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Interviews

An interview with Fiona Ross

An interview with Fiona Ross

With its hybrid of musical genres – Latin jazz, funk, Big Band – Fiona Ross’ latest album Fierce and Non-Compliant is an endlessly surprising and engaging record. Hailing from the U.K., she brings distinct, refreshingly eclectic flavors to the jazz scene.

Q: What are the earliest memories of music you can recall?

A: Oh goodness, I’m not sure really. I grew up surrounded by all sorts of music. I remember my Dad listening to Trad Jazz – Louis Armstrong and Ella – and he loved Ruth Etting. My Mum would always listen to opera and my older brother would be listening to mostly rock in his bedroom. She would tell you I started to sing before I could talk, but I don’t know what I was singing….and I remember us all watching the old Hollywood musicals all the time and singing those songs – Judy Garland, Gene Kelly etc.

Q: Do you recall a strong musical community in and around where you grow up, which is where, actually?

A: I grew up in Brentwood, Essex in the UK, which is not far from London. But I have Celtic roots – my Dad was Scottish and my Mum was half Irish. I was surrounded by performers from a very young age. My first professional job was when I was two, so, yes, a community of sorts, but a professional one. My parents were hugely supportive and ensured I was surrounded by like minded people.

Q: What attracted you to writing and singing songs?

A: I don’t think I can explain that one! It just sort of happened. Performing is just something I have always done. I didn’t decide to do it at any point. I guess my parents knew it was what I was meant to do….I was brought up to be a performer. I didn’t ever have that decision to make and although my work life has evolved over the years, I have been incredibly fortunate to have always worked in the creative industries in some way. I am at home in my music and always have been.

Q: Did you study music in school?

A: Yes. I started piano lessons when I was six and dance and drama lessons a bit before that. When I was 11, I went to a performing arts school and started my training more formally and I also started vocal tuition then too. I trained in dance, drama and music, so they all had equal focus at that time.

Q: How did you select the variety of styles on Fierce and Non Compliant?

A: I often get asked about how I write and I’m afraid, I am very much a go with the flow type of writer. I don’t really plan it at all. I have so many ideas going on in my head all the time, I just let them come out. One song, I did want to write as a more traditional, jazz standard type of song – “I Followed My Heart” – but apart from that, I didn’t select any styles or anything, just went with what I was feeling at the time. This is one of the wonderful things I find with sitting under the heading of jazz – anything goes!

Q: Are there any artists who influenced you to change your approach to music and how?

A: I don’t think I have changed my approach at all, but I guess I have always been subconsciously influenced in a variety of ways which has shaped me as an artist — and as a person. Being honest and true to yourself is very important to me – Prince, Hiromi and Billie have shown me that. As a piano based songwriter, Billy Joel and Rickie Lee Jones were a key part of my childhood and I was always inspired by their writing and the variety of their styles. But I also love the way some music – Earth, Wind and Fire for example, just makes you just feel good. Sometimes, you just want to groove and this is just as powerful. So I guess, I try and put a bit of all of those things in my music.

Q: Which artist moves you the most?

A: I have had so many significant musical influences throughout my life, it’s hard to pin down and different artists affect me in different ways. The pianist/composer Hiromi is a huge inspiration and I often actually cry when I listen to her work. But equally, Billie Holiday’s honesty and interpretation of songs affects me deeply. Prince moves me in many, many ways and has always had an impact on me. Aretha Franklin, of of course…I really can’t pin down just one artist….too many wonderful artists out there. course…I really can’t pin down just one artist….too many wartist….too many wonderful artists out there.

www.fionaross.co.uk

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Music Reviews

Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

Smithsonian/Folkways Records

It’s hard to imagine a time when Jazz Fest wasn’t part of New Orleans. It’s as much a part of the cultural identity of the city as Mardi Gras. There are other festivals to be sure. Coachella and Bonaroo make more waves on the popular culture landscape, but they pretty much showcase what’s new and hip. The foundations of Jazz Fest are as deep as the Mississippi and as far reaching as the river and all it’s tributaries. Smithsonian/Folkways records has assembled a fantastic celebration of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival first 50 years. The set collects Jazz Fest highlights over five CD’s and includes a 139 page book that gives you a lot of information you will want to know.

