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Jazz in Johnston

7/24/2013

Max Wellman and Tina Haase Findlay performed at Sunday’s Jazz in July in Johnston on the library grounds.

Max Wellman and Tina Haase Findlay performed at Sunday’s Jazz in July in Johnston on the library grounds.

Jazz in July is one of those classic rites of summer. Highlighting communities and artists around central Iowa all month long, and doing so in beautiful public spaces, with shows that are free and family friendly, there are not many better ways to spend a summer evening.

This past week’s installment featured Max Wellman playing alongside some of central Iowa’s most talented jazz instrumentalists. Watching Wellman conduct a set is like watching Peyton Manning run an offense. Every song is an audible, with Wellman dictating key, intro bars and even solos on the fly. Wellman’s penchant for playing it fast and loose with his set lists keeps his performances lively and fresh, and he had willing participants this evening in the form of keyboardist Ben Hagen, bassist Steve Charlson and brass man Dave Rezek. I’ve written about Wellman before, and while it’s difficult to overstate how good his vocals are, the truth is that he’s not the primary reason I was in attendance Sunday night.

Over the past month, Wellman and Bella Soul front woman Tina Haase Findlay have performed together at various gigs. Findlay performed several songs with Wellman at his birthday party a few weeks ago, and Wellman returned the favor by sitting in on a couple of Findlay’s sets around town. And, as hoped, Findlay was in attendance in Johnston Sunday and performed a handful of songs with Wellman and the band. Findlay’s vocals are some of the most dynamic, powerful and awe-inspiring in the state, commanding your attention with every uttered syllable.

Wellman unveiled a couple of surprises this evening — a cover of Prince’s “Kiss” among them — but the show-stealing performance of the night was the pair’s duet on “Well Alright, Okay, You Win.” CV

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