When jazz fans think of Miami, Miami Beach or the greater South Florida area, it is most probably during the planning of a vacation destination and not necessarily as a place to hear jazz. Why? Because it's obvious that South Florida cannot quite compare to LA, the San Francisco Bay Area or the general West Coast jazz scene nor can it compete with New York's vibrant jazz spots with respect to jazz music. When you further narrow down the type of jazz to contemporary big band music, South Florida, void of professional big bands until now, comes in last.
In 2006, bassist extraordinaire and educator Chuck Bergeron had a vision: establish the first professional contemporary jazz orchestra to serve the South Florida area, and so the new South Florida Jazz Orchestra (SFJO) was born. The band is comprised of some of the finest jazz music educators and studio musicians, in the southeastern part of the country.
With the help of legendary jazz trumpeter, Arturo Sandoval, the group found a home at The Arturo Sandoval Jazz Club in Miami Beach, where they have performed a regular monthly gig since October, 2006. A review by AAJ contributor Ed Blanco captured the excitement of the SFJO's first performance, and can be read here.
On November 1st 2007, the SFJO releases its debut album, produced by Grammy-nominated trombonist/arranger and band leader, John Fedchock. The album features a blend of exciting originals and classic standards complete with vocals from a host of luminaries. For this first effort, Bergeron decided to augment his sixteen-piece big band with an array of special guests among them, Arturo Sandoval, former Woody Herman Herdsman and master saxophonist Charles Pillow, and veteran sideman/reed player, Ed Calle.
With a repertoire that contains three vocal tunes, the lists of special guests also includes the incomparable baritone great, Kevin Mahogany who delivers a rousing rendition of Eden Ahbez's classic Nature Boy," with the assistance of tenor saxophonist Garry Keller.
Vocalist/composer Nicole Yarling joins forces with trombonist/educator, Dante Luciani in providing a very sensual performance on the slow and delicious love ballad Blame It On My Youth." The last vocal piece is presented by the featured vocalist of the Jaco Pastorius Big Band Revisited, Dana Paul, who belts out a lively and bouncy version of the Rodgers & Hart standard This Can't Be Love," accompanied by a scorching sax solo from Ed Calle.
Veteran composer/arranger Mike Lewis contributes two original charts with ... And The Basses Are Loaded," highlighting the appreciable talents of bassist and leader Chuck Bergeron, and Waltz For Tikkaroo," a traditional big band arrangement showcasing a strong woodwind section led by Arturo Sandoval's high-pitch trumpet and supported by Mike Brignola's baritone.
The album opens up in swinging fashion with composer/arranger/saxophonist Gary Lindsay's Blues Gumbo." Soloing here are saxophonists Mike Brignola, Gary Keller and Charles Pillow, trombonist Steve Sigmund, pianist Brian Murphy and Cuban-born trumpet wonder, Arturo Sandoval.
Bergeron contributes one original tune with the nine-minute plus journey of Role Models" showcasing guest Charles Pillow on a wicked soprano solo, accompanied by a fine performance from pianist/educator, Doug Bickel.
Somewhat apropos for this recording and from this ensemble, the band moves to the Latin jazz sounds of Ernesto Lecuona's Siboney," a rather percussive big band arrangement with trumpeter Alex Norris and trombonist Luciani sharing the lead.
Also included in the repertoire is the brassy John Fedchock tune Touch & Go," which Ken Mattis takes over with a splendid performance on tenor. The program ends with Bert Joris' Kong's Garden," a muscular piece featuring band member, trumpeter Jason Carder blowing down the house.
This recording is an example of what contemporary big band music should sound like. Complete with brassy instrumentals, exciting solos and wonderful vocals from different voices and styles, the music on the South Florida Jazz Orchestra presents an exciting new sound that jazz audiences will take note of.
Personnel: Chuck Bergeron: leader, bass; Arturo Sandoval: trumpet; Charles Pillow: alto, soprano sax; Ed Calle: tenor sax; Kevin Mahogany: vocals; Nicole Yarling: vocals; Dana Paul: vocals; Gary Keller: alto, soprano, tenor sax; Gary Lindsay: alto sax, clarinet, arranger; Ken Mattis: tenor sax; Jason Kush: tenor sax; Mike Brignola: baritone sax, bass clarinet; John Kricker: lead trombone; Dante Luciani: trombone; Steve Sigmund: trombone; Noah Bellamy: trombone, arranger; Joe Barati: bass trombone; Augie Haas: lead trumpet; Jason Carder: trumpet; Alex Norris: trumpet; Rodrigo Gallardo: trumpet; Doug Bickel: piano; Brian Murphy: piano; Richie Bravo: percussion; John Yarling: drums.
Track Listing: Blues Gumbo; Role Models; Nature Boy; Siboney; Midnight Mood; Touch & Go; Blame It On My Youth; ...And The Basses Are Loaded; This Can't Be Love; Waltz For Tikkaroo; Kong's Garden.