The story of Jazz Fest is a reflection of the changes New Orleans has gone through in the past half century. The New Orleans event was inspired by the success of the Newport Jazz Festival and the Newport Folk Festivals produced by George Wein. When folks from New Orleans first approached Wein about doing a festival in 1962, Jim Crow was still the entrenched. That made the event a non-starter for Wein, who refused to bring black artists to a city where they couldn’t stay in the best hotels or eat in the best restaurants. A jazz festival couldn’t happen in a city where black and white musicians couldn’t share the same stage and audiences has to be segregated. It took the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to set the stage, and a few more years for the changes to become accepted. There was no guarantee that Jazz Fest would be a success. In 1968 and ’69, the International Jazz Festival got the ball rolling, but they were losing money. George Wein took over producing the event and brought a new vision. Wein wrote, “The festival that I envisioned for the city where jazz was born had to be unique; it had to reflect the entire spectrum of Louisiana’s musical heritage. I wanted to use New Orleans and Louisiana artists, almost exclusively, to showcase this wealth of local culture.” Through all of the changes that the festival has gone through over the years, that vision remains. Today, Jazz Fest is much more than a music festival. Walking around the fairground, there are dozens of food vendors inviting you to try Crawfish Monica or Pheasant, Quail and Andooilie Gumbo and other Louisiana fare. You’ll pass arts vendors, cooking and crafts demonstrations. You’ll get a chance to see Native American cultural represented. Walking from the Blues Tent to the Congo Square stage, you’ll pass the International Pavilion where musicians from around the world represent their homelands. You’ll likely stumble upon a Social Aid and Pleasure Society doing a second line parade or a band of Mardi Gras Indians. It is like Wein and his protégée Quint Davis mixed together a bunch of potentially stand alone festivals with the music.

The Jazz Fest box set brings you the sounds of Jazz Fest. The collection keeps the focus on Louisiana music and musicians (nothing by the big names like Katie Perry, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen who have been marquis names in recent years). The sounds come from the archives of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. The archive has recordings from Michael Murphy Productions (who filmed and recorded at the Festival between 1989 and 2009) and community radio station WWOZ, who have been broadcasting the Festival since 1993. A third source is Peer Munck of Munck Mix, who has been recording sets and selling them on site since 2004. Add some recorded announcements and vendor to spice things up, and you get a good approximation of being there.

The Golden Eagles kick off the compilation with a version of “Indian Red.” This is appropriate because the song is traditionally sung at the beginning and end of Mardi Gras Indian gatherings. The song is a prayer, an invocation of the ancestors and a calling together of the tribe. Jazz dominates the first disc with selections by Donald Harrison Jr., Danny Barker and Terence Blanchard. The Kermit Ruffins Big Band channels the spirit of Louis Armstrong with “Royal Garden Blues” while Trombone Shorty shows how that spirit continues to manifest in new and exciting ways with “One Night Only (the March).” The disc closes with one of those defining jazz fest moments that have come to define the event. When John Boutte sang the Randy Newman song, “Louisiana 1927” after hurricane Katrina, a song about a long ago flood became an anthem for the survivors of another. Boutte changes the final chorus from “they’re trying to wash us away” to “don’t let them wash us away.”

The second disc showcases some of the legends of New Orleans music. Allen Toussaint starts off the disc with his hit, “Yes We Can Can.” Toussaint’s tune is a call for optimism; a striving to make the world a better place. Following the sadness of Boutte’s version of “Louisiana 1927,” the tune speaks to the indomitable spirit of the people of the region. Other highlights on this disc include the Dixie Cups, a “girl group” who brought the Mardi Gras Indian tune, “Iko Iko” to the world. Dr. John plays a trio of spooky swamp blues tunes he wrote about the Voodoo tradition of New Orleans. “Litanie des Saints”/”Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya”/ “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” evoke the mystery and magic of the states supernatural lore.

