2021 Falmouth Jazz Artists

Greg Abate

Whether playing jazz classics or one of his own compositions, Abate is known for his hard-driving and energetic approach. Known as the “Prince of Bebop” throughout the club scene, reviewers describe him as an “absolute powerhouse” and his music as having a “feverish intensity,” full of “verve and swagger”. One reviewer described his sound as “the distillation of swing’s easygoing vibe and bop’s more animated groove. Abate studied at the Berklee College of Music and then played lead alto saxophone for the Ray Charles Orchestra for two years. In 1978, he founded the sextet Channel One, performing across New England and New York. From 1986-1987, he played tenor sax with the revived Artie Shaw Orchestra under the leadership of Dick Johnson. In the 1990s, he ventured out as a post-hard bop soloist, playing festivals, jazz societies and jazz clubs throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, the U.K. and Russia. Abate has more than 18 acclaimed recordings. His most recent release, Kindred Spirits: Live at Chan’s, pairs him and Phil Woods with the Tim Ray Trio. Abate was inducted into the Rhode Island Musical Hall of Fame in 2016. He performs around the globe, touring 225 days per year and has been a New England favorite for more than 25 years. He is an adjunct professor of Jazz Studies at Rhode Island College and leads jazz clinics in the U.S. and abroad, sponsored by Conn-Selmer. Greg’s just released album, Moondance: the Music of Kenny Barron, featuring Barron on piano, has risen to #1 on the JazzWeek charts.

Harry Allen

Mr. Allen is generally acclaimed as one of the leading swing players in jazz today. While other saxophone players have adopted the contemporary sound of John Coltrane, Mr. Allen has remained true to swing with a sound reminiscent of Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster.

He has over 40 recordings under his own name, including three that have won Gold Disc Awards from Swing Journal Magazine. He has appeared on countless other recordings with jazz and pop legends such as Tony Bennett, Dave McKenna, John Pizzarelli, James Taylor, Ray Brown, Tommy Flanagan, Sheryl Crow, and Kenny Barron. Pianist Mike Renzi won seven Emmy awards for his music direction and composition on Sesame Street and One Life to Live. He has performed with jazz stars Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, Gerry Mulligan and Frank Sinatra over his decades long career. Bassist Paul Del Nero is a full Professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He has performed with a wide range of stars including Mel Torme, Dave McKenna, Mose Allison, Vic Damone, Robert Goulet and many others.

Donna Byrne

Over her distinguished three-decade career Ms. Byrne has performed at top jazz venues including Scullers Jazz Club in Boston, Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., and the Blue Note in New York. She has eight solo CDs and has recorded with top jazz artists such as Bucky Pizzarelli, Scott Hamilton, Harry Allen, Dave McKenna and Herb Pomeroy.Ms. Byrne’s return to Falmouth is made even more special because she is bringing her quartet of stellar musicians – Tim Ray on piano, Marshall Wood on bass, and Jim Gwin on drums, each a jazz star in his own right. All three have most recently been working with Tony Bennett.Tim Ray, country star Lyle Lovett’s long-time pianist, has appeared on over 70 recordings with artists as diverse as pop stars Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt, and Soul Asylum, jazz luminaries Phil Woods, Scott Hamilton and Esperanza Spaulding. He has performed as a solo artist with Gunther Schuller, the Boston Pops and the Boston Classical Orchestra. Mr. Ray has performed at Carnegie Hall, the White House and the Kennedy Center. Bassist Marshall Wood, who is also Byrne’s husband, has toured, recorded and appeared on countless television programs with jazz legend Tony Bennett. His work with Bennett includes two Grammy-winning albums. Wood’s thirty-five year career has included performances with jazz legends Anita O’Day, Big Joe Turner, Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Nelson Riddle, Tommy Flanagan, Marion McPartland, Phil Woods and pop star Lady Gaga.Versatile drummer-percussionist Jim Gwin was named drummer for the Boston Pops Orchestra in 2003 and has performed with pop artists James Taylor, Elton John, Bono, Patti Labelle, Kristen Chenowith, Steven Tyler and Yo Yo Ma. He has also performed and recorded with jazz stars Chick Corea, Scott Hamilton, Karrin Allyson, Gary Burton and many others.

