Since the dawn of the all-encompassing non-genre now known by the blanket term “pop,” and specifically since the popularity surges of Elvis Presley and the Beatles, it’s become increasingly difficult for jazz musicians to get substantial paying gigs.
Even pop players have since become relegated to legacy acts, but jazz — which has been called “America’s classical music” — is now hanging on via performers playing the catalogs of late pioneers like Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and the recently departed Wayne Shorter, if not show tunes. So it isn’t a world apart from symphonic orchestras recreating compositions by Bach, Beethoven and Mozart.
A few rare exceptions dot the landscape of South Florida’s small-scale forthcoming jazz season, most at only a handful of venues. As in pop, many predictable jazz names (mostly ignored in this year’s previews in both genres) venture south to soak up the sun, board a cruise ship for a working vacation, and/or entertain aging relatives and friends. In Palm Beach County, the prime jazz location is actually a West Palm Beach restaurant called Café Centro, where the trios of pianist Copeland Davis and bassist Susan Merritt combine to perform five nights a week.
Even events listed as jazz festivals usually include non-jazz luminaries to draw more folks out, and/or pop, cabaret and R&B performers pretending to play jazz by including pianists and horn players. Often all the above. But at least, unlike the pop concerts in this issue, very few high-end tickets reach the price of a used car, the exceptions being a jazz guitarist who was once a pop star in what must now seem like a previous life (Andy Summers) and one of the few instrumentalists who’ve reached bona fide jazz superstar status in guitarist Pat Metheny.
It’s even become increasingly difficult to get paid if you’re a jazz journalist. This February, JazzTimes — one of the world’s preeminent jazz publications since it was founded in 1970 — was acquired by the BeBop Channel Corporation from Madavor Media. The new CEO and artistic director, Gregory Charles Royal, immediately put a replacement staff in place, writing in the new-look publication’s first issue that Caucasian writers had an outsized voice regarding a largely African-American art form.
That contention is not without merit, yet such blanket statements are low-hanging fruit. The 62-year-old Royal is a veteran jazz trombonist, and each issue since February has featured an ad for his 2016 indie film World’s Not for Me, or him on the cover, if not both. All as the magazine’s previous contributors scramble to claim their pay for several previous issues. Signs of the jazz times.
After featuring several prominent touring jazz/fusion artists in recent years (Larry Carlton, Billy Cobham, Oz Noy, Aristocats, Greg Koch, Simon Phillips), the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton has shifted more toward rock, blues and R&B tribute acts in recent months. Thankfully, that changes starting early in the season with the Special EFX All-Stars. Led by guitarist Chieli Minucci (known for soundtrack credits and work with artists from Lou Reed to Celine Dion), the quintet will perform selections from two recent releases, Minucci’s solo acoustic album Someone’s Singing and the group’s 40th anniversary collection Twenty Twenty 2. The bandleader’s impressive all-star collection features violinist Karen Briggs (whose own far-reaching credits include Yanni, Diana Ross, the Wu Tang Clan, Dave Grusin, Chaka Khan, and En Vogue), keyboardist Lao Tizer (a rising star whose self-titled band’s latest album is the acclaimed Songs From the Swinghouse), bassist Dave Livolsi (John Scofield, Jazz Is Dead, Bill Evans, Roberta Flack) and drummer Joel Rosenblatt (Carlton, Chick Corea, Robben Ford, Lee Ritenour, Steps Ahead). 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Funky Biscuit, 303 SE Mizner Blvd., Boca Raton (561-395-2929, $40-$55).
