Venetians of the Florida variety were treated to two wonderful concerts back-to-back on March 14 and 15 at the Church of the Nazarene. These were the annual Jazz Affair benefit for the Venice Symphony and Arbors Records' second tribute to bassist Bob Haggart.
Jazz Affair staged clarinetist Bud Leeds' band with three excellent guests, violinist Jonathan Russell, trumpeter and singer Paul Grant and singer Patricia Dean. Other band members were trombonist Herb Bruce, bassist John Lamb, pianist Matt Bokulic and drummer Eddie Graham.
Twelve-year-old prodigy Russell was a repeater from last year's event and also was in Venice for two concerts with Leeds' band in November. He stars at U.S. jazz festivals and was in Hungary last month. His creative playing and skill at interacting with other players just keeps growing.
Paul Grant is famed for portraying "Ambassador Satch" in shows in Philadelphia, Atlantic City, New York City and overseas. His trumpet work is convincing, and his vocals, thankfully, avoid the raspy imitations of some others. He has led bands in Philadelphia and played with Steve Barbone's and others, including military bands. He began on trumpet at six, but didn't go into music full-time. He has been a railroad engineer for 37 years.
When away from drums, which she plays very well, Patricia Dean can focus even more effectively on her vocals. "The Nearness of You" and "Do Nothing 'Til You Hear from Me" were two of her gems. The band was strong in a repertoire of Dixieland evergreens. A full house of about 650 fans was energized throughout the concert.
Mat Domber staged another great celebration of Bob Haggart's life and music co-directed by pianist Dick Hyman and trumpeter Randy Sandke. A nine-piece all-star band opened with "Royal Garden Blues," "I'm Coming Virginia" and "That Big Foot in the Sky" as arranged by Haggart for the World's Greatest Jazz Band.
The 45-minute first set closed with "Rockin' in Rhythm" and included vocals by Carol Sloane and guest violinist Aaron Weinstein on a band tune. The long second set featured mostly duos, trios or other combinations of players. Some of my favorites were "The Eel" by clarinetist Ken Peplowski and saxophonist Harry Allen, "Little Rock Getaway" by pianist Dick Hyman and drummer Butch Miles, and a rousing "Three Little Words" with guitarists Howard Alden and Bucky Pizzarelli and violinist Weinstein.
Bassist Nicki Parrott and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon were creatively empathetic on "Don't Mean a Thing," and 92-year-old violinist Svend Asmussen was a guest for two tunes. The evening concluded with a rousing rendition of Haggart's famous "South Rampart Street Parade."
On April 4, I was enchanted by singer Marlene Ver Planck in one of the best of many fine Jazz At Two concerts by the Sarasota Jazz Club. She was backed by pianist Matt Bokuli, bassist Dominic Mancini and drummer David Pruyn. They also were together at a concert in Ocala the night before. Ver Planck sang great storytelling mostly romantic tunes with feeling, wide vocal range and creative phrasing. Her enunciation was very clear, which I especially appreciate as a hearing-aid wearer. Her sets featured two dozen tunes with minimal chat or delay in between.