has honed his chops on gospel, swing, Cajun and jazz. Mike has been featured in off-Broadway productions, a gospel series at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and performances for Nelson Mandela and the late Pope’s anniversary celebration.


Cocuzzi opened the second set, sitting solo at the keyboard, vocalizing and playing a great version of “Embraceable You.” Showcasing his blues background, he then asked for—and received—a few “amens” and jumped into a great rendition of “Caldonia,” with the rest of the band gradually segueing to a driving finish.


“I Guess I’ll have to Change My Plans” and “Write Myself a Letter” followed. Judy Kurtz continued the occasionally interspersed vocals with “Lucky So and So” and a rollicking version of “Them There Eyes.” Her background includes numerous performances at various centers, summer stock productions, the Lance Hayward Singers, New Horizons Vocal Jazz Ensemble and Stan Rubin’s Swing Orchestra. Her delivery reflects this training with a light jazz touch and just a smidgeon of cabaret style blending nicely.


Ed Polcer has a lengthy and all-encompassing portfolio, of which two experiences of note are outstanding. He was manager and co-producer of Eddie Condon’s club in New York for 10 years and performed with the Benny Goodman Sextet.


The set continued with “Careless Love,” then two requests “Chicago” and “Cabaret,” followed by a stunning jazz version of “America the Beautiful,” the writer of which was inspired by Pikes Peak, which dominates the skyline of Colorado Springs. “After You’ve Gone” closed out the set with the requisite encore of “When You’re Smiling,” very apropos, as it reflected the mood of the crowd.  



Performance Review

Concert for Curtis Salgado a huge success


By Phil Chesnut


PORTLAND, Ore.—On June 13 bassman and promoter John Lee and I werethe guests of Curtis Salgado at a very special benefit concert at the Theater of the Clouds in Portland's Rose Garden. This event was a fundraiser to assist Curtis with the massive medical bills incurred while battling the recently diagnosed liver cancer.


Curtis Salgado and Steve Miller [Photo by Phil Chesnut]With the support of so many friends, fans and artists, the Concert for Curtis was a huge success. Proceeds not only came from tickets, but from a giant silent auction with some high-dollar prizes that did very well. With the clout of this great blues city, and the help of so many, the benefit was truly worthy of this great bluesman. There have been many other locally-based benefits for Curtis recently, including ones from Seattle, Eugene, Ore., Fremont, Calif., and Omaha, showing how wide this master soul man's influence has spread.

I got to meet with Curtis for a short time before the show. He was in great spirits and was a bit taken aback by the huge support shown on this special night. Later, Curtis put on his usual masterful performance, demonstrating why he is truly one of the world's greatest soul singers. As a true showman, Curtis also demonstrated great courage and strength, considering his situation. In response, both fans and artists showed their love and support to a person who has done so much for both the music and the people.

Little Charlie Baty and Rick Estrin [Photo by Phil Chesnut]Opening the show was the Curtis Salgado Band, with a five-piece horn section and four-piece choir, the band showed off their huge sound. Curtis and his crew certainly set the high-spirited, soulful mood for the night. Following this great soul set came the familiar blues of Little Charlie & the Nightcats. Fronted by guitarist Charley Baty and vocalist and harp man Rick Estrin, the band continued the essence of things to come. A loud MTV rock band named Everclear played next, which gave me a chance to mingle in the halls, catching up with old Portland friends and checking out the many auction items.

Taj Mahal [Photo by Phil Chesnut]John Belushi's widow, Judith, took the stage next with some heartfelt stories of two friends who came together and how they forever influenced the blues. Following these tales of the REAL Blues Brothers, came—for me—the highlight of the night, Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band. Flying in from Europe to perform at this benefit, Taj and band put on a superb performance to the delight of the multitude.

Robert Cray [Photo by Phil Chesnut]Next to perform was Curtis’ old bandmate, Robert Cray. Cray demonstrated his own blues-based pop music that has made him popular with more than just blues fans. Following Cray came Northwest rock icon Steve Miller and his band. After performing a few Steve Miller gems, Curtis came out to finish this long set. This Miller-Salgado set was truly magical and worth the price of admission by itself.