A legacy act if there ever was one, the Brubeck Brothers Quartet pays homage to Dave Brubeck (1920-2012), the father and pioneering pianist who rose to stardom through the 1950s, particularly with a quartet featuring lyrical saxophonist Paul Desmond, iconic drummer Joe Morello, and anchoring bassist Eugene Wright. Bassist, trombonist and composer Chris Brubeck and drummer Dan Brubeck are the namesake principals of the quartet, which is rounded out by pianist Chuck Lamb and guitarist Mike DeMicco. Having recorded together since 1966, the two brothers certainly haven’t tried to insistently cash in since their father’s death more than 10 years ago. In truth, the late Brubeck cast such a long shadow through jazz history that it could be argued that his legacy hurt more than helped his sons to achieve stardom. With five CD releases, the quartet is certain to have plenty of original material to showcase at the intimate Lyric Theatre. But by popular demand, it’s also certain to reinterpret standards like Desmond’s composition “Take Five” and the elder Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo à la Turk,” the recognizable chestnut from his classic 1959 album Time Out. 7 p.m. Nov. 30, Lyric Theatre, 59 SW Flagler Ave., Stuart (772-286-7827, $45).
If you don’t know that guitarist Andy Summers plays jazz, you haven’t paid attention to his lengthy post-pop career. What made his trio The Police stand out from the late 1970s to mid-1980s was, in part, drummer Stewart Copeland’s world music and reggae influences, plus the jazz leanings of both Summers and singing bassist Sting. Summers’ subsequent solo career includes worthy tributes to both Thelonious Monk (Green Chimneys, 1999) and Charles Mingus (Peggy’s Blue Skylight, 2000). Other fusion efforts like Charming Snakes, The Last Dance of Mr. X and the recent, unaccompanied Harmonics of the Night display the compositional prowess that was also integral to The Police — as do the guitarist’s career collaborations with jazz/fusion and progressive rock icons like saxophonist Bill Evans, bassist Tony Levin, and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. A seemingly ageless 80-year-old, Summers is also an accomplished, published photographer and writer. His current tour is titled “The Cracked Lens + A Missing String,” and features his solo playing accompanied by a slideshow of his photographs. 8 p.m. Dec. 7, Wells Hall ($59-$719), 8 p.m. Dec. 9, Sunrise Theatre, 117 S. 2nd St., Fort Pierce (772-461-4775, $59.75-$69.75).
New Orleans is the quintessential American city for historically producing authentic acoustic jazz musicians, and the leader and namesake of Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue continues at least part of that tradition. Just don’t expect the artist formerly known as Troy Andrews to be completely traditional. The 37-year-old wind instrumentalist with the hip-hop nickname received his first trombone at age 4 in his family’s famed Treme area of the Big Easy. And it didn’t take long for the prodigy to start appearing on stage with notables, one of his specialties, including Bo Diddley, Lenny Kravitz, Kermit Ruffins, Irvin Mayfield, Maceo Parker, Little Big Town, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and the Foo Fighters. Andrews’ 20-plus-year album catalog also includes tour stops opening for Hall & Oates and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, along with recorded performances with U2 and Green Day and multiple appearances at the White House. The most recent five of his 12 album releases have been on major recording labels, including the critically acclaimed latest two on Blue Note, Parking Lot Symphony (2017) and Lifted (2022). 7:30 p.m. Dec. 29, Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Suite 70, Fort Lauderdale (954-564-1074, $79-$408).
Two artists known for their educational as well as musical prowess combine to form the Tierney Sutton/Shelly Berg Trio in one of the Gold Coast Jazz Society’s 2024 presentations. Sutton has remained underrated since starting her solo recording career in 1997, having been nominated for several Grammy Awards without taking one home yet. The 60-year-old singer’s pristine delivery and phrasing is the focal point of her veteran self-titled band, which was hand-picked by director Clint Eastwood to perform a soundtrack that her pianist Christian Jacob composed for his 2016 box office smash, Sully. The vocal department head at the Los Angeles Music Academy in Pasadena, Calif., Sutton’s trio includes flutist Hubert Laws and guitarist Larry Koonse. Berg is the gifted 68-year-old pianist who likewise has a lengthy career of recordings under his name, plus Grammy nominations, and who’s also dean of the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. Both headliners reached their current educational posts after lengthy tenures at another prestigious academy, the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles. 7:45 p.m. Jan. 10, Amaturo Theater, 201 SW 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale (954-468-3313, $65).
