The North Carolina Museum of Art presented a perfect contrast of jazz styles at their excellent outdoor amphitheatre. It began with Veronica Swift and her dynamic six-piece group: Julius Rodriquez, piano; Alex Claffy, bass; Brian Viglione, drums; James Sarno, trumpet and arranger; Troy Roberts, tenor sax; and Lauren Sevian, baritone sax. Swift is young, a beautiful singer, expressive, and totally engaging with the band and the audience.

Swift is the daughter of vocalist Stephanie Nakasian and the late great pianist Hod O’Brien. I presented those two in concert in 2004, and during the concert, Nakasian informed the audience that their daughter Veronica was in the audience. She was about eight years old then, and Nakasian announced to the audience that someday Veronica was going to be one of the very best – that has certainly become true.

Swift began her show with four swinging jazz tunes that displayed her remarkable range and ability to scat like no one else except Ella Fitzgerald: “Lovely To Be A Woman” from Bye Bye Birdie by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, “A Little Taste” by Johnny Hodges and lyrics by Dave Frishberg, “Prisoner of Love” by Leo Robin, Clarence Gaskill and Russ Columbo, and “You’re the Dangerous Type” by Bob Dorough.

Swift then talked a little about her background, growing up in Charlottesville, moving to New York, and now living in Los Angeles. She returned to Charlottesville during the pandemic, and the way she felt about returning to her hometown was perfectly expressed by her performance of the song “A Stranger in Town” by Mel Torme, segueing via a brilliant short drum solo by Viglione that imitated the sound of an accelerating train, and then led to a driving samba on the tune “I Don’t Want to Cry Anymore” by Victor Schertzinger. I didn’t realize at first that this was going to signal an interesting change in her program.

Swift began the next set of tunes by telling us that during her pandemic stay in Charlottesville she rehearsed with fantastic Richmond-based guitarist Chris Whiteman, and realized how much she wanted to get some rock ‘n roll in her life. So, she adapted some rock songs and rhythms into her repertoire. With this new mix, she has created an original style which she calls “Transgenre,” and thus began her last four tunes of the night: fantastic jazz interpretations of hot rock tunes.

Now her accompanists switched to electric bass, organ, and electric guitar. With powerful drums and hot punctuating horns, Swift tore into “Footprints” by Wayne Shorter with lyrics by her mother, “More and More” by Blood Sweat and Tears, an amazing joining of the sounds of Jimi Hendrix and Duke Ellington on Duke’s song “Do Nothin Till You Hear From Me,” “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails, and “Sing” by Brian Viglione’s group the Dresden Dolls.

The highlights of her show were when she scatted, sometimes improvising and sometimes in unison with intricate fast horn lines. Her show and her band were nothing less than amazing.

Following right after that exciting set would be hard to do, but composer, arranger, and pianist Arturo O’Farrill and his Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble of three percussionists, bassist, and three horn players were the perfect contrast. Beginning with the Oscar Hernandez tune, “Rumba Urbana,” I was immediately impressed by the tight, never too loud, grooving rhythm section, and the interesting counterpoint and subtle, dissonant harmonies of the horns, plus their equally interesting improvisations.

Then O’Farrill announced that the next three tunes, his originals, were from his recent Blue Note CD, Dreaming in Lions. Each of these tunes had engaging rhythms: “Del Mar,” which began with an impressionistic chiming effect on the piano and grew into a funky Latin beat with an excellent piano solo before settling back down, then the fast paced Latin disco-esque “Ensayo Silencio,” and then the rumba-esque, “La Llorona.” These three tunes again demonstrated the sophisticated sounds and dynamics of this authentic Latin Jazz ensemble.

Arturo is the son of famous jazz and Latin jazz composer Chico O’Farrill. He carries on the legacy of his father, but he adds a special community-minded spirit. An HBO Max film he is featured in called Fandango at the Wall brings together people on each side of the San Diego/Tijuana border to sing and play together even though a wall exists between them. He performed his arrangement of a Yucatan folk song from the film.

O’Farrill said the penultimate song was very sexy, so he asked everyone in the audience to keep their hands up in the air when the music played! During this song, “Tanguango” by the great Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla, O’Farrill occasionally looked at us to see if our hands were in the air. For the last piece of the evening, he invited everyone up to the front of the stage to dance along with the band.

What a great night of music! I hope you will check out these masterful musicians.