Bass Wizard Makes Side Door Swing Open

Mar 5, 2014

Dezron Douglas.
Credit Gulnara Khamatova / Dezron Douglas

A master of time, tone and fluent invention, bassist Dezron Douglas, one of Hartford’s great gifts to the jazz world, leads his quartet on consecutive nights on Friday, March 7, and Saturday, March 8, at the Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme.

His primetime quartet features the premier pianist Cyrus Chestnut—Douglas’s longtime boss—the drummer Victor Lewis, a consummate synthesizer of subtlety and swing; and the smart saxophonist Lummie Spann, another one of Hartford’s Young Lions making a name for himself both on and beyond the New York jazz scene.

The term "musician's musician" is a perfect fit for Douglas.

The term “a musician’s musician” is too often used and abused, promiscuously applied to tiny talents spread too thinly over too many areas. But that term, in its true, original and deepest positive meaning of someone whose talent has both great depth and width, is a perfect fit for Douglas. Besides leading his own bands and making recordings as a leader, he’s been a sideman of choice as a key cog in Chestnut’s globe-trotting trio and as a yeoman crew member aboard ship for Papo Vazquez and the Mighty Pirates. 

Even as an undergrad at the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the University of Hartford, Douglas was at home playing in the swift company of Rene McLean, Steve Davis, Jimmy Greene, Abraham Burton, Eric McPherson and Nita Zarif.  Since his recording debut in 2005, he’s performed and recorded with an array of varied stylists including Pharoah Sanders, Ravi Coltrane, Kevin Mahogany, Kenny Garrett and Jeremy Pelt, among many others.

Downbeat time for both nights is 8:30 pm Doors open at 7:30 pm Tickets: $30 per night. Information: sidedoorjazz.com and (860) 434-0886.

Douglas’s appearances are sandwiched between those by two other Connecticut stalwarts at the shoreline jazz club: saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, who performed there last weekend on March 1, and saxophonist Noah Preminger who plays there March 14 at 8:30 pm with his quartet. Escoffery, who was born in London, grew up in New Haven, and, like Douglas, is another one of Hartford jazz great Jackie McLean’s protégés who have gone on to great success.

Preminger, who grew up in Canton and West Hartford, has made his mark as a rising, young saxophonist/composer and bandleader with such widely acclaimed works as his debut album, Dry Bridge Road, and its sequel, Before the Rain. Tickets: $20.00.

Scott Robinson.
Credit Scott Robinson

There’s No Boundary Line to Art

Although known as a globe-trotting evangelist of creative music, multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson takes all jazz to be his province, bestriding all knowledge of everything from traditional jazz to the most avant of the avant garde, speaking fluently in all genres on a dazzling array of horns both familiar and quite obscure.

Robinson, a multiply skilled multi-reedist with multiple perspectives on all music, is the special guest at 7:00 pm on Saturday, March 8, in the freewheeling Improvisations series at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor Street, Hartford. The musical maven collaborates with two fellow cutting-edge artists, the series’ curators and hands-on performers, guitarist/bassist Joe Morris and cornetist Stephen Haynes in their ongoing celebration of free music.

Robinson’s exploratory works, which are designed to boldly go where no man or woman has gone before, have earned him such titles as Jazz Futurist and Mad Scientist. Yet this definitely not so mad scientist/futurist also knows so much about the past that he was selected by the U.S. State Department to be a Jazz Ambassador on an eleven-country tour of West Africa in 2001 where he presented his arrangements of compositions by Louis Armstrong. Virtually anything in the music world from Armstrong to Zorn, from Lionel Hampton’s Orchestra to Sun Ra’s Arkestra, all seems like home to this versatile genre traveler who believes there are no boundaries, except imaginary ones, in the world of music.

Or, as Charlie Parker once said in a 1949 interview in Downbeat magazine: “They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.”

Bird’s words on aesthetic theory from 65 years ago are proven true every month by the new music practitioners Morris and Haynes’ experimental Improvisations project conducted on-the-spot in their live performance laboratory at Real Art Ways.

Tickets: $15.00, general public; $12.00; RAW members. Information: realartways.org and (860) 232-1006.

