Zach Bartholomew, leading a trio with bassist Mauricio Rodriguez and drummer Paul Gavin on Friday night at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, paid tribute to the late great jazz giant Chick Corea, who made his home in the Clearwater area. The performance, two sets and about 90 minutes’ worth of top-shelf jazz, was part of the 14th St. Petersburg Jazz Festival.
Bartholomew, a busy Miami-based pianist who’s on the jazz faculty at Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens, handily conveyed the breadth and depth of Corea’s work as a composer, bringing to life music from nearly every phase of the latter’s storied career.
Opening with the deep swing of “Bud Powell,” a salute to the bebop master of the same name, the trio continued with the waltzing, free-minded “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs,” the title track from Corea’s landmark 1968 album with bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Roy Haynes.
Bartholomew and Co. also offered three compositions — “The Chelsea Shuffle” (recently given an inventive big-band arrangement by Chuck Owen), “Fingerprints,” a variation on Wayne Shorter‘s “Footprints,” and “Cloud Candy” — from 2001’s “Past, Present & Futures,” another trio recording, with bassist Avishai Cohen and drummer Jeff Ballard. And they successfully tackled Corea’s playful, tricky “Humpty Dumpty,” from his 1979 “The Mad Hatter” release.
Corea’s celebrated Latin-tinged music was on the bill, too, with “Armando’s Rhumba” (from 1976’s “My Spanish Heart”), a version of the gorgeous waltz “Windows” given an Afro-Cuban twist, “500 Miles High” and, as a rousing closer, perennial favorite “Spain,” probably the pianist’s best-known composition. The last two pieces originally appeared on the 1973 Return to Forever album “Light as a Feather.”
Bartholomew throughout applied polished chops, colorful comping and probing, inquisitive improvisations to arrangements that were consistently exciting, with engaging tonal contrasts and exhilarating peaks. He was abetted by Rodriguez’s warm, soft-touch sound and speedy, melodic solos, and Gavin’s supportive, constantly inventive drum-kit playing, often showcased in bars-trading sections. The three displayed real musical connection and joie de vivre in doing what they do, qualities that went a long way with the attentive, enthusiastic audience.
More than 200 listeners turned out for Friday night’s show, one of the fest’s three concerts, including Thursday night’s sold-out performance by singer Alexis Cole and the Helios Jazz Orchestra at the Palladium Theater and Saturday night’s appearance by trumpeter Jason Charos‘ Sextet at the American Stage in Raymond James Theatre. Cole also presented a vocal jazz workshop on Wednesday afternoon at St. Petersburg College.
“We take a little different approach by keeping it indoors (for listening quality) and by featuring artists and groups that are a bit off the beaten path,” said fest director David Manson, a trombonist, composer and SPC music professor. Manson is founder of EMIT, the non-profit organization that presents the festival.
Next up from EMIT: “ERG on Shape of Dreams,” featuring new compositions by Manson. He’ll be joined by cellist Tom Kersey, saxophonist David Pate, bassist T.J. Glowacki and drummer Jim Stewart, March 28 at 5 pm at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. The 3rd EMIT Latin Jazz Fest is slated for this summer.
Few living jazz artists have played with as much virtuosity and creativity, voyaged across such a wide musical spectrum and had as much influence as Corea’s fellow pianist-composer Keith Jarrett.
Some listeners know Jarrett through his electric jazz work with Miles Davis (sometimes along with Corea), while others are partial to his brilliant explorations of the American Songbook with his beloved Standards Trio (with drummer Jack DeJohnette and late bassist Gary Peacock) and still others are passionate about his tremendous body of solo-piano improvisations, or his performances of classical pieces. Or … the list goes on.
Jarrett last was seen on stage with a solo piano performance at Carnegie Hall in 2017, and the next year suffered two strokes resulting in left-side paralysis. Veteran interviewer (and musician/producer/engineer) Rick Beato recently sat down with the pianist at his home in New Jersey for a wide-ranging interview, during the course of which he demonstrates his ability to continue to play brilliantly, even if using only his right hand. It makes for a fascinating deep dive into a remarkable and impactful career. I was particularly intrigued by Jarrett’s discussion and demonstration of the Americana strains — folk, country, blues, gospel — in his sound.
Fun fact: In just two days, Beato’s video interview has notched nearly a quarter of a million views. I’ve not made any comparisons to check how other such interviews are doing, but I’d guess that that’s a pretty spectacular tally for jazz content. Check it out here.
Just ahead, about an hour south of where I live in Tampa, is the Sarasota Jazz Festival, a fest that boasts loads more actual jazz than some other high-profile “jazz” fests around the state.
The gifted trumpeter Terell Stafford is the musical director for this year’s event, which will be held March 13-18. It’s an impressive lineup, with performances by Stafford, legendary Latin jazz clarinetist and saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, acclaimed singer Kurt Elling, seven-string jazz/fusion/jam guitarist Charlie Hunter, guitarist Diego Figueierdo, pianists Dick Hyman and Christian Sands, bass guitarist Marcus Miller, organist Tony Monaco, saxophonist Houston Person, pianist Christian Sands, singer Lizz Wright, a group led by bassist Allen Carman and conga master Gumbi Ortiz, and others.