BUZZ-O-METER ‌ Jazz, Blues, Roots Music 

René Marie
Renato Braz
Jazz Series at the Tonik Club
Traditional Music of Old South
The Lovell Sisters
Dino Saluzzi & Anja Lechner
Ahmad Jamal
Stefano Battaglia
Blues on the Dock
Early Bird Blues
Enrico Pieranunzi
A Quiet Storm
Agustín Luna
New York Jazz Sessions
Charleston Jazz Initiative
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René Marie

WHAT IS IT? One of the domestic highlights of this year’s Wachovia Jazz series, vocalist René Marie and her backing trio present a lively and quirky variety of simmering soul, swinging jazz, cool blues, and lyrical tales of heartbreak, recovery, and self-discovery. WHY SEE IT? Marie got her start in music much later than fans might realize. A native of Virginia, Marie, 51, grew up listening to jazz and blues in the Roanoke area, but focused more on raising her sons than pursuing a career in music. In the mid ’90s, she finally broke out of her shell and began performing professionally in Richmond and Atlanta. The St. Louis record label MaxJazz took notice of her impressive vocal range, sassy and confident onstage demeanor, jazz-oriented original tunes, and signed her in 1999. Her latest album, Serene Renegade, made a huge splash as a vivacious and commanding effort. WHO SHOULD GO? Those who love the classic music of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, and Betty Carter will love Marie’s improvisation, scat, complex rhythmic textures, and soaring vocal runs. BUZZ: This Wachovia Jazz performance features Charleston-based jazz drummer Quentin Baxter, who performed on all of Serene Renegade. Between Baxter’s legendary chops and the critical and fan acclaim of Marie’s recent efforts, this gig is one of the most-anticipated of the jazz series. (T. Ballard Lesemann)
Spoleto Festival USA • $25-$40 • (1 hour 15 min.) • May 25 and May 26 at 9 p.m. • The Cistern, 66 George St. • 579-3100

 

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Renato Braz

WHAT IS IT? Based in the mega-city of São Paulo, vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist Renato Braz might be the most romantic Latin folk/jazz performer of this year’s jazz series. WHY SEE IT? The award-winning Braz, 39, grew up in rural Brazil, listening to a wild variety of African, American, and Latin music — from boleros and ballads to Stevie Wonder. He made a splash at the 2004 Spoleto Festival (his first time overseas) with a soulful performance fest organizers are still buzzing about. He and his quintet — guitarist Gerson Oikawa, percussionists Bré and Guello, and bassist Sizao Machado — return to Charleston in support of a recent collection titled Por Toda a Vida, a variety of original pieces, folk, standards, and works by the relatively unknown composing duo Jean and Paolo Garfunkel. WHO SHOULD GO? Those who expect something with more substance and heart from the recent “Latin Explosion” than the tacky pop and dance music on the radio and TV. One doesn’t have to speak or understand Portuguese to get the point — this is lovely stuff. BUZZ: Braz’s heart is his guide and he puts all of it into his warm ballads and danceable songs. This will be a major hit of the series. (T. Ballard Lesemann)
SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA • $15-$75 • (1 hour 15 min.) • June 1 at 8 p.m. • Gaillard Municipal Auditorium, 77 Calhoun St. • 579-3100

 

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Jazz Series at the Tonik Club

WHAT IS IT? A locally-produced, musically diverse celebration of worldly jazz, soul, and improvisational music. WHY SEE IT? For years, local event organizer Lawson Roberts (of Cellar Entertainment and Tonik) has assembled some of the finest local talent in various lounge settings for audiences who prefer an upscale and intimate atmosphere. This year, he features nine acts of various styles, from the loungy jazz quintet Vintage Velvet to the Latin combo Leah Suarez & Toca Toca. WHO SHOULD GO? Fans of the so-called “tuxedo generation’s” jazz, swing, be-bop, and Latin styles. Local Plane Jane fans will get a kick out of Bobby Alvarez’s take on Michael McDonald and Donald Fagan for sure. BUZZ: Charleston’s experimental jazz/improv scene jams just under the radar with some of the finest vocalists and players. These talented veterans are sure to stretch out during this elegant series. (T. Ballard Lesemann)
PICCOLO SPOLETO • $10 • May 25, 26, 31, June 1, 2, 7, 8 , 9 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.; May 27, 28, June 3, 6 at 7 p.m. (see full schedule for specific acts’ dates and times) • Tonik Club, 479 King St. • 554-6060

