Jazz may be at a generational crossroads within the 2019-2020 season in South Florida. More and more presentations are becoming tributes to icons, echoing centuries of classical music and, more recently, pop and classic rock. A couple such nods to deceased legends are included here. Yet original jazz material is increasingly requiring deeper research.
Shows that could at least partly fall outside the chestnut realm include refreshing jazz/fusion bookings at the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton (including bands led by Israeli guitarist Oz Noy and British drummer Simon Phillips), plus female artists that include bassist/vocalists Kate Davis and Nicki Parrott and banjoist Abigail Washburn (appearing with husband and acclaimed fellow banjoist Bela Fleck).
Only 28 years old, singing upright bassist and Oregon native Kate Davis played both bass and violin in the Portland Youth Philharmonic before relocating to the Manhattan School of Music to study jazz 10 years ago. In 2014, her YouTube performance with pianist Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox band of Meghan Trainor’s pop hit “All About That Bass” — re-titled “All About That (Upright) Bass” — received more than eight million hits. Davis earned further exposure by subbing for Grammy winner Kurt Elling, who was suffering from laryngitis, in a 2015 appearance with opera star Renee Fleming on the PBS special American Voices. The singing bassist’s holiday recording A Kate Davis Holiday (2009) and live recording Live at Jimmy Mak’s (2010) are bookended by her 2008 debut Introducing Kate Davis and this year’s Trophy. See Kate Davis at 8:30 p.m. Nov. 2 at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 S.W. 211th St., Cutler Bay (786-573-5300, $35-$40).
Formed in 1981, British act Acoustic Alchemy has variously been tagged as either smooth jazz or New Age, although neither is an exact fit. Initially founded by acoustic guitarists Simon James (on a nylon-string instrument) and Nick Webb (steel string), the group’s non-electric status gives it as much in common with folk, chamber jazz and roots music. Despite not being overly commercial, and many personnel changes, the band has persevered for nearly 40 years. James left soon after its formation, replaced by guitarist Greg Carmichael, still a member. He and Webb brought Acoustic Alchemy acclaim as an in-flight performing duo on Virgin Atlantic Airways flights. Webb died of pancreatic cancer in 1998, and was replaced by guitarist Miles Gilderdale, also still a member. The two now form a nucleus that’s rounded out by musicians like guitarist Gary Grainger and keyboardist Anthony White. See Acoustic Alchemy at 7 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart (772-286-7827, $335).
Israel-born, New York City-based guitarist Oz Noy’s 10-CD recording career is bookended by highlights, from his 2006 debut Oz Live and 2007 studio followup Fuzzy to this year’s sublime Booga Looga Loo. Featuring an all-star cast including bassists Will Lee, John Patitucci and James Genus, and drummers Dave Weckl, Vinnie Colaiuta and Steve Ferrone, the latest disc — like most of Noy’s catalog — epitomizes his motto of, “It’s jazz; it just doesn’t sound like it.” A guitarist capable of channeling influential players from John Scofield to Stevie Ray Vaughan to Frank Zappa, Noy’s touring trio features Weckl, the technical jazz/fusion maestro named “One of the 25 best drummers of all-time” by Modern Drummer magazine, and French bassist Hadrien Feraud (who’s worked with John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, and Mike Stern). See Oz Noy at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Funky Biscuit, 303 S.E. Mizner Blvd., Boca Raton (561-395-2929, $20-$40).
The last time many South Floridians saw ageless 93-year-old vocalist Tony Bennett live was in February of last year, when he ran — yes, ran — across the stage to wave goodbye to an adoring capacity crowd at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. Looking, acting and singing 20 years younger than his age, Bennett has been a nostalgia act for decades, but his nostalgia is transcendent. With more than 100 album releases, 80 singles (including his star-launching “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in 1962), and 19 Grammy Awards, including for “Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album” for his 2018 release Tony Bennett Celebrates 90, the artist formerly known as Anthony Dominick Benedetto still bears a voice that’s a national treasure. Fans will know what to expect, and as always, Bennett will deliver, with a string of hits that blend jazz, pop, and easy listening styles. See Tony Bennett at 7 p.m. Dec. 8 at Hard Rock Live, 5747 Seminole Way, Hollywood (866-502-7529, $120-$863).
