“Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny,” Frank Zappa announced during the performance of his dizzying, bop-infused composition “Be-Bop Tango (of the Old Jazzmen’s Church)” on the 1974 live album Roxy & Elsewhere.
Hopefully, his satirical words about the genre’s decay aren’t proving prophetic nearly a half-century later. The COVID-19 pandemic altered the second half of South Florida’s 2019-2020 jazz season, and reduced 2020-2021 to a handful of venues and performances. Several here are rescheduled, some more than once, since early last year.
And with the area leaning all too heavily on live tribute acts, very few of which would be a large draw in jazz, the delta variant-impacted 2021-2022 season looks all too much like a case of history repeating. Will jazz, not the most popular musical art form since the mid-20th Century, finally wither? Survive? Or even thrive the way blues, another venerable American genre, has?
Much has changed in the 18 months since fusion behemoth Brand X was set to play its first-ever show in all of Florida last year. COVID-19 postponed that event at the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton, and denied area audiences the chance to see 73-year-old Percy Jones, the Welsh fretless electric bassist whose inimitable ideas and sound made him the European contemporary to Jaco Pastorius through the 1970s. Before he left the band after 45 years, taking brilliant Miami-raised drummer Kenny Grohowski with him to form the group PAKT, Jones was on every Brand X album, including early gems Unorthodox Behaviour (1976), Masques (1978), Product (1979), and Do They Hurt? (1980). American guitarist John Goodsall remains Brand X’s only original member, joined by longtime keyboardist Chris Clark and percussionist Scott Weinberger. Ric Fierabracci replaces Jones, and Greyson Nekrutman is the highly-lauded new drummer, joining past luminaries like Phil Collins, Kenwood Dennard, Chuck Burgi, Mike Clark, and Grohowski. Fans can expect new material, plus tracks from its 1976 debut through its bookend, Manifest Destiny (1997). See Brand X at 9 p.m. Oct. 29, and 6 and 9 p.m. Oct. 30, at the Funky Biscuit, 303 S.E. Mizner Blvd., Boca Raton ($35-$60, 561-395-2929).
A towering jazz presence literally and figuratively, 80-year-old, 6-and-a-half-foot-tall Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes has amassed multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy Awards since starting his solo recording career in the 1960s and co-founding seminal Cuban jazz band Irakere in the 1970s. The dazzling pianist’s first Grammy came in 1980 for that group’s self-titled effort (Best Latin Recording); his first Latin Grammy in 2001 for his Live at the Village Vanguard (Best Latin Jazz Album). Valdes’ father was Bebo Valdes (1918-2013), the renowned composer, pianist and director of the Orquesta Sabor de Cuba and the orchestra at the island nation’s famed Tropicana Club, where his son often sat in awe during his youth. One of Valdes’ latest releases is the 2017 album Familia: Tribute To Bebo & Chico, recorded with fellow pianist Arturo O’Farrill, whose father was Havana-born pianist, composer and arranger Chico O’Farrill (1921-2001). In Miami, Valdes will present The Creation, his new work for big band, Afro-Cuban percussion and vocals, with the Yoruban Orchestra. His creation encompasses jazz, blues, ritual, and African music. See Chucho Valdes at 8 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami (305-949-6722, $217-$586 for six-show Jazz Roots subscription).
A common complaint from folks who say they don’t like jazz is that music in the genre tends to lack a rhythmic groove. In that case, New Orleans-based band Galactic can open doors. Formed in 1994 by guitarist Jeff Raines and bassist Robert Mercurio, childhood friends from Maryland who moved to the Crescent City to attend college before becoming enamored with the city’s thriving funk scene, the lineup still also includes early additions Ben Ellman (saxophone, harmonica), Rich Vogel (keyboards), and Stanton Moore (drums, percussion). Trumpeter Shamarr Allen joined in 2016, and vocalist Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph has been a mainstay for the past several years. The group’s early funk roots laid the foundation that’s produced offshoot branches into jazz, aided by the horn section of Ellman and Allen, hip-hop (with guest rappers on its 2007 recording From the Corner To the Block), rock (touring with Living Colour singer Corey Clover from 2011 to 2014), and jam band territory. And Moore, a drummer who could make a polka sound funky, is the key to it all. Expect tunes from the band’s latest effort, 2019’s Already Already Already, plus its latest single featuring Joseph, last year’s “Float.” See Galactic at 8:30 p.m. Nov. 5 at Revolution Live, 100 Nugent Ave., Fort Lauderdale (954-449-1025, $26.50-$28).