You can’t talk about Jazz Fest without talking about Professor Longhair. Fess has become the secular patron saint of the festival. His likeness looks down on the crowd from the peak of the main stage. Jazz Fest resurrected Professor Longhair’s career when George Wein heard “Go To The Mardi Gras” on a jukebox and told Quint Davis to book that guy. Longhair’s syncopated piano playing and infectious afro-Caribbean rhythms are represented on disc two by “Big Chief.” Until his death in 1980, Professor Longhair closed out the main stage on the last day of the festival. The third disc focuses on tradition. “Blackbird Special” by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band takes the street parade tradition on stage and into the modern era. The Dirty Dozen were one of the groups that re-energized the New Orleans brass band tradition. The Al Belletto Big Band gives us a taste of swing era jazz with “Jazznocracy” The Original Liberty Jazz Band (featuring Dr. Michael White) and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band represent aspects of trad jazz (some still call it Dixieland).

The second half of disc three focuses on gospel music. You will often read about major blues and soul artists talking about who they began their careers in church choirs. Listening to the gospel groups represented here makes clear the link between the sacred and the secular. You can hear the roots of blues and R&B in the Zion Harmonizers take on “I Want To Be At That Meeting”/”Golden Gate Go.” You may not be a churchgoer, but you’ll be mover by the spirit when Johnson Extension revs up, “I Can Go To God In Prayer.”

We get out of the city on Disc four and go out to southwest Louisiana, Cajun country. The Savoy Family Cajun Band give us a sampling of a traditional, accordion and fiddle dance number with “Midland Two Step.” For a modernized take on the Cajun tradition, we have Recherché d’Acadie by Beausoleil. Beausoleil have been the ambassadors of Cajun culture, taking their music to new audiences around the world for the past 40 years. “Recherché d’Acadie” is a haunting, beautiful ballad about the people of Francophone Louisiana. The same cultural roots gave rise to Zydeco; the African American interpretation infused with blues and R&B elements. Boozoo Chavis recorded the first Zydeco record, “Paper in my Shoe” back in 1954. We hear a version of that song from the Fais Do-Do Stage recorded in the year 2000. A selection of blues tunes, including John Campbell’s version of “When the Levee Breaks” and John Mooney’s take on “It Don’t Mean A Doggone Thing” close out the side.

Jazz Fest’s final disc brings the diverse elements of Louisiana music up to date. Artists like Deacon John, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and Walter “Wolfman” Washington are keeping blues alive. Anders Osborne gives us a fun little number called “Back on Dumaine” that has a kind of Van Morrison vibe. Sonny Landreth gives us the topical blues rock number, “Blue Tarp Blues.” The song is about the aftermath of Katrina and references the ubiquitous blue tarps used to patch damaged roofs after the storm. “Thorn in Her Side” by the pioneering Americana group, the Subdudes, takes a swipe at FEMA’s feeble response to the flooding of New Orleans. They ask the question that was on many people’s minds, “How about taking care of our own, like the people down South drowning in their homes?”

In the ’70s, the Meters brought New Orleans funk to the rest of the world. Art “Poppa Funk” Neville and George Porter Jr. keep the legacy of the Meters current with the Funky Meters. “Fire on the Bayou” is one of their classic tunes inspired by Mardi Gras Indian lore. The Wild Magnolias took the Indian culture to the masses by infusing traditional call and response vocals with funk grooves. Their tune “Smoke My Peace Pipe” broke into the Hot 100 upon its release. The jazzy version found here comes from a 1974 performance. Bringing the beat into the new Century, we have Big Freedia singing “N.O. Bounce.” Bounce music is the locally grown variety of hip hop. Bounce is responsible for starting the twerking craze. You can thank Big Freedia for that one.