 

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Traditional Music of Old South

WHAT IS IT? It doesn’t get much more “Lowcountry” than this three-concert series: a show with excerpts from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess performed by the Choraliers Music Club of Charleston, an uplifting “Old-Time Camp Meeting” featuring traditionals and spirituals sung by the local Mt. Zion Spiritual Singers, and a “Praise House” with Ann Caldwell & The Magnolia Singers presenting Gullah and folk music, poetry, and Carolina stories. WHY SEE IT? Caldwell says the audience-interactive event is “more like an experience than a show. All three concerts will offer as many lessons in history and language as songs and singalongs.” WHO SHOULD GO? Anyone — local or visiting — with an interest in African-American history and Gullah/Geechee culture. Those hoping to catch a glimpse into the roots of American music will enjoy all three events. BUZZ: Charleston prides itself on being a unique part of the “Old South” and this series helps demonstrate why: an appreciation and respect for a vital cultural history. (T. Ballard Lesemann)
PICCOLO SPOLETO • Choraliers Music Club of Charleston: $15, $12 seniors/students • (1 hour) • May 27 at 6 p.m., June 9 at 8 p.m. • Emanuel AME Church, 110 Calhoun St • Old Time Camp Meeting: $20, $15 seniors/students • May 27, June 2, 9 at 8 p.m. • McLeod Plantation, 325 Country Club Dr. • Praise House: $10 • May 29, June 5 at 7 p.m. • Circular Congregational Church, 150 Meeting St. • 554-6060

 

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The Lovell Sisters

WHAT IS IT? This impressive string and vocal Americana quintet from Calhoun, Ga., returns to the Charleston Music Hall as part of Piccolo Spoleto’s “Special Events.” The three sisters — Jessica (fiddle), Megan (guitar), and Rebecca (mandolin) — have been playing an acoustic mix of Southern roots, bluegrass, folk, country, and old-time music for a decade. They recently added acoustic guitarist Jake Stargel and bassist Andy Nall to the touring lineup and signed a recording deal with the Disney label Lyric Street Records. WHY SEE IT? Like so many folk/bluegrass greats, the sisters are unpretentious and unassuming, but highly talented and great with an audience. Their vocal harmonies couldn’t be more heartwarming. WHO SHOULD GO? Fans of various forms of gospel, mountain music, vintage country, and both traditional and modern bluegrass. BUZZ: The Lovell Sisters became a festival favorite over the last two years, performing in small rooms and large halls by themselves and with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. Garrison Keillor loves ’em, too. See preview on pg. 107. (T. Ballard Lesemann)
PICCOLO SPOLETO • $25, $22 seniors/students • May 26 at 2 p.m. • Charleston Music Hall, 37 John St. • 554-6060

 

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Dino Saluzzi & Anja Lechner

WHAT IS IT? An extraordinary duo comprised of a 71-year-old Argentine bandoneón (a keyless accordion) player and a young Bavarian cellist — both of whom sound determined to wring a new style out of traditional chamber music and South American folk and tango styles. WHY SEE IT? Admired around the world for his compositions, renditions, and musical agility, Dino Saluzzi is a masterful player. Inspired, boisterous, delicate, and emotive, his collaborative work with Lechner (in a duo and combo settings with the Rosamunde Quartet) evolved into an almost indefatigable sound. Their newly-released album, Ojos Negros [“Black Eyes”], almost lulls the listener to sleep in some spots, but ultimately demonstrates the fluid interplay and improvisation between the two players. Unlike the “piano accordion,” the bandoneón does not have keys; it has buttons on both sides. Cellos are common enough, but when was the last time a bandoneón was featured in a jazz festival? WHO SHOULD GO? It may take two to tango, but this duo’s ambitious approach pushes the boundaries. Fans of the tango and contemporary cello and chamber music would enjoy this unique pairing. BUZZ: While some might find the melancholic tone and warm texture of this duo’s music a bit snoozy, others will be enchanted and mesmerized. The duo is definitely a stand-out among the jazz series program. See preview on pg. 106. (T. Ballard Lesemann)
SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA • $10-$40 • (1 hour 15 min.) • May 28 at 5 p.m. • Sottile Theatre, 44 George St. • 579-3100