Perhaps it’s because she hails from Seattle, a city that spawned rock legends like Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s, Heart in the 1970s, and the grunge sensations of the 1990s, but jazz vocalist Sara Gazarek has flown too much under the radar since releasing her debut album, Yours, in 2005. Now based in Los Angeles, Gazarek studied under talents like singer Tierney Sutton and bassist John Clayton at the Thornton School of Music at USC, later joining them as faculty. But Yours was recorded upon Gazarek’s college graduation at age 20, which she admits caused pressure she had trouble processing. The soaring vocalist’s latest recording Thirsty Ghost, a 2020 Grammy Award nominee for Best Jazz Vocal Album, presents a different pressure, but one that an artist now in her late 30s sounds more equipped to conquer. Gazarek says that Thirsty Ghost “explores that honest, messy, beautiful place of hunger, thirst, wanting more — more connection, more transparency, a more whole-hearted experience that occurs when we address the lessons that come with taking a deep look at adulthood…my hope is that my audience will see their own whole-hearted experiences reflected in this music — the light and the dark.” See the Sara Gazarek Quartet at 8 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Arts Garage ($35-$40).
Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis emerged out of New Orleans’s first family of jazz to become its most famous member during the 1980s, even starting a wave away from jazz/fusion and smooth jazz and signaling a return to tradition through his “Young Lions” movement. Having turned 60 years old this fall, the now-seasoned lion has earned two fistfuls of Grammy Awards and even a 1997 Pulitzer Prize — the first ever for a jazz composition — for his oratorio Blood on the Fields. Marsalis had started working with Lincoln Center in New York City a decade before that honor, and his influence and success had recently earned the distinction of Jazz at Lincoln Center being recognized as a department there. His leadership of the acclaimed Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra soon followed, and the trumpeter has helmed the big band’s rise to world prominence ever since. Nonetheless, Marsalis sits in the trumpet section without any additional spotlight from his bandmates, and doesn’t take any more solos than they do. His presentation of “Big Band Holidays” will feature vocalist Ashley Pezzotti, and is certain to include the influence of mentors like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk on venerable and anticipated classic holiday compositions. See Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with special guest Ashley Pezzotti at 3 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Society of the Four Arts, 100 Four Arts Plaza, Palm Beach (561-655-7226, $30).
Being called “A millennial shaking up the jazz world” by Vanity Fair qualifies one as unique, but that’s not the only thing that sets Canadian artist Bria Skonberg apart from the genre’s pack. Being a female jazz artist, plus an instrumentalist as well as vocalist, create distinctions beyond her millennial status. The Chilliwack, British Columbia, native studied jazz at Capilano University in Vancouver, graduating while additionally touring with two separate bands. Post-grad exploits included touring Japan, China, and Europe before Skonberg moved to New York City in 2010. Shortly thereafter, she received perhaps the greatest unofficial endorsement a trumpeter could hope for — a thumbs-up from Wynton Marsalis, the instrument’s most famous living practitioner; artistic director of the Big Apple’s famed Jazz at Lincoln Center, and musical director of its renowned touring jazz orchestra, while playing in Washington Square Park. Vocal accolades since include a 2017 Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year for her 2016 release Bria, and she’s likely to perform material from her latest recording, 2020’s Nothing Never Happens. See Bria Skonberg at 7:45 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale (954-462-0222, $65).
As evidenced by her new single, “Feeling Good,” vocalist Nicole Henry displays a blend of the soulful strains of her birthplace, Philadelphia, with the jazz nuances inherent at the University of Miami. And even though she graduated from that high-profile music school with a degree in communications and theater, and has navigated an additionally successful acting career, Henry’s singing has earned her the high praise as the “vocal love child of Whitney Houston and Sarah Vaughan” from the Miami Herald. Longtime South Florida upright bassist Paul Shewchuck talked Henry into learning jazz standards to perform with his trio in 2002, and her solo recording career started in 2004 with the debut The Nearness of You. Along the way, she’s recorded and performed with keyboardists Gil Goldstein, Gerald Clayton and Michael Feinstein; saxophonist Kirk Whalum, guitarist Julian Lage, and the Duke Ellington and Henry Mancini Institute orchestras. Recent acting credits include a stage production of The Bodyguard, based on the 1992 film starring Houston and Kevin Costner, and A Wonderful World, about the life of the legendary Louis Armstrong. See Nicole Henry in an 11 a.m. matinee performance on Dec. 12 at the Kravis Center’s Dreyfoos Hall, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach (800-572-8471, $115-$609).
