Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jazz this week: Dr. Lonnie Smith, Duke Ellington Orchestra, Boney James, the St. Louis Jazz Cafe's grand opening, and more

Better weather, the official onset of spring, and a nicely varied slate of musical attractions make this a good week in St. Louis to get out and hear some live jazz and creative music.

Here's a chronological look at the highlights of the next seven days, starting with veteran jazz organist Dr. Lonnie Smith (pictured), who opened last night and plays through Saturday at Jazz at the Bistro.

For this visit to St. Louis, Smith is joined by the bluesy guitarist Russell Malone and the drummer and New Orleans native Herlin Riley, who seem like they ought to be a very sympatico couple of bandmates. For more about Smith and some video samples of his funk-infused organ wizardry, see this post from Saturday before last. To hear Jazz St. Louis' podcast interview with the good Doctor, go here.

(And while we're at it, a couple of unusual facts about Dr. Lonnie Smith: He is not a physician, nor does he hold a doctorate, earned or honorary, in any academic subject. Also, he's not a Sikh (the religious faith that today is most commonly associated with turbans), nor is he a member of any other denomination that requires believers to wear a turban. Both the "Dr." designation and the distinctive headgear originally came about, so the story goes, for "no particular reason." Both, however, seemed to have served the purpose of making Smith more recognizable and/or memorable, which was probably mighty useful while he was coming up in the 1960s amidst a flock of popular jazz organists, and presumably still handy today.)

Also this evening, guitarist William Lenihan and pianist Kim Portnoy will team up to do a free concert for the Jazz at Holmes series at Washington University. This is being billed as a duo show, and the intimate confines of Holmes Lounge should provide a good opportunity to hear both players' contributions in fine detail.

On Saturday night, St. Louis Jazz Cafe has its grand opening, with music from Erin Bode. The cafe also will host its first jazz brunch on Sunday, with music from the Neal Conners Trio. For more about the St. Louis Jazz Cafe, including links to all previous StLJN coverage of the new downtown jazz club, see this post.

Sunday will be a busy day, with three noteworthy performances competing for local listeners' time and attention. First, there's the Duke Ellington Orchestra, now under the direction of conductor and trumpeter Barrie Lee Hall Jr., who will be in St. Louis for a matinee concert at the Touhill Performing Arts Center. While many of the present-day members of the Orchestra weren't even born yet when the Duke himself died back in 1974, Ellington's vast catalog of compositions and arrangements remains timeless, and always worth hearing.

Of course, if you're anywhere near St. Louis and already a big band fan, chances are that you've already made plans to attend this show. But if you've never heard a big band perform live before, and/or are just getting acquainted with jazz and want to learn more about it, you definitely should get to know Ellington's music - not just because it's historically important, but because, like all art of lasting value, it still is truly engaging, emotive and entertaining, even many years after its creation.

Also on Sunday, guitarist Matthew Von Doran will do a trio concert with bassist Nick Jost and drummer Miles Vandiver at Music Folk, 8015 Big Bend Blvd in Webster Groves. Van Doran hasn't done too many live performances since moving to St. Louis a couple of years ago, and that seems a shame, because based on what's available on record, the man really can play. This event will feature Von Doran, Jost and Vandiver playing both acoustically and electrically in the single-story, storefront space, which is intimate on the scale of someone's living room.

Last - but not least - on Sunday, the presenting organization St. Louis City Jazz is sponsoring a performance by smooth jazz saxophonist Tim Cunningham at the Schlafly Brewery and Tap Room downtown.

Looking beyond the weekend, on Monday the Black Wolf Consort, a new project involving trombonist John Wolf, guitarist Dave Black, and classically trained singer Jessica Heuser, is at BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups, and on Tuesday, The Gramophone will feature the Andrew Miramonti Trio.

Next Wednesday, the popular smooth jazz/funk saxophonist Boney James begins a tour in support of his latest CD, Send One Your Love, right here in St. Louis at The Pageant. James' CD came out around Valentine's Day and, as the name suggests, emphasizes love songs. However, while he will no doubt be playing some romantic songs from the latest release, I'd bet James will be serving up a few fan-pleasing funky jams as well.

As always, these are just a few of the noteworthy performances happening around St. Louis over the next few days. To see listings for more jazz-related events this weekend and beyond, please visit the St. Louis Jazz Notes Calendar.

(If you have calendar items, band schedule information, news tips, links, or anything else you think may be of interest to StLJN's readers, please email the information to stljazznotes (at) yahoo (dot) com. If you have photos, MP3s or other digital files, please send links, not attachments.)

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