Plenty of jazz artists make return trips to South Florida for the 2016-2017 season, although many haven’t performed here in recent memory. Yet what stands out most, as long as concert-goers are patient enough to wait until early 2017, are some intriguing pairings of artists.
Those include Gonzalo Rubalcaba playing with influential fellow pianist Chick Corea; vocalist Kurt Elling joining the quartet led by saxophonist Branford Marsalis, and versatile clarinetist Ken Peplowski teaming with the Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo.
Any fan of late electric bass titan Jaco Pastorius is familiar with his signature performance “The Chicken,” the strutting instrumental piece that combines the feels of traditional jazz and New Orleans-style funk. But even some fans may not realize that Pastorius didn’t compose it. The author is 75-year-old saxophonist and Bradenton-born Florida native Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis, whose roots and influences certainly crossed over with those of Pastorius. The versatile Ellis plays alto, tenor, soprano and baritone saxes; studied with Sonny Rollins, and co-led a band during the 1970s with saxophonist and Miles Davis alum Dave Liebman. Before that, Ellis co-wrote James Brown’s hits “Cold Sweat” and “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” while in the Godfather of Soul’s group; afterward he had a long tenure in singer Van Morrison’s band, plus a solo recording career that started in 1992 and continues through today. See Pee Wee Ellis at 8 p.m. on Oct. 1 at the Arts Garage, 94 N.E. 2nd Ave., Delray Beach ($30-$45, 561-450-6357).
Any musician born in Kingston, Jamaica, is logically expected to gravitate toward reggae, but Monty Alexander had other ideas. The pianist, now 72 years old, established his unique, Caribbean-infused jazz style after moving to Miami with his family in 1961, and then to New York City not long thereafter. Influenced by icons such as Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Wynton Kelly, Nat King Cole and Erroll Garner, Alexander also used a folk music influence to successfully stand out by not sounding like most traditional jazz pianists. His solo recording career started in the mid-1960s, and within 10 years, his love for Peterson came full-circle through recordings with the Canadian star’s old trio mates, guitarist Herb Ellis and bassist Ray Brown. Alexander’s most recent recordings are with the band that appears with him in Miami, the Harlem-Kingston Express. See Monty Alexander at 8 p.m. on Nov. 5 at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 S.W. 211th St., Cutler Bay ($37.50-$55, 786-573-5300).
Little about guitarist Ottmar Liebert’s heritage hints at his Spanish-influenced hybrid of jazz, flamenco, New Age, classical and pop music. Born in Cologne, West Germany, the 57-year-old did start out studying classical and flamenco guitar, but then gravitated toward rock in Germany and after a relocation to Boston. But a move to Santa Fe, N.M., in his mid-20s resulted in not just a lifestyle change, but a shift in Liebert’s tonal palette. Influenced by the acoustic work of jazz master John McLaughlin and flamenco icon Paco de Lucia, he founded the band Luna Negra and released his 1990 debut Nouveau Flamenco. Its bookend is Waiting n Swan (2015), with dashes of tango and reggae. Liebert says that the Luna Negra personnel changes with the seasons, the constant being bassist Jon Gagan, but drummer Chris Steele appeared on the latest record and the band’s February tour. See Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra at 8 p.m. on Nov. 11 at the Parker Playhouse, 707 N.E. 8th St., Fort Lauderdale ($37.50-$75, 954-462-0222).
The University of Miami is long recognized as one of the country’s top music schools, and its Frost School of Music’s Frost Concert Jazz Band continues an exalted lineage of former students and instructors from Pat Metheny to Jaco Pastorius. Directed by John Daversa, the big band has earned DownBeat magazine awards for best big band, outstanding performance by a college big band, and large jazz ensemble over the past decade. Often backing renowned guest artists like Randy Brecker, Slide Hampton, Joe Lovano, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton, the ace jazz orchestra performs with former Miles Davis saxophonist Dave Liebman next month. Mainly a tenor and soprano sax player, but also adept at flute and alto flute, the gifted Liebman brings material from a 30-plus-year solo recording career, plus additional experience in the bands of Elvin Jones and John McLaughlin. See Dave Liebman with the Frost Concert Jazz Band at 8 p.m. on Nov. 16 at the University of Miami Gusman Concert Hall, 1314 Miller Dr., Coral Gables ($20, 866-811-4111).
