Saxophonist Jim Snidero was born in May, but a January birthdate would have provided an appropriate mythological backstory for his career. Like the two-faced god who gave the month its name, Snidero’s alto saxophone style looks forward and backward simultaneously.
Perhaps that is inevitable for the native of the Maryland suburbs who, at 65, has aged out of young-lion status but is a long way from being considered a wizened master. When he returns to the Bop Stop Saturday, Snidero will demonstrate how a mastery born of more than 40 years on the scene can be endlessly refreshed by restless musical curiosity.
“I’m a better player now than I’ve ever been,” Snidero said during a long and illuminating phone call a few weeks ago. When I asked him how his playing has improved, he answered, “I’m more secure on the saxophone and that’s a security that comes directly from hard work.”
Snidero learned about hard work on his first big gig since coming to New York in 1981 from the University of North Texas’ storied jazz program. He joined the band led by the Hammond B-3 organist Brother Jack McDuff, a road-tested outfit that played hundreds of dates a year. It was a baptism of fire for the 23-year-old saxophonist, but also a proving ground and finishing school.
“It was the perfect learning experience,” Snidero said. “Watching Jack, I learned how to present music, how to hold the attention of the audience, how to play with intensity and swing.”
Snidero still does that, but his curiosity has led him far beyond McDuff’s carefully circumscribed repertoire (“ . . . slow blues, shuffle blues, jump blues. Basically we played every kind of blues you could play.”)
His latest recording, Far Far Away (Savant, 2023) is a case in point. The studio session reunites Snidero with the ace rhythm section of pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth who helped propel his 2021 record Live at the Deer Head Inn (Savant) to a five-star review in Downbeat Magazine. That trio, led by Evans’ prodding, interactive piano work, takes no prisoners, but eager for a new challenge, Snidero invited influential guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel to the session.
Rosenwinkel’s soaring solos and textural effects are a striking contrast with Snidero’s clean, linear style. Yet the pairing works, especially on the hustling title track and the laid-back “Pat,” a loping blues dedicated to the late guitarist Pat Martino who both preceded Snidero in McDuff’s band and inspired Rosenwinkel, a fellow Philadelphian.
Far Far Away is Snidero’s 11th recording for Savant Records, an association that dates to 2007. “I’m very fortunate to have a great relationship with my record label,” Snidero says. “They’ve been very supportive of my projects.” Those projects have included tribute records to the influential Miles Davis quintet of 1966 (MD66, 2016) and saxophonist Cannonball Adderley (Jubilation!, 2018) as well as concept records such as 2019’s contemplative Waves of Calm, a response to his father’s battle with Parkinson’s disease, and 2020’s Project-K, a forward-leaning engagement with the increasingly salient music of Korea.
That’s a lot of range and it suggests that Jim Snidero is a player who, in the best tradition of improvisers, looks in all directions at once.
Jim Snidero with Alton Merrell, piano; Chris McGraw, bass and Thomas Wendt, drums Saturday, Feb. 18, 8 p.m. at Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Ave, Cleveland. $20, available here.
There’s never a bad time to get out and commune in the same room with creative musicians. Below are four musical events of interest in the coming week that you might want to check out.
Friday, February 17, 7 p.m.
BLU Jazz+, 47 E. Market St. Akron (tickets)
John Petrucelli came to northeast Ohio as a scholar. Last year he was named the first James R. and Susan Neumann Postdoctoral Fellow of Jazz History at Oberlin Conservatory. That’s lofty stuff, for sure, but Petrucelli is also a tenor saxophonist with a declamatory tone and endless stamina. He’s played with some heavyweights (Petrucelli’s first Village Vanguard gig was with the late Geri Allen), and will bring that experience to the bandstand for this quartet date with Theron Brown, Jordan McBride and Zaire Darden.
Bengisu Gökçe Quartet
Sunday, February 19, 4 p.m.
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 50 N. Prospect, Akron (donation)
Any doubts about the global reach of improvised music in the Black American tradition will be banished by a look at the personnel list for this intriguing concert. Guitarist Nacho Gonzalez Nappa, who is also a also a journalist and literature reviewer, hails from Uruguay. Anastassiya Ana Petrova from Kazakhstan, plays jazz organ as well as piano. George Lernis, drums and percussion, is from the island of Cyprus while the leader is a violinist from Turkey. All were drawn to Boston’s Berklee College of Music, proving that magnetism works in two directions, simultaneously attracting inward and pushing outward into the world.
Dominick Farinacci & Spirit of the Groove
Sunday, February 19, 7 p.m.
Market Garden Brewery, 1947 West 25th St., Cleveland, $20
Spirit of the Groove is one of the ensembles of the JazzFest Academy at Tri-C, an invite-only program. For their concert at Market Garden Brewery, nine players from high schools throughout northeast Ohio will join the Academy’s director, trumpeter Dominick Farinacci, for the kind of mentorship and on-the-stand playing experience that money can’t buy.
Oberlin Jazz Faculty Concert
Sunday, February 19, 7:30 p.m.
Finney Chapel, 90 N. Professor St., Oberlin (free)
La Tanya Hall, voice; Gary Bartz and Chris Coles, alto sax; John Petrucelli, tenor sax; Eddie Henderson, trumpet; Chris Anderson and Jay Ashby, trombone; Bobby Ferrazza, guitar; Sullivan Fortner, piano; Gerald Cannon, bass; Jamey Haddad and Weedie Braimah, percussion and Billy Hart, drums. What more do you need to know?
Information for this section came from Jim Szabo’s essential, weekly Northeast Ohio jazz calendar , NEO’s most complete list of jazz and jazz-adjacent events.