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Arts & Culture
Owen McNally writes about jazz and other music events in Connecticut's Jazz Corridor, stretching from the tip of Fairfield County, right through New Haven and Hartford, and on up beyond the state into the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. Keep up with the best our area has to offer in music.

Hartford Jazz Society Launches Its Annual Riverboat Ramble on the Connecticut River

Maurice Robertson
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Hartford Jazz Society
Bassist Nat Reeves performing in Hartford last July. Reeves is headlining the Hartford Jazz Society's annual riverboat cruise.

For more than a half-century, theHartford Jazz Society’s annual riverboat ramble on the Connecticut River—the state’s biggest, longest-running, most celebratory floating jazz concert—consistently features indelible shipboard solos that might forever dwell in your nostalgic jazz memory bank.

TheHJS continues its time-honored tradition -- one that first splashed down in the early 1960s as a highly risky financial venture -- as it weighs anchor for its now venerable jazz cruise on September 21 at 11:30 am from the State Pier in Haddam.

A seven-and-a-half hour jazz odyssey that sails full steam ahead down river to Long Island Sound and back, the cruise features a boatload of jazz talent generating continuous, alternating sets featuring modern jazz bassist Nat Reeves’ All-Star Ensemble and Latin jazz maestro Ed Fast’s band, Conga Bop.

Besides being a musical marathon for listeners and dancers alike, the riverboat revelry is simultaneously a party, a picnic, a reunion of jazz buddies, a picturesque meeting ground for the making of new friendships and a tourist’s delight providing a panoramic view of the scenic Connecticut River Valley. Weather permitting, it can also be a sun worshiper's haven on the top deck, ideal for savoring a taste of early autumn.

Credit Hartford Jazz Society
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Hartford Jazz Society
The cruise boat will take passengers on the Connecticut River for seven hours of touring around with live jazz on board.

Anywhere you go from stem to stern, live jazz is always audible. It’s your swinging soundtrack for cruising down the river on a Sunday afternoon.

Best of all for the jazz voyagers aboard for this year’s river run, Reeves and Fast are fine captains overseeing their handpicked musical crews.

Reeves, a consummate instrumentalist and master jazz educator at The Hartt School’s Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz, brings such first-rate hands on deck as pianist David Hazeltine, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Joe Farnsworth. With Fast, a percussionist/composer, at the helm, Conga Bop’s crack crew consists of such seaworthy stalwarts as trumpeter Jim Hunt, tenor saxophonist Frank Kozyra, trombone titan Steve Davis, bassist Matt Dwonszyk, pianist Sam Parker, vocalist Linda Ransom and conga player Jorge Fuentes.

Credit Ed Fast
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Ed Fast
Ed Fast.

If, perchance, you’re not yet familiar with Hazeltine, an elegantly swinging pianist in the classic modern jazz keyboard tradition of Cedar Walton and Tommy Flanagan, he might well be your surprise discovery of the day, that indelible memory you walk away with after the boat returns dockside at about 7:00 pm.

The most recent sample of Hazeltine’s peerless playing is on his new disc, For All We Know (Smoke Sessions Records). Recorded live last September at Manhattan’s Smoke Jazz Club, it matches the pianist up with the high-energy tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, bassist David Williams and drummer Joe Farnsworth.

In his own distinctive manner, Hazeltine pays homage to Walton, an early idol, on several numbers; unfurls new, shining glory in the Charlie Parker blues, "Cheryl"; and creates a rocking, freedom-filled funk-fest jazz dance for his tribute to tenor saxophone greatEddie Harris in a rousing, Blake-powered celebration, "Eddie Harris." Not in any way to denigrate the CD’s eight, bright, varied quartet tracks (a victoriously boisterous Blake certainly does nothing to shame us), but the CD has only one lonely piano trio track. A warm version of the Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke ballad, "Imagination," it’s a tasty slice of pure Hazeltine time.