If you’re looking for an open-minded, veteran musical ambassador who best represents modern Afro-Cuban jazz traditions within the country’s newfound travel freedoms with the United States, Paquito D’Rivera is at least on the top shelf of candidates. The 68-year-old alto and soprano saxophonist and clarinetist was born in Havana, and studied privately with his father (a classical saxophonist) as well as at the Havana Conservatory of Music. But the young D’Rivera wouldn’t be confined to either jazz or classical styles. In 1973, he was on the ground floor of Cuba’s groundbreaking group Irakere (with other top-shelf candidates like 74-year-old pianist Chucho Valdes and 66-year-old trumpeter Arturo Sandoval), a percussive, Grammy-winning hybrid of jazz, classical, rock, and traditional Cuban music. D’Rivera, who defected from Cuba in 1981 and now lives in New Jersey, has earned 14 total Grammy Awards, the latest for his 2014 release Jazz Meets the Classics. See Paquito D’Rivera at 6:30 or 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 17-18 at the Arts Garage ($30-$45).
Among the standout bands that New Orleans has spawned, Galactic may qualify as a square peg. Unlike an iconic jazz institution like the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, it doesn’t feature a horn section, rather only one horn player in saxophonist Ben Ellman. And unlike funk forebears like The Meters, Galactic infuses its grooves with elements of jazz, rock, blues, hip-hop and jam bands. Guitarist Jeff Raines and bassist Robert Mercurio are the 22-year-old group’s founders, and Hammond organist Rich Vogel also jumped onboard in 1994, but so did its arguably most important element — drummer Stanton Moore. An expert in grooves influenced by drummers from Clyde Stubblefield, Jabo Starks and Zigaboo Modeliste to Dave Garibaldi, Mike Clark and John Bonham, Moore has metered Galactic from its 1996 debut Coolin’ Off through its latest release, Into the Deep from 2015. See Galactic at 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 19 at Revolution Live, 100 Nugent Ave., Fort Lauderdale ($25 advance, $28 day of show, 954-449-1025).
Interest in Afro-Cuban jazz may be at an all-time high now that Americans can legally tour the island nation. And South Florida, being within only a couple hundred miles, offers advanced intrigue via proximity. In its debut tour of North America, the stellar Havana Cuba All-Stars offer trumpeter Michel Padron, trombonist and trumpeter Eikel Venegas, vocalist and bassist Jesus Cutino, vocalist/percussionists Vicente Arencibia and Ricardo “Piqui” Fernandez, tres (three-string guitarist)/steel guitarist/vocalist Adolfo “Fito” Florian, percussionist and vocalist Eney Aranda, drummer and percussionist Yoan Sanchez, singing Spanish guitarist Yuniel Rascon, tres guitarist/bassist/vocalist Daniel Carnago, and violinists Raul Bermudez and Jorge Quevedo playing jazz inspired by traditional Cuban son styles. See the Havana Cuba All-Stars at 8 p.m. on Nov. 25 at the Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami ($39-$75, 305-949-6722), and at 8 p.m. on Nov. 26 at the Dreyfoos Concert Hall at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts ($15 + up, 561-832-7469).
Twenty-five years after naming itself for the state where it formed, doubting that it would ever play elsewhere, the California Guitar Trio continues to expand boundaries. Equally versed in the jazz, classical and rock genres, the acoustic, United Nations-worthy trio of Utah-born Paul Richards, Belgium native Bert Lams and the Japanese Hideyo Moriya has not only toured through North and South America, Europe and the Far East, but figuratively into space as well. The trio’s latest all-original recording, the improvisational 2010 release Andromeda, is a nod to the astronauts who awakened to their music aboard the NASA space shuttle Endeavour. Formed through a workshop taught by founding King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, the trio’s preceding record was Echoes, with covers of Pink Floyd, Queen and Lynyrd Skynyrd; its latest is Masterworks, with classical pieces by Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Barber, Pärt, and Vivaldi. See the California Guitar Trio at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 6 at the Rinker Playhouse at the Kravis Center ($39).
Jazz musicians not born and raised in the genre’s meccas, from New York City to New Orleans to Los Angeles, sometimes seem to be overlooked by comparison. Eighty-one-year-old tenor saxophonist Houston Person hails from Florence, S.C., but his soulful, expressive playing has been featured as a sideman on albums by Gene Ammons, Horace Silver, Richard “Groove” Holmes and Joey DeFrancesco — as well as through his own 50-year solo recording career. Person joins the trio led by 61-year-old pianist and Cleveland native Shelly Berg. Dean of the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, Berg may be best-known for his 10 years of educational work at UM and preceding 15-plus years at the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California. But the animated pianist has multiple Grammy nominations during a 20-year solo recording career. See Houston Person with the Shelly Berg Trio at 7:45 p.m. on Jan. 11 at the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center, 201 S.W. 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale ($50, 954-462-0222).
