Riffs: Music News from Out and About
By Patricia Myers
My new all-Arizona music website, www.MusicSceneAZ.com, has been growing in content and dimension since its launch last month. The Calendar and Venues segments are filled with live-music bookings, as many as 30 on some days of the week, mostly jazz and blues. My thanks to the musicians, presenters and venue owners who are regularly sending me information for the website and for my monthly Jazz Update that is emailed to 2,000+ recipients. And thanks to my “web guys” who are keeping the site current. The website and Update both prove that music-event listings in the daily newspaper and on other websites don’t even begin to represent the incredible amount of diverse listening opportunities we have in Arizona.
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The city of Tempe recently launched the Tempe Music Walk with a sidewalk-imbedded plaque of a guitar to honor longtime Tempe musician Walt Richardson. As a companion activity, the Tempe History Museum has created “The Tempe Sound,” an exhibit celebrating music along Mill Avenue. The exhibit displays music paraphernalia from groups such as The Refreshments, Gin Blossoms, Meat Puppets, Walt Richardson and the Morningstar Band, and even a replica of Long Wong’s stage. The museum’s community room also has rotating temporary art exhibits, currently Deon Doughty’s portraits of local musicians that include Richardson. A free third-Thursdayseries at the museum will feature speakers on music venues related to “The Tempe Sound.” Speakers and topics are listed at tempe.gov/museumevents and include a May 21 viewing of excerpts from a documentary film by Paige Martinez about the life and career of longtime Arizona bandleader Rafael “Chapito” Chavarria. A series of free Tempe Music Revival concerts on Mill Avenue are listed at tempe.gov/tempemusicrevival.
The walk, exhibit and concerts are great concepts, except — there is no mention of Chuy’s Choo Choo, the longtime (20+ years) jazz-blues venue that started at 396 S. Mill Ave., Chuy’s was as well-known on Mill Avenue as Long Wong’s or Edcel’s Attic, but IMO is curiously absent from the Tempe music exhibit.
During its existence, Chuy’s consistently booked world-renowned stars, iincluding the Buddy Rich Orchestra, alto saxophonist Branford Marsalis, pianist McCoy Tyner, vocalist Betty Carter, Flora Purim and Airto, The Jazz Crusaders, Steps Ahead (Michael Brecker-tenor sax, Eliane Elias-piano), vocalist-pianist Ben Sidran and bassist Jaco Pastorius. Among the blues stars who performed at Chuy’s were harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite and guitarists-vocalists Robert Cray, John Lee Hooker, Gatemouth Brown and Pee Wee Wee Crayton.
Local crowd-pleasers included singers Margo Reed, Francine Reed and Jazz Alive, Linda and Carmela and Phase III, Grant Wolf’s Valley Big Band, Nancy Jackson-Alice Tatum-Diana Lee and Secret Society, Nova (Nancy Jackson-Alice Tatum band), Cosmo Topper, Small Paul and Drivin’ Wheel, Texas Red and the Hartbreakers, Major Lingo, Brian Page Quartet, Hans Olson and, of course, Richardson and his Morning Star Band.
That location began booking music in the late 1970s when owner Rex Beatte called it Club Casa Loma, since it was a street-level location in the then-100-year-old Casa Loma Hotel. Beatte renamed it three times as Professor Pudgie’s, Casa Loma Bar and finally Chuy’s Choo Choo. That’s what it was known as when singer Nancy Jackson and her husband, bassist Jim Simmons, bought the lease in 1981.
Soon shortening the name to Chuy’s, the pair booked a panoply of jazz and blues acts for 11 years, despite development causing it to move twice to nearby locations. It continued in 1983 at just off Mill Avenue on Third Street to the west, then in 1989 to its final second-level location on Hayden Square. The owners also produced top-name concerts in the amphitheater, until legal shenanigans stopped those, the loss of revenue contributing to the club’s closing in 1992, causing an end to a brilliant era.
