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From big band and Latin to bop and contemporary, the local jazz scene blows hot and cool with shimmering sound and fury
Leah Suárez is a vocalist in touch with all the facets of American music, especially jazz. She sings in three languages—English, Spanish, and Portuguese—and conveys truth and honesty in her music. A capella, in a small ensemble, or in front of a big band, she gets her message out by way of a rich, warm voice. Color her sound blue and green.
Influences: Anita O’Day, Susannah McCorkle, Shirley Horn, Blossom Dearie, Astrud Gilberto, Ella Fitzgerald, Rene Marie
CD: Found Freedom EP (2007)
Live: November 24 for the Charleston Jazz Orchestra’s “Holiday Swing” at Charleston Music Hall & Monday nights at Mercato
A local jazz icon for the past decade, percussionist Quentin Baxter has a style rooted in Gullah and flowing with nuanced punctuation and blues-based grooves. Whether playing at a local boîte with the Quentin Baxter Ensemble or The Gradual Lean or touring internationally with the likes of Rene Marie, his rhythms tap into the timeless tempos of the universe.
Influences: Roy Haynes, Max Roach
CD: Experiment in Truth (2007) with Rene Marie
Live: November 24 for the Charleston Jazz Orchestra’s “Holiday Swing” at Charleston Music Hall & regularly at Charleston Grill
When not working as director of Jazz Studies at the College of Charleston, saxophonist and composer Robert Lewis schools local audiences in his progressive form of jazz that is modern in interpretation and presentation. He’s also the lead alto saxophonist for the Charleston Jazz Orchestra.
Influences: John Coltrane, Chris Potter, Joshua Redman
CD: First Takes (2010) with Gerald Gregory & Ron Wiltrout
Live: November 24 for the Charleston Jazz Orchestra’s “Holiday Swing” at Charleston Music Hall & most Saturdays at Mercato
Ann Caldwell is the dean of Charleston jazz singers, having grown into that stature from her roots in spirituals, folk, and gospel. She lends her dynamic range and a sleek style of phrasing to regular jazz performances at Mercato and the monthly Jazz Factory at Gullah Cuisine.
Influences: Nina Simone, Cassandra Wilson, Anita Baker, Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan
CD: Compositions (2008)
Live: the first Wednesday of each month at Gullah Cuisine’s Jazz Factory, as well as Thursday & Friday nights at Mercato
Pianist Gerald Gregory is flowering these days as he’s finding his individual sound, not a difficult task given his technical proficiency and deeply intuitive feel. The more he plays, the better he gets.
Influences: Brad Meldhau, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson
CD: First Takes (2010) with Robert Lewis & Ron Wiltrout
Live: regularly at Charleston Grill & Mercato
Once described by the late pioneering guitarist Joe Beck as one of the best young players in the country, Lee Barbour is totally versatile in the jazz idiom.
Using serious blues, country, and rock influences, his playing is adventurous, employing the full capabilities of his instrument, especially when he sears your soul with his touching effects.
Influences: Bill Frisell, Nels Cline
CD: Songs for Singing (2008) with Joe Beck
Live: regularly at Pane e Vino & Charleston Grill
Fluent in all the reed instruments, saxophonist Mark Sterbank is most accomplished on the tenor, playing with a breathy, dynamic feel that resonates on a lot of levels. There’s a sweetness to his sound that makes listening to him a joyful ride.
Influences: John Coltrane, Ben Webster, Don Byas, Paul Gonsalves, Stan Getz
CD: Hymns & Spirituals (2010) with Tommy Gill
Live: November 24 for the Charleston Jazz Orchestra’s “Holiday Swing” at Charleston Music Hall; December 10-19 with “The Charleston Christmas Special” at Charleston Music Hall; & January 16 with the Mark Sterbank Jazz Group in “Hymns & Spirituals” at Lightsey Chapel Auditorium
A founder of the New Music Collective (see page 72), drummer Ron Wiltrout is one of the most versatile jazz musicians in town. His approach is full-bodied with a minimum of notes. His accents are full of surprises, even quirky at times.
Influences: Joey Baron, Bill Stewart, David King, Jim Black
CD: First Takes (2010) with Gerald Gregory & Robert Lewis
Live: regularly at Mercato
Pianist Tommy Gill’s approach to his art is proof that blues is the mother of jazz. While he is completely comfortable in all styles of music, he has mastered the jazz piano genres, including stride, swing, and bop. He shines whether accompanying a singer, playing solo, melodically anchoring an ensemble, or being part of a rhythm section that drives a big band.
Influences: Duke Ellington, James P. Johnson, Tommy Flanagan
CD: Hymns & Spirituals (2010) with Mark Sterbank
Live: November 24 for Charleston Jazz Orchestra’s “Holiday Swing” at Charleston Music Hall & regularly at Charleston Grill
Photographs: (Baxter) by Jack Alterman, (SuÀrez) by Alice Keeney, (Caldwell) by Tony Bell, (Barbour) by Vikki Matsis, (Sterbank) by Daniel Grummer & (Wiltrout) by Ben Williams. Courtesy of JAC: (Gill) by Reese Moore, (Lewis) by Priscilla Thomas & (Gregory) by Priscilla Thomas.