It’s a third musician that earns any musical collective the title of band or group, which makes the trio a special transformation. One of the classic trio lineups in jazz is guitar-bass-drums, which Trio Da Paz has added a special Brazilian flair to since it formed more than 25 years ago. Each member — guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist Nilson Matta and drummer Duduka De Fonseca — is among the most in-demand on their instrument in Brazil, meaning each instrumentalist has an additionally busy schedule as both sideman and solo artist. Thus, Trio Da Paz has managed only a handful of recordings over two-plus decades, yet those and its infrequent live performances are always worth the wait. The group’s 1992 debut, Brasil From the Inside, featured guests Herbie Mann (flute) and Joanne Brackeen (piano), and the all-acoustic instrumentation of Lubambo’s finger-picked acoustic guitar, Matta’s supple upright bass and Da Fonseca’s intuitive rhythms always mesmerizes. See Trio Da Paz at 8 p.m. on Jan. 13 at the Arts Garage ($30-$45).
There may be no more strange current jazz phenomenon than Pink Martini. And it likely could have only come from the mind of pianist and leader Thomas Lauderdale. A Harvard University graduate and Portland, Ore., native, he was working his way up the political ladder in his hometown in 1994, and formed his “little orchestra” to provide political fundraiser entertainment that was more inclusively appealing. And so the jazz/pop/Latin/classical crossover act was born, especially after Lauderdale recruited former Harvard classmate China Forbes as a vocalist. She now co-fronts the band, which features a cast of 12 horn, percussion and string players, with singer Storm Large. Pink Martini has even recorded the Charlie Chaplin-penned standard “Smile” with since-deceased comedienne Phyllis Diller. Its October release, Je de oui!, features guest vocals by singer Rufus Wainwright and National Public Radio’s All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro. See Pink Martini at 8 p.m. on Jan. 13 at Knight Concert Hall ($35-$115), and at 8 p.m. on Jan. 14 at Dreyfoos Hall ($25 + up).
Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis was the only one of the renowned musical Marsalis brothers (including saxophonist Branford, trombonist Delfeayo and drummer/percussionist Jason) who didn’t perform in South Florida last season. But Wynton is arguably the most recognizable jazz figure in the world, and regional audiences are no strangers to appearances by his powerful Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The 16-piece band also features trumpeters Ryan Kisor, Marcus Printup and Kenny Rampton; saxophonists Walter Blanding, Victor Goines, Sherman Irby, Ted Nash, Paul Nedzela and Joe Temperley; trombonists Chris Crenshaw, Vincent Gardner and Elliot Mason; pianist Dan Nimmer, bassist Carlos Henriquez, and drummer Ali Jackson. It’s a big band with no limitations — it makes standards to spirituals swing — all while Marsalis is seated unceremoniously in the middle of the pack amid the trumpet section, leading by example while soloing no more than anyone else. See the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at 8 p.m. on Jan. 20 at Knight Concert Hall ($25-$130).
Brazilian pianist and singer Eliane Elias’ breathy vocals and prodigious playing for the past 35 years may have set a template for a younger, current star with similar gifts, Canadian jazz princess Diana Krall. The 56-year-old Elias had only recently arrived in New York City from São Paulo to study at the Juilliard School when she was recruited for vibraphonist Mike Mainieri’s group Steps Ahead. This led to her emergence as one of the top young pianists on the Big Apple scene, plus participation in Steps Ahead’s stellar, self-titled 1983 debut album. A current reunion tour features both musicians, along with Elias’ husband, bassist Marc Johnson, saxophonist Donny McCaslin and drummer Billy Kilson. Elias’ first venture into solo recording was Amanda, her 1984 release with trumpeter and then-husband Randy Brecker. Her most recent recording, Made in Brazil, won the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album. See Eliane Elias at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 27 at Bailey Hall at Broward College, 3501 Davie Rd., Davie ($15-$58, 954-201-6884).
Call it vocal ease. Since 1969, Grammy-winning a cappella group the Manhattan Transfer has made the singing sound effortless while undergoing personnel changes and health-related challenges. The initial quintet was formed by Tim Hauser with Erin Dickins, Gene Pistilli, Marty Nelson, and Pat Rosalia. Following its 1971 debut album, Jukin’, Hauser downsized to a quartet, recruiting replacements Janis Siegel, Alan Paul and Laurel Masse. After four albums, Masse was injured badly enough in a 1978 car accident to necessitate being replaced by Cheryl Bentyne, who completed the lineup that catapulted the singing group to stardom in the 1980s. Hauser’s death two years ago brought about a fourth incarnation, with Trist Curless as his replacement. Claude McKnight’s Alabama-spawned vocal sextet Take 6 joins the Transfer, and likewise brings multiple Grammys for its 35-year blend of jazz, R&B and gospel styles. See Manhattan Transfer and Take 6 at 7:45 p.m. on Feb. 21 at the Parker Playhouse ($43-$63), and at 8 p.m. on Feb. 22 at Dreyfoos Hall ($15 + up).