 

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Ahmad Jamal

WHAT IS IT? Pianist Ahmad Jamal with accompaniment, performing original compositions, reworked jazz standards, and dynamic three-way improvisation. WHY SEE IT? Revered by critics as an underappreciated giant in the world of jazz, veteran pianist Ahmad Jamal doesn’t actually consider himself a “jazz musician,” per se. In fact, he doesn’t even consider his combo (piano, drums, bass) a “trio” but rather a “three-piece orchestra.” At 76 years old, the virtuosic Jamal embraces all aspects of his music — as a performer, composer, arranger, and lyricist. Working mostly in small-group settings, he’s flexible enough to swing with a full orchestra, a small combo, or solo. His latest release, After Fajr (Birdology/Dreyfus) finds him and his band mates — bassist James Cammack and drummer Idris Muhammad — in a hot live session in France. WHO SHOULD GO? Often, the term “modern jazz” can be a fuzzy definition for something as open-ended and original as Jamal’s acoustic music. Fans of 20th-century piano masters (from Horowitz to Brubeck), contemporary jazz, and Miles Davis (who cites Jamal as a major influence) will enjoy this program. BUZZ: Jamal shows no sign of slowing down or mellowing out. Between his astonishingly nimble technique and his keen sense of time and melody, he and the “three-piece orchestra” are sure to conjure memorable moments. (T. Ballard Lesemann)
SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA • $15-$75 • (1 hour 30 min.) • June 3 at 7:30 p.m. • Gaillard Municipal Auditorium, 77 Calhoun St. • 579-3100

 

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Stefano Battaglia

WHAT IS IT? For 20 years, Milan-based pianist and composer Stefano Battaglia worked along the overlapping tangle of classical and modern jazz. His latest efforts combine a foundation of strings, piano, and percussion with embellishment from brass and woodwinds. WHY SEE IT? Battaglia is a genuine talent — both as a composer and a performer. Over the years, he collaborated with a range of jazz and classical musicians. His latest collection, Raccolto (a debut on ECM), is a double-album’s worth of atmospheric, spaciously arranged sound collages and explorations. The forthcoming disc, Re: Pasolini (a collection of original pieces inspired by the work of Italian filmmaker and poet Pier Paolo Pasolini), flows in similarly delicate fashion. It’s very “modern,” graceful, and expressive stuff drawn from traditional and familiar styles and works. WHO SHOULD GO? Some may find Battaglia’s program a bit too avant-garde or abstract for their tastes. Others might relish the challenge and enjoy the journey. Followers of the “New European Music” movement will get it. BUZZ: Expect a performance that’s far from a swingin’ evening of jazz and closer to a modernistic, piano-led recital. (T. Ballard Lesemann)
SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA • $25-$40 • (1 hour 15 min.) • May 27 at 9 p.m. • The Cistern, 66 George St. • 579-3100

 

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Blues on the Dock

WHAT IS IT? Three creekside real-deal Carolina blues/roots music showcases. WHY SEE IT? The casual Blues on the Dock events, a popular part of Piccolo’s blues and jazz series, takes over Bowens Island. The “Harmonica Romp in the Swamp” features harmonica players Juke Joint Johnny (one of Charleston’s secret treasures), Naz & The Falsehoods, Freddie Vanderford, and Brandon Turner. Despite its aggressive title, the “Blues Guitar Smackdown” finds Doc & The Disorderlies and Elliott & The Untouchables on hand with special guests for a friendly jam. The sassy “Divas of the Blues” includes S.C. vocalists Miss Wanda Johnson (pictured above) and Chocolate Thunder — both longtime collaborators with Shrimp City Slim. WHO SHOULD GO? Those who love the soulful sounds of authentic Southern blues and roots music, genuine Lowcountry characters, cold beer, and warm breezes. BUZZ: Just about any event on Bowens Island draws an amusing mix of salty locals and curious visitors. With a top-notch lineup like this, Blues on the Dock could be the perfect, energizing respite from the hustle-bustle on the peninsula. (T. Ballard Lesemann)
PICCOLO SPOLETO • $15 • May 25, 6:30-10 p.m.; May 27, 4-8 p.m.; June 3, 4-8 p.m. • Bowens Island Restaurant, 1870 Bowens Island Road • 554-6060

