Longtime Pita Jungle Jazz Jam to play July 4 SanTan Sun News

Longtime Pita Jungle Jazz Jam to play July 4

June 13th, 2019 development
Longtime Pita Jungle Jazz Jam to play July 4
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By COLLEEN SPARKS
Managing Editor

A jazz jam session that has been adding flavor to the ambiance at Pita Jungle in Chandler for 19 years will bring something special to its menu of musical treats on the Fourth of July.

Pita Jungle Jazz Jam Session has been performing Thursday nights at the restaurant at 1949 W. Ray Road since 2000.

Usually the core group playing is Pete Gitlin of Ahwatukee on bass and guitar; Cleve Huff on drums and Dave Ihlenfeld of Scottsdale on keyboards.

Then any musicians and singers in the restaurant can join the trio to help play or sing jazz songs. Usually the jam session is from 7 to 9:45 p.m. every Thursday but on July 4 it will take the stage from 6 to 9 p.m.

Gitlin has been playing in the jam session at Pita Jungle since it started in 2000 while Huff joined the group four years ago and Ihlenfeld jumped in about 15 years ago.

Bart Salzman, a trumpet player who spearheaded the Chandler Jazz Festival, organized the first jam session 19 years ago though he did not participate.

“He wasn’t in the original group but worked with Pita Jungle,” Gitlin said. “They thought doing jazz one night a week would bring people in. We have our core group of fans that will come as often as they can.

“We are so incredibly appreciative and thankful to the owners of Pita Jungle. To keep a music night going for 19 years, it’s almost unheard of in this business and they’ve been so incredibly supportive. The food’s fantastic. We get a great meal every Thursday.”

Expect a taste of patriotism in the jam session on the Fourth of July. That might include the group playing jazz versions of “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America.”

That night Michael Powers from Seattle will be playing guitar, Gitlin will play bass and Huff will be on drums. Ihlenfeld is in Maine, where he lives for part of the summer, and will return in August.

“Michael’s a tremendous guitar player, very well-known,” Gitlin said.

Huff is also well-known in the jazz world and has been playing in major venues in the Phoenix area with convention support groups and has performed as a show player since 1981, according to his website.

As a show player he has hit the stage with Roger Williams, Maureen McGovern, the Lawrence Welk troupe, Bob Hope, George Burns, Jerry Vale and Al Martino — among many other stars.

He also has played with The Harry James Tribute Band, Guy Lombardo Royal Canadian Band, Les Brown Tribute Band,

Jimmy Dorsey Tribute Band and many other groups.

Ihlenfeld is also a longtime musician who has performed with Clark Terry, Rich Matteson, the St. Louis Symphony and many other, diverse musicians.

He formed the NuWrld Jazz Project, a group that he writes music for, and his compositions have been featured on “All Things Considered” on NPR.

“I like to experiment with different musical styles from all over the Americas,” Ihlenfeld said. “I love the music of Brazil, the music of Chile, Cuban rhythms. I like mixing them together with the different kinds of jazz I’ve learned. I grew up as a jazz musician playing a lot of bossa novas.

Bossa nova is a Brazilian style of music. The phrase translates to “new wave.”

“I went back and relearned to play the way Brazilians do. I love the research and learning more about the musical styles. I’ll incorporate them into my writing.”

He said Pita Jungle’s staff members are supportive.

“The people that work there are great,” Ihlenfeld said. “They love having us there and talking us up and everything. As a guy who’s played a lot of bars where they try to not pay you, they’re (Pita Jungle) very professional to work with…they recognize the value of live music. People who come there on Thursday nights are there for it.”

Bassel Osmani, co-founder of Pita Jungle, returned the compliment.

“We are proud to host the longest lasting jazz jam in the Valley as art is a huge part of the Pita Jungle brand,” Osmani said. “It really compliments the local art on our walls and our tagline, The Art of Eating Healthy. It reaffirms the bond of Pita Jungle with the neighborhood and the community and reflects the passion of the owners about Jazz.”

 He said he has also met many great musicians from other countries and cities that have showed up to play with the group and Huff and Gitlin are also great to perform with at Pita Jungle.

“Cleve’s played with everybody, one of the best drummers in the Valley,” Ihlenfeld said. “He’s so solid and plays really great. Pete is so good with the audience and sequencing the music.”

Ihlenfeld has a bachelor’s degree in music education from DePaul University in Chicago and a master’s degree and doctorate in tuba performance from Indiana University.

Gitlin started playing guitar at 7 years old and has been a musician for more than 50 years. When the jazz jam at Pita Jungle was starting, a bass player was needed so he learned to play the bass for that. He plays bass when needed and guitar the rest of the time.

“Playing bass when you’ve played guitar a long time, it’s not an enormous leap,” Gitlin said.

He has played all around the Valley and is the lead guitarist in a James Taylor tribute band, Fire & Rain. Gitlin has also released many CDs of its original music, with his latest one called “Amplify.”

He and singer Lea Cappelli recently released a new single, “This Silver Day,” which he said has more of a pop feel to it. Gitlin wrote the lyrics and plays all the instruments in the song and Cappelli sings it.

“I did have my corporate career,” Gitlin said. “I’ve played all over the Valley in various groups.”

During the Pita Jungle Jazz Jam Session the group plays a lot of classic jazz by artists including Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, as well as some bossa nova songs including “The Girl from Ipanema.”

The musicians also will often play some songs by The Beatles in a jazz style. They have at least 8,000 songs ready to play in their collections that they keep on their iPads.

“When singers come in we’ll go ahead and play whatever they wanna do,” Gitlin said.

There are limits — the band does not play Taylor Swift and Britney Spears’ songs.

“We know each other really well,” Gitlin said. “We do some original jazz, too, that Dave has written. We’ll mix some original songs. It’s really the great American songbook. It’s a lot of fun.”

The musicians and singers who come sit in with the trio to play or sing are different ages including professionals, as well as high school and college students. A professor at Chandler-Gilbert Community College assigns his students to do reports on the jazz jam.

One of those students seven years ago was Morgan Montemayor, who brought his mother, Tina, with him. Gitlin and Tina started talking at the jam session and ended up dating, then got married two and a half years ago.

“She’s one of our biggest fans,” Gitlin said. “She’s there almost every week.”

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