No last name resonates more over the last half-century of jazz than Marsalis, so the Branford Marsalis Quartet being the closing headliner at Pompano Beach’s three-day, multi-stage JazzFest 2024 qualifies as a major South Florida event. The patriarch of its namesake saxophonist was Ellis Marsalis (1934-2020), a renowned pianist and educator at multiple Louisiana universities. His other sons, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis and drummer/percussionist Jason Marsalis, have lengthy solo and session recording and touring careers, and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has been the most visible of the siblings through his combination of celebrity and musical prowess. Yet the 63-year-old saxophonist is the eldest brother; the most open-minded, and most versatile in playing every variety of saxophone over the course of his career. Having recorded and appeared with everyone from Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins to Sting, the Grateful Dead and Public Enemy, Marsalis’ veteran quartet with pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner has earned a Grammy Award amid multiple nominations. 8 p.m. Jan. 20, JazzFest 2024, Pompano Beach (www.pompanobeacharts.org/jazzfest, free general admission; $175 for three-day VIP pass).
The namesake Japanese pianist leading the Yoko Miwa Trio makes regular stops at the Arts Garage in Delray Beach, lending some original compositions to the venue’s frequent legacy and tribute act bookings. Miwa was initially scheduled to appear there with her trio in March of 2020 before COVID-19 intervened, but has been rescheduled for every South Florida jazz season since. After classical music studies in Japan, she auditioned on a lark at the jazz-conscious Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1997, surprising herself by earning a full scholarship and later becoming an instructor at the school. She was also the pianist of choice for Kevin Mahogany (1958-2017), one of the best and most creative male jazz singers of his generation. A fellow veteran jazz pianist, Benny Green, praises Miwa’s “clarity and strength … the honesty, care and depth of foundation she touches the piano with.” Along with acoustic upright bassist Will Slater and drummer Scott Goulding, the 2019 “Jazz Artist of the Year” winner within the Boston Music Awards will perform material from her nine critically acclaimed releases, including the latest, Songs of Joy (2021). 8 p.m. Feb. 16, Arts Garage, 94 NE 2nd Ave., Delray Beach (561-450-6357, $45-$50).
It’s strange to label someone who’s played with Jeff Beck, The Who, Hiromi Uehara, Toto, Pete Townshend, Mike Oldfield, 10cc and beyond underrated, but the British drummer and band leader of the quintet Simon Phillips Protocol qualifies. With his oversized drum kits, double kick drums and ambidextrous playing, the Los Angeles-based 66-year-old’s propulsive work with Beck (with whom he succeeded Narada Michael Walden and Richard Bailey and preceded Vinnie Colaiuta and Miami’s own Jonathan Joseph) in the 1980s practically made him the successor to former Miles Davis and Mahavishnu Orchestra drumming icon Billy Cobham, who’s 13 years his senior. In Toto, Phillips succeeded late pop giant Jeff Porcaro. The drummer’s Protocol band has existed with varying personnel since 1988, and the current incarnation features fellow Los Angeles-based musicians in former John McLaughlin keyboardist Otmaro Ruiz, saxophonist Jacob Scesney, guitarist Alex Sill, and longtime bassist Ernest Tibbs. The quintet is likely to perform material from Protocol’s entire catalog, but focus on its fifth and latest release, logically titled Protocol V, on which all current members are featured. 7 p.m. March 6, Funky Biscuit ($40-$55).
