Jazz is Where You Find It: Music Close to Home

Jazz is where you find it. I was recently strolling down the main street of Columbia, Missouri and encountered a storefront called We Always Swing, with frequent live music (12 concerts a year), discussions and film series.

I live an hour from New York City, the jazz capitol of the world, but I don’t always want to take the time—and spend the money—to hit the nightspots there. But I can keep entertained right here in Connecticut. Here’s two shows I went to lately.

Marcus Goldhaber

Marcus Goldhaber in Milford. The Sinatra mantle was worn lightly. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Marcus Goldhaber is a New York-based jazz singer who’s also a prolific songwriter who’s made four strong albums. In New York he often performs with a guitarist and a guest singer (including one of my favorites, Melissa Stylianou).

But I was pleasantly surprised to see him coming to Connecticut in a Sinatra tribute show sponsored by the Milford Arts Council in their cozy cabaret-style performance space—which just happens to be the former railroad station. Through some miracle of soundproofing or train schedules, we didn’t get interrupted all that much.

The Sinatra mantle was lightly worn; Ol’ Blue Eyes sang every standard in the book, and just about all male jazz singers are influenced by him. It was a night of the Great American Songbook with a tight trio, and the audience loved it. To duplicate it, check out his standard-laden first album, The Moment After (2006); to hear Goldhaber the songwriter, it’s A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening (2014).

Brubecks Play Brubeck (in the Brubeck Room)

More recently, I was back at the Wilton Library—in the Brubeck Room—to hear actual Brubecks. It was three of Dave’s sons, Chris, Dan and Darius, playing their dad’s music with a ringer (British saxophonist Dave O’Higgins).

The Brubecks

The Brubecks in Wilton. From left: Darius, Dave O’Higgins, Chris and Dan. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I interviewed Dave Brubeck many years ago when I was a reporter at the Wilton Bulletin. He was a laid-back Californian, a very gracious host, and a fine raconteur. At the time I was more into fiery stuff like Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane, but these days I’m also getting a lot of pleasure out of west coast players like Brubeck, Chet Baker, Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan.

In Wilton, Darius—at the piano—was the raconteur, and he tells stories well (including one about Dan’s band being up for a Juno). The band played mostly older Brubeck compositions, including one Darius said was his first song ever, “Weep No More,” written in 1942 when he was overseas and missing his new wife. Here it is on video:

All four musicians played well. Darius channels the old man, but he also has a fair amount of Bill Evans in there, too. Dan cut loose on the last song, the inevitable “Take Five” (actually written by Dave’s alter ego, alto player Paul Desmond). O’Higgins shone on ballads.

I was especially taken with Chris Brubeck’s bass playing. I felt a sense of dismay when I saw him plug in an electric bass, but like Jaco Pastorius (there’s some overlap) he does something hugely original with it. His playing is very bright and busy, and it swings mightily. Chris also plays trombone, and on Louis Armstrong’s “Black and Blue” he took it out for a duo with Darius, nodding to Louis’ old sparring partner, Jack Teagarten.

This was the first night of the Brubecks Play Brubeck tour. The band is playing Dizzy’s at Lincoln Center in the aforementioned New York City March 30 and 31. It’s also doing a bunch of dates in the UK. That’s a tradition; here’s a review of the same band playing in London in 2014. Catch them if you can.

Jazz at the Libraries

Last weekend was a jazz festival for me, at two different libraries. Both were fine shows.

Jamie Baum and her Septet+ played the Wilton Library’s Brubeck Room (Dave was a Wiltonian) on February 27. Flautist Jamie lives in New York now, but she’s a Fairfield, Connecticut native, and expressed pleasure being back in the county of her birth.

jamie baum

Jamie Baum’s Septet+ on stage in Wilton. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Actually, describing Baum as a flautist doesn’t do her justice, though she’s great on the instrument. What I find fascinating with her is the palette she uses as a writer and arranger. The music she played in Wilton is soon to be recorded for an album called “Bridges”—maybe some kind of answer to Donald Trump’s wall.

Baum is a cultural ambassador, and her new music is informed by a fascination with Asian music, and recent visits to Nepal—including the Kathmandu Jazz Festival. She’s also inspired by the singing of Pakistan’s late, qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Baum, a 2014 Guggenheim recipient, was commissioned by New York’s Rubin Museum of Himalayan Arts to write “Honoring Nepal: The Shiva Suite,” which she played in Wilton. Like all the music she played, it was complex, changeable, challenging—and lots of fun, too. You never knew where she was going next.

I loved a piece called “Ucross Me,” inspired by a visit to the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming. It started with long through-composed introduction that almost had Phillip Glass overtones, briefly became a conventional jazz taut piece, moved into exchanges between trumpet player Amir Elsaffar and guitarist Brad Shepik (a standout player that night) and closed with a long and hugely impressive guitar solo that accessed late period Miles and rock music, too.

Here’s the band playing “Lament”:

So much writing for larger bands doesn’t take full advantage of multiple voices, but Baum’s music is endlessly inventive, and it made this seven-piece sing. Outstanding soloists were Shepik on guitar, Sam Sadigursky on alto and bass clarinet, and Elsaffar on trumpet, but all rose to the challenge of this tricky music.

Just one day later, I was at the lovely old (turn of the century) Pequot Library in Fairfield, catching the WPKN Jazz All-Stars. WPKN is a radio station I’ve been proud to call home for 43 years, and this was a benefit organized by the drummer and jazz DJ Rick Petrone.

The first set was nice and polite. Joining Petrone were pianist David Childs, saxophonist Chris Stelluti, and veteran drummer Joe Corsello, who was in the house band at Michael’s Pub and has recorded with Sonny Rollins, Marian McPartland, Benny Goodman, Steve Marcus, Ralph Lalama, Mike Moore, Sal Salvadore, Gene Bertoncini and Mike Mainari. He tours with Rollins.

WPKN All-Stars

Giacomo Gates on stage at the Pequot with jazz rabbi Greg Wall admiring at left. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Stelluti has a nice tone on tenor that reminded me of Zoot Sims or Stan Getz, but he didn’t play all that forcefully or improvise all that much at the Pequot. The energy level picked up a lot in the second set when he was joined on the bandstand by Greg Wall, a Westport, Connecticut rabbi when he’s not blowing a really exciting soprano sax. The Jazz Rabbi can be regularly heard turning up the heat at a club called 323 Westport, when he’s not presiding at Bar Mitzvahs.

And then Giacomo Gates came out. I love this guy, a standout male jazz vocalist who really commands the stage. Watching him direct the band with body language was a treat. I don’t think they’d played together much, if at all, but everyone spoke jazz so it didn’t matter.

Betty Carter did a lot with Gigi Gryce/John Hendricks’ “Social Call,” but Gates swung it madly. There were also tunes from Thelonious Monk and Babs Gonzalez. Nobody wanted the show to stop, but eventually it did. And a full house enjoyed a nice afternoon of jazz and benefited their favorite radio station in the process. Let’s hope the Jazz All-Stars turn it into a regular happening.