Bring on the Jazz

Brad Mehldau Reviewed, Sutton, Florence Band, and S.B. Symphony Coming Up

Pianist Brad Mehldau

JAZZY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN: In late January, the sweet rain came pouring down, ending a painful drought in town. No, we’re not talking about the geothermal scene in Santa Barbara, but relief from a jazz-free few months here (in terms of touring, world-class jazzers, that is). When the great Brad Mehldau—very likely the jazz musician of his generation (the near forties)—created a musical world with just himself and the Steinway center stage at the Lobero, the pleasure was doubly meaningful under the circumstances. Through his determinedly nonstandard, re-inventive approach to a song list including “I Cover the Waterfront,” “The Needle and the Damage Done,” and Nirvana’s “Lithium” (but not your father or your son’s “Lithium”), Mehldau delivered the first great concert of the new decade in town.

Have no fear; the new jazz season is in full swing, so to speak. This weekend’s fare includes a return visit from a favorite, thoughtful and strong jazz singer Tierney Sutton and her uncommonly interactive band, on Friday at the Lobero. As confirmed by previous shows in this venue, Sutton’s particular brand of subtle and investigative music-making resonates luminously in this room. She’s always welcome here. This time around, Sutton is coming off of another Grammy-nominated album, Desire (Telarc), on which she gamely riffs on the general theme of materialism and the human bliss/curse of wanting, to the tune of creatively arranged versions of “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “Skylark,” and more.

But wait, there’s more: On Sunday night at the Lobero, the Bob Florence Limited Edition big band will perform, and with a strong, specific S.B. connection. Florence, the respected Los Angeles-based big band leader who passed away in 2008, recorded an album called Legendary, released posthumously last year. Jazz needs patrons, too (wouldn’t that be a nice tradition to encourage?), and Florence found an enlightened one in Montecito’s Luci Janssen, who was the angelic “executive producer” for the recording project. Janssen and her husband have been doing good cultural works in Santa Barbara, including the commissioning of last fall’s ambitious Opera Santa Barbara premiere of Stephen Schwartz’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon (impressive by musical, a bit dubious by operatic, standards).

With Florence, the munificent patronage gesture resulted in a swinging swan song for one of the West Coast’s finer big band leaders, whose long and storied life also included work as arranger with Harry James, Louie Bellson, Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich, Count Basie, and Doc Severinsen, not to mention music director gigging with Julie Andrews. Legendary also includes a personal nod to the Janssen family generosity through his composition “Luci,” a sweet and easy-flowing piece. As with other big bands that carry on even beyond the passing of their namesake (e.g., Glenn Miller, still rolling, seven decades after his disappearance during WWII), the Florence band may be a continuing saga. The edition we’ll be hearing at the Lobero includes some of the better jazz players from L.A., including the great drummer Peter Erskine and versatile alto saxist Kim Richmond.

SYMPHONIC MANEUVERS, IN-HOUSE: The Santa Barbara Symphony season continues this weekend, on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Moving away from the neo-romantic gusts of the late Montreal composer André Mathieu’s “lost” piano concerto last month, the spotlight turns inward on the orchestra’s ranks. In the program dubbed Double Treble, concertmasters Caroline Campbell and Serena McKinney will stand up and take center stage to tackle Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Minor. Also on the program are Elgar and Beethoven. Even in this relatively conservative season, program-wise, our finely tooled symphony is very much worth hearing, especially now in the embracing acoustic splendor of the Granada.

TO-DOINGS: Fans of jazz accordion, accordion, and jazz—and just plain good music—ought to check out the free performance by fabulous L.A. jazz squeezeboxer Frank Marocco, at the Public Library’s Faulkner Gallery, Sunday at 2 p.m. His show at SOhO a few years back triggers lingering fond memories, still.

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