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Jazz Joys & Jabberwockies

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Classic jazz in classy settings is in the Philadelphia bumper music crop festival this Fall. George Shearing, John Pizzarelli, Terrence Blanchard and The Count Basie Orchestra were among stars shining here over the past two weeks. Some jazz jabberwockies were here as well. KIMMEL CENTER (Verizon Hall) Oct. 17 brought together two of the world’s finest jazz artists—George Shearing and John Pizzarelli. The London-born. 84-year-old, blind, pianist-leader-composer, Shearing, is famed for his landmark composition “Lullaby of Birdland.” He made jazz history with some 300 other numbers, recordings and thousands of club appearances. He was first joyously heard by this reviewer at the Three Deuces in 1948 shortly after his arrival in the United States.

Shearing and his quintet, featuring Reg Schwager, guitar; Dan Thompson-vibes; Neal Swainson, bass and Dennis Mackrel on drums were making their Kimmel Center debut. Pizzarelli, guitarist vocalist, opened the show with his trio of Ray Kennedy on piano and Martin Pizzarelli on bass. Pizzarelli, the son of jazz legend, Bucky Pizzarelli, is a master interpreter of the great American songbook covering everyone from Gershwin to McCartney. He sang the Johnny Mercer songbook in “Dream” and with Shearing released in 2002 the CD The Rare Delight of You. Kimmel’s Mellon Jazz Fridays just keeps rolling along. When Shearing played Lullaby of Birdland the audience reaction was one of joy being trransported back in time more than half a century.

Pizzarelli deftly combined humorous commentary with his songs and also worked the second half of the show with Shearing, who is, you must remember, 84 years old. Pizzarelli sang and brought back to life such hits as Paper Moon, The More I See You and Straighten up and Fly Right. Shearing did, among others Consternation, Speak Low, Sunday, Monday or Always and,, of course, Birdland.

ZANZIBAR BLUE Oct. 17 and 18 featured Terrence Blanchard, a modern jazz trumpet man from New Orleans who scored Spike Lee’s film, “Mo Better Blues” and several others while winning Grammy, Emmy and Oscar nominations. He worked with Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins and was cited by Down Beat’s 2000 poll as artist of the year. The Count Basie Orchestra brings in a blast from the past on Oct.. 29-30. Zanzibar has been featuring some mainstay jazz of late and the city is much the better for it.

THE PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART lifted the spirits of Latin jazz art lovers with its Friday jazz series Oct. with Marco Granados and Un Mundo Ensemble. The New York Times said that the Grammy-nominatd Venezuelan flutist Granados played with “sweet dexterity.” He was with his ensemble in a show hosted by local DJ Bob Perkins.

Next Friday, Brad Mehldau, a top notch nationally known composer-pianist, will demonstrate how he revitalizes old standards and blends rock with jazz.

CHRIS’ JAZZ CAFE served up some of the finest tenor sax stylings played today. Oct. 17 has internationally acclaimed Tim Armacost with the always exciting Tony Micelli Trio. Oct. 28 had sax stars Harry Allen and Larry McKenna with the always tasteful Pete Smyser Trio. Allen, a superbly dexterous tenor man trade choruses with local legend and national jazz treasure McKenna that evoked happy memories of the great JATP and Town Hall Jazz concerts of the 1940s. Next Friday, Philadelphia’s own, young pianist George Burton, winner of the 2002 Peter Nero Competition comes in with his quartet supported by top trumpeter Terell Stafford.

P.S. Recently, Jimmy Bruno, easily one of the finest jazz guitarists working today, was playing a gig with the always exciting Chris Farr Trio at Chris’ Jazz Cafe. The noise in the cafe generated by thoughtless talkers all through the set had Jimmy shaking his head in sadness, saying, “Only in Philadelphia” and expressing dismay at people who pay money to hear the finest jazz being played today and then talk all through it. We have commented on these jazz jabberwockies in prior columns, but nothing seems to shut them up. This show was complicated even further with a young lady who felt it was her time to enter show business who jumped up in front of the band shimmying and shaking like Courtney Love and dressed much the same. That is something that can happen anytime people get high, of course, but the chatterbox brigade, those jazz jabberwockies would do other customers and the musicians a great big favor by just shutting their mouths for a change. Paying to hear music and then talking all through is not only rude, it’s stupid.


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