If you don’t get to St. Louis often, these two people may be unfamiliar to you. But they make excellent music.
You say you’d like to hear some? Consider this — a short film by Bill Streeter:
and this, which pairs Ethan with Valerie Kirschhoff:
A friend told me about Ethan and Valerie, and I’ve been listening to their CDs with great pleasure. I know that comparisons are not only odious, but they cause one to lose friends, but Ethan and Valerie, together or singly, have got it. By “it” I mean a certain easy authority and authenticity: when they perform their special music — the low-down St. Louis blues, rags, and pop of the time — I don’t feel as if they are children playing at being adults, nor do I feel that I am listening to copies of 78s. (However, if they’d been born a century ago, you would, I am sure, know them from their recordings on Paramount, Bluebird, and Decca. They’re that much in the groove.)
Ethan and Valerie have a certain brash tenderness that is very much appealing, and although I hear echoes of certain performers (famous and obscure) I hear the personalities of these two — in this century — coming right at me. This is rare and delicious, and even when they perform songs that are by today’s standards “ancient,” they seem full of emotion and fun.
And they are not shallow: by that I mean that certain young “stride” pianists have taught themselves AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ and four other tunes; certain young singers know GOD BLESS THE CHILD and FINE AND MELLOW . . . and then it’s time for a break. One of the pleasures of the three CDs I have on hand: THE ST. LOUIS STEADY GRINDERS, MISS JUBILEE: “THROW ME IN THE ALLEY,” and Ethan’s solo piano offering, THE LOW-DOWN PIANO, is the scholarly breadth of their chosen repertoire. It’s not simply a non-stop parade of twelve-bar blues (incidentally, the closing video of this blog shows Valerie, with ukulele and friends, including Marty Eggers, making a meal of MURDER IN THE MOONLIGHT, which belongs to Mound City hero Red McKenzie, although Marty Grosz has brought it back in recent times).
In his solo recital, Ethan plays compositions by Romeo Nelson, Little Brother Montgomery, Jabo Williams, Montana Taylor, and others in addition to the expected heroes; I was familiar with two of the sixteen compositions on the GRINDERS CD, and MISS JUBILEE dips happily into Thirties ephemera, including THE DUCK’S YAS YAS YAS and JERRY THE JUNKER. (In fact, on that CD — with friends — the overall effect is somewhere between Clarence Williams and the Lil Hardin Armstrong small groups, with a dash of the Washboard Rhythm Kings, and completely refreshing — a kind of hot elegant rawness, a wild oxymoron that will make sense with the first listening.)
I am not writing as much as I might, because I’d rather listeners go to the videos and sound samples to enjoy for themselves. Ethan and Valerie have put up many videos on YouTube, and they have an expansive online presence, as one must these days.
Here is Ethan’s website. And here is the site for MISS JUBILEE — the aptly-named group Valerie and Ethan co-lead. And the Facebook page for the ST. LOUIS STEADY GRINDERS — who also live up to their proud title, never faltering or hesitating.
They are very welcome: they make the best noises, and they spread joy in all directions.
May your happiness increase!