There are very few artists or bands to which the term “one of a kind” applies. But Pink Martini has proven exceptional since forming in Portland, Ore., in 1994. The brainchild of pianist and leader Thomas Lauderdale, his self-described “little orchestra” was born out of boredom with the music presented at fundraisers while he was working in politics. His 10-to-15-member lineup has since featured multi-lingual female lead singers China Forbes and Storm Large, plus a talented ensemble of string, horn, drum and percussion instrumentalists, all performing material that could be classified as jazz, pop, classical, world music, or any combination thereof. Notable achievements since the band’s 1997 debut Sympathique include its multi-denominational 2010 holiday album Joy to the World, and reaching No. 2 on the Japanese charts with its 2011 collaboration with vocalist Saori Yuki, 1969. In 2012, Lauderdale continued his penchant for unpredictability by recording Charlie Chaplin’s standard “Smile” with none other than comedian Phyllis Diller, and in 2018, Pink Martini reissued a 20th anniversary edition of its debut, with an arrangement of Ravel’s “Bolero,” plus Non Quais!: The French Songs of Pink Martini. See Pink Martini and China Forbes at 8 p.m. Jan. 16 at Dreyfoos Hall ($115-$1,125).
Recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts as a NEA Jazz Master in 2010, 78-year-old Kenny Barron is one of the top pianists of his generation. The Philadelphia native started his performing career while still in high school, and his list of bandmates from the 1960s alone includes Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Roy Haynes, Philly Joe Jones, Freddie Hubbard, Buddy Rich, and Stanley Turrentine. Five years with the open-minded Gillespie helped Barron develop an appreciation for Latin and Caribbean rhythms, which emerged in a big way during 1980s Brazilian-themed recordings with saxophonist Stan Getz. In the interim during the 1970s, Barron joined the faculty at Rutgers University in New Jersey, mentoring some of today’s jazz stars like Terence Blanchard and David Sanchez. After more than 25 years there, Barron furthered his teaching career at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. And through it all, he’s navigated a string of releases under his own name that started with the 1967 album You Had Better Listen by the Jimmy Owens-Kenny Barron Quintet. The masterful pianist is likely to perform material from that disc’s bookend, his 2020 effort Without Deception, also featuring bassist Dave Holland and drummer Johnathan Blake. See Kenny Barron at 7:45 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Amaturo Theater ($65).
The Frost School of Music at the University of Miami has a history of alumni and instructors that includes vocalists Jon Secada and Carmen Lundy, guitarists Pat
Metheny, Randy Bernsen and Jonathan Kreisberg, bassist Jaco Pastoruis, drummer
Jonathan Joseph, and members of the Dixie Dregs. For its 2022 concert series, the Flagler
Museum on Palm Beach offers jazz and chamber music presentations by the heralded music school’s student ensembles, along with award-winning faculty performers. They include bassist
Chuck Bergeron (whose credits include Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, and Kevin
Mahogany); trumpeters Brian Lynch (Art Blakey, Eddie Palmieri) and Etienne Charles (Count Basie Orchestra), saxophonist Marcus Strickland (Roy Haynes, Dave Douglas, Christian McBride), drummer Dafnis Prieto (Steve Coleman, John Zorn), and pianist Martin Bejerano, who’s toured the world with the venerable drummer Haynes, and as part of Kreisberg’s quartet. The shows take place at two different sites on the museum grounds, and attendees are invited to arrive before the doors open at 6:30 p.m. for pre-concert receptions in its grand hall. See the 2022 Flagler Museum Concert Series at 7 p.m. every Tuesday from February 1 through March 8 at the Flagler Museum, 1
Whitehall Way, Palm Beach (561-655-2583, $70; $350 for six-concert series).
