Kevin Mahogany opened his four-night engagement at Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase last night to an unjustly small audience that included four people from Iceland. I last saw Mahogany 23 years ago at the Denver Botanic Gardens on a rainy summer night. As I told Kevin after the second set, I should probably pay him for the blue rain slicker that I found on the ground that night. I have traveled the world with it.
Accompanying Mahogany was the Willie Pickens Trio, comprising Chicago's favorite piano player, Indiana native Greg Artry on drums, and Christian Dillingham on bass. Like every other musician of national prominence who has performed at the Jazz Showcase accompanied by a local group of backing musicians, Mahogany knew and frequently acknowledged that he had struck gold with Willie, who every jazz pianist in the country knows is a powerhouse. Tonight was no different, with one important exception: Given the small crowd and the fact that this was somewhat of a workout session, Willie turned up the energy level, really pounding the keys as he vamped between Mahogany's lines. He was all smiles and clearly enjoying the interaction between himself and Mahogany, who frequently faced the piano during the two sets.
The years have aged Mahogany's honey-like voice, but in a good way. You can hear the maturity of someone who has traveled the world, using Miami as his home base. Tonight, I heard a lot of Ella in the room, which is particularly appropriated because we celebrate her 100th birthday this coming Tuesday (April 25, 1917). Scat singing could be heard throughout the set, along with a vocalized trombone with a plunger. At times, I even thought I heard a little bit of John Mayal's "chika chika" from Room to Move.
After the trio opened with a lengthy, but unidentified number, Mahogany took the stage, beginning with B.B. King's Every Day I Have the Blues. It was then time to change the tempo, with the Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova classic, The Girl from Ipanema. Joe Segal was right: Mahogany enunciates clearly, thereby allowing his listeners to savor every word. Then Mahogany and Willie took a ride on Route 66. Afterwards, Mahogany joked that Willie "gave Jesus his first piano lesson," once again paying homage to Willie's artistry and reverancy. As the evening progressed, we heard a nice duet between Mahogany and Dillingham on the Miles' classic All Blues. In the second set, we were treated to two Ellington numbers, Take the A Train and Caravan. We also heard a song associated with Nat King Cole, Nature Boy, Dizzy's Groovin' High, and Kenny Baron's Joanne Julia. Mahogany closed the set with the Lou Rawls classic, I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water. Artry kept the whole thing moving with his always nuanced strokes, particularly with the brushes.
The second set was unfortunately marred by eight eight men and woman laughing and talking loudly in Sebian throughout the set until they finally left. I knew they were going to be trouble the minute they walked into the club. The few other patrons shot them piercing glances and shushes to no avail. Joe and Wayne had already left, which was probably good. Mahogany even commented from the stage, engaging them in some conversation about where they were from and telling them that he had performed in Serbia. He said it was all cool--musicians are used to talking--but it wasn't. In my many visits to the Jazz Showcase, this has never happened. The only positive aspect: They paid admission and had what appeared to be a large bar bill. And as I said to Jim Dejong after the second set at the bar, "Where is John Wick when you need him?" John Wick is the solution to all life's problems.
If you are in Chicago this weekend, head down to the Jazz Showcase to hear Kevin Mahogany and the Willie Pickens Trio. Well worth your time. Unfortunately, I will be in New York next weekend, but Joe is celebrating his 91st birthday with Pat Martino, a terrific guitarist.
A note to my photographer friends: Mahogany is not the easiest guy to photograph for several reasons. First, he tends to face the musicians rather than the audience. Even when in profile facing Willie, he was far enough back from the light source that his face was heavily in shadow. Second, although he is a fantastic singer, which is what it is all about, he is not the most animated guy. Unlike a Dee Alexander, his few gestures are very restrained. Third, he tends to "eat" the mike, which means it is difficult to get a smile or teeth.
The photographs were captured with the Sony A7rii and the Fuji GFX 50s. Much to my delight, the Fuji really came through. The photographs came up in Adobe Camera Raw underexposed by 2 or 3 stops, which is not surprising because the shutter speed is 1/250th of a second (rather than my typical 1/200th or 1/160th for slow moving musicians), the aperture is wide open at F4.0 rather than my typical F2.8--I can't wait for the telephoto, which is rumored to be 250mm--and the ISO is 3200 rather than 6400. There is a lot of headroom in the Fuji files.
More photographs to come.