Released by Verve Records in late summer, 1999, Michael Brecker’s Time Is of the Essence was probably the last great jazz album of the 20th century. A leading figure in jazz fusion, Brecker (1949-2007) appeared on more than 700 albums, including sideman gigs with such luminaries as Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Joni Mitchell and Lou Reed. His sixth solo record included organist Larry Goldings, Pat Metheny on guitar and three different drummers: Bill Stewart, Jeff “Tain” Watts and the legendary Elvin Jones.
With his most famous album approaching its 20th anniversary, Brecker’s legacy is being celebrated anew by a quartet featuring fellow tenor Seamus Blake, in town for a mini-tour of the Southeast, bookended by spots at Jacksonville University–the school’s jazz education program is running interesting shows all week. Blake has played on nearly 100 albums in the last 25 years, including nearly two dozen recorded as a leader for really sweet boutique labels like Fresh Sound and Criss Cross Jazz; he even did a set for Smalls Live in 2009.
Blake is joined on this run by three of the region’s most decorated jazzmen. Guitarist Barry Greene has been playing and teaching all over the Southeast for decades, releasing seven albums while a professor at University of North Florida. His influence can be felt in two generations of working musicians, including his bandmates. Organist Scott Giddens and drummer Ben Adkins work together regularly as part of The Raisin Cake Orchestra, one of the best jazz groups anywhere in the world. A professor at JU, Giddens leads his own trio and has performed with people like “Sweets” Edison, Bunky Green, Diane Schuur and Joe Lovano. Adkins has logged sideman stints with Dave Douglas, Marcus Roberts, Marcus Printup and Wynton Marsalis. His award-nominated debut album, Salmagundi, was released last year, and the much-anticipated first Raisin Cake record is due out any day now.
Blake begins with a master class at JU on Tuesday, Oct. 2; it’s free and open to the public. Fans have the chance to directly engage him there, prior to a VIP event that evening, on the rooftop at Intuition Ale Works. He and the band then make a quick loop that includes the Timucua Arts Foundation in Orlando on Oct. 4, Tallahassee’s B Sharps on Oct. 5 and Good Times in Savannah on Oct. 6. They then return to JU for the biggest gig of the week at Terry Concert Hall, which seats 400 eager souls. If you’re really into process, this presents an ideal opportunity to watch how this classic material is handled by veteran professionals in the course of a working week.
Jacksonville University’s jazz program takes the spotlight this week for five days of events including students and faculty, augmented by a slate of high-end ringers brought in for the occasion. You’ll get a great sense of how the modern jazz educators–here, and around the nation–have really encouraged the creative ambitions of their students, fostering a freshness and spontaneity that thrive within the supple strictures of the curriculum.
The same dynamic applies to all the area schools running jazz programs–LaVilla, UNF, FSCJ, Douglas Anderson–but JU’s College of Fine Arts is doing great work this year. It hosted the Electroacoustic Barn Dance in February, bringing in 94 composers from 67 countries to throw down with instructors like John Ricci, Shannon Lockwood and Tony Steve. Ricci, who plays alto saxophone, is part of the faculty concert on Thursday night, Oct. 4, as is Giddens. The Jazz Ensemble performs a concert a week later, providing background music for a screening of Harold Lloyd’s 1925 silent-film classic, The Freshman, which is seriously among the best football movies ever made.
All in all, it’s a great week for local music lovers, and especially those following our ever-growing jazz scene, which has had a great 2018 and everyone involved–as well as converts–are looking ahead to even greater success next year.
- Seamus Blake's master class, 3 p.m. Tue., Oct. 2, Jacksonville University, free
- Ben Adkins & Seamus Blake, Intuition Ale Works Rooftop, Oct. 2
- JU Jazz Faculty Concert, 7:30 p.m. Thur., Oct. 4, Terry Concert Hall, free
- Time Is of the Essence: A Tribute to Michael Brecker featuring Seamus Blake & The Ben Adkins Group, 6 p.m. Sun., Oct. 7, Terry Concert Hall, $10
- The Freshman screening, 7:30 p.m. Thur., Oct. 11, Terry Concert Hall