Saxophonist Branford Marsalis may not be the most famous member of his esteemed musical New Orleans family, coming in second to trumpeter, younger brother, and artistic director and bandleader at Jazz at Lincoln Center Wynton Marsalis. Yet the elder brother was always more open-minded, stressing music over hype. The 61-year-old saxophonist plays every variation of the instrument, from soprano and alto to tenor and baritone, and toured with drummer Art Blakey while still a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in the early 1980s. By mid-decade, he’d also toured with keyboardist Herbie Hancock, joined Wynton’s first quintet, released his debut album Scenes in the City, and appeared on pop singer Sting’s post-Police debut album and in his documentary film, Bring On the Night. The elder Marsalis also started his own long-standing traditional jazz quartet, the latest lineup of which has included bassist Eric Revis since 1997; pianist Joey Calderazzo since 1999, and drummer Justin Faulkner since 2009. They’ll play selections from their latest release, the improvisational and far-reaching The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul. See the Branford Marsalis Quartet at 5 or 8 p.m. Feb. 15 at the Lyric Theatre, 59 SW Flagler Ave., Stuart (772-286-7827, $70).
At age 67, guitarist Pat Metheny has become an enduring pioneer, a jazz rarity with three gold albums and 20 Grammy Awards, plus the distinction of being the only person ever to win at least one Grammy in 10 different categories. While still in his teens, the Missouri native was discovered at a club in Kansas City by University of Miami music dean Bill Lee (father of bassist Will Lee), and was soon teaching there and at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. The guitarist’s 1976 debut, Bright Size Life, featured bassist Jaco Pastorius and drummer Bob Moses, and established Metheny as an innovator. Along with British guitar genius Allan Holdsworth (1946-2017), he had the technique to phrase like a saxophonist, and the effects to even sound like one (as evidenced by his 1982 gem Offramp). Yet efforts like Metheny’s Trio album of 2000, with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Bill Stewart, reminded listeners of his clean-tone capabilities, His offramps since have included classical and world music. Metheny’s latest concoction is Side-Eye, featuring an intriguing, bass-free trio lineup with keyboardist James Francies and drummer Joe Dyson. See Pat Metheny’s Side-Eye at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Lyric Theatre ($85), and at 8 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Arsht Center ($217-$586 for six-show Jazz Roots subscription).
Gino Vanelli, a jazz artist? In part, yes. Now 69 years old, the Montreal-born singer, guitarist and songwriter refused to be typecast during what’s now a nearly-50-year recording career, and paid the price commercially by being considered too jazzy for the pop or R&B genres and too poppy and soul-influenced for jazz. Along with older brother, keyboardist and producer Joe Vannelli, he moved to Los Angeles in 1972 and famously waited for another crossover artist — trumpeter and A&M Records co-owner Herb Alpert — in the recording label’s office parking lot to hand him their demo tape. It paid off. Vannelli was one of the early Caucasian artists to appear on the popular TV dance program Soul Train in the 1970s, after starting a successful run of album releases on A&M that culminated in 1978’s Brother To Brother, with its Top 10 ballad hit “I Just Wanna Stop.” Having studied at McGill University in Montreal (which jazz piano giant Oscar Peterson also attended), the versatile Vannelli’s recording career veered into acoustic music in the 1990s and classical music in the 2000s. But touring has always been a rarity, making this appearance an event whatever the genre(s). See Gino Vannelli at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27 at Wells Hall at the Parker Playhouse, 707 NE 8th St., Fort Lauderdale (954-462-0222, $71-$119).
