Chamber Blues '09
Since so many musicians supposedly defy and blur and transcend genre labels, preconceptions and pigeonholes -- there's a whole arsenal of clichés available to critics about genre-busting -- you'd think that there wouldn't be musical genres at all. Yet the descriptions have their uses. As Corky Siegel writes on his Chamber Blues web site: "My greatest inspiration in my life has been the blues. What an amazing opportunity in 1966 at Pepper's Show Lounge on the South Side of Chicago as a young musician blues lover to be part of the house band that hosted Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Willie Dixon, Hound Dog Taylor, Little Walter, James Cotton, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy and all the great blues masters you can think of...
"And then this Japanese fellow shows up in 1966 and wants my band -- Siegel-Schwall -- to jam with his band. His band was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and he was Seiji Ozawa. He explained that blues was the very spark that classical music needed. Traditionally classical music forms borrowed from the folk forms of the day. And what more important folk form is there then the blues?"
Besides Corky Siegel and Howard Levy on harmonica and piano, the rest of Chamber Blues at the Prairie Center for the Arts last Saturday were the West End String Quartet and percussionist Frank Donaldson. With his toothy smile and talent with anything he touched, hit, shook, rubbed or scraped -- bongos, tabla, tambourine, triangle, cymbals and other items I can't put a name to -- Donaldson was a hit with the audience. Early on, he donned a metal vest and played that for a few minutes, sounding unlike anything I'd ever heard.
Sometimes the quartet had their own moments in the spotlight, either all together (as you'd expect), or during duets or solos. The young violinists Chihsuan Yang and Aurelien Fort-Pederzoll did their ensemble parts expertly, but at one point broke into what I can only describe as a friendly fiddle contest. The fetching Yang also had the opportunity to play the erhu, the Chinese two-stringed fiddle, for one piece. Rounding out things were violist Doyle Armburst and cellist Jill Kaeding.
All together, or sometimes separately, Chamber Blues played for about two hours. For the encore, Corky Siegel came out by himself and said that he asked everyone else to leave, because they couldn't sit around and not play. He then started in at the piano, and sang a song about how he couldn't be a vegetarian (or a potato man, as the song had it). One by one, the other members of Chamber Blues came back on stage, with Corky pretending not to notice until they surrounded the piano. At that point, at least four of them -- I couldn't quite see how many -- played with him on piano, each contributing a hand. I don't know how that can sound good, but it did. A rousing finish for a joyous concert.