Paul Jost

When describing this unique vocalist and arranger Paul Jost, two words come to mind “passionate storyteller”. To Paul, each lyric offers a message and a story, and he conveys his own interpretations through his arrangements along with the honesty of his performances. Paul is a multi-instrumentalist and composer whose vocal style makes him a standout. Both critics and contemporaries alike say he is one of the best male jazz vocalists since Mark Murphy. Paul has been performing worldwide with recent tours in Europe, Asia and soon in Pakistan and Lebanon for the U.S. State Dept’s American Music Abroad series. In the U.S, Paul regularly performs on the New York Club scene at venues such as the 55 Bar, Blue Note, Dizzy’s Coca Cola Club, Mezzrow and Kitano to name just a few. He regularly performs on festival stages including recent performances at Exit Zero, COTA and the Rochester and Pittsburgh International Jazz Festivals, as well as guesting with colleagues including Joe Locke, Orin Evans and Houston Person.

Johnny O'Neal

He never learned to read music. Yet he has a repertoire of some 1500 songs. He honed his craft in Alabama and Saint Louis playing gospel and R&B before moving to New York. A rising star on the New York Jazz scene in the early 80s, he was one of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and performed with jazz stars like Clark Terry and Milt Jackson. He opened for Oscar Peterson at Carnegie Hall. But personal tragedy and health issues led him to leave New York and he disappeared from the lime light for several decades. He returned to New York about ten years ago, and he has been winning over a new generation of fans ever since. 

He’s a regular at well-known clubs like Smalls and Mezzrow, and every Saturday night he holds court at the famous Harlem jazz club Smoke where he plays the midnight show, inviting famous jazz musicians in the audience to join him on the stage. At Oscar Peterson’s recommendation, Mr. O’Neal was cast in the role of Art Tatum in the 2004 Oscar-winning film, Ray about Ray Charles. He is known for his light touch on the keys and prodigious swing technique. Mr. O’Neal sings scat and his raspy voice turns ballads into heart-warming experiences.  His performance will include jazz standards, the Great American Songbook and interpretations of pop songs.

Rossano Sportiello

Italian-born pianist Rossano Sportiello started classical training at the age of nine, and graduated from the Conservatory in 1996.  He began performing professionally in the Milan area at just 16 years old.  He eventually joined the historic “Milano Jazz Gang” in 1992, touring with the group until 2000.  Sportiello’s musical influences include Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Count Basie and other great jazz masters.  A regular at Switzerland’s Ascona Jazz Festival, Sportiello received the 2009 Ascona Jazz award in recognition of his mastery of stride piano. Stride is a style rooted in Ragtime (think Fats Waller) – where the root note of a chord is played way down on the keys with the left hand then “ strides” up to play the rest of the chord – no easy task!  Sportiello is touted by his friend and mentor, Barry Harris, as “the best stride piano player” he has ever heard. Sportiello’s musical influences include Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Count Basie and other great jazz masters.  A regular at Switzerland’s Ascona Jazz Festival, Sportiello received the 2009 Ascona Jazz award in recognition of his mastery of stride piano. Stride is a style rooted in Ragtime (think Fats Waller) – where the root note of a chord is played way down on the keys with the left hand then “ strides” up to play the rest of the chord – no easy task!  Sportiello is touted by his friend and mentor, Barry Harris, as “the best stride piano player” he has ever heard. Sportiello has played with many of the world’s finest jazz luminaries – Slide Hampton, Clark Terry, Bucky Pizzarelli, Harry Allen, Scott Hamilton, Houston Person, and Dick Hyman to name a few. He has performed at major venues such as Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and the United Nations as well as jazz clubs like the Blue Note, Birdland, Feinstein’s, Café Carlyle, Smalls and Mezzrow. He appears at jazz festivals throughout the world.  Sportiello’s prolific output tracks 40 albums to date, including both classical and jazz performances and six solo albums.  That’s It!, his latest album, incorporates elements of bebop, stride piano, classical and swing into something entirely new and different. With warmth, charm and prodigious piano playing, Rossano Sportiello is a favorite of Falmouth Jazz.  We are delighted to welcome him back.   

Nicole Zuraitis

Ms. Zuraitis blends clever songwriting skills, an effervescent presence and a dazzling voice in a consummate package. She is the vocalist for the world-famous Birdland Big Band and the Dan Pugach Nonet, the winner of the New York Coffee Music Project Songwriting Competition, ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award recipient and was a finalist in the ‪Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Her 2017 Album HIVE MIND won Best Jazz Album in the International Music and Entertainment Awards and she was awarded the Johnny Mercer and People’s Choice Award in the American Traditions Competition. Ms. Zuraitis and her drummer Dan Pugach were co-nominated in the 2019 Grammy awards for their arrangement of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”.  Her quartet includes Pugach on drums, Idan Morim on guitar and Alex Smith on bass.   She recently won a gold medal in the 2001 American Traditions Vocal Competition.