On Saturday, January 23, my girlfriend Suzanne gave me a surprise advance birthday present of an evening at The Jazz Standard, a top of the line jazz club of somewhat recent vintage on 27th Street on Manhattan's East Side. The club is downstairs, below an upscale restaurant and bar that caters to yuppies and singles. A great feature of the jazz club is that you can order food and drink from either menu- so you can save money or splurge on some of the best dining to be had at any jazz club. The place is laid out so that you can see and hear well from anywhere, and there is enough room to spread out a bit, which makes it a very pleasant place to enjoy and listen intently to the music itself. It's also frequented by very special people in the jazz business. For example, Dexter Gordon's wife, Maxine, dropped in to hear the group, which honored her with a couple of Dexter's compositions. The group of the evening consisted of "Billy Higgins and the True Blue All Stars." Trumpeter and arranger Don Sickler is the music director of the group, while veteran great Higgins sat behind the drums and drove the audience wild with some of his incredible musicianship and technical virtuosity. Sickler, trombonist Curtis Fuller, tenor saxophonist James Spaulding, pianist Ronnie Matthews, and bassist John Ore complete this marvelous sextet. Kudos to this superb group for some of the best, liveliest, intense, and interesting ensemble playing I've heard in a long time. At the end of the set, Sickler introduced an astonishingly artful young jazz singer from Italy, Roberta Amberini (I hope I've spelled her name correctly! :-) She has a beautiful soprano voice, a great repertoire, and sings with the skill and precision of a fine instrumentalist. In my opinion, she is a rising star among young vocalists- keep an eye out for her. The group finished their tour of duty at the Jazz Standard on January 24, but keep a lookout for them in your neighborhood- they are definitely worth a listen.