Blues at Logan III
Every festival has its pleasant surprises. For me, the surprise came today during the Blues Brunch in the Logan Center’s Performance Penthouse. Johnny Iguana and Michael Caskey brought their version of a rollicking good-time to a banquet of scrambled eggs, pastries, waffles, and fruit. The duo dubs themselves the Claudettes.
Just a piano and a drum kit. When I read that lineup, I was brought back to the early Seventies, when Norman Granz released a series of duets on his Pablo label. Satch and Josh made sense—Count Basie and Oscar Peterson—but Oscar Peterson paired with Roy Eldridge, and then with Jon Faddis, and then with Harry “Sweets” Edison did not. Just a piano and a trumpet. Well, as I told Iguana afterwards, those duets worked, as did his pairing with Caskey.
You had to hear it to get it: Iguana channeling Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Doctor Feelgood, and a host of New Orleans piano players, with the all-smiling Caskey attacking his drum kit. The resulting wash of rhythm was wonderful, with people in the audience bouncing in their chairs. When I walked out, I had no second thoughts about purchasing the three Claudettes CDs for $30 at the merch table. The two-person version that I saw today appears on the Infernal Piano Plot…Hatched! The two other CDs include expanded lineups, which sometimes include a vocalist who sings in French. Ooh LaLa.
I should have gone to several of the workshops that filled the afternoon schedule, but choices had to made. I was back on a college campus, where students must constantly choose between studying and fun. Tuesday was just around the corner, and I had not yet completed my homework for my two Basic Program classes at the University of Chicago. I did not want Professors Rose or Mitova calling on me only to come up empty. I spent the afternoon reading Cervantes’ Don Quixote.
But at 5 PM, it was time to put down the book. I returned to the main performance hall, where Billy Branch, Sterling, Plumpp, and Tyehimba Jess discussed the poetry of the blues, and then mixed Branch’s harmonica improvisations with selected readings. Like the August Wilson performance on Saturday, this one was thoroughly engaging.
At 7 PM, it was time to close out this year’s fest. It was the All-Star Chicago Blues Harmonica Summit, featuring Matthew Skoller, Billy Branch, and Mississippi born Charlie Musselwhite.
Charlie has been a longtime favorite of mine. He began his career in Memphis, migrated to Chicago, and then toured the world. Musselwhite has played with Bonnie Raitt, Cyndi Lauper, Ben Harper, Hurbert Sumlin, and Tom Waits, among many others.
Both Branch and Skoller did relatively short, but excellent sets. It was then time for Charlie, who did not disappoint. He played a number of songs off his 1966 classic album, Stand Back, which is one of my favorites. Included was Cristo Redentor, which was penned long ago by Duke Pearson. In my mind, Harvey Mandel owned that song, but Musselwhite made a strong case for his rendition.
My one complaint about Musselwhite’s set: Guitarist Matt Stubbs was ridiculously loud. It was not the sound crew’s fault. Stubbs had his amp turned up to embarrassingly high levels. What, did he think he was at the top of the bill? Not when you pull a stunt like that.
Despite the unpleasantness, Musselwhite prevailed. As I expected, the concert and Fest ended with a cutting session, featuring all three harpists. It was a fitting way to bring down the proverbial curtain on the Second Annual Logan Center Blues Fest.
Kudos to the Logan Skoller and Leigh Fagin on their programming choices. And more kudos to Jonathan Logan who helped bankroll the festival for the second year in a row.
[Click on an image to enlarge it]
College Bulletin Board Just Like in Bygone Days
Charlie Musselwhite on Harp
Charlie’s Got the Silver
Blowing the Blues Away
Enjoying the Limelight
Matt Stubbs Takes the Lead
Matthew Stoller Makes His Point
In the Spotlight
Chicago Bassist Extraordinaire, Fenton Crews
Billy Flynn Double Tracked
Billy Branch Telling Stories Untold with Sterling Plumpp
Sterling Plumpp Discussing the Blues as Poetry with Billy Branch