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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, March 29, 2023


Feb. 12, 2004 – Boston saxophonist Joel Press headlines this Friday's Sunset Jazz in Frederiksted concert, performing with local jazz artists Otto James on piano, Mario Thomas on bass and C.J. Everett on drums.
If that lineup sounds familiar somehow, it's with good reason. Press and the same ensemble had been scheduled to appear Jan. 31 in a concert at St. George Village Botanical Garden that was canceled.
But now St. Croix gets its chance to hear them — in a free out-of-doors performance on the Frederiksted waterfront Friday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Joel Press was part of a group including Jimmy Garrison, bassist with the Coltrane Quartet, and vocalist Sheila Jordan that collaborated with writers in Harlem who read their poetry and prose to improv jazz accompaniment. His quartet, The Evolutionary Jazz Ensemble, presents jazz history programs throughout New England.
His albums include "Mainstream Extensions" with The Evolutionary Jazz Ensemble; "Music from a Passionate Time" featuring improvised duets with cellist/vocalist Gwendolyn Watson; and "Live at Harvard," a straight-ahead collaboration with pianist Harvey Diamond. The "Passionate Time" release showcases Press's diversity of talents — spanning soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxes along with clarinets, flutes and electronics.
As youngster, Press started out studying violin but was entranced by Benny Goodman's clarinet work on "The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise." He soon gravitated to the tenor saxophone after hearing Coleman Hawkins' rendition of "Body and Soul."
Coming of age in the era of Charlie "Bird" Parker, Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane, St. Croix's own Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Lennie Tristano, Press did some time in Paris. There, in 1965, he bought a new soprano sax to replace the second-hand one he'd been trying without success to tame since being inspired by Sidney Bechet's version of "Summertime."
A Boston Globe reviewer hailed Press for his "solid techniques, rich sounds, imaginative improvisations and well-meshed interplay." Another critic credited his soprano sax work on "Yardbird Suite" with "building a linear melody that could burn a hole in one's socks." And a Patriot Ledger writer said he "evoked Sonny Rollins when he raced through an extended solo, playing so effortlessly it was easy to overlook the technical proficiency."
Otto James was influenced as a child on St. Croix by the Latin Music he heard on Puerto Rican radio stations. He studied at the Manhattan School of Music and performed with some of the top Latin bands in New York including Orchestra Tropicana before returning home. When not fronting his own band, New Sound, he continues to be a popular complement to many other St. Croix jazz aggregations.
Mario Thomas, the son of band leader Scypio Thomas, was in the 9th grade when he formed his own first musical group. He studied at the Military School of Music in Washington, D.C., and at Howard University, where he was a member of the Jazz Septet. He worked with John Fadis, Louie Belson and Wynton Marsalis and was a mainstay in Dave Yarborough's Jazz Band. In 1990, he formed Rhythmix, a band active ever since. He also is a respected music educator.
C.J. Everett, prior to his relatively recent arrival on St. Croix, was co-leader of Light Streams, a quintet that was the Friday night mainstay at New York's FireBird Café. He also led the four-piece house band at New Haven's Foundry Café. A classical musician as well, he has preformed with the Spoleto Festival Orchestra and for several seasons was drummer/percussionist with New Mexico's Santa Fe Opera Company.
Sunset Jazz in Frederiksted, sponsored by the Frederiksted Economic Development Association, is held on the third Friday of each month in Veterans Park. The concerts are family affairs and attendees are encouraged to bring folding chairs or a blanket for seating comfort. FEDA operates a cash bar, with proceeds going toward the costs of producing the events, and the local group Hispanos Unidos sells food to support its community outreach efforts.
The timing, of course, is optimum for enjoying a spectacular sunset on the Frederiksted waterfront. And early enough to allow ample time for dining out and/or taking in some night life in town afterward.
Next up on the Sunset Jazz calendar are concerts featuring bassist Neil Simon on March 19 and guitarist Elvis Pedro on April 16. For more information call 775-1404 or 772-0069 or send an e-mail to Sunset Jazz.

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