New Orleans on parade - and other surprises

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Singer Lisa Kelly and trumpeter JB Scott had a few surprises up their sleeves for their return performance at the Charlotte County Jazz Society on Monday, February 13. The Jacksonville-based musicians spent about one-third of their two-hour concert digging deep into music associated with New Orleans. They also.brought a larger band than anticipated and featured Scott on several vocal numbers in addition to his solid trumpet artistry.

The Crescent City connection was a natural. Scott spent three years as musical director of the New Orleans-based Dukes of Dixieland. He's now an associate professor of jazz studies at the University of North Florida and directs its award-winning Jazz Ensemble I. While in New Orleans, he was mentored a bit by trumpeter Al Hirt, whose influence was clear both in Scott's playing and his audience rapport.

The evening was advertised as a quintet performance, but Kelly and Scott turned it into a sextet by adding the fine Southwest Florida trombonist Herb Bruce, whose humor and versatility made him an ideal fit for this unit. The other players included pianist Jeff Phillips, bassist Charlie Silva and drummer Clyde Connor. This was the Port Charlotte debut for Connor, who teaches percussion and jazz theory at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

The band covered a wide range of material, from Dixieland, classic jazz, big band standards and the Great American Songbook. The New Orleans-associated material that bubbled up throughout the night included “Basin Street Blues" (a strong feature for Bruce), Kelly's exquisite take on the Louis Armstrong hit “What a Wonderful World," “Sweethearts on Parade" (complete with Connor's shuffle beat and Scott's gritty vocals), a Professor Longhair-inspired solo from Phillips on “Tin Roof Blues," “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" and the closer, “When The Saints Go Marching In."

They also put jazz stamp on pop material when Kelly performed a beautiful ballad version of “I Can See Clearly Now" with just the rhythm section. Johnny Nash wrote and first recorded the reggae tune in 1972, and Jimmy Cliff's 1993 hit cover was on the soundtrack for the film Cool Runnings. “It's not the song that makes it jazz, it's what you do with it," Kelly said, underscoring the point that jazz is a process, not a repertoire.

Other standout moments included Scott's vocal take on “After You've Gone," compete with bass-style scatting to Silva's bass solo; a gorgeous Phillips-led trio exploration of “My Foolish Heart" that opened the second set; and Kelly's Ella Fitzgerald tribute with a full scat chorus on “Blue Skies." Connor showcased his drum mastery to full effect with a feature on “Caravan." Much like their Port Charlotte debut in March 2014, Kelly and Scott showed how to blend exceptional musicality with good humor- and connect with their audience in a profound way.

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