Reflections on Smooth Jazz for Scholars 2012

Once in a while, I would go out of my way for a show, knowing that I’m in for a treat, and this show right here has to be one of the highlights of this year’s jazz season. And it occurred to me that I’ve dug so deep into my photography that I forget to write about the music that I love.

Here’s to hoping I get back into the routine with this write-up.

So! Smooth Jazz for Scholars, held annually in Milford, CT. A train ride and a small schlep away, but it’s a balm for the music lover’s soul.

A brainchild of keyboardist Jay Rowe, the SJFS show is a fundraiser for music education in Milford public schools. Considering the slashes at extracurricular activity funding, events like these are a must, and when you look at the lineup, you are bound to see great artists. Jay will not tell you, though, that the show is absolutely electrifying, and you do not know what to expect on stage.

Among the highlights were Paul Taylor and Nelson Rangell, both on saxes, a visit from Shilts, and Nick Colionne on guitar. Fantastic lineup indeed, and each and every one of them has stellar stage presence.

Nick Colionne is someone you will recognize immediately if you’re into jazz, and if you’re not, then I recommend you have a solid listen. His guitar is Wes Montgomery/Chicago cool; strong and melodic enough to catch your attention, but you won’t catch him sticking to a script of any kind. He gets onstage and makes sure that he has your attention from the first few minutes. And if you don’t recognize the guitar, then know this: to date, Nick is the only person I know to pull off a full-scale, sharp, bold Zoot suit.  I will certainly not be the first to say that he gets an A+ for stage presence, and that has nothing to do with the suit. I promise you: he will make you laugh. More than that, he will make you take notice of his sound; he does not pull punches on the strings, and his music is as strong as his presence.

And right alongside Nick, who on the sax but the one, the only Shilts, formetly of Down to the Bone. If you want funk, this is your man right here. If you like a strong tenor, he’s got one. If need any further convincing, download Back on the Hudson. That, ladies and gentlemen, is funk. Shilts also brought a new CD with him, and new and old songs alike to the stage, including my personal favorite, the more sedate, contemplative Good Evans.

After Shilts – Paul Taylor. NY doesn’t see Paul often; come to think of it, nor does the East Coast with any sort of regularity. Some people may even call Paul commercial. However, when he kicks out something as entrancing as On The Move, you stop and listen. And when he’s on stage, he is fun; he is fun and he makes sure you have it too. Paul Taylor thrives on that stage; he gets the audience into his music, he gets everyone on stage with him into the show, and whether or not he plays the more recognizable material like Ladies’ Choice, or gets into  Prime Time material, which is a lot bolder, you’re right there with him. Together with Chieli Minucci on both Special EFX music and his own, he left me smiling.

And then, there was Nelson Rangell.

I took notice of Nelson accidentally, and comparatively recently (a couple years ago!) when Pandora kicked out Starting Now. By no means a new track, but one that didn’t really leave my head since…still in there, really. Since then, I made a point of browsing through Pandora’s stash of Rangell music, and found that his style is to my liking. Simple, lyrical, straightforward, and very melodic. Starting Now probably won’t pull you in at first, but it will make you take notice. It’ll wrap itself around you and warm your nerves. And Nelson has a unique ability: he whistles in perfect pitch.

If you don’t believe me? Mosey on over to Youtube and look up Sonora. I am telling you, I didn’t take a single photo of when he had whistled Sonora at SJFS because my jaw was busy resting on the floor. How often do you hear someone whistle note-perfect as part of a jazz show? This was a first, and a very intriguing first at that. When Nelson would come back through NY, I hope to be there. That was brilliant.

The closing was something that I can only describe as outrageous. Nick Brown/James Colionne. That is all I can say, and it was brilliant. Outstandingly rousing, delightfully over the top, and perfect.

Major props to the Foran High School jazz band and chorus alike; those kids have talent.

Also, props times two to Dolly, Estella, and Kelly. Love my ladies.

Facebook album can be found here. It contains only a tiny percentage of the photos from that night, and if you’d like to see more, I will upload them to SmugMug soon…yes, I’m getting an account.

K.G.

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