All that (southern) jazz

Take my word for it, there are a lot of jazz fans among the thousands of snowbirds who migrate to South Florida during winter months. And there are enough good musicians playing down there through the winter to satisfy every need.

From personal experience, I can only report on activities on the sunshine state’s East Coast. No doubt, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and other gulf-coast cities offer good jazz attractions too, but I’m most familiar with the area from Miami to Delray Beach. This area also offers a fair selection of stage shows – from comedies and dramas to musical theatre – during the winter. Some are national touring companies; others are locally mounted productions. But back to the jazz. Besides concerts by the likes of Natalie Cole, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney or Maynard Ferguson, there are dozens of lounges/bars/clubs offering great jazz attractions for the Canadian snowbird.

Rather than concentrate on the "name" musicians who whip down for a week or so, I’d rather spotlight a few musicians who spend the winter there, in one club or another.

Among the most impressive are reed player Eric Allison,rumpeter Lou Columbo and pianist Billy Marcus.

Columbo is a master of the trumpet and other horns, and someone of whom Dizzy Gillespie once said: "He is a trumpet painter, a beautiful player with gorgeous tone and sound." Although he’s from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Columbo spends his winters playing at P.G. Doogie’s, a friendly bistro – perhaps more funky than elegant – at Deerfield Beach, or at the classier Erny’s in Delray, maybe even the Mojazz Cafe in Miami.

Marcus also comes from Cape Cod, and plays in clubs from Coral Gables to Delray during the winter. He’s a nimble, inventive musician and has worked over the years with the likes of Al Gray, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins.

Most often, I’ve heard him with Eric Allison at Erny’s, to my mind the most attractive club in Delray. It offers music every night, but spotlights jazz on Tuesdays. Allison – a transplanted mid-westerner from South Bend, Indiana, who studied first in Chicago and then Miami – is perhaps my favourite South Florida musician. He plays tenor, alto and soprano sax, clarinet and flute – all with authority and style. In addition, he’s an engaging vocalist and has gone to the trouble in recent years to master a good many unusual songs, including some little-heard blues.

Incidentally, if you check out any of these great musicians and like what you hear, their CDs are usually available at the venue where they’re playing (usually for $15 US, no tax).

One of my favourite Eric Allison CDs is Live at Ziegfield’s, recorded at that now defunct Miami club some years ago. It features Allison on all his horns, backed only by the excellent veteran pianist Jack Keller. Included are such standards as There’s a Small Hotel, You’ve Changed and Jumpin at the Woodside. Allison even does a creditable job on alto sax on the old Woody Herman classic Four Brothers.

But to me the most eloquent work on this CD is Allison’s clarinet playing on My Inspiration, a mournful blues in which he pays suitable tribute to the great Irving Fazola, who played this tune back in the 1930s with Bob Crosby’s Bobcats. Here too, Keller’s sensitive piano backing is just perfect.

The last time I saw Allison (at Erny’s) was last April. Once again, he was teamed with Billy Marcus on piano, along with a drummer and bass player.

He told me he had a new CD out entitled Mean Street Beat and, naturally, I ended up buying one. This time, Allison shows off his remarkable versatility. To begin with he wrote all 10 tunes on the disc, and he switches back and forth from tenor sax to clarinet, from tune to tune – never at a loss for ideas.

Among the musicians backing him are Turk Mauro, who plays both tenor and baritone sax, trumpeter Melton Mustafa, pianist Dr. Lonnie Smith, drummer Danny Burger and bassist Jeff Grubbs. Also included on the CD are Lonely Avenue, which has an appealing and admittedly Ellingtonian flavour, and A Stroll in Savannah, again with Allison on soulful clarinet plus some tasty piano by Vince Maggio, and Funk Boulevard. The last-named was written as a feature for Eric’s long-time cohort, Billy Marcus, and spotlights the pianist’s infectious swinging style. And Allison romps through this one joyously too, on tenor saxophone. Another musician you should look for in Southern Florida is the remarkable Ira Sullivan who plays several types of saxophone, plus clarinet, flute and trumpet. I first caught him years ago on one of his rare trips to Toronto. This gifted veteran musician makes his home in South Florida and can often be found at one or another of the clubs between Miami and Delray.

Yes indeed, the jazz scene is certainly alive and kicking in southern Florida during the winter – check it out. It may well be better for you than spending time soaking up the sun.

Singer Lorraine Foster is a favourite in B.C. The Toronto-born chanteuse has scheduled three concerts tied in with Remembrance Day.

Nov. 7, she’ll be at the McPherson Theatre in Victoria, the 8th at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo and the 10th at the Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River. Lorraine has a new CD out called Remember When.