 

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Early Bird Blues

WHAT IS IT? One of the major blues/roots events of Piccolo, replete with a variety of S.C. and national acts (and happy hour prices). WHY SEE IT? This year’s Early Bird Blues series, organized by Gary “Shrimp City Slim” Erwin and Cumberland’s, features nine early-evening events held at the popular King Street venue. The lineup looks cool: dapper singer/guitarist Drink Small (pictured above), slide guitarist and singer Davis Coen, roots trio Congaree, Aussie singer/guitarist Geoff Achison, upstate S.C. bluesmen Jeff Norwood & Li’l Jimmy, Charleston variety band Smoky Weiner & The Hot Links, electric blues guitarist Shane Pruitt, and Atlanta blues/Americana combo Delta Moon. WHO SHOULD GO? Fans and novices who can dig boogie, authentic country blues, indigenous roots music, and a gritty bar atmosphere should make plans to attend. BUZZ: Most of these acts are familiar to local blues enthusiasts; the early evening showtimes provide a rare opportunity to actually enjoy them in such a casual live setting. Drink Small (playing on Mon. May 28 and Tues. June 5) is probably on many not-to-be-missed lists. (T. Ballard Lesemann)
PICCOLO SPOLETO • $10 • May 28, 29, 30, 31, June 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 from 4-7 p.m. • Cumberland’s, 301 King St. • 554-6060

 

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Enrico Pieranunzi

WHAT IS IT? Well-loved in Italy and Europe for his cool, swingin’, Mediterranean-spiced jazz stylings, pianist Enrico Pieranunzi performs an unprecedented series of shows in solo, duo, and trio settings. WHY SEE IT? A native of Rome, Enrico Pieranunzi grew up immersed in classical, jazz, and folk music. His latest works reflect that blend of styles and cultures. He speaks of making his piano “sing his songs” and refers to the modern jazz world as a “global village” where all are welcome. His solo and duo performances in the Recital Hall at the Simons Center might be among the most intense of the Wachovia Jazz series (modern electric/acoustic bass great John Patitucci, a headliner in his own right, joins Pieranunzi in the duo). The full trio (with additional drummer Joey Baron) hit the stage under the oaks at the Cistern. WHO SHOULD GO? Anyone who dug sax player Marco Zurzolo’s vivacious Naples-style jazz jam at last year’s jazz series would likely enjoy Pieranunzi’s trio show at the Cistern. Fans of be-bop, swing, Italian dance music, Romantic-era concert music, and contemporary jazz will relate with the rich blend of music styles at any of the three performances. BUZZ: The calm confidence in Pieranunzi’s playing style comes from years of collaborative and solo work. His open-minded approach to these Spoleto gigs should generate some excitement. (T. Ballard Lesemann)
SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA • $25-$40 • Solo: May 30 at 7 and 9 p.m.; Duo: May 31 at 7 and 9 p.m.; Trio: June 2 at 9 p.m. • Solo and Duo at Recital Hall, Simons Center, 54 St. Philip St. • Trio at The Cistern, 66 George St. • 579-3100

 

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A Quiet Storm

WHAT IS IT? Wanna feel the love, baby? Vocalist “Soulful Sam” Singleton — a New Jersey native and former pro basketball player — joins forces with local soul/R&B combo A Touch of Class Band for a silky-smooth evening of vintage love ballads and “quiet storm” grooves (a romance-soaked sub-genre of soul inspired by a 1975 Smokey Robinson album of the same name). WHY SEE IT? A Touch of Class Band are a professional variety band who live up to their name with a solid mix of Motown, R&B, beach, jazz, and reggae. With Singleton, they’ll handle an entertaining list of hits (they call the set “The Sounds of the ’60s and ’70s”). His vocal style has been described as a blend of Arthur Prysock, Billy Eckstine, Isaac Hayes, and Will Downing. WHO SHOULD GO? Fans of the classic era of radio soul hits, from Smokey and the Temptations to the likes of Luther, Peabo, and Teddy. BUZZ: A Quiet Storm is an evening of love songs with the spotlight on Singleton’s endearing singing style. Bring a sexy date. (T. Ballard Lesemann)
PICCOLO SPOLETO • $20 • June 6 at 9 p.m. • Footlight Players Theatre, 20 Queen St. • 554-6060

