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Always a night with musical surprises

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You never know just what's in store when the Dan Miller Quartet performs on Tuesday nights at the Roadhouse Cafe in Fort Myers FL. There are always musical surprises, and that's a good thing in this case.

That's just what happened on April 17 when the Tuesday night series concluded its season-long run. (The Roadhouse will be closed on Tuesdays from now through the summer).

But back to last night. Trumpeter Miller has been working steadily for several years with this fine band, which includes Joe Delaney on piano, Don Mopsick on bass and Tony Viigilante on drums. All four of them have fierce musical credentials.

And they have a terrific time playing a wide range of jazz- from Great American Songbook standards to lesser-known tunes from the jazz/bebop canon. They were having such a good time last night that the planned 50-minute opening set was more like 90 minutes before they took a break.

There are two surprises on this gig.

1- You're never sure what talents might sit in. On this particular night, tenor saxophonist Lou Califano, a long-time player in Atlantic City, joined the band for the last two tunes of the first set and was in the mix for the rest of the night.

2- You're never quite sure where each announced tune will lead, thanks to the hip piano artistry of Delaney, a Dave McKenna protege who developed his career in the Boston area and returns to Cape Cod for gigs in the summer.

During his solos, and sometimes while trading four-bar or eight-bar phrases with the other players, Delaney seamlessly drops in familiar melodies from other tunes to underscore a feeling or add a touch of whimsy. It doesn't happen on every song, but some tunes occasionally become four or five in one.

Here are a couple of examples that stood out last night:

On George and Ira Gershwin's “Lady Be Good," Delaney wove in a snippet of Stevie Wonder's “Isn't She Lovely."

On the band's exploration of “Flamingo," Ted Grouya's exotic 1940 ballad first recorded by Duke Ellington with singer Herb Jeffries, the pianist dropped in a bit of “Poinciana."

When they played Dave Brubeck's “In Your Own Sweet Way," Delaney's solo wound down with a salute: “Thanks for the Memories." Thanks indeed!

Snowbirds and year-round jazz lovers in southwest Florida are fortunate that Miller (originally from Chicago), Delaney (from Brockton MA), Mopsick (from Linden NJ via San Antonio), and Vigilante (from Philadelphia), decided to make this area their home base.

It's been a pleasant discovery since moving here more than five years ago, having retired from northern winters, that the region is blessed with many such talents.

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This story appears courtesy of Ken Franckling's Jazz Notes.
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