Sunday, January 23, 2011

Blues with Grace

Abounding Grace Sanctuary, a Lutheran Church in Tucson, hosts local and regional music performances almost every week. Churches give me the creeps, and this one was no different, but I took a deep breath and went to see Joe Bourne, Arthur Migliazza, and Tom Walbank. The last two are local stars. Walbank is a guitar and harp (harmonica) wizard often found at Tucson’s 17th Street Market. Migliazza is a stride piano and boogie-woogie master, formerly of Tucson, but who now lives in New York. Tom and Arthur are old friends and often appear together in Tucson (not often enough). Joe Bourne is a jazz singer from Cambridge, MA.

Migliazza led off with his signature version of Yancy’s Blues, a genuine foot stomper. Bourne then sang several tunes with piano accompaniment. The accompaniment was great. I especially liked a rendition of Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill,” because Arthur really slammed the downbeat note on the left hand in each bar. Plus I am just wild about any tune in 4/4 time over a 6/8 rhythm. I don’t know why. Arthur also did a version of Pinetop Blues that had people in the audience literally gasping in astonishment, interrupting often with applause.

Bourne sang many jazz standards competently, but he was not my favorite. He just did not swing, and that is death for blues. He hit every note dead center, exactly as written, but that’s not enough. To swing, you have to use rubato, play with the music, interpret it. Bobby Darin had swing. Bourne doesn’t. Also, his accent was uninteresting. In “Georgia On My Mind,” he actually said “Georger” at one point (Boston area accent). However, he did do “Motherless Child,” an old slave song from the late 1800’s and he did it a capella, as a Negro spiritual, not as a blues tune, and it was very heartfelt and moving, and really showed off his voice well. That’s obviously his forte, not jazz singing.

Tom Walbank came in at the second hour and knocked everybody’s socks off with his dazzling harmonica work, which is unbelievable. He has a composite piece of pre-World War I tunes that he has put together that is astonishing. He is hooting and barking and yelling and singing into the harmonica even as he plays it , creating his own rhythm section as he goes. It’s just amazing, seemingly impossible.

The show was $15 per person, ran about 90 minutes and was attended by about 150 people, mostly members of the church, I would guess, and mostly fifty years and older. I saw nobody under forty, which is a shame. The kids wouldn’t know who Count Basie is, true, but nobody can resist a hot boogie-woogie piano or a wailing blues harmonica -- nobody. I left early because of the growing lack of oxygen and the increasing smell of humanity in the windowless, airless room. But I was well pleased to enjoy Arthur and Tom again, individually and together.

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