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Introducing The Blues

| March 30, 2006 | 0 Comments

By Beverly Zeldin-Palmer

During the month of February, a slice of Chicago’s rich musical history was revisited in the Vittum Theater’s musical production, I Dream In Blues. The play, dubbed a “bluesical” was conceived by singer and storyteller Katherine Davis and Tom Arvetis, artistic director of the Vittum. It is Davis’ autobiography in words and music, packed into one-and-a-half joyful, nostalgic, and poignant hours.

Davis grew up in Cabrini-Green in the ’60s. Nicknamed the “Jets,” Cabrini was a vital community, considered a model for public housing around the country. Music was everywhere; “Double-dutch and Doo Wop on the corner, house parties and talent shows on the weekend.” Her mother came from a family of jazz performers and opera singers, and her father would throw house parties on a regular basis, playing records by Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Brook Benton, Mahalia Jackson, Muddy Waters, Etta James, Howlin’ Wolf, and Aretha Franklin. Young Katherine was gone. She spent many hours gazing out her window toward downtown Chicago, dreaming of the day when she would be singing in those glamorous nightclubs and concert halls.

I Dream In Blues is cleverly told through flashbacks. The play begins in the present with a musical number as Davis, dressed in a black sequined gown with a white flower in her hair, takes the stage, asking the audience, “How’s everybody feeling? Is everybody feeling allright?” She launches into Willie Dixon’s “Rock This House,” her contralto voice swinging the blues, backed by a band that includes veteran jazz and blues musicians Ray Bailey (sax), Anthony Palmer (guitar), Les Getrex (guitar), Greg McDaniel (bass), and Terry Thompson (drums). The scene changes as Davis takes on the role of narrator, flashing back to a classroom in the ’60s where we meet young Katherine, played by #Lakesha Walker# (a young actress with a powerful voice); her teacher, played with comedic intensity by Sameerah Walker (she plays multiple roles equally well); and her two young tormentors, James and Earl played by Aaron Holland and Richard Blakeney to comic effect.

Young Katherine remains focused on her dream to become a singer, despite the fact she is dismissed from the church choir for singing with a little too much feeling, and teased unmercifully by James and Earl. She is comforted by her mother after James tells her “Ain’t nobody gonna care about a short fat colored girl with no neck,” a nasty comment that almost derails her intention to appear in a local talent contest. She draws inspiration from the musicians who hang out at the Countdown liquor and grocery store, listening to their music and their advice.

I Dream In Blues is part of the Vittum Theater’s Season For Young Audiences. A seasoned veteran of the Blues In The Schools program, Davis teamed with Arvetis to create a seamless mixture of music and storytelling for young people to enjoy and learn about this rich African-American musical heritage.

New Releases: Chicago’s Delmark Records is one of the few blues labels that consistently release CDs by local artists. Although they offer very little in terms of artist support, they generate some publicity for musicians who do a minimal amount of touring, a requisite for most independent blues labels. New releases include a live CD by Otis Rush, All Your Love I Miss Loving: Live At The Wise Fools Pub, Chicago (reviewed in January), live CD/DVD sets by Tail Dragger and Mississippi Heat, and a studio CD by singer-songwriter Zora Young.

Tore Up From The Floor Up is super-sexy vocalist Young’s second CD for the label. Like Katherine Davis, Young is a storyteller, except her stories often include a humorous and ironic take on the no-good man syndrome. Like many of her contemporaries Young arrived at the blues from R&B, and prior to that, gospel. On Tore Up From The Floor Up, she lends her soulful vocals to covers (“Rainy Night In Georgia,” “Two Trains Running”) and originals like the horn driven “Til The Fat Lady Sings,” the sensual “Slowly,” the funky “Handy Man,” and the slow-moving blues of “Toxic.” The title track is a rousing Chicago style shuffle. The CD concludes with an interview in which Young delves warmly, and with humor, into her blues past.

Delmark went to the West side to record Tail Dragger’s My Head Is Bald: Live At Vern’s Friendly Lounge. Tail Dragger is a vocalist who patterns his style after Howlin’ Wolf. His all-star backing band for the session included Billy Branch, Lurrie Bell, Jimmy Dawkins, Bob Stroger, and Kenny Smith. A dramatic showman, Tail Dragger is more of a novelty act than a straight-up singer. The DVD is of interest, as it shows him on his home turf, interacting with his audience.

One Eye Open: Live At Rosa’s Lounge, Chicago, is another live CD and DVD set that captures the Chicago sound live on the West side. Founded by harmonica player Pierre Lacocque, who migrated to Chicago from Belgium, Mississippi Heat has gone through many incarnations in its 15-year history. The cast for the CD includes soulful vocalist Inetta Visor, guitarists Lurrie Bell and #strong>Max Valldeneu, Chris Cameron on organ, Spurling Banks on bass, and the incomparable Kenny Smith on drums. The CD’s saving grace is Bell, whose deep blues guitar and vocals enliven the entire evening.

Category: Monthly, Sweet Home

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