by Shelia Horne Mason for Jazz Police

Singer/composer Nicole Zuraitis started with a swinging “That Old Black Magic” with some stellar scatting. She was excellently backed by pianist Jen Allen, drummer Dan Pugach, and bassist Luques Curtis. Next, Nicole brought out her student and friend, vocalist Anson Jones and they beautifully performed a duet of the lovely “Make it Flood.”  Nicole wrote lyrics for the Billy Strayhorn classic, Chelsea Bridge, featuring both Anson and Nicole’s superb vocals. The next song was inspired by Herbie Hancock’s interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s “River” and Nicole and Anson’s voices blended in a wonderful way that made the song hauntingly gorgeous. Jen Allen’s fine piano solo added just the right touch. Luques Curtis started ‘Moon River” with some fine bass licks, then the group chimed in for a warm and sultry rendition.

The next song was a clever, lively composition by Nicole for her husband, Dan Pugach, about their mutual obsession with coffee, “I Like You A Latte.” Nicole and Anson talked about how they’ve known each ever since Anson was 13 years old, and Nicole joked that the words to “Black Coffee” weren’t appropriate for a teenager. Anson reminded Nicole that she was finally no longer a teenager, then she performed a marvelous version of the song. The group followed up with a great mash-up of “A Night in Tunisia” and “Caravan” with hot drum licks by Dan Pugach. Nicole said she dreams of having a winery one day, and the group performed a charming and sassy “Long Meadow Vine” with a stand-out bass solo by Luques Curtis. Nicole and Dan wrote the witty tune together, “Our Blues.” Nicole said she wrote the lyrics on a day when she and her husband Dan had a spat, but added that they’ve been doing great during the pandemic.  It is featured on the Dan Pugach Nonet album, Plus One, and the song is being re-released in September. Ms. Zuraitis praised Vita West Muir for having the great brainchild to hold this Virtual Festival. Anson Jones returned to the stage, and she and Nicole reminisced about their Litchfield Jazz Camp days, and then Anson sang a romantic “Misty.” From Nicole’s new CD, they played the title song, All Wandering Hearts” and followed with the last song “How High the Moon.” This set was a delightful beginning to the Festival!

After the first set, there was an informative video about the Litchfield Jazz Camp, where there were testimonies from students, parents, and teachers, as well as commentary by Festival Founder Vita West Muir and Litchfield Jazz Camp Musical Director Don Braden.

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