Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Salt Lake City Jazz Festival: A whole lotta cool

How do you begin to talk about a day filled with around 10 solid hours of jazz, as was found Sunday afternoon and into the late evening at the Salt Lake City Jazz Festival at the Gallivan Center downtown?

How do you begin to talk about a day of jazz that featured such well-known jazz vocalists as Kathy Kosins and Deana Martin -- daughter of entertainment legend Dean Martin -- along with other famous jazz names like Ira Nepus, Chuck Findley, and Vinnie Falcone?  How do you begin to describe a 10-hour day packed with music that was topped off by soul and funk legends like those found in Tower of Power?

You start from the beginning and work your way forward, for one thing.

(All photos by John G. Miller)

The Hot Club of Zion

The Hot Club of Zion

As festival attendees started making their way into the Center, they were immediately greeted at an area close to the main stage by the gypsy jazz sounds of Utah's own Hot Jazz Club of Zion, with Nathan Royal on lead guitar, James Martak on rhythm guitar, Liz Conway on violin, and Kevin Schultz on upright bass.

This was just the first example of the day that classic jazz lives on, harkening back to those days of long ago when Django Reinhardt on guitar and Stephane Grappelli on violin helped to set the jazz world on fire.  As the main stage was being set up for its first act of the day, the Hot Club of Zion set the tone very nicely.

Kathy Kosins

Kathy Kosins
 ASCAP award-winning vocalist Kathy Kosins provided a wide variety of jazz flavors, performing a few older standards along with newer classics like the timeless Burt Bacharach-Hal David piece "Walk On By," in which Kosins also showed her humorous side leading up to it.

She also threw in a jazzy arrangement for the Joe Cocker rock hit "The Letter" to close out her set.

As was the case throughout the day with other acts, the Salt Lake City Jazz Orchestra -- led in this case by Vincent Falcone on the grand piano -- provided the backing instrumentals for Kosins, and as was the case anytime it played, the orchestra was excellent.   Saxophonists Greg Floor and Brian Booth turned in blistering solos which drew raves from Kosins.

 Also, as was the case anytime he was on the stage whether it was in leading the orchestra during Kathy Kosins' show or Deana Martin's show later in the evening, Falcone was -- unsurprisingly -- an all-pro performer, both in his direction and his piano stylings.

Vincent Falcone
Greg Floor

Emilee Floor

Emilee Floor
The name Floor was dominant throughout the festival, and for good reason.  It's a very talented Utah-based family, and the patriarch, Jerry Floor, is the festival's director.

But while the main stage was being switched around between acts behind closed curtains and once the extended grand piano was moved more to the front of the stage, daughter Emilee Floor showed why she has landed two of the prime jazz gigs in all of New York City, where she now resides.  Both with her piano playing and her vocals, it just echoes with the strains of the Big Apple, where she plays on "Peacock Alley" during the day at the Plaza Hotel and at the Waldorf-Astoria each night.


This group, comprised of faculty members from the University of Utah (thus the "Red" in the name) was on fire.  Redtet dug deep into the jazz archives and pulled out some gems.  The solos were superb, and it provided some of the best drumming from one of the true workhorses of the entire festival, Jay Lawrence.

Jay Lawrence

Dave Hall

The festival crowd continued to build in size as the afternoon wore on, and as more work was done on the main stage -- rearranging things, tuning the piano a couple of times -- keyboardist Dave Hall and his trio performed in the grassy side area with the music flowing smoothly into the main stage area.

You didn't have to be watching the trio to be entertained.  The clouds gathered briefly for a time and provided a cooling shower, a nice break from the hot sun bearing down on a Labor Day weekend.  The music of Dave Hall's trio was cool as well.

Dave Hall

Salt Lake City Jazz Orchestra

After backing Kathy Kosins earlier, the Salt Lake City Jazz Orchestra took to the stage again with some classic big band sounds.  The set was highlighted by a variety of soloists, including Greg and Jerry Floor but also featuring the likes of two monster trumpet players, Chuck Findley and Tower of Power's Sal Cracchiolo.

Chuck Findley

Festival director Jerry Floor solos on clarinet

Sal Cracchiolo

 The Drones

Whether you call it smooth jazz or fusion, the music played by The Drones provided a more modern look at jazz.  Keyboard player Kelly Brown, electric bassist Dan Ward, guitarist Mike Malloy, drummer Eric Munoz, sax player Herschel Bullen, and percussionist Carlos Arroyo ripped through selections ranging from Latin fusion to a Steely Dan medley, all of it very entertaining.

Mike Malloy on guitar and Herschel Bullen on sax

Kelly Brown on keys and Carlos Arroyo on percussion

Deana Martin

By the time Deana Martin took the main stage, the Gallivan Center was pretty much full of attendees.  They came in time to see the daughter of a Hollywood-Vegas-worldwide legend in Dean Martin, and Dean's girl didn't disapppoint.  And neither did a return performance by the Salt Lake City Jazz Orchestra backing her up, conducted at the piano by Falcone.

Martin was a true show person, just like her father.  It was easy to tell how she could learn that kind of showmanship at such a young age, surrounded by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., and the rest of the Rat Pack.

When she wasn't singing in that classic lounge style (many of the songs made famous by her father), taking little "sippy-poos" of water from a cocktail glass between songs, Martin captivated the audience with her humor and her tales of life on and behind the stage and at home with some of the giants of entertainment.

It was all class.

Deana Martin

Tower of Power

Deana Martin proved to be a nice set-up act for Tower of Power.  The styles are different -- going from high-class, buttoned-down cool to Oakland's Bay Area blue-jeaned funk and soul -- but Deana got the audience in the mood to have a ton of fun.

As soon as that skin-tight rhythm and syncopated horns from ToP started kicking in, the dancing and get-on-your-feet participation was going full bore.  When Larry Braggs started belting out his lead vocals, ToP was in the middle of a raging inferno that lasted until the last note was played to end the festival.  After about 44 years of some of the tightest playing a music fan could ever hope to hear, Tower of Power brought the festivities to a roaring conclusion.

The whole thing was super-cool.

Lead vocalist Larry Braggs

Tom Politzer (left) on lead tenor sax and bandleader Emilio Castillo, along with drummer Dave Garibaldi and bassist Rocco Prestia in the background

Larry Braggs along with Sal Cracchiolo on trumpet and Stephen "Doc" Kupka on baritone sax

When he wasn't wailing away on sax, Emilio Castillo was helping to "funkify" the audience with vocals of his own

Tom Politzer

A Tower of Power institution, "Doc" Kupka

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