One of the pleasures of regularly attending the Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay (the first weekend of March) is the delicious musical program put on for Road Scholars by Sue Kroninger, Chris Calabrese, and Eddie Erickson (vocal and lively edification; piano and ditto; vocal and banjo, respectively).
This year, on March 7, it was the life and times of Fats Waller, which I’ve titled FRIENDS OF FATS for the alliterative bounce it offers. Here’s the first half: erudite without being stuffy — witty, joyous, and tender — much like its subject.
And the second:
I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLING:
A solo by Chris, ALLIGATOR CRAWL:
THE CURSE OF AN ACHING HEART:
Another solo, VIPER’S DRAG:
KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW:
LULU’S BACK IN TOWN:
TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE:
SWEET AND SLOW:
Another solo, and a good thing, THE JITTERBUG WALTZ:
THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’:
Some impatient viewers will want “to get to the music.” However, Sue has done intriguing research and she ties the threads together with great skill. Even though I have read biographies of Fats, Sue had new stories for me, and the presentation was delightfully unlike an academic lecture. (I wish there were programs like this all across the country, and for audiences who had never heard of Harlem stride piano or Bluebird Records.)
Readers of JAZZ LIVES know that I cherish great jazz pianists playing today as well as the great Begetters of the Past. I won’t dare embark on a list for fear of leaving someone out and creating a mortal wound. But how many people have listened seriously to the man in the brightly colored shirt at the piano bench — one Chris Calabrese. Beautiful playing here! I don’t just mean his obvious gleaming technical mastery, but the small subtleties: the surprising passing chords, the wonderful harmonic shifts and nuances, and the lovely elastic swing — what seems like an effortless glide but anyone who’s ever come near a piano is true artistry. Chris is A Master — and more people need to know about him.
A word about the other two people onstage. Susan Kroninger is more often referred to as “Big Mama Sue,” but I don’t care for that overly familiar monicker. To me, she is a swinging percussionist (catch those wire whisks!) and a deep, warm singer — capable of jolliness and great affectionate seriousness. The fellow with the banjo, Eddie Erickson, has a million ways to make us laugh — but he is a wonderfully sincere singer and a real string virtuoso. This team has a delightful chemistry: they are clearly enjoying themselves, and they don’t plan to leave us out.
This band — Sue, Chris, and Eddie, with one crucial addition — Clint Baker on tuba and perhaps other instruments (!) — will be performing at the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Evergreen, Colorado, on July 25, 26, 27, 2014. Details here. They swing; they enlighten; they spread joy.
May your happiness increase!