By Vivian Ramirez
The Frank Potenza Trio entertained music lovers last Friday in the S2 Recital Hall for this month’s First Friday Jazz Series.
The Trio features Frank Potenza, jazz guitarist and Studio/Jazz Guitar Department Chair at USC’s Thornton School of Music.
The rest of the Trio comprised of Joe Bagg on the organ and Charles Ruggiero playing the drum set.
A protégé of guitar legend Joe Pass, Potenza’s style is frequently compared to Pass.
Still revered by jazz musicians for his dynamic solos and use of harmony, Pass’ influence is present in Potenza’s solos.
The use of “solo-accompaniment,” or the ability to trick the listener into hearing chords and bass lines during improvisation, made Potenza’s improvisational solos highly entertaining as well as spontaneous.
The Trio opened the set with the Groove Holmes’s arrangement of the jazz standard, “Misty.”
The electric jazz organ gave this version of “Misty” a new twist. Its low, almost sci-fi quality is an unexpected, yet pleasant surprise.
With no man left out, Ruggiero’s drum set also had a lot to brag about. His burgundy red drum set was equipped with light brown wooden hoops, offering a variation of sounds while also admired for its aesthetic beauty.
During solos, Ruggiero would go from steel brushes to drumsticks to his bare hands, depending on the style of the tune. To produce different sounds, Ruggiero would strike the wooden hoop attachments.
The Trio performed mostly in the bossa nova and samba styles, giving the evening a more mellowed out vibe.
Another tune that the Trio performed was “Summer Samba.” A smooth, tropical ride all the way through; the tune is reminiscent of Brazilian musicians.
A music professor considerate of the students writing concert reports, Potenza gave mini-music history lessons in between tunes.
“We’re going to continue with something from Antônio Carlos Jobim,” said
Potenza. “[Jobim] is the guy who wrote all of the good bossa novas–every one of them.
I used to go see him when he was alive, when he would come to the Hollywood Bowl. I would marvel at how many great tunes this one guy had written.”
In the Trio’s performance of “What a Difference a Day Makes,” Potenza also showcased his vocal skills while playing guitar. Potenza also paid tribute to Pass by performing the soulful tune, “For Django.”
“This next song is something that I just recorded last weekend,” said Potenza. “It was written by a friend of mine who passed away, he was a legendary jazz guitarist.
I got to know one of my major influences and heroes, which was a huge plus for me.
“His name was Joe Pass and he wrote this tune and dedicated it to the great Django Reinhardt, the Belgian gypsy guitarist.
“Last weekend I recorded an album with the same band.”
Bagg, Ruggiero, and Potenza often reacted to each other’s solos by smiles or nods of recognition, as if sharing a private joke.
The Trio was entertaining and charismatic, making the concert a success in which no doubt Potenza’s guitar skills were the star.