Jazz Fest opened with the traditional Mardi Gras Indian invocation, “Indian Red.” The compilation ends on a spiritual note as well. After the passing of Professor Longhair, the Neville Brothers took on the tradition of closing out the festival’s main stage. The last song, of the last set, of Jazz Fest was always this mash up of “Amazing Grace”/ “One Love.” The song is a prayer that sends off the Jazz Fest community with hope and love until the tribes gather again next year.

In New Orleans, music is a living tradition. The musical traditions are front and center in people’s lives. The music grows and changes with the people. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has become a deeply rooted part of that tradition over the past 50 years. The festival grows and adapts, just like the people of New Orleans. The festival has overcome many challenges and threats over the years and still finds ways to thrive. I like to think that long after I am gone, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival will still be inspiring performers and patrons.

folkways.si.edu

Categories
Music Reviews

Kermit Ruffins & Irvin Mayfield

Kermit Ruffins & Irvin Mayfield

A Beautiful World

Basin Street

A Beautiful World finds two of New Orleans best known trumpeters joining forces to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Basin Street Records. The two trumpeters have had an ongoing mock rivalry going on for years. The two players represent the range of jazz both in New Orleans and the world at large. Irvin Mayfield leads the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, a big band that represents the jazz as classical music end of the jazz spectrum. When you see Mayfield’s group play, they’re probably going to be dressed in formal attire and reading off charts. By contrast, Kermit personifies the street party end of the jazz spectrum. Kermit came up with brass bands of the second line parades and the locals-only clubs like Vaughn’s in the Treme. A Beautiful World visits those extremes and points in between.

Actually, A Beautiful World is a little like a radio play episode of Treme. Actor Wendell Pierce pops up from time to time with interludes. It helps give the album the feel of club-hopping around New Orleans. “Good Life” featuring vocals by Baily Flores is a slick, club friendly track. “Allen Toussaint” features Cyril Neville paying tribute to the late composer, producer and songwriter who influenced generations of musicians. The title track, “Beautiful World” features vocalist Haley Reinhart and a string quartet. The tune evokes memories of the Louis Armstrong classic while at the same time moving the music forward. In a similar way, “Trumpet Bounce” and “Lexine” pay homage to the cities underground hip hop scene.

Happy Birthday, Basin Street Records. Thanks for throwing this party to remind those of us who don’t live in the Crescent City just how deep the musical mojo flows. Here’s hoping you’re still putting out local tunes in another 20 years.

www.basinstreetrecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

The Roots of Popular Music: The Ralph J. Peer Story

The Roots of Popular Music: The Ralph J. Peer Story

Sony Music

The name might draw a blank, but if you’ve ever listened to country or latin music, you know Ralph Peer. He wasn’t a singer or songwriter, but rather a businessman who went looking for opportunities as a young marketing executive at Okeh Records. His first “find” was Mamie Smith, who he recorded singing “Crazy Blues” in 1920. This led to further sessions including Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens, now regarded as a pivotal moment in jazz history. He helped establish “race records” – recordings by non-white performers – but he wasn’t done yet.

He signed up with RCA-Victor and continued to look for untapped options, and in doing so, gave old time and country music it’s jumpstart with the recording of Fiddlin’ John Carson in Atlanta in 1923. But his greatest early achievement became known as the Bristol Sessions, two weeks of recording in Tennessee with the Carter Family and the great Jimmie Rodgers. Both performers had made names for themselves gathering local tunes from all around (A.P. Carter was known for recasting old Scottish and English folk songs as his own and collecting the publishing), and Peer’s recordings launched country music as an industry. Later Peer looked outside the United States for acts, and discovered the vast Latin music market, ready to be brought to America, spawning the Latin music craze that occurred after WWII.

