Owing to insanity, I embarked on a three-day tour of multiple-venue, multiple-performer nights. Honestly, it didn’t start that way, but it just seemed to blow up on me. The initial Friday (August 7th) plan was simple: I would go to Skipper’s Smokehouse to see Serotonic and the Legendary JCs.
That was before I got a Facebook invite to an event in Brandon — three miles from my house! Fil Pate, the superb guitar and mandolin player, announced that he was performing as Filoop (as a one-man band: a looper) at Della’s After Dark. I had not been to Della’s in years. They have always been open for lunch, but the dinner operation had shut down for some time. In its previous incarnation, we had seen some excellent jazz performed there by the Valerie Gillespie Group and several others. And the food? To die for.
I messaged Fil to make sure that music really started at 6:30 (it does) so that I could catch his first set before heading to Skipper’s. What I did not discover until the next night (hell, yes, I went back) was that Friday was the grand re-opening! I have a lot to say about Fil, but first you need to know why you should plan a dinner at Della’s After Dark.
First — and this is NOT a small issue for me — they serve Night Swim Porter by Coppertail Brewing Co. from Tampa. I am a fussy beer drinker; I like porters and stouts. Beer fans like me know that many establishments do not serve beers you cannot see through. And Night Swim is an awesome, and local, choice. So there’s that.
Their menu is short, and it is superb. As a vegetarian who eats fish (and don’t get me started), I found plenty of great options. On Friday, I had the Ahi tuna appetizer and the vegetable plate with Israeli couscous. Both were superb, as was the service. This is a restaurant committed to great food, great service, and great jazz!
On to the music. I have seen Fil Pate in a variety of settings: in a duet setting with Bobby Lee Rodgers; as part of Lemonade with Rodgers, Tom Damon, and the Stadelman brothers ; with the Juanjamon Band; and leading a jazz fusion band with the Future Vintage boys. He is a superb player on mandolin and electric and acoustic guitars.
Fil said he learned rock and bluegrass and all before he really delved into jazz, in fact because he used to go to Della’s back in the day and was quite taken with jazz. You would never have known that by the fine music he played Friday. As I arrived a few minutes after 6:30, he was working on a beautiful version of “Summertime” (seasonally appropriate, he said). As he switched back and forth from guitar to mandolin, it was clearly evoking the sound of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli.
Fil examines each song inside and out. Most run 10 to 20 minutes each as he examines every facet. Next up was a long take on “All Blues,” from the seminal Kind of Blue album by Miles. A David Grisman composition I should have recognized was next: “E.M.D.” It was the first track on Grisman’s first record under his name. So jazz is too limiting; Fil also plays ‘Dawg’ music, gypsy and newgrass too. The transitions from one instrument to the other were smooth, since the looping kept music playing the entire time.
Fil grabbed another Miles tune, “Milestones” (the second one, Phil Woods would remind us). This version had great pace and verve. I had to split after he played a lovely version of “All of Me.” But I knew I would have to come back Saturday.
Upon arrival at Skipper’s, I heard Serotonic already in full swing. This night they were a quartet; saxophone player Jon Tucker has been buried with work at his recording studio. It did not hamper the sound one bit, as they threw down an excellent set. Serotonic had revealed a new dimension at the Orange Blossom Jamboree, blowing out an amazing Led Zeppelin cover of “No Quarter.” This night, they rolled out a relatively new tune called “Leave it to Me,” very Zep-esque. Again, for a jazz/funk band, this is an exciting departure from the norm. Jordan Garno crushed on guitar.
About the time that the band played one of their great originals, “Jelly,” Susan said, accurately, “They are on fire!” Oh, yes, they were! When they got to my favorite tune, “Rhinobelly,” Garno and bassist Rob Sanger were bad-ass. There’s no other way to describe it. Bryan Lewis’ keyboards really stood out the entire set, especially on these two songs.
Then drummer Andrew Kilmartin called for some horns, specifically, the JC horns. Up came Clay Watson, trombone, and David Skey and Anthony Cole on tenor saxes. I knew about Cole’s prowess at the drum kit; I had no idea he had great skills in other areas. I do now!
The horn-infused band played what seemed like an obvious choice, Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up,” a tune Serotonic has had down for some time. This version simply soared! Everybody got a chance to blow. After the horns split, Serotonic had one more, an inspired take on their song “The Big Dirty.” Kilmartin had been solid all night, but he tore this one to pieces. Great set. Also, my 30th Serotonic sighting. Word.
The Legendary JCs are a revolving cast of characters with two givens: Eugene Snowden on vocals, dancing and comic antics, and Clay Watson on trombone (and sometimes washboard). This night, Roland Simmons, guitarist extraordinaire, was in the house, and Anthony Cole was playing keyboards and tenor. Good luck using the ‘net to figure out who played bass, and I think that was David Skey on the other tenor. I was sorry not to see Katie Burkess with them; she is a great singer.
[PSST! HEY! Look, you should know that Eugene is, well, he’s… well, he just ain’t right, you know! He is the poster boy for ADHD. They’ll be in the middle of a song, when suddenly he will shift to something else, or just stop cold, or pause to tell a story or a joke. Don’t bother telling him to focus. It won’t do a bit of good. Somehow, the band is able to stay with him.]
The JCs are an old-school soul and R&B review, and I will match them up with anybody. They romp through what might be a setlist but what is more likely a stream-of-consciousness invention from Eugene. By the third song, they hit “New Man,” the first opportunity for Simmons to strut his stuff. When they got to “Save Me” (both of those are from the album Our Time Will Come), Cole had a great tenor solo.
A tune emerged that seemed based on Funkadelic’s “Funk Gettin’ Ready to Roll,” which eventually turned into “You Bring Me Joy,” Skey featured on tenor this time. Some discussion began about how this was drummer Aaron Fowler’s last gig before moving to Seattle. Alternately, Eugene asked Aaron to call the tune and sang little songs about how Aaron was going to freeze his ass off and see snow in September and other little ditties.
Aaron called “Rip It Up” (Little Richard) and “Express Yourself” (Charles Watts & the 103rd Street Rhythm Band) before a brief set break. Once back on stage, Clay Watson took a great turn on “Yes We Can Can,” and then Eugene channelled Sam Cooke on “A Change is Gonna Come.” A real rocker followed that, with solos from Watson, Simmons and Cole on keyboards.
Aaron’s turn again: “Sing a Simple Song,” with many voices singing on stage and in the crowd. Eugene talked about Aaron again, talking about Modern Drummer magazine, calling it Modern Drunkard; their motto: “Say it loud, say it plowed.”
Eugene gave Serotonic another nice shout-out (he did so in the first set as well), and then it was “Land of 1000 Dances” (Cannibal & the Headhunters, originally) to close out the evening’s insanity.
Day one in the books. Saturday and Sunday to go. Stay tuned!
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