Swinging with Gates is quite a jazz journey


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Giacomo Gates' jazz vocals mastery is rooted deep in the scat and vocalese traditions, then blended with his engaging ability to put songs in context and good humor. He has carved out his own special niche among jazz vocalists. His career included construction work on railroads and the Alaska Pipeline among many other things before diving into jazz full time around 1990.

He drew mightily from the Jon Hendricks and Oscar Brown Jr. songbooks but also brought in some Eddie Jefferson, Bobby Troup and his own vocalese touches (adding words to classic recorded instrumental solos) at Sarasota's Glenridge Performing Arts Center on Saturday, February 4. The concert was co-sponsored by GPAC and the South County Jazz Club.

Gates, was backed by a superb trio: Dick Reynolds on piano, Mark Neuenschwander on bass and Patricia Dean on drums. This was Gates' first time working with Reynolds, longtime house pianist at Mr. Kelly's in Chicago. His keyboard artistry fit right into the singer's swinging groove.

At various times in the concert, Gates added to the instrumental mix by emulating trombone, bass, drums and saxophone with his expressive baritone. He also whistled to create a flute solo.

At least half of the material came from Gates' standard repertoire, including Sweets Edison and Jon Hendricks' “Centerpiece," Gig Gryce's “Social Call," Brown's “Hazel's Hips" and Jefferson's humorous “Benny's From Heaven" update of the standard “Pennies From Heaven."

Favorite moments:
  • Gates shared a beautiful take on Fame's lyrics to “On A Misty Night," a Tadd Dameron jazz classic that was based on the chord changes to “September in the Rain." He said he plans to record it in a couple of weeks for his next CD.
  • Thelonious Monk's “In Walked Bud," with lyrics by Hendricks, included an artful bass and vocal-bass duet interlude between Neuenschwander and Gates.
  • The singer brought Dean from her drum kit to center stage for vocal duets on “All of Me" and “The Sunny Side of the Street." On the first tune, Dean sang the straight vocals while Gates superimposed a scat-version of Ilinois Jacquet's tenor sax solo.
  • Late in the 90-minute-plus program (without any intermission break), Gates' version of “Take Five," with lyrics by Dave Brubeck's wife Iola, included his own vocalese based on Paul Desmond's alto sax solo.
This was Gates' fourth visit to the area in five years. The Connecticut-based singer last appeared at GPAC in February 2015. Based on last night's reception, he's sure to be back again.

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