This great 3 disc box set gives you a glimpse into Peer’s legacy, from the early country music of Jimmy Davis (“You Are My Sunshine”) to the bluesy “Stealin’, Stealin'” from the Memphis Jug Band, onto Latin selections from artists as diverse as Mario Lanza to Tito Puente, and modern stars such as Bob Dylan (“My Blue Eyed Jane”) and Marc Anthony. The set includes an essay by Barry Mazor, adapted from his biography of Peer, and it provides an introduction to this monumental figure in modern music. We can all be thankful for Ralph Peer – and his good ears.

www.sonymusiclatin.com

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Music Reviews

Blair Crimmins & the Hookers

Blair Crimmins & the Hookers

You Gotta Sell Something!

New Rag Records

On their fourth studio album You Gotta Sell Something! , Blair Crimmins & the Hookers proves yet again that it’s impossible to write a sad song on a banjo. Take “I’m Gone” where the protagonist’s tale of woe is set to a snappy gypsy jazz guitar part, or Storyville-era sound-alike “Top Of The Class”, where a jumping trumpet pattern accents Crimmins’ slightly bawdy lyrics.

Blair Crimmins is an enigma, a man possessed by ragtime music, creating a sound that wouldn’t sound out of place on a bandstand with Louis Armstrong in New Orleans, or wielding a Selmer guitar with Django Reinhardt and Stephan Grappelli in the Hot Club of Paris in the ’30s. But he’s no mustached Dixieland re-enactor, far from it. He’s just taken the classic genres and influences of our musical past and brought them into the 21st century. And they suit just fine. Take “You’re A Pain”, which sounds as if someone invited a banjo into a brass band, or the rowdy instrumental “Hot Damn!”, which are so infectiously joyous you can’t listen without a smile breaking across your face.

The record concludes with “Gypsy Lullaby”, where Crimmins sings us a goodnight song, but you probably just want to start the album over, because You Gotta Sell Something! is sorta compulsive. I’m sold!

www.blaircrimminsandthehookers.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Kermit Ruffins & The Barbecue Swingers

Kermit Ruffins & The Barbecue Swingers

#imsoneworleans

Basin Street Records

“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.”
Tennessee Williams

We glimpsed this quote displayed in a storefront window in the French Quarter on a recent weekend trip to New Orleans, and it certainly is the truth. From the food – try the shrimp po boy at Verti Marte on Royal- to the history that surrounds you from the moment you get off the plane at Louis Armstrong International, New Orleans has withstood weather, economic downturns and generations of corrupt government and still continues to shine. This is due in large part to the cities relentlessly laid back attitude- “You can’t drink all day without starting in the morning”– my recommendation is a duck fat infused Sazerac at Atchafalaya on Louisana Avenue to welcome the day- and the never-ending party. You can drink a beer at 7 AM on the streets, bars never close, and jazz fills the air everywhere you turn.

So heading down Frenchmen Street one evening we spied a notice for Kermit Ruffins & The Barbecue Swingers playing at the Blue Nile and hopped in. From the moment Ruffins and his band hit the stage to the rallying cry of “WE PARTYIN’!”, the essence of Nawlins was in the house. Ruffins, a local legend who founded the Rebirth Brass Band in 1983 while in high school and has gone on to mythic status while putting out loads of records, acting in Treme, and hosting his BBQ feasts at Vaughns. A skilled trumpeter in the style of Louis Armstong (Satchmo’s “Jeepers Creepers” was an early set highlight), Ruffin’s infectious manner carries on the cities great jazz legacy. The Barbecue Swingers- bassist Kevin Morris, drummer Jerry Anderson and the wonderful Yoshitaka ‘Z2’ Tsuji on piano provided Kermit solid backing throughout the set, featuring several numbers from their newest cd #imsoneworleans. The New Orleans standard “Iko Iko” never sounded better, with a roomful of fans shouting back “IKO!” to Ruffins, or an apt Valentine’s Day rendition of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” featuring the standout trombone of guest Haruka Kikuchi, also on the new record.

