The musical force of July

The musical force of July

By Matt P. Spinello

By Matt P. Spinello

President, Rockford Jazz Society

If jazz pianist/bandleader “Count” Basie were alive today, he would undoubtedly, without reservation, encourage live music lovers to attend another of the Jazz Legends of Rockford’s concerts “one more once,” this time for the 4th of July Stars & Stripes Jazz Concert. Booked and presented by the Rockford 4th of July Celebration Committee, this event draws together on stage 40 of the finest musicians from the area, including guest artists Diane Lewis, renowned and vivacious vocalist with national credits, and the magnificent 18-man Madison Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Rockford saxophone monster musician Ken Jarczyk. The Jazz Legends have drawn standing-room-only performances for the Mendelssohn Club’s annual Super Bowl concerts, the On The Waterfront Jazz Stage last year, and the Taste of Rockford event, which drew a combined afternoon/evening attendance of over 2,000.

There is no musical age gap between the youngest members of The Jazz Legends of Rockford and their mentor of 87 years who continues to perform as vividly aware of the current trends as he was half a century ago. John Porrazzo added great influence toward setting the pace and the themes for today’s local jazz standards. Age matters not among members of this organization. Each musician was selected for his talented, record-breaking pasts and his current presence on the music scene. These are northern Illinois’ and southern Wisconsin’s top professionals. Many of them perform with their own smaller individual groups. They merge as The Jazz Legends of Rockford for special engagements in a single performance representing the best of the best.

Opening act for the Stars & Stripes Jazz Concert will star show-stopper Diane Lewis, one of the nation’s most versatile jazz singers. She moves from the blues to scat to straight-ahead jazz in her own exciting style, warmly, smoothly and with love. Diane’s backup musicians include former Playboy Club pianist Al Feeney, with Guy Fiorenza on bass and Jack Brand on drums. All four performers work the Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Rockford area on a regular basis.

In a distinctly different approach to modern jazz, Triano: Jazz Pianos 3, matches a trio of the Midwest’s most accomplished pianists in concert as a single instrument. The headliners include Trish Ramsten, Rick Burns and Julian De Luna. Each of these jazz giants fronts his own duos, trios, quartets and/or big bands. The merging of their experience as leaders for decades past presents a performance experience unheard of anywhere else in the world. Leaders generally don’t mix well. These three seasoned performers jell magnificently as one, accompanied by bass and drums to solidify a completely contemporary world-class jazz rhythm section.

The nationally recognized, award-winning Monday Morning Dixie Band will hit the stage practically on the run, launching an avalanche of excitement within the first four bars of their traditional excursions into the depths of true Dixieland jazz. The band is contracted regularly year-’round throughout northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. They are booked solid throughout the area at summertime jazz festivals. Traditionally speaking, the band’s front line fuse is ignited by a superb trio of horns including trumpet, clarinet and trombone and backed by on-the-mark banjo wizardry, conspicuously accurate tuba playing and the most traditional Dixie drums you will witness from here to New Orleans. This exciting “happy music” group is led by trombonist Pete Peterson.

Maxine Holler received the RAMI’s coveted “Lifetime Achievement Award” last April. As a jazz pianist, saloon, hotel and nightclub singer, her accomplishments have ricocheted from coast-to-coast, with side trip bookings in Hawaii. She rocked the rafters at the famed Wagon Wheel Resort practically from the establishment’s opening day until its smoky demise into a monument of rubble. Her vocal renditions from barroom brawls to her lush, plush treatments of standard tunes gone by, continue to draw the masses. The Max chooses her sidemen wisely. Val Eddy, a half-a-century leader of several duos, trios and quartets, accompanies on bass. Tom Marken, schooled, fueled and rocketed into the world of jazz, joins in on drums and vocals, following years of experience from here to California and back. The Maxine Holler Trio is currently a weekend entertainment favorite at the Gun Club in Beloit, Wisconsin.

The Matt Paul Quintet captures the musicianship of five popular area musicians who have each served as leaders of their own bands and as sidemen with several others for practically half-a-century. Considered a perfectionists’ gathering, with Mike Vaccarello labeled as the only musician alive who can turn an electronic accordion into a full jazz orchestra, the grouping also flaunts the world-class stylings of Harold Smith, a Chicagoland favorite on clarinet and keyboards. Harold will share the front line with Frank Guzzardo, the colossal horn man whose trumpet, trombone and flugelhorn work has drawn accolades far and wide. John Porrazzo, 87-year-old jazz guitarist and mentor to most in this area for 60 years, will pin down the rhythm section, sharing that commitment with Matt Spinello, president of the Rockford Jazz Society and director of the Jazz Legends of Rockford, on drums and feedback.

The guest-starring 18-piece Madison Jazz Orchestra will magnify the evening’s excitement as the event’s closing act. The clattering of standing ovations for this group’s work has been standard procedure for years. The orchestra is one of the best big bands ever presented to an area audience, often challenged but seldom paralleled in performance. Under the direction of Rockford’s own Ken Jarczyk, saxophonist/leader supreme, formerly on stage with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Rosolino and countless other big bands, Kenny J will direct the band’s explosive musical efforts down jazz memory lane, drawing from jazz performances of Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson and Woody Herman.

This could be the only gathering of the area’s 40 top musicians this year due to contractual commitments by individual groups throughout the Midwest. This is definitely a presentation not to miss. The date: Wednesday, July 3rd; Time: 7-10 p.m., Location: Sinnissippi Park Band Shell, Rockford. Free-will donations will be accepted

If you attend, be prepared to be professionally and thoroughly entertained by the Midwest’s finest jazz stylists sporting their individual jazz impressions through their love for the art!

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!