This Centennial Tribute to the great TOOTS THIELEMANS features Toots’s heir apparent on the harmonica, GRÉGOIRE MARET, and Toots’s longtime pianist KENNY WERNER, in duo or in quartet with bass and drums. Grégoire and Kenny already did tribute tours both here and abroad with great success after Toots retired in 2012, and as Toots would have turned 100 next year, 2022 is the perfect time for another.

For high profile concerts Special Guests who played with Toots can be added, such as Joe Lovano, Paquito Rivera, Eliane Elias, Madeline Peyroux, Ray Drummond, Scott Colley, Billy Hart, and Joey Baron.

As those who followed Toots’s long career know, he wanted to play with musicians who had their own identities and who challenged him to continue to grow musically until the end. Toots took a special interest in Grégoire because Grégoire had his own sound and style, and while influenced by Toots, never sought to copy him. Accordingly, his and Kenny’s tribute will feature SONGS TOOTS LOVED TO PLAY, including his standard Bluesette, of course, but in their own way, with new harmonies, rhythms, and arrangements. As Grégoire puts it, they will “find new places where HIS SPIRIT IS TRULY HONORED but his music is being played through a new prism.” IF YOU LOVED TOOTS, I’M SURE YOU’LL LOVE THIS TOO.

DOUG CARN & his WEST COAST ORGAN BAND Doug came to fame in the 70s with a series of recordings for the Black Jazz label with his then wife Jean Carne, then took up residence in Florida where he worked steadily but mostly off of the national stage. Now he’s back with Free For All, featuring a soulful, high-energy band that knocked me out, with Doug on the B-3, the contrasting tenor saxophone stylings of Teodross Avery and Howard Wiley, and Dezron Claiborne on drums. This is a perfect festival band – as visitors to the 2019 Monterey Jazz Festival heard.

EDMAR CASTANEDA & GRÉGOIRE MARET – In addition to Grégoire’s Toots Tribute with Kenny, he now has another duo project, Harp vs. Harp, with Columbian-born harp virtuoso Edmar. The combination of Grégoire’s mouth harp with Edmar’s Lianera harp sounds so natural and compelling that it’s hard to believe no one thought of it sooner. Edmar’s technical prowess brings out rhythmic and textural possibilities that often make it seem like there are more than two instruments playing. And if you think of the harp as an ethereal instrument, just try to keep your body still while you listen to these guys. This duo is unique and affordable, so get in touch while the latter is still true.

IN THE SPIRIT OF RASHIED ALI – Shied’s bassist Joris Teepe has put together a great Tribute with Lawrence Clark and Wayne Escoffery on sax, Freddie Bryant on guitar, and Matt Wilson on drums. Rashied tended to be pigeonholed as avant-garde because of his work as John Coltrane’s last drummer, but his own music is a lot more accessible than late Trane. Joris’s CD really does capture the energy of Rashied’s Quintet that I booked. Give me a call and I’ll send you a soundcloud link so you can check it out for yourself.

THE JAZZ MESSENGERS LEGACY BAND – The “Messenger from Russia” Valery Ponomarev, longest-serving trumpeter in the history of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, honors his late friend and employer by organizing a top-flight group of former Messengers to play the infectiously life-affirming repertoire of this immortal band. This is the only band officially sanctioned by the Blakey Estate to use the name “Jazz Messengers.”

Anchored by drummer Carl Allen, who subbed for Bu near the end of his life, the roster of ex-Messengers who will play in the Legacy Band include saxophonists Don Braden, Bobby Watson, and Billy Pierce; trombonists Robin Eubanks and Steve Davis; bassists Peter Washington and Lonnie Plaxico; and pianists George Cables and Joanne Brackeen. If Carl is not available then Blakey’s close friend Victor Jones or rising star Jerome Jennings will man the drum stool.

Hire this band and hear them play classic Messengers tunes like Along Came Betty, Free For All, Ping Pong, Witch Doctor, and many more. As Blakey said, “Once a Messenger, always a Messenger,” so you know they’ll bring that Messengers energy. If you heard the Messengers with Blakey, then relive those halcyon days. If not, this is as close as you can get. 

SORROWS AND TRIUMPHS – I’m representing this glorious new Chamber Jazz project by Venezuelan pianist Edward Simon simply because I was blown away by the music.  Commissioned by Chamber Music of America and influenced by Edward’s Buddhist practice, his aim was to “bring joy to the listener, to be direct and accessible, with singable melodies.” Given the depth and complexity of his writing, the fact that he attains his goal so apparently effortlessly is nothing short of extraordinary. 

Featuring Edward’s longtime quartet Afinidad, co-led by saxophonist David Binney and also featuring master musicians Scott Colley and Brian Blade, along with the acclaimed chamber quintet Imani Winds, plus guest artists including vocalist Gretchen Parlato, this is a special musical event for your festival or concert hall, and can fit into either a Jazz or Chamber Music series. I guarantee it will be a highlight of your season.

SYMPHONY LOUNGE – Who knew that Chaise Lounge bandleader Charlie Barnett is also a classical composer of substance and depth? Well, anyone who heard the Chaise Lounge concerts several years ago at DC’s Atlas Theater with the Capital City Symphony certainly knows. The first half of the program featured the Symphony playing Charlie’s composition The Tarot, and the second half, available on the live CD Symphony Lounge, featured the sextet doing a dozen of their most popular tunes, backed by the Symphony playing Charlie’s original orchestrations. Now Chaise Lounge has released an equally impressive 2nd CD, Live with the Pan American Symphony Orchestra.  If you have an orchestra in your town, consider a Symphony Lounge concert. This program has something for everyone who likes music, period.  

TRIO 3 – I’m now also representing the explosive big bands of Andrew Cyrille and Oliver Lake. Andrew’s 21st Century Big Band Unlimited features his original compositions arranged and orchestrated by Mark Masters of the American Jazz Institute, and the Oliver Lake Big Band, which focuses on Oliver’s arrangements of his own compositions, has two great recordings out and has already played festivals in Pittsburgh, DC, and New York. These are two of my favorite big bands working today, and they want to play, so let’s make a deal to get one to your venue this year. If you can’t afford to bring the band but have a great local big band, bring Andrew or Oliver and their charts.

ANGELA ON THE ARTS – I’ve been aware of my longtime friend JOHN D’EARTH as an original and compelling voice on Jazz trumpet for several decades now, but never before has he been part of a recording like this one. Joined by bass clarinetist MICHELLE OLIVA and violist BONNIE GORDON on this totally improvised CD, the three of them perform some of the most interesting music I’ve heard in a long time. I’m not aware of any other trios with this unique instrumentation. They play thoughtful Third Stream music, spontaneous and unpredictable, with wonderful use of space and timbre. If you want to hear something new, check this out.