#imsoneworleans is another great record from Ruffins, with a shout-out to Professor Longhair with “Tipitina” and featuring Nayo Jones vocalizing on “At Last”. “Put Your Right Foot Forward” is a funky rundown, while “Mexican Special” gives Ruffins’ stellar skills on the trumpet to shine. Leaving New Orleans was hard indeed, but a handful of Kermit Ruffins CDs- and maybe a Sazerac or two- will keep the memories alive until we can get back.

www.basinstreetrecords.com

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Features

Hawaii!

Hawaii!

Hulaland: The Golden Age of Hawaiian Music

Rockbeat

Hawaiian Rainbow/Kumu Hula: Keepers of a Culture

Directed by Robert Mugge

MVD Visual

So, how’s the weather? You in a blizzard, a flood or just freezing your hiney off? I’ve got the cure…Hawaii! Now, before you slather yourself in sunscreen, I’m not flying you over to the Big Island, but these two collections will warm you up in no time.

First up is Hulaland: The Golden Age of Hawaiian Music, a 4 CD set that is filled with native Hawaiian music, as well as the bastardized versions from the Mainland. Starting in the 1920s and running to the present day, shows the many ways the music of the tropical islands was represented. Starting with “From Hollywood to Honolulu 1931-1957”, Tinseltown gets into the act with acts as varied as Louis Armstrong (“On A Coconut Island”) to Dorothy Lamour (“My Little Grass Shack”) and even Slim Whitman with “Hawaiian Cowboy” (wait, what?) that while reeking of exploitation (it is Hollywood, after all) shows just how prevalent Hawaiian music was for a time. Next up is “Splendor in the Grass Shack” that delves into the late ’50s Tiki craze, with loads of “exotica” from Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny. The third disc focuses on native performers such as the great Sol Hoopii, Hoot Gibson and Ray Kinney. The set ends up with a more modern look at the enduring Hawaiian influence with acts as Ken and Bob, The Joy Buzzards and more. This is hours of island fun, and within it’s four CDs I guarantee you’ll find an appreciation of the Hawaiian music and culture.

And once you have your interest peaked, take a look at Robert Mugge’s 1987 film Hawaiian Rainbow. Originally produced to stimulate interest in Hawaiian culture and tourism, this low-budget documentary serves as an introduction to Hawaiian music, including slack-key guitar and of course, the uke. While the performers are all great, the film is historic simply because it captures two legends of island music, both sadly departed now. Raymond Kane was, after Gabby Paninui, the greatest and best known player of “slack key” guitar, a melodious form of solo guitar that shares the alternating bass patterns that was pivotal to early blues and country music (Mother Maybelle of the Carter Family perfected it). You can hear slack key guitar today in the music of Ry Cooder and Catfish Keith, and it all started on the Big Island. Also the film has an interview and performance from “Iz”- Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, who became famous when his “Over The Rainbow” on uke went viral on social media. He died in 1997 at the age of 38, but not before rekindling a love of Hawaiian music- and the ukulele- to a new generation of fans.

While Hawaiian music is often dismissed as lightweight, fun music, in the right hands it is as lovely- and challenging- as any other form. The fact that you can enjoy it while drinking a rum cocktail and wearing a crazy shirt, well, that’s just a plus. So kick off those winter doldrums with some great “Hula” music!

Rockbeat: www.rockbeatrecords.com • MVD Visual: www.musicvideodistributors.com

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Event Reviews

Wine Me Up Jazz Jam

Wine Me Up Jazz Jam

Open Mike’s, Melbourne, FL • September 27, 2013

Friday nights in Melbourne, Florida can be tricky, especially for those of us between the ages of Trinity Towers and Stone Middle School. But fear not, people, because to the rescue of our sleepy — but up-and-coming, mark my words — town comes Open Mike’s.

Wine Me Up Jazz Jam is the Coffee, Lounge, and Live Music venue’s regular Friday open-mic event, and I suppose we could have just stumbled on an exceptionally good lineup, though given Melbourne’s surprising talented-musician saturation rate, I think any Friday is a good bet. The ensemble switched up throughout the evening, and featured a particularly cool cat who drove the show and the stand-up bass, a scorching guitarist who sat in for a few numbers, and a young saxophonist named Ian, who wails, by the way. The highlight, however, was vocalist Kristen Warren, who belted out “My Funny Valentine,” Louis Armstrong’s “Wonderful World,” and other standards with both power and exquisite control.

