Celebrating Stan Getz and other jazz giants

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Tenor saxophonist Jeff Rupert & Friends, featuring rising star singer Veronica Swift, wound up a 10-day Florida concert tour on Sunday, March 19, with a stunning matinee performance in Venice.

Rupert, who directs the University of Central Florida's Jazz Studies Program, was joined for this performance by fellow faculty members Richard Drexler on piano and Marty Morell on drums, plus Swift and bassist Don Mopsick.

Much of this tour dug into music recorded by tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, but there were other inescapable touchstones.They included Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, George Gershwin, Johnny Mandel, Cole Porter, William Shakespeare and even the beloved “Peanuts" cartoon character Charlie Brown.

Swift is the 22-year-old daughter of singer Stephanie Nakasian and late pianist Hod O'Brien. She was first runner-up in 2015's Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition. She graduated in December from the University of Miami's Frost School of Music and is moving to New York this month to further her career.

She has been listening to jazz virtually her entire life and has been performing it- and absorbing its nuances- since before she was a teenager. Based on the two times I've heard her this year (in Fort Myers and Venice), Swift may well be the finest female scat singer to come along since Ella when it comes to originality, inventiveness and musicality.

On Sunday, the band opened with “September in the Rain," including Swift's vocalese, in which she sang her own lyrics to emulate Lester Young's classic recorded solo. Later in the program, she also shared her vocalese take on Getz's tenor solo on “Pennies From Heaven." Swift also shared the lyrics she wrote for “Beauty Becomes Her," a poignant ballad that Rupert wrote for his wife.

Two other Rupert originals found their way onto the set list. One was his breezy bossa nova “Let's Sail Away." The other was “His Mistress' Eyes," a melody he wrote for the Shakespeare sonnet of the same name. There's a beautiful instrumental version on Rupert and Drexler's new duo CD Imagination. On this afternoon, they performed it with a full band, and Swift singing the bard's words.

Rupert's beautiful tenor sound is heavily influenced by Getz's lyrical, romantic tone and was a wonderful mood-setter. Swift meshed well, with her spot-on vocals serving at times as a second horn from her scatting and vocal interplay with the other instrumentalists. During Cole Porter's “It's Alright With Me," she and Rupert stood side by side, comping with voice and tenor to add tasty fills behind Drexler's extended piano solo.

Other Getz touchstones included their versions of the Getz/Bob Brookmeyer arrangement of Johnny Mandel's “Pernod," a fresh take on “I Want to Be Happy" (recorded by Ella, and by Getz with Oscar Peterson's trio), and “Ginza Samba," a Vince Guaraldi song that Getz recorded with vibraphonist Cal Tjader. Since Guaraldi is best known as composer of the music from the Charlie Brown/Peanuts television specials, bits of those familiar melodies found their way into the solos.

The most rousing piece of the afternoon featured Swift singing the Lambert, Hendricks & Ross classic bebop head arrangement “Everybody's Boppin'" over “I've Got Rhythm." It was a fitting inclusion. Her mother spent two years touring with John Hendricks and Company in the early 1980s.

This South County Jazz Club concert at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice drew a full house of more than 150. A recording of this project is in the works. Rupert's band and Swift spent two days in the studio in Orlando at mid-week with a larger horn section.

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