What we LOVED this year: Jazz

The Capital Region’s year in jazz was notable for its variety. The club scene continued to present t

The Capital Region’s year in jazz was notable for its variety. The club scene continued to present the area’s top veteran and younger performers, and the big festival venues (Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Lake George, Tanglewood) held forth as usual.

The jazz societies A Place for Jazz and Swingtime continued their concert series, and Jazz Latino Inc., directed by Jose Cruz, presented an outstanding concert of Latin jazz in April at the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady. The band included Ray Vega on trumpet, Chris Washburne on trombone and “Chembo” Corniel on percussion, among others.

Cruz followed this up with a series of informative “salons,” one of which was a tribute to trumpeter Doc Cheatham, with film clips and commentary by Vega, local bandleader Skip Parsons and myself.

Jazz radio host Bill McCann celebrated 25 years of doing the Saturday morning jazz show on WCDB at the University at Albany with an all-day bash on campus. (See Top Ten list.)

The Empire Jazz Orchestra at Schenectady County Community College presented its usual fine spring and fall concerts. The spring concert featured guest trumpeter Vince DiMartino.

Two longtime area musicians died this year: guitarist Sam Farkas and pianist Sal Maida. Maida played for many years with baritone saxophonist Nick Brignola, and had a long solo career in and around the Capital Region. Sam Farkas led his own groups for many years and also hosted a jazz radio show on WRPI.

Toward the end of the year, word began to spread that Justin’s restaurant, long a fixture on Albany’s Lark Street, would discontinue jazz in 2011. The club had presented jazz on a weekly basis going back to the ’70s and was for years a kind of home base for Brignola. Tenor man J.R. Monterose played there as well. At press time, a write-in campaign was under way in an effort to persuade the club to reconsider.

Top ten

The Top Ten jazz performances of 2010 in chronological order as selected by Gazette reviewers Tim Coakley and Michael Hochanadel:

Keith Pray CD Release Party at Tess’ Lark Tavern, Albany — (Jan. 31). Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble celebrated the release of its first CD with two shows at the Lark Tavern. The band is a showcase for the writing, arranging and solo talents of many of the area’s finest musicians. (Coakley)

Schenectady Musical Union Jazz Appreciation Month gala at Muddy Cup, Proctors — (April 11). This year’s event served as a tribute to the late guitarist Jack Fragomeni, and presented groups led by Mike Benedict, Yuko Kishimoto, Brian Patneaude and Joe Barna. Guitarist Mitch Sediman and bassist Steve LaSpina volunteered their talents to help make the Fragomeni tribute a memorable one. (Coakley)

Brad Mehldau and Joshua Redman at Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center — (April 16). Pianist Mehldau and tenor saxophonist Redman achieved real grandeur at times, cozy intimacy at others, in duets marked by cool intelligence and hot swing. The music was well-mannered in the best way: They never stepped on each other, nor ever missed a chance to help one another. (Hochanadel)

Bill McCann’s 25th Anniversary Bash at University at Albany — (April 17). Some of the area’s top musicians and singers helped the host of The Saturday Morning Edition of Jazz celebrate his 25 years on the air. Performers included the University at Albany Jazz Ensemble, the Peg Delaney Quintet, Troika, Colleen Pratt & Friends, the Brian Patneaude Quartet, the Lee Shaw Trio and Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble. (Coakley)

Freihofer’s Jazz Festival at Saratoga Performing Arts Center — (June 26). Elder statesman pianist Ahmad Jamal played with overwhelming velocity, wisdom and invention; new discovery trumpeter Mario Abney transplanted SPAC to New Orleans, and trumpeter Tomasz Stanko launched it to Mars. A mix of the familiar and the fresh, this was all anyone could ask from a festival. (Hochanadel)

Lee Konitz at A Place for Jazz — (Sept 10). Subbing for the ailing Lou Donaldson, alto saxophonist Konitz never wasted a note in this program of standards with a band he’d just met, and was never predictable either. He got energy from them, they got wisdom from him — and it was delicious to watch the music get tighter and tighter. (Hochanadel)

The Lake George Jazz Weekend in Shepard Park — (Sept. 17-19). The always varied weekend celebrated David Amram’s 80th birthday with a Friday night cruise, then presented Amram’s Quartet on Saturday, along with the Daniel Kelly Trio and the Randy Newman Project. Sunday’s performance by the Buster Williams Quartet featured quite a “fill-in” pianist: Mulgrew Miller. (Coakley)

Bucky and John Pizzarelli at WAMC’s Linda Norris Auditorium — (Sept. 20). Father-son guitarists — Bucky is the dad — alone on stage, played a range of wonderful classic jazz and told hilarious stories mixing musical history with Pizzarelli family folk tales. Both carved their own successful careers during different eras, and at The Linda, their playing united similar sensibilities with old and current approaches to the great jazz standards. (Hochanadel)

Regina Carter Quintet at The Egg — (Sept. 25). Violinist Carter linked notes with Yacouba Sissoko’s kora in a micro-precise Afro-jazz fusion that beautifully combined cultures, sounds and swing. Carter and her regular band are so strong and cohesive that they easily absorbed the idiosyncratic energy of Sissoko’s West African sounds. (Hochanadel)

The Hot Club of Detroit at A Place for Jazz — (Nov. 5). This quintet of two guitars, tenox sax, button accordion and bass presented an evening of subtle, joyous swing to celebrate the centennial of guitarist Django Reinhardt. Accordionist Julien Labro knocked everybody’s socks off. (Coakley)

Categories: Life & Arts

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