A wonderful tradition 22 years and counting

Drummer Al Hixon wound up the 22nd season of his Monday night jazz jams last week at 15 South on Sarasota’s St. Armand’s Circle.

Hixon and bassist Mark Neuenschwander were joined by a special guest on keyboards, Boston’s Chris Neville, whose hefty jazz credentials include working with the late Benny Carter on the alto saxophonist/composer’s last seven albums.

Neville has been on the road for the past seven years as keyboard player in the national touring company for “The Lion King.” Since Monday nights are off nights for musicals, Neville drove in from Orlando where the show is concluding a month-long run. He doesn’t get much chance to play jazz on the road, but he showed no rust and had a great time with Hixon’s nightlong succession of jammers — drummers, trumpeters, saxophonists, keyboard players and singers.

Hixon spends nine-plus months a year on Longboat Key, leaving in mid-May to summer in his native New England. The drummer is a retired urban planner whose Connecticut-based firm specialized in open space housing concepts and solving environmentally sensitive land planning problems.

Hixon has presided over the jams at a succession of local clubs and restaurants, settling in three years ago to the upstairs room at 15 South Ristorante Enoteca. Musicians of all skill levels gravitate to it and are warmly accepted. The music is accompanied by doses of Hixon’s corny jokes, at no charge.

Last week’s highlights included performances by singer Ernie Thomas, trumpeter Lou Gluckin and tenor saxophonists Len Murphy and John Wheatley; alto saxophonist Frank Ascone, who added a boppish edge to the night; San Francisco drummer Myron Cohen; and a two-tune cameo by charismatic and talented Sarasota Orchestra violinist Margot Zarzycka, who promised to return in the fall.

Sarasota singer Phil Picciotti, who sang in fluent Italian and Portuguese in an earlier set, brought the evening to a close with his take on “Early Autumn,” which was most appropriate since Hixon’s jams resume Oct. 1.

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