New Year's 2006

 It was with great joy that I learned that one of my favorite blues performers, Bobby Rush, would be appearing in Los Angeles at a New Year's Eve show to be produced by Barbara Morrison, known as the California Blues Queen who is also an amazing Jazz vocalist. Making it even more attractive was the fact that there would also be a show on the previous night featuring a host of blues entertainers in addition to the Bobby Rush Revue.

 In checking out other happenings in the Los Angeles area, I learned that Billy Mitchell, Jazz pianist and educator, would be presenting a Pre-New Year's Eve Celebration on the 29th at the Los Angeles Crown Plaza Airport Hotel. When I arrived at the event, it was packed with patrons in two large rooms for this early evening affair. Mitchell held forth on piano with his trio and a guitarist and vocalist sitting in. It was wonderful to get reacquainted with the drummer, Frank Wilson, who frequented the Bay Area when he played with the late Jimmy Smith. Their repertoire mixed it up with Jazz including a beautiful rendition of "Days of Wine and Roses" and blues tunes. The trio was tight in the arrangements, and Mitchell performed with elegance and insight on piano. Champagne was served at the bewitching hour of 10 P.M. which was great fun and a perfect beginning to the upcoming holiday festivities. The patrons were warm and friendly, embracing each other and strangers with good wishes for the upcoming year.

 Barbara Morrison

 On the evening of the 30th at the Hollywood Park Casino, Barbara Morrison presented the first of her New Year's celebrations in a large ballroom. M. C. James Janisse from radio station KKJZ kept the show rolling with a large aggregation of blues performers and comedians. The band Bu Crew, headed by guitarist Charles Small, kicked off the show accompanying Barbara Morrison in a rousing blues session. Joe Kincaid and the Soul Brothers then took over as the house band to support a number of vocalists including a young vocalist, Fereckiea White (photo at right), who did a smashing version of "Misty Blue" with an unusually emotional rendering and rich phrasing.

Other outstanding vocalists included Ernie Todd in a wheelchair doing a soulful "The Blues Is Alright," Lady G. G., Sonny Green and Je Je Burton, and Mr. Bojangles. Providing comedic relief, Renaldo Ray and Luenell were outrageously saucy with their sharply delivered social commentaries. Joyce Lawson, one of my favorite soul vocalists, was a surprise addition, and she heated up things with her tune "Going Back to My Husband."

Bobby Rush was the icing on the cake on this evening. Starting off with "Ain't She Fine" and finishing up with his latest hit tune "Night Fishin'," Rush exhilarated the audience with his energetic revue featuring dancers Lo and Dee and his tight Mississippi-based band. Rush, who has honed his adults-only shows for over fifty years, is matchless in live performance as he again proved on this evening.

The New Year's Eve show was also held at the Hollywood Park Casino in another room that was more intimate with small tables lovingly decorated with party favors. The Bu Crew opened up the festivities with a Jazz-oriented set featuring a large horn section. Mr. Bojangles delivered a spellbinding blues performance starting off with a funky rendition of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" with phrasing ranging from deep vocal to a fantastic falsetto. His blues sensibilities were well on display on a soulful "Let's Straighten It Out" and a rousing "Downhome Blues."

Joyce Lawson 

Mr. Bojangles

Sonny Green

Vocalist Sonny Green's deep soul delivery on "Saint James Infirmary" was so reminiscent of Bobby "Blue" Bland that it was eerie. Barbara Morrison took to the stage to mix it up with a Jazz tune, "What a Difference a Day Makes," interpreted with elegant phrasing. Morrison's fantastic delivery of "They Call Me Sundown" was a grinding slow blues with stylistic intonation.

The second time around with the Bobby Rush Revue was just as exciting, and as we eagerly awaited the midnight hour, Rush delighted the audience with another satisfying excursion into blues and funk. Always sharply dressed, Rush was attired in a black suit with rhinestone trim. As he jumps around on stage, it is hard to imagine that Rush is in his early seventies and still kicking. His double-entendre versions of "Hen Pecked" and "I Got a Big Fat Woman" were scintillating. He even demonstrated his rap skills on one tune and expertise on blues harmonica while covering blues tunes including "Hoochie Coochie Man." This was certainly the way to bring in the New Year, and with many of the performers joining the stage at midnight, the countdown was filled with emotion and goodwill. Happy New Year!

Avotcja & Modupue

On a rainy December evening it was a pleasure to find good comfort food and creative Jazz at Powell's Place in San Francisco. Avotcja brought along Sandy Poindexter on violin and Yancie Taylor on vibes in a session of inspired words and rhythm. Avotcja weaved a torrent of words around the melody on "Has Anybody Heard My Song?" Using a hand drum for effect, Avotcja launched into "Solid As a Rock" in Spanish and then English words with superb melodic interplay by Poindexter and Taylor. A tune entitled "Who Is That Lady?" with lyrics written about Betty Carter (the late renowned Jazz stylist) was a vivid exploration with the bebop melody interpreted with finesse by Taylor on vibes. The crowd-pleaser was Avotcja's composition "Oaktown Blues" which she described as gut-bucket blues, and it was a slow descriptive narration of the black migration to West Oakland and its influence on the blues of the region. Also covered were delightful take-offs on "The Peacock" (Jimmy Rowles) and "Greensleeves." Throughout the evening, Avotcja embraced a unique quest to create an imaginative program that flowed with energy through a tapestry of musical styles.

 Joe Louis Walker

The great blues guitarist and vocalist Joe Louis Walker has returned to the states after a sojourn in Europe, and it was great to see him at the revitalized Oakland club Eli's. The new owner of the club, Sam Marshall, is trying to keep this legendary club up and running, and he reports that one of the most popular nights is karaoke night on Wednesdays. Two of the recent participants have been chosen for the television show American Idol. However, he still is trying to present blues on a regular basis although attendance has been sparse on many of the weekend nights.

There was a large attendance on Saturday night, January 14, 2006, to catch Joe Louis Walker, and the dance floor was crowded just like the old days. Walker was supported by Bobby Webb on tenor saxophone, Michael Petrie on pocket trumpet and rhythm guitar, Steve Eldridge on drums, and Chet Gardiner on bass. Their repertoire ranged from funky to bluesy tunes with Webb contributing vocals on many of the songs. Walker's vocal style on "747" was steeped with blues in a gritty delivery, and Petrie's trumpet solo was prodigious. To start off the second set, Walker did a couple of solo tunes, most notably "Where Jesus Leads" with the refrain "I love Jesus" in a spellbinding exercise on this gospel tune. Webb did a vocal turn on "Merry Christmas Baby" dedicating it to Walker who was born on Christmas Day. This was a memorable return to Eli's for Walker since he was a mainstay in its honor. Welcome back, JLW!


 by Dorothy L. Hill

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