Not into jazz? It doesn’t matter. The atmosphere is cool, the drinks are great and reasonably priced, and nobody’s a dick — in fact, your friends are probably already there, chatting with Mike and Koah and Nathan. You don’t find all of that everywhere in Melbourne, but you can count on it at Mike’s, any day of the week.

Open Mike’sFacebook

Categories
Event Reviews

Wine Me Up Jazz Jam

Wine Me Up Jazz Jam

Open Mike’s, Melbourne, FL • September 27, 2013

Friday nights in Melbourne, Florida can be tricky, especially for those of us between the ages of Trinity Towers and Stone Middle School. But fear not, people, because to the rescue of our sleepy — but up-and-coming, mark my words — town comes Open Mike’s.

Wine Me Up Jazz Jam is the Coffee, Lounge, and Live Music venue’s regular Friday open-mic event, and I suppose we could have just stumbled on an exceptionally good lineup, though given Melbourne’s surprising talented-musician saturation rate, I think any Friday is a good bet. The ensemble switched up throughout the evening, and featured a particularly cool cat who drove the show and the stand-up bass, a scorching guitarist who sat in for a few numbers, and a young saxophonist named Ian, who wails, by the way. The highlight, however, was vocalist Kristen Warren, who belted out “My Funny Valentine,” Louis Armstrong’s “Wonderful World,” and other standards with both power and exquisite control.

Not into jazz? It doesn’t matter. The atmosphere is cool, the drinks are great and reasonably priced, and nobody’s a dick — in fact, your friends are probably already there, chatting with Mike and Koah and Nathan. You don’t find all of that everywhere in Melbourne, but you can count on it at Mike’s, any day of the week.

Open Mike’sFacebook

Categories
Music Reviews

Jitterbug Vipers

Jitterbug Vipers

Phoebe’s Dream

Flying High Records

For those not in the know, a “viper” is defined as an “archaic term for a marijuana smoker.” During the 1920s “viper jazz” was all the rage, with Louis Armstrong and his “muggles,” Cab Calloway with “Reefer Man,” and Fats Waller’s “A Viper’s Drag” among others. It was a cool, sophisticated swing music, made for dark clubs late at night, perfect for having your “stick of tea” and getting mellow.

Austin’s Jitterbug Vipers have kept this music alive with Phoebe’s Dream, 11 cuts of what they call “swingadelic,” and it’s so cool it’s nearly frozen. Led by the incomparable Slim Richey on guitar with Sarah Sharp on vocals, Francie Meaux Jeaux on bass, and drummer Masumi Jones, the band is huge in Austin, and for good reason. They take the sounds of a nearly forgotten era and energize it with risque wit and stellar musical taste, and the result is, well, a trip.

“Stuff It” is Sharp’s word to the all those whom life seems to have short-changed, while “Dangerous” and “Trouble” offer good advice to those that are hip. To anyone who went to bed with a 10 and woke up with a 5 they give you “That Was Just the Sauce Talking” — I’m sure some of you can relate. “Django’s Birthday” is Richey’s tribute to the legendary gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, and the instrumental gives the listener a short but oh-so-sweet listen to his one-of-a-kind guitar style, a mixture of Hot Club melody lines, Western swing chording, and a bit of country-influenced licks. Slim Richey is a treasure — he’s played with everyone from Merle Haggard and Marty Stuart to Milton Brown and Johnny Gimble, and even a recent hit-and-run didn’t stop the 74 year old from coaxing his magic from his big archtop guitar.

Viper jazz never seems to go away, from Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks in the Bay area to the great bands of New Orleans’ Frenchman Street such as the Cottonmouth Kings. But rarely are they as fun as the Jitterbug Vipers and Phoebe’s Dream. Are you a viper?

Jitterbug Vipers