To some of my readers, neither name in my title will be dramatically familiar. I plan to change that quickly in this blogpost. First, here’s Conal Fowkes:
He is a magnificent pianist (and, yes, a string bassist, singer, composer) at home in many genres. And in demand! You might have seen him playing and singing as Cole Porter in Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. If you go to hear Woody and his band, Conal will be there. If you’re in search of down-home rock, Conal is the man: often with John Gill’s Yerba Buena Stompers, having a fine time on PINEAPPLE RAG or HEEBIE JEEBIES. Conal also shows up alongside banjoist Eddy Davis and multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson (they just captivated an audience at The Django last Saturday night) . . . and if you were around New York in the glory days of The Cajun, Conal was there — as is only right — regularly. Of late, I’ve seen and captured Conal with Barbara Rosene and with trumpet hero Danny Tobias.
Here‘s Conal’s website where you can find out about his other film appearances, his recordings, his gig schedule. What his site won’t tell you, I will: he is one of the kindest and most reliable people on the planet, just the fellow you would want around when you need help. (One, at a festival, he quietly told me that my clothing was unzipped where it should not have been — without embarrassing me. THAT is a true nobleman.)
Conal is a modest fellow (although his talent is in no way “modest”) who is just as happy to be a splendid sideman. So he isn’t always issuing solo CDs, which is a pity. But he did step into the limelight for slightly under an hour at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest, as solo pianist and in duet with the irreplaceable Dawn Lambeth. I’ll share those duets in future posts, but a lengthy Conal solo on a first-rate piano is a major event.
The texts for Conal’s mellow sermon come from the hand of the gifted and unusual American songwriter / pianist / singer Willard Robison . . . whom some of you will know for OLD FOLKS; A COTTAGE FOR SALE; ‘T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO, ‘ROUND MY OLD DESERTED FARM, GUESS I’LL GO BACK HOME THIS SUMMER, DON’T SMOKE IN BED, TRUTHFUL PARSON BROWN, and many others. Mildred Bailey loved Robison, as did Ralph Sutton and Jack Teagarden, and in our own time Matt Munisteri has performed his works with deep understanding and feeling.
But here’s Conal. He is an artist with many sly, subtle personalities — appropriate to the material he is creating — but the personalities come out of the same deep roots: lyrical singing melodies, a sweetly propelling rhythmic sense, a delicate touch, and a willingness to serve the song rather than to stand in front of it, obscuring our view.
It doesn’t get better than that — those dozen minutes of gentle searching music.
May your happiness increase!