A Playlist of Northeast Ohio Jazz

photo of Orrin Evans Trio in performance at BLU Jazz+ in Akron [Cindy Nichols Photography/BLU Jazz+]
Orrin Evans Trio in performance at BLU Jazz+ in Akron [Cindy Nichols Photography/BLU Jazz+]

The coronavirus has put a stop to many things, including going out to enjoy live jazz. Until people can return to the clubs and concert halls to hear artists, here’s a Spotify playlist of just a few recordings featuring Northeast Ohio jazz musicians. (If you don’t have a Spotify account, you can register for a free one on their website.)

Dan Wilson- “To Whom It May Concern”- “Long Story Short”

Like many a guitarist, Akron’s Dan Wilson fell in love with the instrument when he heard a recording by the legendary guitarist Wes Montgomery. Wilson has worked with organist Joey DeFrancesco, earning a Grammy nomination for his work on DeFrancesco’s 2017 recording “Project Freedom” (Mack Avenue Records). Wilson made his first recording under his own name in 2012, “To Whom It May Concern.” He followed that with his Mack Avenue debut in 2017, “Balancing Act.” Wilson also began playing with bass player Christian McBride in 2017.  Wilson’s latest date for Mack Avenue, “Vessels of Wood and Earth,” is scheduled for release this year.

Jack Schantz Quartet- “Speechless”- “Lennie’s Pennies”

Trumpeter and composer Jack Schantz is a familiar face in the Northeast Ohio Jazz scene. Schantz, a veteran of the Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw Orchestras, served as artistic director for the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra from 1994 to 2009.  He also led the acclaimed “Jazz Unit” in the 1990s, which was a fixture at the Bop Stop on Monday nights. In 1993, Schantz cut “Speechless,” a small-group recording for the Northeast Ohio label Azica Records.  Schantz teamed with pianist Chip Stephens, bass player Jeff Halsey and drummer Val Kent for the session. Fellow CJO member and saxophonist Howie Smith was the band’s special guest for two pieces, including composer Lennie Tristano’s reworking of the standard “Pennies from Heaven,” which he called “Lennie’s Pennies.”

Paul Ferguson and RIAS Big Band- “Blue Highways”- “Niece Piece”

Trombonist and composer Paul Ferguson is the current artistic director of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra. In 1998, the RIAS Big Band, under the direction of Clevelander Jiggs Whigham, recorded “Blue Highways,” (Azica Records) which featured a collection of Ferguson compositions, including “Niece Piece.” For this fast, minor blues track, which showcases trumpeter Claudio Roditi and alto saxophonist Gregoire Roberts, Ferguson combines  “Roots” by Akron’s Bill Dobbins with the African flavor of Bobby Hutcherson’s “Highway One.”

Ernie Krivda- “Blues for Pekar”- “Blues for Pekar”

Saxophonist Ernie Krivda is an elder statesmen of the Northeast Ohio jazz scene. In the 1960s, Krivda played in bands led by organists Eddie Baccus and Bill DeArango. In the 1970s, Krivda led the house band at the Cleveland club The Smiling Dog. Saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley heard Krivda at the club and recommended him to band leader Quincy Jones, who hired Krivda to be part of his orchestra. Krivda spent time in New York City, where he made a series of well-received albums for the Inner City label. Krivda eventually returned to Northeast Ohio, where he’s led a variety of groups, including the “Fat Tuesday Big Band.” In 2011, Krivda released the album “Blues for Pekar”(Capri Records) in honor of jazz critic and graphic novelist Harvey Pekar. The title track features one of Krivda’s former students, trumpeter Dominick Farinacci.

Vanessa Rubin- “The Dream is You”- “On a Misty Night”

In 2019, vocalist Vanessa Rubin realized a decades-long labor of love with the release of “The Dream is You” (Nibur). The album featured the music of the celebrated composer/arranger Tadd Dameron, a Clevelander and key figure in the modern jazz scene of the 1940s.  For the date, Rubin assembled an all-star octet and called on the arranging talents of Benny Golson, Frank Foster, Bobby Watson, Jimmy Heath and Clevelander Willie Smith. “The Dream is You” combined a mix of well-known Dameron works, including “On a Misty Night,” as well as rarely performed pieces, several of which featured original lyrics by Rubin.  

Howie Smith and Mike Nock- “Opal Dream”-“Sail”

Saxophonist Howie Smith’s career has taken him around the globe, including Australia, where a Fulbright grant brought him to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, where he established the country’s first college-level jazz studies program. When Smith made a return trip to Australia in 1988, he met and performed with pianist Mike Nock, who had been making his home there since 1985. The two continued their collaborations with Nock coming to Cleveland in 1997 and Smith going back to Australia in 2012.  From those two meetings came the collection of duets “Opal Dream”(Open Door). Among the pieces the two recorded was Smith’s “Sail.”

Madd for Tadd- “The Magic Continues”- “Our Delight”

Vanessa Rubin isn’t the only jazz performer who recently celebrated Tadd Dameron’s music. During the 2016-2017 school year, Youngstown State University coordinator of jazz Studies Kent Engelhardt used a research professorship to transcribe 10 works by Dameron, as well as several pieces Dameron had collaborated on with different lyricists. Upon completion of the project, Englehardt approached Stephen Enos, jazz studies director at Cuyahoga Community College about forming a group to perform the charts he had written.  Educator/musicians from universities in Ohio and Pennsylvania formed the ensemble, which they dubbed “Madd For Tadd.” The group recorded these arrangements on the disc “The Magic Continues.” Among the Dameron works they performed was “Our Delight,” a piece that Dameron recorded early in his career with trumpeter Fats Navarro.

Theron Brown- “No Concepts”- “Brown’s Blues”

Zanesville native Theron Brown’s love of jazz piano brought him to the University of Akron where he earned a degree in jazz studies in 2014. Brown has been showcased with numerous jazz greats over the last several years ranging from saxophonist Ken Peplowski to vibraphonist Warren Wolf. Brown is a professor of jazz studies at Kent State University as well as the founder of Akron’s Rubber City Jazz and Blues Festival. Brown just released his first disc as a leader earlier this year, “No Concepts.”

Cleveland Jazz Orchestra- “The Surprise of Being”- “Marking Time”

In 2005, The Cleveland Jazz Orchestra performed “The Surprise of Being,” a commissioned work composed by Dave Morgan that featured saxophonist Joe Lovano. The following year, the CJO traveled to New York City to join Lovano for four nights of performances at the jazz club Birdland, where they recorded the suite as well as several other pieces.

Jackie Warren- “After Hours”- “The Loop”

Colorado native Jackie Warren came to Northeast Ohio to study classical piano at the Oberlin Conservatory. During her time there, she also did jazz arranging, composition and theory with Wendell Logan, pianist Neal Creque and trumpeter Kenny Davis. Warren is not only one of Cleveland’s leading jazz pianists, she’s also frequently heard playing in various Latin music ensembles around the area. Warren’s most recent recording, “After Hours,” was inspired by her late-night sets at Nighttown in Cleveland Heights.


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