Frosty February fun!

Allow me to begin the February column with my by now traditional Groundhog Day greetings! It’s my favorite secular holiday for the promise of spring soon-to-come — whether or not the furry little fellow sees his shadow. A good thing to bear in mind during a month that brings the Arctic home to the Mitten State!

Big thanks to everyone who paid their jazz dues in support of WEMU 89.1 FM as 2010 wrapped up! Big thanks and kudus to Art Timko, who retired as general manager. He had an amazing career, which touched many lives and changed them for the better — mine included. The words on his behalf offered at the Fundraiser Finale party by Liane Hansen from NPR, as well as numerous peers in broadcasting, honored a broad range of activities. In my experience Art was always professional and friendly, patient and encouraging. Driving that car at 89.1 is like herding jazz cats!

February is African-American History Month. As you’ll see from the concerts and club dates detailed below, we have plenty of opportunities to honor and support Black America’s cultural gift to the world: jazz music!

UMS Brings The Big Leaguers!

An eclectic pair of shows illustrates the remarkable range of bookings we expect from the University Musical Society. UMS brings back the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis Wednesday, February 2 at 8 p.m. at Hill Auditorium. The program will feature music from Wynton’s “Vitoria Suite,” blending jazz, blues and flamenco with indigenous music of the Basque region. They’ll also serve up new arrangements of Chick Corea compositions. The group always features top-drawer, first-call talent!

UMS has also booked an aces tag-team of cutting edge progressive jazz. The Vijay Iyer Trio and Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Apex appear on the same bill Saturday, February 12 at 8 p.m. at the Power Center. Pianist and composer Iyer is smart, dynamic and accessible. Alto saxophonist Mahanthappa was last seen and heard here with Danilo Pérez. His wild band features veteran alto sax partner-in-crime Bunky Green! But wait! There’s more! François Moutin on bass and the return of the prodigal pianist Craig Taborn — a gentleman and a scholar!

Cool Club Dates!

The Ark will celebrate Groundhog Day with guitarist Frank Vignola accompanied by Vinny Raniolo and Julien Labro Wednesday, February 2 at 8 p.m. Vignola is a wonderful, curious cat and we know Labro from the Hot Club of Detroit.

Renowned singer and hep cat Kurt Elling returns to play the Ark Tuesday, February 8 at 8 p.m. A deeply swinging scene!

Of tangential interest to the jazz family will be the Wailers on Wednesday, February 9, Buckwheat Zydeco on Wednesday, February 16 and virtuoso blues guitarist Rory Block on Thursday, February 17 — all shows start at 8 p.m. Also mark your calendar for a 7:30 p.m. show Sunday, March 27 with Madcat, Kane & Maxwell Street.

Celebrate with pianist Mark Braun at the Kerrytown Concert House for Mr. B’s Birthday Bounce Saturday, February 12 at 8 p.m. Expect killing boogie-woogie and deep piano excavations!

KCH spreads Available Jelly Friday, February 18 at 8 p.m. The band features Michael Moore on reeds and trombonist Wolter Wierbos.

Trumpeter Paul Finkbeiner’s Atmospheric Disturbance blows up a storm at KCH on Saturday, February 19 at 8 p.m. There’s a world-class local rhythm section here: pianist Glenn Tucker, bassist Kurt Krahnke and drummer Sean Dobbins.

March jazz dates at KCH include an All About the Trio program with pianist Ellen Rowe and pals Paul Keller and Pete Siers Wednesday, March 9 at 8 p.m.

Emerging violinist Maureen Choi has put together a great group for her KCH hit Saturday, March 26 at 8 p.m. She’ll share the stage with pianist Rick Roe, bassist Rodney Whitaker and Sean Dobbins.

Big Band Notes

The Paul Keller Orchestra celebrated its 22nd birthday in January. Some 1,200 gigs and counting! Paul has done a lot for the local jazz scene. The PKO holds forth Monday nights at the Keystone Underground, 200 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti.

David Swain’s II-V-I Orchestra plays the last Sunday of every month at the Creekside Grill starting at 6:30 p.m. In February the band plays the music of Blue Note pianist, composer and A&R cat Duke Pearson. In March they’ll swing with the music of the maestro Duke Ellington.

That just about wraps it up! Button up your overcoat! Baby, it’s cold outside! Swing with the snowflakes, or in between ’em!

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