With her sensual voice and magazine-cover looks, vocalist Jane Monheit appeared to be the next big thing in jazz when she rocketed out of the gate at age 22 with her 2000 debut CD, Never Never Land. But reality tends to set in rather quickly in music in general, and jazz in particular. Now 41, the native New Yorker has enjoyed a solid if unspectacular career that includes two Grammy nominations and collaborations with John Pizzarelli, Michael Buble, and Terence Blanchard. On her latest release, The Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald (2016), Monheit wisely enlisted producer, arranger and trumpeter Nicholas Payton, who helped her conquer the challenge of honoring the greatest voice in jazz history. Her touring band includes pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Neal Miner, and drummer Rick Montalbano. See Jane Monheit at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14-15 in Persson Hall at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach (833-215-5121, $39 + up).
Jamaica is far better-known for producing reggae stars than jazz icons, but Kingston-born pianist Monty Alexander has defied the odds during his 60-year career. Now 75 years old, the veteran pianist started his career as a teenager in his native country in 1958 before moving to Miami with his family in 1961. Alexander recorded his debut album, Alexander the Great, at age 20 in Los Angeles in 1964. His instrumental mix of bebop, blues and native Caribbean influences created a unique playing style that became more evident after the young musician relocated to New York City, and recording sessions with vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Ray Brown, and guitarist Ernest Ranglin. Alexander’s expansive solo list of recordings includes trios with both legendary reggae (drummer Sly Dunbar, bassist Robbie Shakespeare) and jazz (drummer Jeff Hamilton, bassist John Clayton) rhythm sections. See the Monty Alexander Trio at 8 p.m. Jan. 18 at Bailey Hall at Broward College, (954-201-6884, $41-$51).
Forty-seven-year-old trumpeter John Daversa may be best-known as chair of Studio Music and Jazz at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, and as director of the Frost Concert Jazz Band. But the versatile bandleader and musician leads both big bands and small groups under his name, and has recording credits that include Burt Bacharach, Fiona Apple, Joe Cocker, Bob Mintzer, Regina Spektor, and the Yellowjackets. Daversa earned 2019 Grammy Awards for “Best Improvised Solo,” “Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album” and “Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella” for his 2018 release American Dreamers: Voices of Hope Music and Freedom. His self-titled small band also features alto saxophonist/flutist/vocalist Katisse Buckingham, tenor saxophonist Robby Marshall, keyboardist Tommy King, bassist Jerry Watts Jr. and drummer Gene Coye. See the John Daversa Small Band at 8:30 p.m. Jan. 18 at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center ($30-$35).
Unlike younger brother and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, a purist who only performs traditional jazz and classical music, 59-year-old saxophonist Branford Marsalis has exhibited an open mind during a 40-year career. Capable of all varieties of sax (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone), Marsalis emerged from the New Orleans area as part of the uber-talented offspring of Ellis and Dolores Marsalis. While still a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, he was recruited by drummer Art Blakey for his Jazz Messengers group. Shortly after, he drew Wynton’s ire by joining Sting’s heady pop band. But Marsalis’ long-standing quartet, with pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner, has displayed traditional chops through this year’s release, The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul. See Branford Marsalis at 3 p.m. Jan. 19 at The Society of the Four Arts, 100 Four Arts Plaza, Palm Beach (561-655-7226, $30), and at 7 p.m. Jan. 22-23 at the Lyric Theatre ($102-$338).
Ever since Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and French violinist Stephane Grappelli formed their famed Hot Club of France band from 1934-1948, other acts have paid homage to its time-honored musicality and virtuosity. The Hot Club of San Francisco features guitarist Paul “Pazzo” Mehling, vocalist/guitarist Isabelle Fontaine, violinist Evan Price, guitarist Jordan Samuels and bassist Sam Rocha, and has been doing so from a Bay Area base for more than 30 years. Also influenced by the music of The Beatles, Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks, mandolinist Dave Grisman, and violinist Stuff Smith, the quintet features acoustic instrumentation and alter egos such as Le Jazz Hot (when it plays locally in San Francisco) and the Ivory Club Boys (in recent electrified homages to Smith). Mehling is a nylon-string master; Fontaine was born and raised in France, and Price is a fiddle champion. See the Hot Club of San Francisco at 7 and 9 p.m. on Feb. 8 at South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center ($35-$40).
Underrated 63-year-old vocalist/guitarist Allan Harris has been called the “heir apparent to Nat King Cole” by the New York Times and “my favorite singer” by Tony Bennett. The Brooklyn native’s soulful, versatile baritone voice is often imbued by his bluesy guitar playing, resulting in unique fusions of different styles like on his classically tinged release Here Comes Allan Harris and the Metropole Orchestra (1996) and his Americana tale of 19th-century westward expansion, Cross That River (2006). But Harris may be best-known for his creative salutes to jazz giants like the 1999 release The Music of Duke Ellington, 2001 Billy Strayhorn salute Love Came: The Songs of Strayhorn, Nat King Cole: Long Live the King (2010), and last year’s The Genius of Eddie Jefferson. This Black Box Theater performance is titled “Long Live Nat King Cole.” See Allan Harris at 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 29 at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center ($30-$35).
