Harry Allen

Napa Valley Jazz Society (NVJS) president and producer Bill Hart enjoys cobbling together his favorite artists for Society performances. His latest effort brings together two of the most respected tenor saxophone players of their generation. The Harry Allen Quintet with Grant Stewart performs this Sunday, March 3, at Robert Mondavi Winery.

Last week, Hart talked about the two musicians. “Harry and Grant are regarded as very hard swinging players,” he said. “They both come from musical families, and they show decided influence of the great jazz musicians of the past. They came along after the era of the big bands.

“In the old days, most artists made their names performing in a big band, and then they were noticed for their solo capability and then eventually became stars in their own right. But these guys came a little later, so they really had to depend on smaller groups to get established.”

Hart said that Allen was raised in a home filled with jazz. “His dad was a big band jazz drummer. Growing up, Harry’s two saxophone idols were Paul Gonsalves, who was Duke Ellington’s star tenor player, and Scott Hamilton.

“In high school, he already showed exceptional talent as a soloist, playing in the style of the swinging tenor sax players of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Today, he’s in great demand as one of the finest swing tenors in the business. He’s been described by critics as the Frank Sinatra of the tenor saxophone.”

Hart described Grant Stewart as “…a pretty heavy guy. I think if you want to compare his style to anyone from the past, two stand out — Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins. He has more bop influence than someone like Harry, but he also is known as a very swinging player and he’s been embraced by a who’s who of mainstream players.

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“Grant has done a number of tours abroad, and there is a European magazine called the Swing Journal, a kind of bible of jazz criticism over there. And Grant was voted one of the top three saxophone players appearing in Europe.”

“He is known as a very innovative player,” Hart added. “You never know what kind of clever phrasing he is going to come up with and it always seems to be the kind of thing that gets a chuckle out of the audience. Or at least a big smile.”

At Mondavi, the two sax men will be accompanied by pianist Larry Fuller, who has successfully headlined NVJS shows, and by bassist Peter Barshay and drummer Leon Joyce, Jr.

Sunday, March 3, 4 p.m. $25 (NVJS members), $45. A complimentary wine, cheese and charcuterie reception precedes the performance. Robert Mondavi Winery, 7801 St Helena Hwy, Oakville. Purchase tickets at Nvjs.org.

“(Harry Allen) is in great demand as one of the finest swing tenors in the business. He’s been described by critics as the Frank Sinatra of the tenor saxophone.” -Bill Hart, president, Napa Valley Jazz Society

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David Kerns is a Napa-based novelist and freelance journalist. You can view more of his work at DavidKerns.com.