Naples, Florida, enjoys the healthiest of jazz scenes. Indeed, there is more happening here–where Joy Adams and I will be until April–than in most major cities. Locally-oriented examples include jazz trumpet virtuoso Bob Zottola’s Expandable Jazz Band, currently working seven nights a week (!) and the always-wonderful vocalist, Jebry, aka Judy Branch, as busy as ever in a number of locales.

The Joy Adams/Bruce Klauber engagement celebrating Fat Tuesday here at Remy’s Bistro was, in fact, a sellout. And this is the first perfomance we’ve done under our own leadership since first coming to Naples eight years ago. Management told us that all 160 seats indoors were filled, with another 50 eating and drinking outside, waiting for an inside vacancy. Joy and I owe a debt of gratitude for the superb, swinging and flexible backing by three wonderful friends and artists: Pianist Jean Packard, bassists Richard Lytton and reedman Lou Califano. We have basically been offered an “open door” at Remy’s Bistro, meaning that we can appear there whenever we want. We are returning on Tuesday, March 11. For any of our JazzLegends.com visitors who may be in the Southwest Florida area at that time, please come and see us. Call 239-403-9222 for reservations, or email me personally at DrumAlive@aol.com

On the national level, the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts has booked a great number of jazz and jazz-oriented attractions for the 2008 season, including appearances by Tony Bennett, Steve and Edyie, Bill Cosby, Frank Sinatra, Jr., a number of shows by pianist Dick Hyman (featuring players like Harry Allen, Randy Sandke and Eddie Metz, Jr.), singer Freda Payne paying tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, Steve Tyrell, Anne Hampton Calloway, 23-year old Russian singing sensation Sophie Milman, Branford Marsalis and Chris Botti.

This is, without question, a very healthy scene. The majority of these events, by the way, were, are and will be sold out.

A surprise, last-minute booking was none other than The Ramsey Lewis Trio. Those who remember the Chicagoan’s famed, funk-based trio featuring Red Holt and Eldee Young on million sellers like “Wade in the Water” and “Hang on Sloopy” were very, very pleasantly surprised at what they heard. Here is an detailed review of the show, which took place on February 6th: ******

Jazz musicians who have sold a million records and reached the top of the music sales charts are a very rare breed, though there have been some notable exceptions through the years. Louis Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly” actually knocked The Beatles off the hit parade in 1964. And there were others, including Stan Getz’ “Girl from Ipanema,” Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” Eddie Harris’ “Exodus,” and “The In Crowd” and “Wade in the Water” by a young pianist out of Chicago named Ramsey Lewis.

Lewis, who performed with his trio before a sold-out and wildly appreciative, three-encore audience at The Phil on Wednesday, could have easily rested on his laurels and play a medley of his seven gold records and three Grammy winners. He did not, and the result was one of the most refreshing and entertaining evenings of music–of any kind–presented during this or any other season. Accompanied by virtuoso bassist Larry Gray, and the amazingly versatile drummer Leon Joyce, Jr., Lewis has moved into a modern and impressionistic pianistic area, often invoking the lyricism of the late Bill Evans and the modal explorations of McCoy Tyner. He has combined this with a tremendous flair for gospel music, a good amount of crowd-pleasing humor and arrangements for the trio that often had it sounding like an orchestra Still, the famed, Ramsey Lewis funk remains very much in evidence, so while he has evolved stylistically, the Lewis sound continues to be instantly recognizable.

Other than a short rendition of “The In Crowd,” done as one of the encores, the repertoire of The Ramsey Lewis Trio is an electic one, ranging from the touching John Coltrane ballad “Dear Lord” to a rousing “Oh Happy Day.” Lewis has strong classical roots as well–he studied the classical concert repertoire as a youth with the legendary Dorothy Mendelsohn in Chicago–and that influence was quite clear on The Beatles “In My Life” and several Lewis compositions written for a suite of dances entitled “To Know Her,” which united the trio with the Goffrey Ballet.

Not enough can be said about Lewis’ accompanists. After hearing the superb, arco work and always inventive soloing by bassist Larry Gray, it is no surprise that his classical background is extensive. He was the featured bassist with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and principal bassist of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. He has also worked with a number of jazz greats, including Joe Williams, Clark Terry McCoy Tyner and Jack DeJohnette.

Like Gray, drummer Leon Joyce, Jr. transcends categorization. He is fluent in the New Orleans drumming style via his work with New Orleans legends like Pete Fountain and Ellis Marsalis; but he is equally at home with funk, gospel and even rock. Though his technique is astounding, is it always musical.

Ramsey Lewis is more visible and more popular these days–and not only as a pianist–than he was during his hit-making Chicago days. He hosts a popular, syndicated radio show, entitled “The Ramsey Lewis Morning Show.” And in 2006, he filmed a series of half-hour television shows for PBS called “Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis.” Now widely available on DVD, “Legends of Jazz” represented the first time in 40 years that jazz was regularly broadcast on television.

He has often been described, quite accurately, as a legend. And just how does that feel? “It’s a high honor when someone says so,” Lewis has recently said, “but I don’t see myself that way. What keeps me enthusiastic and energizes me is the realization that the more I learn, the more I find there is to know.”

And though he is constantly learning, evolving and growing, Ramsey Lewis has never forgotten the audience. Above all, he is a dignified communicator, who, by the way, still swings like no other. This concert stands as one of the highlights of a great, jazz-oriented season at The Phil.
******JazzLegends.com appreciates the continued support of our thousands of international visitors, especially during this difficult economic period. Things are tough here and everywhere, but we continue to go to the ends of the earth to find product of interest that simply cannot be found elsewhere. Please note our new Tony Williams DVDs, including the famed “Zildjian Day 1985,” two outstanding VSOP concerts from 1982 and 1982 and a “Tony Williams Superstar Band” concert from 1983. Additionally, Dean Pratt, collector and annotator extraordinaire and former Buddy Rich big band member, has come up with two CDs that are as close to the “Krupa Holy Grail” as one can get. First is an extended, backstage conversation at Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago, between Gene and B.R., recorded in July of 1973, just about 90 days before Gene’s death. This is touching and often hilarious. You will hear and feel sides of these giants that you just won’t believe. On the same CD are the legendary out takes from “Burnin’ Beat.” The second CD, “Where’s Benny?” is an ultra-ultra rare concert from May of 1953, when Gene took over leadership of the Benny Goodman band that was to tour with Louis Armstrong. Pops stayed, Benny dropped out due to alleged illness, Gene took over and Benny, by and large, was not missed. You will hear some unreal Krupa drumming, on an 11-minute partial version of “Sing Sing Sing” coupled with a Willie Smith/Teddy Wilson/Krupa Trio verson of “Drum Boogie,” and a Krupa/Cozy Cole battle on “The Saints” with Pops and The All-Stars. The finale of this CD is an in-depth interview with Mr. Personality himself, “The King of Swing.” These two items, like a lot of our other material, were thought not to exist. These are must-haves.

Finally, we are told that our good colleague, drummer/producer Arthor Von Blomberg, has lined up several dates at Harrah’s in New Orleans for his all-star Krupa Tribute band that includes star alto saxophonist Richie Cole. Stay tuned, keep swingin’ and God bless.

Bruce Klauber February, 2008

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