Friday, February 11, 2011
Newport Beach Jazz Party ready to swing
John Pizzarelli photo credit: ART PAZORNIK
This story originally was posted on The Orange County Register Web site on Feb. 9, 2011.
For those who love mainstream jazz, the Newport Beach Jazz Party is one of the most highly-anticipated and aptly-titled events on the Orange County live music calendar.
"It's three days – and four nights – of straight-ahead jazz," said John McClure, co-producer of the Newport Beach Jazz Party. The event will be held at the Marriott Newport Beach Hotel & Spa, Feb. 17-20.
McClure and his co-producer Joe Rothman (who is the founder of the jazz fest) have a mutual love of mainstream jazz that has found a place in the heart of both area fans and lovers of the genre who come from around the globe to attend the festivities. The event is expected to attract an intimate audience of 450 a day, with a number of acclaimed musicians such as singer Frank Sinatra, Jr., singer-guitarist John Pizzarelli, trombonist Dan Barrett, pianist Benny Green, drummers Lewis Nash and Jeff Hamilton, the Blue Note Swing Orchestra, the Ken Peplowski Quartet and many others scheduled to perform.
McClure noted that the Newport Beach Jazz Party is fashioned after the jazz party concept that well-known jazz aficionado Dr. Dick Gibson launched in Colorado in the early 1960s.
"The idea is to bring in the best jazz players – working professionals that like playing together. The thing they have in common are standards, the Great American Songbook."
The entire hotel is utilized with evening concerts held in the Grand Pacific Ballroom, while several daytime champagne brunches and poolside sessions offer up additional shows. About a third of those who attend are from Southern California, while the remaining concertgoers come from other areas around the nation or from overseas.
"For me, I make my living playing and singing," Pizzarelli said recently by phone from Jacksonville, Fla., where he was on tour. "When I get to do selections from the Great American Songbook, it's fun," Pizzarelli will headline at the Newport Beach Jazz Party on Feb. 17.
"The Duke Ellington thing has been very good to me," he said of Rockin' in Rhythm: A Tribute to Duke Ellington, which was released last year and features Pizzarelli and a talented cast of players revisiting a dozen Ellington works. Highlights include versions of "Satin Doll" and "I'm Beginning to See the Light" where his wonderful vocals are showcased, and the fast-paced instrumental gems "C Jam in Blues" and "Cottontail/Rockin' in Rhythm" medley that provide Pizzarelli a chance to display his impressive guitar playing.
Previously best-known for his acclaimed tributes to Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra, the Ellington tribute and subsequent shows in support of that Telarc/Concord Records release – including the upcoming Newport Beach date – have provided an added dimension for Pizzarelli.
"It gives you a completely new outlook," Pizzaelli said of jazz's most notable 20th century composer. "It also allows me to play more guitar."
There are other benefits of bringing his Ellington tribute out to the West Coast.
"Anything that gets me out of New York in February is a plus."
Jazz lovers who love the Newport Beach Jazz Party can plan on attending a summer series of Wednesday nights at the Marriott Newport Beach called "Sunset Jazz at Newport." Scheduled to run every Wednesday in the Rose Garden of the hotel, the series will run July 6 through Aug. 31, with a special Champagne Jazz Brunch Cruise on Newport Harbor set for Sunday, Sept. 4.
But for now, the focus of McClure and other organizers is on the Jazz Party.
"It's still work," McClure said. "It's not a big money-making venture. But it is a lot of satisfaction."