Holiday Happenings

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December has started off strong in terms of jazz events in the St. Louis area. Famed baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett – who was born across the river in the little town of Brooklyn, Illinois, moved back to the area in July 2002, and has kept a low profile due to some physical problems with an old childhood shoulder injury. The condition almost stopped him from playing, but he caught it in time, and thanks to successful treatment, he’s playing as strong as ever.

Although Bluiett continues to travel the world performing with the World Saxophone Quartet and his own groups, he’s decided to maintain his home in Illinois rather than returning to New York City. On Dec. 3, Bluiett – accompanied by two fine local musicians – Reggie Thomas on organ and piano and Jerome “Scrooge” Harris on drums – played at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. The free concert combined Bluiett’s dynamic playing with a little bit of musical philosophy, as he addressed the audience (which included a music appreciation class at the College) halfway through the set.

“Go out and hear all the live music you can,” stated Bluiett. “Otherwise, it’s like getting all your tomatoes out of cans. You need that freshness!”

Those who took Bluiett’s advice to heart had the chance to catch the David Sánchez Quintet’s opening night in the group’s Jazz at the Bistro appearance. Sánchez has managed to keep the core of his band — Miguel Zenón on alto sax, pianist Edsel Gomez and bassist Hans Glawishnig – together for several years. The only recent change id Henry Cole’s recent replacement of drummer Antonio Sánchez. This is one impressive band, and you can hear ‘em at the Bistro through Saturday. They will also perform two sets at Murry’s in Columbia, Missouri on Sunday, Dec. 7 as part of the “We Always swing” jazz series.

In other Bistro events for December, St. Louis native Clark Terry returns home to celebrate his 83rd birthday with sets from Dec. 12-14 (his actual birthday is the 14th). That’s followed by a visit by sax great Michael Brecker from Dec. 17-20.

Area jazz fans may have a tendency to pass over the events scheduled in the Grandel Cabaret series, but the concluding event of the 2003 season features a strong jazz element. From Dec. 9- 14, you can hear the combination of Eric Comstock, Bill Henderson and Dena DeRose in a two piano setting backed by bass and drums at the Grandel. Comstock has a new CD in the works backed by the likes of Frank Wess, Eric Reed, Matt Wilson, Peter Washington, Peter Bernstein and Wycliffe Gordon. Henderson has worked with the likes of Oscar Peterson and Count Basie in his lengthy career, and DeRose has several fine jazz recordings to her credit – and recently signed with the MAZJAZZ label.

In the yuletide spirit, Manhattan Transfer features its Christmas show at the new Touhill Performing Arts Center at University of Missouri St. Louis on, Dec. 5, Harry Connick, Jr. brings his Christmas concert to the Fox Theater on Dec. 15.

By the way, if your holiday spirit needs a little boost, check out the new MAXJAZZ compilation, Merry Magic featuring Eric Reed leading a band of Steve Nelson, Rodney Green and Barak Mori – with vocalists Erin Bode and Paula West. It’ll definitely get you in the right frame of mind.

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
Fox Theater: www.fabulousfox.com


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