There aren’t many bands that would inspire me to make a 160-mile automobile round trip after a day’s work, but I did it for the Sunnyland Jazz Band and I still feel immensely gratified.
I met banjoist / guitarist / singer / composer Bob Barta at Jeff (Barnhart) and Joel (Schiavone)’s House Party the week before, and had been delighted by him as a musician and as a gentle, witty, thoughtful person. An added bonus: I also got to meet and talk with the remarkable Sherrie Barta.
When Bob told me about the Sunnyland ensemble — a trio of trumpet, banjo, and tuba — appearing every Thursday at Bonnie Jean’s on Main Road in Southold, I packed the car with provisions, told the imaginary staff I would be home late, and headed east . . . through old haunts.
It was a delightful musical evening, as you will hear. Bob’s cohorts are trumpeter / singer John Klumpp and tubaist John Lovett, and they work together so beautifully. They are sweet without being sticky, light without being insubstantial. All I can say is that I have their music firmly ensconced in my mind and heart, days after I first heard it. A singular and touching experience!
I have to point out that Bonnie Jean’s serves real food — I didn’t hear the microwave binging anywhere. My homemade fried chicken, sauteed spinach, fingerling potatoes, etc., were first-rate. Good coffee, too, and all at decent prices. The desserts looked lovely but I was full. Even if it isn’t Thursday night, I would stop there for the food — and for the lighthearted solicitude of the amiable Jenny and Theresa. You can read the menu and get all excited here. Or here if you prefer Facebook. Worth the trip!
Some of my friends and JAZZ LIVES readers might see the instrumentation here — trumpet, banjo, and tuba, and quail. Or perhaps blanch. I understand. Two of the instruments in this grouping have bad reputations. But no instrument is inherently naughty . . . it’s just the uses it gets put to by people who are more concerned with volume and effects than with making beautiful sounds. John Lovett (hiding behind his coils of tubing) creates a resonant deep cushiony sound out of his tuba — it reminds me of a very deep French horn, mobile and sweet. And Bob is a peerless banjo player who doesn’t see his instrument as a kind of drum that happens to have strings in front of it. John Klumpp needs no explanation, no rationales: he sounds like a cross between three players: Jabbo, Wilder, and himself. Two of the three men in this band are known, in addition, to break into song. They are sweetly persuasive singers and their swinging earnestness goes right to the heart. Trust me on this. And you have the videos to prove it.
Bob — who has a puckish sense of humor — called A CUP OF COFFEE, A SANDWICH AND YOU as the first song. (At the end, he told us that it was a toss-up between that and DINAH. Think about it):
On the same theme, AUNTIE SKINNER’S CHICKEN DINNERS, although both Sherrie and I were wondering if the original lyrics contain the word “panties”:
Then, for a change of pace. Think Al Bowlly, not Jack Nicholson, as you hear MIDNIGHT, THE STARS AND YOU:
MOONLIGHT is a Con Conrad tune that was new to me:
Even for someone who finds himself on a plane as often as I do, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD resonates sweetly:
I think that HIAWATHA’S LULLABY had a brief moment of popularity in 1933, thanks to Adrian Rollini and others — but I never expected to hear it in 2012:
LAZY RIVER. Oh, you dog river:
A truly rocking version of HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN even though Bonnie Jean’s is not your usual taqueria:
And the sweet question — dear and romantic — HOW COULD I BE BLUE?:
There will be two more sets from the SJB. But you should go to Bonnie Jean’s and see for yourself. I plan to . . .
May your happiness increase.