Boarding time for the HJS cruise is 10:00 am. Free parking is available next to the boat dock. Bring picnic baskets, drinks and coolers. Hot dogs are available on board. Ice and cold drinks free on the lower deck. Tickets: $65.00; $70.00 individual reserved table seating. All bottom deck tables reserved, tables of ten seats on bottom deck $700. Adults only. No pets. Tickets: send check or money order and self-addressed stamped return envelope to: The Hartford Jazz Society, 116 Cottage Grove Road, Bloomfield, Connecticut, 06002, Attention: Fred Ward; or online at PayPal via the HJS website. Information: hartfordjazzsociety.com and (860) 242-6688.

Credit David Borawski
Dan Blow.

Flights of Angels Sing Thee to Thy Rest

The once princely but now sadly defunct Music@Japanalia Series will be given its final fond farewell by eight vocalists in an upbeat extravaganza called The Girl Singers Show at 8:00 pm on Saturday, September 13, in the Aetna Theater at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 600 Main Street in Hartford.

Credit Dianne Mower
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Dianne Mower
Dianne Mower.

While tears may be shed, the concert both celebrates the life of the cabaret series’ remarkable five-year run and serves as a festive sendoff party for Dan Blow, the flamboyant fashion designer/impresario who created the series, and his partner, Larry Wilhelm. Pulling up deep roots in Hartford, the couple is moving to their idyllic seaside home in the Bahamas.

Among the flights of angels singing the series to its eternal rest are: Dianne Mower, June Bisantz, Antoinette Montague, Rachel Izen, Atla DeChamplain, Dana Lauren, and Graciela Quinones, an all-female heavenly host with the single exception of singer/pianist Jimmy Roberts. 

All eight singers have performed in Blow’s diverse series, which regularly brought live performances of cabaret, blues, jazz, funk, Broadway and the Great American Songbook to Japanalia Eiko, his boutique fashion shop in the West End. The singers will be accompanied by a band that includes, among others, pianist Matt DeChamplain; guitarist Norman Johnson; and bassist/guitarist, troubadour and noted muralist, Carlos Hernandez Chavez.

Blow shares the emcee duties with his friend Jacques Lamarre, a Connecticut playwright and manager of communications and special projects at the Mark Twain House and Museum. While there may be elements of both a requiem for the dearly departed series and an homage to the Bahama-bound series creator, Blow himself insists, “It’ll be a party any way you look at it!” Tickets: $100 VIP seating, includes a cocktail before the show and champagne reception afterwards; $38.00 general admission advance sale; and $50.00 general admission at the door. Call: (860) 983-7097.

Credit Tony Allen
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Tony Allen
Tony Allen.

Classic Crooner at Casa Mia

Vocalist Tony Allen, the popular, veteran crooner, presents his savvy interpretations of Great American Songbook material from 6:00 to 8:00 pm on Sunday, September 14, with his trio at Casa Mia on the Green at 600 Cold Spring Road in Rocky Hill.

For many years, the jazz-oriented pop singer with a relaxed, silken cabaret style and a repertoire of classic Italian-American songs, was a mainstay attraction at restaurateur Paul Lewis’s now closed but once red-hot, West Hartford eatery and bustling music bistro, Szechuan Tokyo Restaurant.

With his warm, direct, one-on-one delivery -- an approach inspired by watching his boyhood idols Frank Sinatra, Vic Damone and Perry Como performing at Hartford’s old State Theater -- Allen built up a large following of loyal fans among the smart set at Szechuan.

More recently, he’s brought his love of classic lyrics and melodies to venues ranging from The Wadsworth Atheneum to The Mark Twain House. Allen’s discography includes I Remember Front Street, his fond memories of the old Front Street neighborhood where he grew up in the 1930s and '40s. The CD’s popularity earned him the sobriquet “the Troubadour of Front Street.” The lyrics for the troubadour’s nostalgic hometown homage were written by his drummer, Joe Ronan, who’s both a percussionist and a poet.

Allen’s real name is Anthony DeDominicis, which was tailored many years ago to his professional name, Tony Allen, because, as his musician friends warned, his given surname was too long to fit on a marquee. His stage name was inspired when a buddy happened to spot a downtown street sign for Allyn Street. Initially, DeDominicis worked under that new showbiz surname, Allyn, singing at gigs everywhere from regional nightclubs and hotels to proms and weddings. But because of an unrelenting barrage of journalistic typos, Allyn eventually morphed into the more easily spelled Allen after appearing time and again as Allen in notices in the local newspapers.