So now I’m asking: Why isn’t Chuy’s and its prodigious music pedigree a major part of “The Tempe Sound”? There is certainly enough exhibit space, 2,500 square feet in the museum (809 E. Southern Ave., next to Tempe Public Library). I intend to find out, and work toward having Chuy’s added to the main exhibit before it closes on Oct. 4.
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The monthly Tempe Center for the Arts jazz series continues this month and into next May.Saxophonist Tim Warfield’s All-Star Jazzy Christmas with Stefon Harris (vibes) and Terell Stafford (trumpet) will be on stage at 7:30 pm Dec. 20; vocalist Halie Loren there on Jan. 17, duo pianists Renee Rosnes-Bill Charlap performing on Feb. 28, The Harlem Quartet with pianist Aldo López Gavilán onMarch 21, Mads & Markus on April 25 and the Trish Hatley Quartet on May 23. There are reduced prices for multiple concerts, see those at LakeshoreMusic.org
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The Buzz: The DwyerStrong benefit concert on Nov. 23 resulted in $18,000 income for treatment of leukemia patient Stephen Dwyer, 16, grandson of pianist-vocalist Danny Long and son of Rick and Trish Longo Dwyer. More than 200 attended to hear the dozen musicians who donated their talent and time to perform: Long, Tony Vacca, Neal Seroka, Brad Bauder, Jim Nistico, Margo Reed, Judy Roberts, Felix Sainz, Delphine Cortez, Joel Robin, Dennis Rowland and Diana Lee. Stephen is recovering at home after five months of chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant in Phoenix Children’s Hospital, where he continues with out-patient visits. Stephen will need medical treatments all his life, and tax-deductible donations in his name continue to be accepted by the non-profit COTA (Children’s Organ Transplant Association) at: http://cota.donorpages.com/MiracleMakers/TeamStephenD/
Reeds players Monica Shriver and Mike Crotty will participate in the Jazz Education Network Conference in San Diego in January. Shriver is leader-founder of Doublers Collective, a multiple-reeds ensemble for which Crotty writes arrangements. The pair was invited to present a clinic titled “Finding Your Voice on Multiple Instruments: Techniques and Strategies for Playing and Improvising on More Than One Instrument.”
Dr. John has released a Louis Armstrong tribute album, “Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch” on Concord Records that features 13 tracks that represent stages of Armstrong’s career. Trumpeters include Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, Arturo Sandoval, Wendell Brunious and James Andrews, plus the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Other guest artists are Bonnie Raitt on “I’ve Got the World on a String,” The Blind Boys of Alabama on “What a Wonderful World” and “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams,” Ledisi and the McCrary Sisters on “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” Anthony Hamilton on “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” and Shemekia Copeland on “Sweet Hunk O’ Trash.” Dr. John previously saluted honored Armstrong at “Props to Pops” at New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music in March 2012 and at the Hollywood Bowl in July 2013.
Overheard: “Why did the leader (saxophonist Cory Weeds) read arrangements on every song that he even said he had written or recorded?” (jazz fan asking during concert intermission at The Nash 2nd Anniversary weekend). Knowledgeable fan replies: “Well, we sure won’t see any charts on Sunday with the Jazz Masters (re Jimmy Heath, Barry Harris).”
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Quotable: “Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.” — saxophonist Charlie Parker.
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Final Chorus: Acker Bilk, 85, clarinetist (“Stranger on the Shore”), Nov. 2 in England; Rick Rosas, 65, studio musician, Nov. 6 in Los Angeles; Ian Fraser, 81, Emmy-winning conductor-composer-arranger, Nov. 7 in Los Angeles; Manitas de Plata, 93, flamenco guitarist, Nov. 10 in Montpellier, France; Buddy Catlett, 81, bassist, Nov. 13 in Seattle; Joe Bonner, 66, pianist-composer, Nov. 20 in Denver; Will Connell Jr., free-jazz saxophonist, Nov. 23 in New York City; Mickey Champion, 89, Los Angeles blues singer, Nov. 24 in Los Angeles.