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Countdown: Where To Go & What To Hear In NEO March 14-20

Jonah Parzen-Johnson
Jonah Parzen-Johnson, photocredit: Lisa Hagen Glynn

Friendly experiencers,

Have the hints of summer earlier this week stirred you to come out of hibernation? If so, you’ve picked a good week to do so with a variety of musical styles to choose from. Your sense of tradition will be sated by a reappraisal of a beloved musical chestnut while a sense of adventure will rewarded by a paint-peeling excursion to the outer reaches by a young saxophone sensation. Get ready for the ride and remember to tip your servers.

Sam Blakeslee, Thursday, March 14, 8 p.m., BLU Jazz+, 47 E. Market St., Akron, and Friday, March 15, 8 p.m., BOP STOP, 2920 Detroit Ave., Cleveland

Is Sam Blakeslee a devotee of hustle culture? Who can say for sure, but with a gatefold business card that reads trombonist/composer/bandleader/arranger/educator, you can make an educated guess. When he returns to NEO, he doesn’t miss a chance to mix business with pleasure and this weekend, he does the I-77 double date thing with performances at BLU Jazz+ on Thursday with Bobby Selvaggio, Brandon Coleman, Jordan McBride and Dustin May, and Friday at BOP STOP in the company of Coleman, George Delancey and Zaire Darden.

Cleveland Jazz Orchestra

“’Rhapsody In Blue’ At 100 – More Experiments In Modern Music” with Jackie Warren, the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and strings, Carl Topilow, cond., Friday, March 15, 8 p.m., Maltz Performing Arts Center, 1855 Ansel Rd., Cleveland, and Saturday, March 16, 8 p.m., BLU Jazz+, 47 E. Market St., Akron

Who would have imagined that a beloved cultural icon with the durability of “Rhapsody In Blue” could provoke culturati into a full-scale dustup? Pianist and writer Ethan Iverson started the fire with an essay provocatively titled “The Worst Masterpiece: ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ at 100.”  Other commentators, Michelle Mercer and Nate Chinen among them, chose illumination over incitement by proposing other ways to look at the composition. One would hope that pianist Jackie Warren, the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra with additional musicians and conductor Carl Topilow will be non-combatants in the Rhapsody Wars when they assemble for a pair of concerts this weekend to honor the centennial of Gershwin’s iconic showpiece.

Zoh Amba and Chris Corsano, Friday, March 15, 8 p.m., Dionysus Club (The ‘Sco), 135 W. Lorain St., Oberlin

Speaking of controversies, saxophonist and flutist Zoh Amba is coming to Oberlin this weekend with her duo partner of choice, the drummer Chris Corsano. It’s been a long time since jazz produced a figure who has elicited such strong feelings pro and con. On the pro side, she has worked with such established and respected musicians as William Parker and Tyshawn Sorey and praised as a Tennessee Albert Ayler whose raw, emotional amalgam of hymns, free jazz cries and meditative discursiveness represents a lost Eden of pure unmediated expression. Others suggest that she is a naïf elevated to premature celebrity by a media frenzy hungry for new stars to embody the renewed interest in so-called “spiritual jazz” (as if jazz media has that kind of clout these days!). Who’s right? Show up Friday night and decide for yourself but be prepared for an energy level not heard on local bandstands since, well, two weeks ago come to think of it. Oberlin students Jordan Guldman and Aaron Yanda  will open.

Jonah Parzen-Johnson, Tuesday, March 19, BOP STOP, 2920 Detroit Ave., Cleveland

The baritone saxophone is best known as the locomotive driving countless R&B classics (Martha Reeves & The Vandellas “Heat Wave” would have been several degrees cooler without Mike Terry’s bari). But the mighty bari has a softer side too, never more so than in the hands of Jonah Parzen-Johnson, The Chicago-born Brooklynite who was at Convivium 33 last Fall for a Cleveland Uncommon Sound Project show, can make the big horn croon, buzz like a swarm of hornets and summon clouds of atmospheric texture that obscure the boundaries of jazz, ambient music and contemporary classical practices. He’s touring to support a new recording released last week by We Jazz Records. Entitled You’re Never Really Alone, it’s a bit of whimsy from an artist who’s established himself as the reigning master of the solo baritone saxophone (and sometimes flute) concert.

I couldn’t live without Jim Szabo’s essential, weekly Northeast Ohio jazz calendar , NEO’s most complete list of jazz and jazz-adjacent events. If you haven’t visited it lately, what are you waiting for?

NOTE: This article was written by a real human being. No artificial intelligence or generative language models were used in its creation.

Red beans and ricely yours,