Canadian trumpeter and vocalist Bria Skonberg and Pittsburgh-born singing trumpeter Benny Benack III combine for a youthful, brass-infused variety show at Stuart’s premier theater late in the 2023-2024 jazz season. British Columbia native Skonberg is the duo’s better-known quantity, having won a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy Award) since moving to New York City in 2010. Now with a handful of album releases under her own name, Skonberg has been compared to Louis Armstrong as a player and Anita O’Day as a singer by Nate Chinen in the New York Times. The 32-year-old Benack is a notable performer in both jazz and cabaret whose recent success points toward potential stardom. He performed with the house band for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert in November of 2022; released his third studio album, Third Time’s the Charm, this June, and was voted the number two “Rising Star” male jazz vocalist in the August issue of DownBeat magazine. With both principals being composers as well as masterful musicians and charismatic singers, everything from original material to jazz standards, with vocals or as instrumentals, is possible. 7 p.m. March 10, Lyric Theatre ($50).
The vocalist leading the Cyrille Aimée Quartet has been a fearless rising star since the 39-year-old started singing on street corners and in gypsy encampments in her native France as a child. Since then, she’s won both the Montreux Jazz Festival Vocal Competition in 2007 and the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition in 2012, released a dozen albums, sung at the famed Apollo Theatre in New York City, and even appeared on Broadway. Aimée co-starring with actress Bernadette Peters in a Stephen Sondheim tribute at New York’s City Center was the inspiration for many of her latest endeavors. She not only released the critically lauded Move On: A Sondheim Adventure in 2019, but also shared the adventure in a TEDx Talk, master classes, and in addresses at the Conference on World Affairs. Aimée’s latest release is I’ll Be Seeing You (2021), her duo recording with guitarist and longtime collaborator Michael Valeanu. Also a native of France, the guitarist and Aimée meeting in Brooklyn seemed almost pre-destined, and the duo setting exemplifies why the Wall Street Journal has called Aimée “one of the most promising jazz singers of her generation.” 7:45 p.m. March 13, Amaturo Theater ($65).
Thank goodness Pat Metheny was once a music professor at the University of Miami, since it’s unlikely that the guitarist might make annual treks to the southern portion of our cylindrical state otherwise. The 69-year-old Missouri native was playing at a club in Kansas City in his formative years when he was approached by UM’s dean of music, Bill Lee (father of famed bassist Will Lee), and Metheny would also go on to also teach at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. As a player and composer, the guitarist is one of the architects of the modern sounds of both jazz/fusion (through his bands and his use of guitar synthesizer) and traditional jazz (through his solo works and clean-toned playing). A 20-time Grammy Award winner, his 50-year career of recordings includes the gems Bright Size Life (1975), American Garage (1979), Offramp (1982), Imaginary Day (1997), Trio 99/00 (2000), Speaking of Now (2002), The Unity Sessions (2016), and Dream Box (2023). That latest album is a collection of solo performances that Metheny will focus on for his current solo tour, with an emphasis on combining his jazz/fusion and traditional sides. 8 p.m. March 19, Wells Hall ($59-$1,179), 7 p.m. March 23, Lyric Theatre, Stuart ($90).
The Grace Kelly Quartet features one of the most versatile artists in modern jazz — an alto, soprano and baritone saxophonist as well as a vocalist — as its namesake leader. Not to be confused with the late actress and former princess of Monaco with the exact same name, Kelly is a 31-year-old Massachusetts native of Korean ancestry, and a musical prodigy who started performing professionally before she became a teenager. Her debut album, Dreaming, was released when she was only 12 years old, and Kelly graduated from the prestigious Berklee College of Music at age 19 in 2011. Her prodigious talents are displayed on more than a dozen solo recordings, which collectively include veteran collaborators like keyboardists Monty Alexander and Jon Batiste, saxophonist Phil Woods, guitarists Russell Malone and Adam Rogers, bassist Michael League, and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. Kelly’s most recent efforts include her latest album, All That I Need, and a forhcoming project called “At the Movies: Grace Kelly With Strings” with a 15-piece ensemble, inspired by both her love for classic and contemporary films and the banner saxophone recording Charlie Parker With Strings. 7:45 p.m. April 10, Amaturo Theater ($65).