If that wasn't enough, Cray came back out, along with various other band members, to create one killer all-star jam that lasted way later than the planned time. Although it was only a Tuesday, no one seemed to care.

All-star jam led by Curtis Salgado [Photo by Phil Chesnut]Although Curtis still has a tough row to hoe, he can rest assured that he is a man who is greatly loved and appreciated by thousands. At every performance of his I’ve ever seen, he always took the time to make the point about love and respect towards each other. After my experience at this special event, his healing words and insight carry more weight than ever.


Phil Chesnut, a former Lincoln resident now living in Seattle, is an occasional contributor to the Berman Music Foundation newsletter.



Performance Review

NJO gathered friends for Latin music fiesta


By Tom Ineck


The Nebraska Jazz Orchestra gathered some of its longtime friends for a Latin music fiesta May 25 at the Embassy Suites in Lincoln.


Entitled “Caliente,” the celebrative concert had the big band decked out in tropical shirts for a loose and exotic blend of island rhythms and bravura brass, as the featured guests took the stage in well-rehearsed rotation.


“One Mint Julep” got things off to a refreshing start, with Dave Sharp on alto sax and Bob Krueger on trumpet providing just the right dollop of spice.


Krueger’s trumpeter son, Paul, this year’s winner of the NJO Young Jazz Artist competition, was featured on three tunes. A mid-tempo rendition of “Just Friends” proved the younger Krueger a mature player with a good sense of articulation, intonation and the value of space. For Gerry Mulligan’s bop classic “Line for Lyons,” Krueger and tenor saxophonist Paul Haar teamed up with the NJO rhythm section. The smooth blues shuffle “How Sweet It Is,” from the pen of Basie favorite Sammy Nestico, displayed Krueger’s skill as he alternated between a muted and open horn. NJO saxes joined in with an impressive section soli.


Pianist Broc Hempel lived up to the promise he showed as a teen in the late 1990s, returning to his hometown for this special appearance. He was featured to good effect on Mark Benson’s “The Sapphire Necklace,” and Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower,” which was further flavored with flutes and clarinets in a Dave Sharp arrangement. A year in Brazil and several years studying with jazz masters James Williams, Harold Mabern, Don Braden and others have given Hempel additional depth, confidence and a feel for Latin rhythms.


In presenting the annual John Tavlin Award to longtime jazz educator Dennis Schneider, Tavlin gave a very personal testimonial to the Lincoln trumpet legend, recalling his own younger days as a student trumpeter under Schneider’s tutelage and the teacher’s lasting influence on the city’s jazz scene.


The first half ended with the lively Brazilian bossa “O Pato.” Hempel on piano and Ed Love on soprano sax created the appropriate whimsical tone.


Christ Varga took the spotlight on vibes for a lovely rendition of Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father.” Varga and the band returned to Brazil for Jobim’s standard “Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars).” His background as a multi-percussionist provides Varga with the skills to easily maneuver through the subtly shifting rhythmic patterns of the bossa nova and samba.


Haar’s emotive tenor sax lead voice on Billy Strayhorn’s melancholy “Chelsea Bridge” contrasted dramatically with the band’s brassy counterpoint. Jobim’s “Triste” brought to the stage trombonist Loy Hetrick, who played with the NJO in its infancy nearly 30 years ago, as Hempel provided the solid Brazilian pulse.


Juan Tizol’s “Caravan” is a sure-fire crowd pleaser. This version began with a percussion intro from guests Doug Hinrichs, Joey Gulizia and Chris Varga, in addition to solid regular Greg Ahl on traps. Great solo statements by Hetrick and Bob Krueger were followed by a final percussion barrage.


That set up the grand finale, in which 23 musicians crowded the stage for a rousing rendition of Tito Puente’s “Machito Forever.” An alto saxophone conversation between Dave Sharp and Mark Benson, in which they cleverly seemed to finish each other’s thoughts, set the mood for good-natured jousting among 16 horn players, four percussionists, bassist, guitarist and pianist, making for a thrilling conclusion to the 2½ hour concert, attended by nearly 350 people.




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