Open Ears Lead to Soulful Style

Vocalist Antoinette Montague, the headliner at 7:30 pm Saturday, March 8, at Hartford’s Japanalia Eiko, is perhaps such a sensitive, soulful singer because she’s been all ears and curiosity right from early childhood. Almost from Day One, Montague, the youngest of seven children, was lovingly wrapped in the sounds of recordings by Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, two of her LP-collecting, jazz-loving mother’s all-time favorites. 

Antoinette Montague.
Credit Antoinette Montague

By the time Antoinette was four, she was spending hours in the public library in her hometown of Newark, N.J., oddly enough for a little tyke, listening to a whole new set of childhood superheroes, including Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith, among other jazz titans.

By the time the budding singer hit her teens, the floodgates of musical influences swung wide open and she was immersed in everybody from Mahalia Jackson and Paul Robeson to Bob Marley and Patsy Cline, with singers like Tony Bennett and others right in the middle of this stylistic tsunami.

After entering Seton Hall University in her home state, Montague became hooked on gospel music and began singing with R&B and blues bands. In major turning points in her career, she later became influenced and inspired by such nurturing mentors as jazz singer Etta Jones, the master jazz piano accompanist Norman Simmons and, most importantly, Carrie Smith, the legendary jazz and blues singer.

With her recording debut in 2006, Pretty Blues, Montague, a clear toned, soulful jazz singer with an eclectic exposure to so many styles, showed her own dramatic, emotional range, aided by her ability to call upon the best in all genres in her own distinctive way. As a stylist taking her first step into the risky recording world,  she was hailed by critic Scott Yanow, a noted scholar of popular music vocal styles, as “heartfelt, infectious and memorable,” three adjectives to die for.

For her Hartford date, the diva of diversity is accompanied by pianist Danny Mixon, who has played with scores of top jazz names from Betty Carter to Frank Foster; and the noted Latin jazz drummer Bobby Sanabria and bassist Alex Tremblay.

Japanalia Eiko is at 11 Whitney Street, Hartford. Tickets: $48.00 stage-side table seating; $28.00 general row seating, BYOB encouraged. Reservations: (860) 232-4677.

Hartford’s “El Rey” of Jazz

Trumpeter/bandleader Ray Gonzalez, Hartford’s very own El Rey of Latin jazz and swinging sultan of salsa, is the headliner at 3:00 pm on Sunday, March 9, at the free Baby Grand Jazz Series in the atrium at the Hartford Public Library at 500 Main Street.

A native of Guarbo, PR, Gonzalez attended the Conservatory of Music in Puerto Rico. He has toured with his orchestra throughout the United States and Puerto Rico and worked with such Latin giants as Tito Puente and Charlie Palmieri. Besides being a noted instrumentalist, composer/arranger and bandleader, Gonzalez has been an invaluable mentor and role model to countless young musicians over the years. Information: (860) 695-6295.

Jazz Digs Libraries and Vice Versa

Jazz also roosts cozily in yet another classy library setting as Emery Austin Smith presents a solo piano concert at 3:00 pm Sunday, March 9, at the venerable Avon Free Public Library, 281 Country Club Road. Last year, Smith, a forever young octogenarian who has performed with such greats as Coleman Hawkins and Archie Shepp, played to a packed house at the library’s admission-free Sundays at Three concert series. Information: (860) 673-9712.

Smith, who loves books, learning and libraries as much as he reveres Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum, hits the library jazz scene once again in the spring as he presents a solo piano concert at 3:00 pm on April 27 at the grand finale for the Hartford Public Library’s free Baby Grand Jazz Series.

Organ Trio Rocks Jazz Mondays

Drenched in grit and grooves, the organ trio format rules at 8 pm Monday, March 10, at the weekly Jazz Mondays session at Black-eyed Sally’s at 350 Asylum Street in Hartford. Organist Brian Charette, a keyboard player who has worked with Joni Mitchell, Chaka Khan and Lou Donaldson, is joined by guitarist Frank Varela and drummer Rick Marshall. Cover: $5.00. Information: charteroakcenter.org and (860) 278-7427.

Please submit press releases on upcoming jazz events at least two weeks before the publication date to omac28@gmail.com. Comments and suggestions left below are also most welcome.