Jazz takes a measured approach to the 2020-2021 South Florida concert season, eschewing the current, COVID-19-ravaged year in favor of optimism starting in early 2021.
Which makes for an abbreviated schedule, yet one filled with younger, international distaff performers.
Those include Japanese pianist Yoko Miwa, Canadian trumpeter and vocalist Bria Skonberg, and East Coast/West Coast American vocalists Nnena Freelon (from Massachusetts) and Sara Gazarek (Washington).
Following its creative, virtual “Music at Home: Live From Arts Garage” series in recent months, the Delray Beach venue has cautiously reopened for in-person shows with reduced, socially distanced seating and other safety precautions. Initially scheduled to appear at the Arts Garage in March of 2020, pianist Yoko Miwa was likened to both Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans by Down Beat magazine in its four-star review of her latest CD, last year’s Keep Talkin’ (with bassist Will Slater and Brad Barrett and drummer Scott Goulding). Like many modern jazz artists, she segued into the genre via classical studies, relocating from Japan and auditioning on a lark at the Berklee College of Music in 1997 before earning a full scholarship and later becoming an instructor at the renowned Boston-based school. See the Yoko Miwa Trio at 8 p.m. Jan. 9 at the Arts Garage, 94 NE 2nd Ave., Delray Beach (561-450-6357, $35-$45).
Dark for most of 2020, the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts eased back into live shows via a new format in its intimate Rinker Playhouse. For Canada-born trumpeter/vocalist Bria Skonberg’s Jan. 14 appearance, there will be both early and late shows; limited cabaret-style seating at tables of four to increase social distancing, temperature checks prior to entry, and suggested parking on Level 3 of the garage in order to avoid use of the elevators. If temperature checks are taken after Skonberg’s performance, they might be considerably higher because of it. Now based in New York City, her Louis Armstrong-influenced playing and Anita O’Day-like vocals are likely to be featured on material from her latest CD, last year’s Nothing Ever Happens. See Bria Skonberg at 6:30 and 9 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach (561-832-7469, $196 for table of four).
A true Renaissance woman of jazz, vocalist, songwriter, arranger, producer, actress and playwright Nnena Freelon has garnered six Grammy Award nominations since starting her recording career with her self-titled 1992 debut. The 66-year-old vocalist has also toured and recorded with the likes of Ray Charles, Al Jarreau, George Benson, Aretha Franklin, Diana Krall, Ramsey Lewis, and Herbie Hancock; appeared in Las Vegas in “Georgia On My Mind: Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles,” and premiered her own multi-media theatrical presentation, “The Clothesline Muse,” in Philadelphia in 2013. In addition to her estimable talents on stage and in the studio, the Massachusetts-born Freelon’s degree in health care administration from Simmons College in Boston inspired both her Babysongs nurturing workshops and her spokesperson status within the National Association of Partners in Education. See Nnena Freelon at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13 and 14 at the Kravis Center’s Persson Hall ($45 + up).
Seattle having been the launching pad for rock artists from classic (Jimi Hendrix, Heart) to grunge (Nirvana, Soundgarden) may be part of the reason that native jazz singer Sara Gazarek remains one of the genre’s ultimate artists deserving of wider recognition. Yet still in her 30s, and with a recording catalog that started with her 2005 debut Yours, that recognition may be forthcoming. Gazarek’s latest offering, last year’s Thirsty Ghost, was Grammy-nominated and called “the type of album that can transform a career” by Bobby Reed in Down Beat. The singer’s range and musicality were nurtured by studies with vocalist Tierney Sutton and bassist John Clayton at the Thornton School of Music at USC, where she later joined the faculty. See the Sara Gazarek Quartet at 7 and 9 p.m. March 13 at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211th St., Cutler Bay (786-573-5316, $32.50).
The Kravis Center in West Palm Beach’s largest room, Dreyfoos Hall, has been its slowest to reopen, largely because members of its frequent classical orchestras and theatrical casts can’t safely get together in large groupings to rehearse. So Dreyfoos has eased open, with enhanced air filtration and additional cleaning and hand sanitization stations. Trumpeter Chris Botti, an annual regular during normal years, should reap the rewards and award his fans accordingly. With his estimable taste, tone and technique; model-worthy looks, and a celebrity dating history that includes TV personality Katie Couric, the 57-year-old Botti’s latest CD, Impressions, won a 2013 Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album. The versatile trumpeter has also collaborated on instrumental rock with King Crimson members Bill Bruford and Tony Levin, plus pop with star artists like Sting and Paul Simon. See Chris Botti at 8 p.m. March 16 at the Kravis Center’s Dreyfoos Hall ($29 + up).
Parts jazz, classical, pop, and world music, Pink Martini eschews such labels in favor of its own entirely unique musical synthesis. Consistently featuring 10-12 members, the orchestral group was formed in Portland, Ore., in 1994 by pianist Thomas Lauderdale, who was working in local politics but finding the musical entertainment at most fundraisers lacking. With an ensemble including multi-lingual female vocalists Storm Large and China Forbes, plus strings, horns and percussion, he certainly found a non-background music alternative. From the group’s 1997 debut CD Sympathique (with a reissued “20th Anniversary Edition” pressing in 2018) to collaborations with Phyllis Diller, the von Trapps, Rufus Wainwright, Ari Shapiro, Michael Feinstein, and the original cast of Sesame Street, Lauderdale and his self-described “little orchestra” have proven capable of nothing less than the sound of surprise. See Pink Martini at 8 p.m. March 27 at the Kravis Center’s Dreyfoos Hall ($29 + up).
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, to Spanish parents, 61-year-old saxophonist Ed Calle has earned the reputation as the ultimate sideman within the Miami music scene via his associations with artists like trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and vocalist Gloria Estefan. A professor of music business and production at Miami-Dade College, the good doctor rarely appears live under his own name in comparison to his busy calendar with those jazz and pop stars, but makes a forthcoming exception at the Arts Garage in Delray Beach. Fluent in those styles as well as Latin and world music, Calle has a handful of solo releases as well as touring credits with Carlos Santana, Chick Corea, the Bee Gees, and K.C. and the Sunshine Band. All of which prompted the late, great saxophonist Michael Brecker to once say, “Ed is likely the most versatile saxophonist on the planet.” See Ed Calle at 8 p.m. May 1 at the Arts Garage ($35-$45).
One of the all-time great jazz vocal groups, the Manhattan Transfer has encountered triumph and tragedy since forming in New York City in 1969. Tim Hauser was the group’s catalyst and anchor through the 1970s, when longtime current members Alan Paul, Janis Siegel and Cheryl Bentyne (who replaced Laurel Masse after she was involved in a serious auto accident in 1979) joined. The quartet would enjoy a rise to fame during the 1980s, winning 10 Grammy Awards, including performance and arrangement nods for its cover of “Birdland,” Joe Zawinul’s standard recorded with Weather Report, and the Best Jazz Vocal Performance award for its 1985 album Vocalese. Hauser’s death in 2014 meant the end of an era for the nostalgic quartet, but it’s likely to perform material from its 2018 CD The Junction, which included performances by Hauser, with replacement bass vocalist Trist Curless. See Manhattan Transfer at 8 p.m. May 14 at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE 8th St., Fort Lauderdale (954-462-0222, $43-$73).