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Swinging jazz, no holds barred


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The Dan Miller-Lew Del Gatto quartet's weekly gig at the Barrel Room in downtown Fort Myers FL always has a surprise or two, and the Thursday, May 26 edition was no exception.

Drummer Jim White, a close friend and occasional band-mate of trumpeter Miller's since 1987 when they were freshmen at the University of North Texas (then known as North Texas State), was a special guest, joining bassist Don Mopsick in the piano-less rhythm section.

White is a powerful, hard-swinging drummer whose creativity and inventiveness was on display all night long. The one-time road warrior also worked in Nashville for many years before moving to the Rockies. For the past 17 years, he has been on the jazz faculty at the University of Northern Colorado.

Japanese trumpeter Terumasa Hino, a frequent guest who spends half the year living (and golfing) in Southwest Florida, joined midway through the first set. He and Miller are high-note masters who kept pushing each other higher and higher at every opportunity.

This was a night of jazz and Great American Songbook standards that gave each band member plenty of solo space to put their own stamps on the material. They also treated the crowd to a first-set mainstay for this band: a Jazz at the Philharmonic-style ballad medley, in which each horn player is featured on one segment.

Hino played “Body and Soul," then 30-year “NBC Saturday Night Live Band" alumnus Del Gatto dug into “Old Folks" and Miller wrapped up the medley with the Rosemary Clooney 1954 pop hit “Hey There." The song came from that year's Broadway musical The Pajama Game, where it was first sung by star John Raitt (blues singer Bonnie Raitt's father).

The evening also featured compositions in which their writers put a new melody over the chord changes of another tune. They included Ben Webster's “Did You Call Her Today?"—-based on Duke Ellington's “In a Mellow Tone," Thelonious Monk's “Bright Mississippi"—-based on “Sweet Georgia Brown" and Tadd Dameron's “On a Misty Night"—-based on “September in the Rain." If Dragnet's Sgt. Joe Friday had been a jazz fan, he might have said: “Just the contrafacts, Ma'am."

White made the most of his solo space on Red Garland's “Blues By Five," which closed the first set, and “Topsy Part 2." The Count Basie orchestra first recorded the Eddie Durham-Edgar Battle tune “Topsy" in 1938. Cozy Cole had a huge hit 20 years later with his explosive drum feature on “Topsy Part 2," the “B" side of his version.

The second set brought two more personnel additions: tenor saxophone modernist Gerald Augustin, who is a Barrel Room regular, and guitarist Noah Charles. Charles, from Naples, is a University of Central Florida jazz studies major who on Sunday won a $2,500 award at the Central Florida Jazz Society's annual scholarship competition. He was featured on the ballad “All The Things You Are" and the night's closer, the band's take on Sonny Rollins' “Sonnymoon for Two."

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