 

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Agustín Luna

WHAT IS IT? A brilliant young guitar talent from the Buenos Aires folk/classical scene performs a week-long series of recitals — his first performances outside of Argentina. WHY SEE IT? Guitarist Agustín Luna — a 25-year-old native of the city of La Plata — may seem young, but he’s been digging deep into “native Argentine music” for years. Luna started out as a self-taught folk/tango performer but studied at the La Plata School of Art and excelled with an impressive technique and passion for interpretation. He looks forward to releasing his forthcoming new studio album, (tentatively tiled Solo Guitar) with a variety from Bach to Astor Piazolla to improvised ragtime. WHO SHOULD GO? Luna’s eclectic program will dazzle those who appreciate the technical skills and discipline of classical guitar and those who enjoy the exotic melodies and rhythms of South American folk music. BUZZ: Luna makes his Spoleto debut, which always excites festival-goers. The overlap of classical, jazz, and folk, styles ties in well with Wachovia Jazz’s increasingly international “world music” approach. (T. Ballard Lesemann)
SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA • $30 • (1 hour) • June 6, 8, 9, at 7 p.m.; June 7 at 9 p.m. • Recital Hall, Simons Center, 54 St. Philip St. • 579-3100

 

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New York Jazz Sessions

WHAT IS IT? Dexterous keyboardist Nate Shaw (of N.Y. combo Big Bucket) with young baritone sax man Will Scruggs and members of Big Bucket alongside. The original concept for the gig was sort of a “Scruggs Meets Big Bucket” supergroup. According to Scruggs, things gravitated to a more organic, old school sound. The rhythm section includes a rotation of Tony Romano, Matt Kane, Justin Varnes, and Charles Phaneuf. This season, they’re touring under the name “CC Booker III” (named for Ray Charles, King Curtis, and Booker T. & The MG’s). WHY SEE IT? This could be the most sophisticated mix of modern and vintage lounge jazz/funk of the series. Shaw and Scruggs can mix it up from be-bop and swing and organ-driven R&B. WHO SHOULD GO? Fans of electric jazz — from Weather Report and Medeski, Martin & Wood to Ray Charles and Miles. Scruggs’ versatile sax technique should please more traditional jazz fans. BUZZ: Shaw has quickly become one of Piccolo’s favorite returning players. He brings something new to each show and has a blast every time. This might be his best attempt at “old man bar” jazz yet. (T. Ballard Lesemann)
PICCOLO SPOLETO • $10 • June 7, 8 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. • Tonik Club, 479 King St. • 554-6060

 

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Charleston Jazz Initiative

WHAT IS IT? The Charleston Jazz Initiative, established in 2003, celebrates the African-American jazz tradition in the Charleston area. The association takes a look back at the rich history of the S.C. jazz world and the Jenkins Orphanage Bands with a third annual “Return to the Source.” WHY SEE IT? Charleston Jazz Initiative co-founder Jack McCray — a serious fan, observer, and critic of jazz — and other local jazz enthusiasts arranged this special symposium to honor and celebrate the musical contributions of guitarist Freddie Green (a member of the Count Basie Orchestra, pictured above), trumpeter Jabbo Smith, and the Jenkins Orphanage Bands. Keynote speaker Lorraine Gordon, owner of N.Y.’s Village Vanguard jazz clubs, will be on hand. Live performers include the Edmund Thornton Jenkins Chamber Society and Al Green (son of Freddie Green). WHO SHOULD GO? Fans of the classic swing and big band era and those who want to gain some appreciation of the rich musical history of the Jenkins Orphanage Bands. BUZZ: The group are experts on Carolina jazz history and present it in a fascinating manner. (T. Ballard Lesemann)
PICCOLO SPOLETO • $10, students free • (3 hours) • June 8 at 6 p.m. • New Tabernacle Fourth Baptist Church, 22 Elizabeth St. • Tickets available at the door only.


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