BY PATRICIA DUFF, Sept. 25, 2013
Thanks to some beautiful musical maneuverings of our highly cultural community, I was able to surprise my husband with something special on a recent Sunday afternoon.
I told Jim that I was taking him somewhere; a surprise! Did he want to go? Sure, he said, sort of reluctantly. Don’t worry, Babe, I assured him, it’s going to be something good.
Not only was it good, it was great! It was an afternoon of musical delights, thanks to the exquisite musicality of pianist Ted Brancato and his quintet who played in Freeland, along with three young, up-and-coming musicians.
When we rolled into the sanctuary at Trinity Lutheran, Karl Olsen was just introducing “First Inversion,” a youthful variation of one of many jazz groups formed out of the pool of young jazz musicians that seems to be bred from some kind of Whidbey Island effluence of moon and musical genius. It was three extraordinary young musicians led by the excellent jazz chops of Jack Hood on the piano. They were opening for Brancato & Friends, and fell into their own trance playing some original tunes and a few classics, including Hood’s haunting “Avenues,” where Kaj Olsen licked it up on his guitar, while Joe Ballestrasse on the upright bass and Hood fell into that place you feel all good jazz musicians go, letting the music feed them. This was Hood’s song and you could feel his connection to the music through the way he fell into the piano.
Seeing the level of these musicians, and how sophisticated they are musically at such a young age is familiar sight for me. They’ve grown up on that magical Northwest water that seems to turn out good jazz players around here. It helps too that they get to be around lots of local mentors, such as South Whidbey High School music leader Chris Harshman, jazz piano teacher Maureen Girard of 88 Keys Piano Studio, and Karl Olsen, the music director at Trinity.
Professional drummer Ben Smith lent them the perfect lucidity of his beat and they rose to it, giving all of us in the padded and comfortable church benches a reason to bounce in our seats. We were charmed further by Kaj Olsen, following in the vocal footsteps of his Dad (a professional singer who sings with the Brothers Four), snapping out such tunes in worldly Sinatra fashion. I was particularly tickled by Kaj’s rendition of “My Foolish Heart.”
Harshman beamed from the seats, knowing that three more of his South Whidbey High School “jazzletes” were reflecting back the standard by which the community has all come to know and respect his SWHS Jazz Ensemble. Dad Karl was doing a little beaming of his own.
When Ted Brancato & Friends took the stage, I could only imagine that perhaps this was where the boys of First Inversion would be one day. Brancato and his “friends,” Smith on drums, Chuck Deardorf on bass, Matt Langley on Saxophones and percussionist Tom Bergersen, blew us away with song after song by composer, Brancato, who plays the piano with such vigor and passion, that I was worried the bouncing in my seat would become far too conspicuous for the sacred venue and mainly older, gentler crowd.
But I so wanted to get up and dance! From the opening tune “Prayer,” through another 12 tunes to the final “Pleasure Ride,” Jim and I were flying with the incredible artistry of these musicians. Brancato named his first CD after the title song, “The Next Step,” written by songwriter Gene McDaniels, with whom Brancato had a long songwriting partnership and whom he pays homage to during his sets. Brancato played the songs from the new album and, I’ve got to tell you, it’s worth picking up. This guys does it all and I was surprised to hear that this was his first album.
It was indeed an afternoon delight and Jim was happy.
Check out samples from Ted Brancato’s new album here.
Look for the lineup at Trinity coming up on WLM. The next concert is at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. featuring the Whidbey Island Community Orchestra.
From my heart full of music,