One pianist is a 75-year-old American of Spanish and Italian descent who emerged out of Miles Davis’ genre-bending bands of the 1960s and 1970s to change the future of jazz/fusion keyboard playing (along with Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock and Joe Zawinul). The dual headliner is a 53-year-old Cuban whose dazzling technique was clearly influenced, in part, by his touring duo partner. Which makes the pairing of Chick Corea and Gonzalo Rubalcaba fascinating, because their styles are as dissimilar as they are complementary. Corea is an amoeba who’s as at home playing electric piano or synthesizer, as he’s proven with Return To Forever, his self-titled Elektric Band and beyond, as he is tinkling the unplugged ivories during his 50-year recording career. Rubalcaba’s more propulsive, percussive style is more acoustic piano-based, and more rooted in early classical training than Corea’s, as the Cuban virtuoso has proven over his own 30-year recording career. See Chick Corea and Gonzalo Rubalcaba at 8 p.m. on Feb. 24 at Knight Concert Hall ($45-$125).
So many factors go into who becomes a star or doesn’t, beyond talent, that it’s impossible to notate them all. There are also several different levels of stardom, some of which 53-year-old vocalist Karrin Allyson has attained, yet she’s been a talent deserving of wider recognition throughout her 25-year recording career. Perhaps the Great Bend, Kan., native’s geographic path held her back — she studied music at the University of Nebraska, and relocated to Minneapolis (not exactly a jazz epicenter) to start her career. Allyson’s impeccable phrasing, intonation, and ability to sing in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian surfaced after a 1992 move to Kansas City, where her independent debut, I Didn’t Know About You, proved popular enough to be reissued by Concord Records, her label ever since. A relocation to New York City in 1998 preceded five Grammy nominations, including for her latest, 2015’s Many a New Day: Karin Allyson Sings Rodgers & Hammerstein. See Karrin Allyson at 7:45 p.m. on March 8 at the Amaturo Theater ($50).
Grammy-winning saxophonist Branford Marsalis may not be as well-known as his younger brother, celebrated trumpeter and Jazz at Lincoln Center artistic director Wynton Marsalis, but he’s charted a career that’s arguably more intriguing. Early experience after studying at the Berklee College of Music in Boston included working with giants like Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie; his lengthy solo recording career started with Scenes In the City in 1984, and his work since with Sting, the hip-hop group Buckshot LeFonque, and filmmaker Spike Lee on several soundtracks has shown no boundaries. Marsalis’ current quartet includes pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner, and its latest recording, this year’s Upward Spiral, also features vocalist Kurt Elling — a fellow Grammy winner who’s also presenting his heady vocalese prowess with the quartet on this tour. See the Branford Marsalis Quartet with Kurt Elling at 8 p.m. on March 17 at Knight Concert Hall ($25-$130).
If you think the clarinet’s impact on jazz ended with the swing era of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, you haven’t heard Ken Peplowski. The 57-year-old Cleveland native’s 30-year recording career started with the simultaneous releases of his 1987 debut album Double Exposure and sideman work on recordings by vocalist Mel Tormé and pianist George Shearing, and extends to his recent solo recordings Enrapture, Maybe September and In Search Of…. Also adept at tenor saxophone, the versatile Peplowski nonetheless remains a swing and Dixieland throwback through his association with his primary instrument. His South Florida appearances include Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo, whose jaw-dropping technique (“One of the greatest guitarists I’ve seen,” says George Benson), 23 record releases, and bossa nova prowess indicate that Peplowski is even more versatile than his reputation indicates. See Ken Peplowski with Diego Figueiredo at 7:45 p.m. on April 12 at the Amaturo Theater ($50), and at 8 p.m. on April 14 at the Arts Garage ($30 + up).
Jazz may be America’s greatest cultural art form, having spread throughout the world over a century or so, and this season’s highlights don’t get any more worldly than this one. When it comes to Indian tabla drums, everyone else on the planet is playing for second place to 65-year-old Zakir Hussain. The Mumbai native’s wizardry on the set of hand drums, each with different sizes and pitches, has been featured since the 1970s with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart’s stellar world music projects (notably the Grammy-winning 1991 Planet Drum) and guitarist John McLaughlin (notably his groundbreaking Middle Eastern band Shakti). Joining him is another Mumbai native, 20 years his junior, in vocalist and santoor player Rahul Sharma. His instrument features shimmering tones achieved by its trapezoidal shape and 72 strings, played with a light wooden mallet or hammer in each hand. See Zakir Hussain and Rahul Sharma at 8 p.m. on April 14 at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center ($20-$37.50).