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A February Filled with Jazz

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Maybe it’s the unpredictable weather or the pre-spring blahs. Whatever the reason, February is usually one of the slower time periods on the St. Louis jazz scene. But that’s definitely not the case in 2004. Maybe it’s the leap year factor. But there’s plenty to hear – from Jazz at the Bistro to the Blue Note in Columbia – with plenty of stops in between.

Here’s a quick rundown. National acts at Jazz at the Bistro kick off with Ray Vega and his Latin Jazz Quintet from Feb. 4-7, and continue with B-3 burner Joey DeFrancesco from Feb. 18-21 (and Feb. 22 at Murry’s in Columbia). Vega, one of the top trumpeters on the NYC Latin jazz scene, will undoubtedly be showcasing tunes from his brand new Palmetto label CD, Squeeze Squeeze. DeFrancesco also has a new CD out, a tribute to music of Frank Sinatra on High Note. Weekend shows on Feb. 13-14 feature local keyboard great Reggie Thomas backing the vocals of his talented wife Mardra Thomas in a special Valentine weekend show... and saxophonist Jason Swagler, who was a founding member of local bands Vargas Swing and Commonwealth, leading a quartet on Feb. 27-28.

The new Touhill Performing Arts Center on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus hosts Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra on Sunday, Feb. 15, and the Sheldon Concert Hall hosts vocalist Karrin Allyson on the following Sat. Feb 21. Local saxophonist Tim Cunningham takes a turn in the spotlight at the Pageant on Feb. 13, and contemporary jazz trumpet stars Rick Braun and Chris Botti headline the same venue on Feb. 15 and Feb. 28 respectively.

Guitarist Robben Ford makes a rare St. Louis appearance at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room on Feb. 19, and Rova Saxophone Quartet brings their edgy sound to Bill Christman Studio, 6014 Kinsbury on Feb. 9 in a New Music Circle event.

And in a can’t miss event in Columbia, MO on Friday, Feb. 6, trombonist Conrad Herwig and trumpet player Brian Lynch co-lead a sextet at the Blue Note that will perform music from their new CD, Another Kind of Blue which explores the music of Miles Davis in a Latin jazz framework.

Oh, yeah, there’s also the Webster University concerts at Moore Auditorium this month... guitarist Tom Byrne and friends on Monday Feb 2, and the Webster U. Big Band highlighting “The Best of Blue Note” on Monday Feb. 16.

So please... no complaints about a lack of things to hear around the STL in the next four weeks.

IAJE 2004 Notes:

Just a few thoughts on the recent IAJE conference in New York last week. First of all, January in the Big Apple – especially in recent years — is awfully damn cold! Not sure if it’s the result of global warming or what, but temperatures in single digits and brisk winds can put a real damper on even contemplating walking a few blocks to a jazz club from a subway stop.

Luckily, there was a ton of great jazz happening in the city that was impossible to pass up... and a lot of it came about thanks to the MAXJAZZ showcase at Sweet Rhythm during IAJE. The St. Louis-based label featured the Peter Martin Trio with vocalist Erin Bode last Wednesday, Dena Derose and her trio on Thursday – joined by Steve Wilson, Jeremy Pelt and Rene Marie (who tore the place apart in her brief time on stage). Thursday’s late set featured trumpeter Pelt calling in heavy hitters Nicholas Payton and Terence Blanchard to sit in with his band. Friday pianist Bruce Barth took the spotlight and on Saturday, singer Claudia Acuna’s band and the Mulgrew Miller Trio split a long opening set – with guitarist Russell Malone joining miller for some tunes as well. MAZJAZZ definitely turned some heads with that lineup of talent.

St. Louis native Greg Osby was joined by Payton for sets Tuesday at Wednesday at the Jazz Standard – and recording equipment caught it all for a forthcoming live CD. And although he didn’t play any gigs, trumpeter Russell Gunn flew in from Atlanta to join a panel discussion on the incorporation of hip-hop elements into jazz. Gunn’s three Ethnomusicology – at least to these ears – are still the most artistically satisfying and innovative mixture of the two musical forms to emerge so far... and Gunn’s comments were both informative and eloquent.

For more info on these shows:

Jazz at the Bistro: www.jatb.org
We Always Swing Jazz Series: www.wealwaysswing.org
Touhill Performing Arts Center: www.touhill.org
New Music Circle: www.newmusiccircle.org
The Pageant: www.thepageant.com


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