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The sheer joy of swinging jazz

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You can hear it in the music, and you can see it in the faces.

Jazz at its best touches the audience, and is celebrated deeply in the musical communion among its makers. No matter the age gap, or the almost immeasurable decades of experience by most participants.

Such was the case on Sunday, April 11 when the Dan Miller-Lew Del Gatto quintet performed at Naples United Church of Christ. The quintet featured 16-year-old Miami-area pianist Brandon Goldberg—and for this 90-minute performance, he clearly was the center of attention in a band that was made up of jazz heavyweights.

They included trumpeter Miller, a veteran of the Harry Connick Jr. and Maynard Ferguson bands, and Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra; 30-year NBC Saturday Night Live Band alumnus Del Gatto; first-call Miami bassist Chuck Bergeron; and Philadelphia drummer Tony Vigilante, who spent 20 years touring with Ben Vereen.

Whenever Goldberg soloed, it was fascinating to watch the faces of his on-stage jazz elders. Smiles of appreciation and rapt attention abounded. Like the audience, they too were digging the continued progress he has made as a young musician since they'd last worked with him a couple of years ago. He now has two four-stars recordings to his name, Let's Play! and In Good Time. The latter session, released last September, featured drumming great Ralph Peterson Jr., who died of cancer in March 2021, just four months after it was recorded.

Miller first heard Goldberg in Miami five years ago when he was guest director for the Miami-Dade All-County Honors High School Jazz Band. Brandon was the pianist for the group, even though he was a 10-year-old middle school student.

Then as now, he was passionate about jazz, and has developed into what Miller describes as a “incredibly swinging and inventive player."

That was apparent throughout the band's set. It included Thelonious Monk's “Straight, No Chaser," Jerome Kern's “Look for the Silver Lining," Duke Ellington's “In a Mellow Tone," the Johnny Mandel ballad “Emily," Peter Nero's “Sunday in New York," George Gershwin's “They Can't Take That Away From Me" and the Count Basie band chestnut “Topsy" before going full circle to Monk for the finale, a romp through “Right Mississippi," which he based on the chord changes to “Sweet Georgia Brown."

Goldberg performed with just bass and drums accompaniment on “Emily," which came from the soundtrack to “The Americanization of Emily." On this cusp-of-evening, the young pianist explored and added his own impressions to its lush melody. He went solo a couple of tunes later with his playful, extended take on the Gershwin standard.

“Topsy," a swinger first recorded by Cont Basie in 1937, showcased Bergeron's rich and inventive bass solos.

The way the band swung through these extended eight tunes, the music flew by. It was so riveting, it didn't feel lie we'd been listening for 90 minutes.

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