Playing in South Florida is always a homecoming for trumpeter and Miami native Terell Stafford. The well-versed 52-year-old, who’s also director of Jazz Studies at the Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University in Philadelphia, also grew up in Chicago before earning a degree in music education from the University of Maryland and one in classical trumpet performance from Rutgers University in New Jersey (after fellow trumpet giant Wynton Marsalis suggested he study there with Dr. William Fielder). Having classical technique within jazz has increasingly become a recipe for success, and has resulted in Stafford’s 25-year-plus catalog of session credits and recordings as a leader, and his being called “one of the great players of our time” by legendary former John Coltrane pianist McCoy Tyner. See Terell Stafford at 7:45 p.m. March 11 at the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 S.W. Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale (954-462-0222, $120-$279).
Sixty-two-year-old drummer Simon Phillips has been playing professionally since age 12, and rose to prominence through his explosive recording work on, and live touring performances in support of, guitarist Jeff Beck’s 1980 album There and Back. Phillips’ subsequent session catalog includes Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend, Joe Satriani and Peter Gabriel, and he had a 21-year run with the pop band Toto from 1992-2013. More recent exploits include Japanese pianist Hiromi’s trio, with bassist Anthony Jackson, from 2010-2017. Phillips is an explosive drummer akin to a British Billy Cobham, and his Protocol 4 project includes noted jazz/fusion guitarist Greg Howe, keyboardist Otmaro Ruiz (who’s worked with John McLaughlin, Tito Puente, and Arturo Sandoval), and bassist Ernest Tibbs (Allan Holdsworth, Scott Henderson, and Andy Summers). See the Simon Phillips Protocol 4 at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. on March 26 at the Funky Biscuit ($35-$55).
There may be no more arduous a task in modern music than leading a jazz big band, yet pianist, arranger and musical director Oscar Hernandez has commandeered recordings by the Spanish Harlem Orchestra since its 2002 debut, Un Gran Dia En El Barrio. Founded with producer Aaron Levinson in 2000, the 13-piece band has since earned three Grammy Awards, and also features vocalists Jeremy Bosch, Carlos Cascante and Marco Bermudez, saxophonist/flutist Mitch Frohman, trumpeters Hector Colon and Manuel “Manesco” Ruiz, trombonists Reynaldo Jorge and Doug Beavers, bassist Gerardo Madera, and percussionists Jorge Gonzalez, George Delgado and Luisito Quintero. The orchestra will perform selections from its latest Grammy winner (for “Best Tropical Latin Album” in 2019), Anniversary. See the Spanish Harlem Orchestra at 8 p.m. March 28 at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center ($36.50-$44).
Has anyone ever had more impact on their instrument than banjoist Bela Fleck? At the very least, the 61-year-old is in the rare air of transformative musicians like bassist Jaco Pastorius, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, and drummer Buddy Rich. Fleck’s 30-year-old group Bela Fleck & the Flecktones invented banjo fusion through his interaction with other incredible musicians like brothers Victor Wooten (bass) and Roy “Futureman” Wooten, who plays an electric “synthaxe drumitar” shaped like a guitar. Fleck also traced his instrument’s roots to Africa through an outstanding 2008 documentary, Throw Down Your Heart, and toured and recorded for more than a decade in a duo with pianist Chick Corea. Fleck’s latest duo is with wife and fellow banjoist and singer Abigail Washburn, the 41-year-old who had a successful career even before recording three CDs with her 15-time Grammy-winning husband. See Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn at 7 p.m. May 5 at the Lyric Theatre ($354).
Bassist/vocalist Nicki Parrott has a surprisingly deep catalog of recordings for an artist who only started her professional career in 2000. The native of Australia studied at the New South Wales Conservatory of Music in Sydney before relocating to New York City in 1994, and studied upright bass there with Rufus Reid, Ray Brown and John Clayton. Earning the slot as bassist for guitarist Les Paul’s trio during his weekly performances in the Big Apple, beginning in 2000, brought her significant visibility. Parrott’s list of releases since includes side-woman credits with Paul, clarinetist/saxophonist Ken Peplowski, and keyboardist Rachel Z. Highlights under Parrott’s own name include Moon River (2007), Like a Lover (2011), Sentimental Journey (2015), From Joplin to Jobim (2016), Stompin’ at the Savoy: A Tribute to Ella & Louis (2018) and New York to Paris (2019). See the Nicki Parrott Trio at 7:45 p.m. May 13 at the Amaturo Theater ($82-$97).