Portland, Ore.-born trumpeter Chris Botti turned 59 this month, and has led a long, distinguished career that’s straddled the jazz and pop genres. After hearing Miles Davis’ version of the standard “My Funny Valentine” in his youth, Botti would go on to master Davis’ heralded muted trumpet sound, and seemed destined for a traditional jazz career while studying in Indiana University’s high-profile music program. During that time, his advanced playing even earned him touring stints with Buddy Rich and Frank Sinatra. A relocation to New York City in 1985 indicated that a rising star in jazz had moved to its mecca, but Botti instead planted one foot firmly in the studio and the other on stage, plus one each in the pop and jazz realms. The latest of his 10 solo releases, Impressions, won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album, and his scroll of session recording credits includes Paul Simon, Sting, Aretha Franklin, James Taylor, Rod Stewart, George Benson, Al Jarreau, Joe Cocker, Barbra Streisand, Michael Bublé, Natalie Cole, John Mayer, Mark Knopfler, and Arturo Sandoval. See Chris Botti at 8 p.m. March 11 and 12 at Wells Hall ($96-$454), 8 p.m. March 15 at Dreyfoos Hall ($104-$665), and 7:30 p.m. March 23 at Sunrise Theatre, 117 S. 2nd St., Fort Pierce (772-461-4775, $252-$259).
Jazz was born out of the blues, and vaunted jazz vocal quartet Manhattan Transfer has certainly experienced the blues. Formed in New York City in 1969 by singer Tim Hauser, the group gelled by 1972 with the additions of Alan Paul, Janis Siegel, and Laurel Masse. But Masse left the lineup in 1979 after being badly injured in a car accident, and was replaced by Cheryl Bentyne, leading to the quartet’s glory days from the 1980s onward. A cover of Joe Zawinul’s Weather Report composition “Birdland,” from the 1979 release Extensions, won the first two of its 10 Grammy Awards in 1980, for both arrangement and performance. Its subsequent 1981 album, Mecca for Moderns, won the group Grammys in both the jazz and popular music categories, and it earned two more for its 1985 disc Vocalese, out of a whopping 12 nominations. The Manhattan Transfer has remained a formidable live nostalgia act since, always leaning on a surplus of standards from the American Songbook. Hauser died in 2014, and has been replaced by Trist Curless, and attendees can expect material from the quartet’s latest release, The Junction (2018), plus renditions of Grammy winners like “Route 66” and “The Boy From New York City.” See the Manhattan Transfer at 8 p.m. March 27 at Wells Hall ($75-$234).
Cue the punchline to the joke — Q: How can you tell it’s a slow jazz season? A: When a concert by Kenny G is included in the season previews. Sixty-five-year-old soprano saxophone star Kenneth Bruce Gorelick has legions of fans, as evidenced by the fact that he’s one of the best-selling instrumental music artists of all-time, and many critics. Guitarist Pat Metheny savagely criticized the “pop saxophonist” in the mid-2000s, prompting Jazziz magazine to run a cartoon cover depiction of Gorelick tied to a tree and impaled by arrows with the caption, “Oh My God, They Killed Kenny,” a phrase popularized on the animated series South Park. But the Seattle native’s association with the upper-register, smooth-sounding soprano instrument belies the fact that he started out playing alto, and also plays tenor sax and flute. Or that before his 40-year solo career started, he was part of noted groups in both dance music (Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra) and progressive jazz (Jeff Lorber Fusion). Even heralded saxophonist Branford Marsalis, who plays many of the same instruments, defends him. “He’s not stealing jazz,” Marsalis has said. “It’s a completely different audience.” He’s right. It’s an audience for smooth jazz, a poppy musical oxymoron. See Kenny G at 7 p.m. April 10 at Wells Hall ($353-$471).
What does one of the greatest banjo players ever, and leader of one of the most original jazz/fusion groups — his 1988-launched Bela Fleck & the Flecktones — do for an encore? Sixty-three-year-old banjoist and New York City native Fleck had previously carved out a significant bluegrass career through the 1980s with the New Grass Revival, which was inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame last year, before forming the Flecktones. That group proved a logical fusion successor to the recently disbanded Weather Report, while sounding nothing like them, through innovation. Its original lineup included keyboardist/chromatic harmonica player Howard Levy, bass titan Victor Wooten, and his brother Roy Wooten as “Futureman” while playing a guitar-shaped drum synthesizer. The group has earned Fleck six of his 14 Grammy Awards. During a lull in the band’s schedule in the late 2000s, Fleck met fellow banjo player Abigail Washburn, who’d already charted her own impressive recording and touring career. The two married, and earned a Best Folk Album Grammy for their self-titled 2014 release. Fleck is also up for a 2021 Best Historical Album Grammy for Throw Down Your Heart: The Complete Africa Sessions. See Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn at 7 p.m. April 24 at the Lyric Theatre ($70).