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Lots to Love on February Jazz Scene

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February may be the shortest month of the year, but St. Louis definitely isn't coming out on the short end in terms of jazz events this month.

It all begins with a visit by vocalist Kevin Mahogany to Jazz at the Bistro this week - Feb. 2-5. On this visit to the Bistro, the Kansas City native will be working in a drummerless trio setting, paying tribute to the smooth vocal stylings of the legendary Johnny Hartman. From Feb. 16-19, longtime Bistro fave Russell Malone returns - bringing the swinging guitar style featured on his latest MAXJAZZ recording, Playground.

Local piano great Dave Venn returns to the Bistro Friday and Saturday, Feb. 25 & 26 - with a special guest — guitarist Rob Block. The former St. Louisan moved to new Orleans several years ago, and this marks a great chance to see him on his old stomping grounds. In addition, singer Ann Hampton Calloway returns to the Bistro on Thursday, Feb. 10 for a benefit concert for the Joy Foundation. For more info on that event, call 314-862-0569.

The February jazz lineup at the Sheldon Concert Hall features the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on Thursday, Feb. 10 (just in case you've decided to keep celebrating Mardi Gras) and vocalist Tierney Sutton on Saturday, Feb. 19.

Two other Sheldon events combine jazz with education - in differing combinations. Victor Goines, director of the jazz program at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music, leads the Juilliard Jazz Small Ensemble in concert at the Sheldon on Wednesday, Feb. 9. In addition, Goines and the Ensemble will conduct workshops Feb. 9 & 10 with jazz students from Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, St. Charles West High School and Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville, Ensembles from each of the schools will perform during the opening set of Wednesday's concert.

On Tuesday, Feb. 15, the Sheldon's "Notes From Home" series will feature a benefit concert for the Center for the Humanities at University of Missouri St. Louis. The UMSL connection carries through to the performers - UMSL chancellor Thomas George on piano and bassist Jim Widner (who heads UMSL's Jazz Studies program. They'll be joined by Nacy Kransberg on vocals and Jim Wuerst on drums.

Other jazz events in February include a rare jazz event in Focal Point's -oriented series. On Thursday, February 10, the Icelandic trio Guitar Islancio will perform. Guitarists Bjorn Thoroddsen and Gunnar Thordarson and bassist Jon Rafnsson have been working together since 1998, and have recorded 4 albums - with a focus on improvisational takes on Icelandic folk songs., And make sure you consider the drive to Columbia, Mo for two excellent concerts in the We Always Swing Kazz Series . Pianist Nachito Herrera and the Cuban All Stars perform at the Blue Note on Saturday, Feb. 5. And a mid-week drive will definitely be worth it to catch Kenny Garrett at the blue note on Wednesday, Feb. 16. If you haven't heard his current band featuring pianist Carlos McKinney, bassist Kris Funn and the amazing drumming of Ronald Bruner, make plans now!

Hey, I know all these concerts cost money. And with taxes coming up - not to mention Valentine's Day for you guys - you might want to consider a couple of concert bargains in the Webster University Jazz Series. Sax great Willie Akins takes the spotlight on Monday, Feb. 7 with his Quartet, and on Feb. 14, there's a multi-media tribute to Charles Mingus—featuring The Webster University Big Band performing Mingus compositions followed by a screening of the film, "Mingus: Triumph of the Underdog." Both events are only $3 at the door.

Riffs:

Speaking of Valentine's Day, there are several other jazz events a bit more on the romantic side than the Mingus concert. Reggie and Mardra Thomas return to Jazz at the Bistro for their annual Valentine's show on Feb. 11, 12 & 14. Valentine's Day. Vocalist Nicole Henry, recently featured at Lincoln Center, will be headlining at Cookie's Jazz and More in Webster Groves on Feb. 12 - backed by the Tom Kennedy Trio. Also on the 12th, local saxophonist Tim Cunningham hosts a Valentin'es show at The Pageant .


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