“You couldn’t win,” the affable singer said from his home in the Elmwood section of West Hartford. “Everybody spelled it wrong, but uniformly wrong as Allen instead of Allyn. So it just became Allen.”

At Casa Mia, the octogenarian, workhorse pro, who sings at gigs even while vacationing in Florida with his wife Beatrice, will be accompanied by pianist Joe McWilliams and bassist Don Doucette. Information: (860) 563-7000.

Credit Claudio Casanova / Ingrid Laubrock
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Ingrid Laubrock
Ingrid Laubrock.

Expansive Works Cross State Line

German-born saxophonist/composer Ingrid Laubrock and her new quintet perform her latest transporting compositions written for saxophones, brass and drums in back-to-back performances on Thursday, September 11, in Northampton, and on Friday, September 12, in New Haven.

The noted Brooklyn-based artist, who has played and recorded with such luminaries as Anthony Braxton and Mary Halvorson, performs at 7:30 pm on Thursday in the Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares Concert Series at the Arts Trust Building, 33 Hawley Street in Northampton. Fulfilling a long-held ambition to create for woodwinds, brass and percussion, she’s joined by saxophonist Tim Berne, trombonist Ben Gerstein, tuba player Dan Peck and drummer Tom Rainey. Tickets: $15.00 at jazzshares.org and at the door.

Laubrock’s quintet, with the same lineup, plays the next night, Friday, at 8:30 and 10:00 pm, as the season opener for the 2014 Fall Jazz Series at New Haven’s Firehouse 12 at 45 Crown Street. Tickets: $20.00, first set; $15.00, second set. Information: firehouse12.com and (203) 785-0468.

Ravi Coltrane Opens Yale Series

Saxophonist Ravi Coltraneopens the 2014-2015 concert season for the Ellington Jazz Series at Yale with his quartet at 7:30 pm on Friday, September 12, at Sprague Hall, 470 College Street, New Haven. Coltrane is joined by guitarist Adam Rogers, bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Nate Smith.

Two premier ensembles that performed at Yale in 2012 are back for encore dates, double bassist Ron Carter leading his trio on October 24, and the Mingus Big Band on December 5.

The season grand finale on March 6 features Yale School of Music Professor Willie Ruff, the founder and director of the distinguished series, hosting a multimedia program called "The American Jazz Century," which features the rapidly ascending, endlessly versatile young pianist, Aaron Diehl. Box office: (203) 432-4158.

Broom Opens for Steely Dan

Guitarist Bobby Broom, a consummate sideman for Sonny Rollins, Stanley Turrentine and Dr. John, demonstrates his prowess as a premier leader in his own right as he opens for the legendary Steely Dan at 7:30 pm on Tuesday, September 16, at Toyota Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford

For their 36-city, 2014 Jamalot Ever After Tour, Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Walter Becker and Donald Fagen invited Broom to rejoin them as their opening act, a plum gig for the soulful, swinging guitarist who had opened for Steely Dan on other occasions. For the tour, the guitarist leads his Bobby Broom Organi-sation Trio featuring Makaya McCraven or Kobie Watkins on drums and Ben Paterson on organ.

Broom is celebrating the release of his fine new guitar trio CD, My Shining Hour (Origin Records), featuring nine gem-like standards with a little bit of help from his friends and fellow jewelers, Dennis Carroll on bass and McCraven on drums.

In its own somber, reflective, bluesy way, Broom’s original, poetic interpretation of “The Tennessee Waltz” is one of the freshest takes on the Patti Page mega-hit of 1950 since Sam Cooke’s miraculously, gloriously exultant rendition in 1964 transformed and radicalized the white-bread waltz into a superb, soulful ode to ecstasy.

Please submit press releases on upcoming jazz events at least two weeks before the publication date to omac28@gmail.com. Comments left below are also most welcome. 

Owen McNally writes the weekly Jazz Corridor column for WNPR.org as well as periodic freelance pieces for The Hartford Courant and other publications.

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