The HUM: MLK Jr. & All That Jazz

When I was a boy growing up, I learned to love jazz music. My folks had an “entertainment center” of some sort in the living room, and they’d play records by Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, lots of jazz. 

Those were their favorites, although my mom also loved show tunes and my dad liked mellow bebop, much of it music that came out of New York City, home of Broadway and the epicenter of cutting edge jazz.

We’re already up to the third week in the year, which means it’s time for “Third Friday Jazz” at the Westhaven Center for the Arts. The program has a jazzy subtitle, “Bird Goes to 52nd St.” name-checking Charlie “Bird” Parker, the master of bebop saxophone, and a street in Manhattan, where the jazz scene flourished back in the day. 

Wikipedia boils the history down explaining, “Following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, 52nd St. between Fifth Ave. and Seventh Ave. became renowned for the abundance of jazz clubs and lively street life. The street was convenient to musicians playing on Broadway and the ‘legitimate’ nightclubs, and was also the site of a recording studio (for CBS). Musicians who played for others in the early evening played for themselves on 52nd St.” 

Among the many legends who came out of that fertile scene from 1930 through the early ’50s, were Billie Holiday, Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and of course Bird. They drew on what’s known as the “Great American Songbook,” tunes that jazzers today play over and over. 

That’s what they’ll be playing Friday at the Westhaven Center, when “versatile violinist” Rob Diggins, joins forces with Humboldt’s ace backup band, the RLA Trio (Tim Randles, Ken Lawrence and Mike LaBolle) for “an evening of sophisticated chamber jazz,” featuring Rob’s self-made 5-string synthviolin, named “Synthia,” another 5-string electric violin called “Burl” and an acoustic violin, “Roth.” 

I first met Rob several decades ago. At the time he and his partner Jolianne von Einem were playing much older fiddles; they were period instrument specialists playing in early music ensembles, such as the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra of San Francisco. On the side, they put together a local Django-style gypsy jazz band called Cuckoo’s Nest, again drawing on the “Great American Songbook” for repertoire. Rob also developed an interest in Indian music and works as a yoga instructor. He briefly taught seated yoga to my mom in the old folks home and has also been teaching inmates of the county jail yoga postures. Should I mention that Rob and Tim Randals are both part of singer/songwriter Joanne Rand’s latest band? And there’s a band with Jolianne and Rob’s daughter.     

This Friday night, Jolianne explains, the ad hoc jazz quartet “will be jammin’ and jivin’,” adding, “Refreshments available,” because refreshments just seem to go with jammin’.

On Sunday afternoon, a different group of musicians gather for jammin’ and jivin’ along similar lines as the Morris Graves Museum of Art presents “Wine & Jazz” with The Humboldt Jazz Silverbacks from 3 to 5 p.m. Yes, there will be “refreshments,” a glass of wine, etc.

The Humboldt Jazz Silverbacks seems to be another ad hoc combo, “silver” since they’re greying improvisors. There’s Dave Wilson on guitar, Michael Curran from SoHum on drums, and front man Bill Allison on the baby grand piano, switching to trumpet and whistling occasionally, and perhaps most important handling vocals. The program of “straight ahead swinging jazz and bebop,” will undoubtedly draw on the same “Songbook” to which Bill has been “adding original vocals on top of classic tunes” and jazz standards, creating what he describes as “vocalizations,” and I’d call “scat singing.” (I heard a lot of it when I was a lad, since Ella and Louis were masters of scat.)

By chance, last night at the end of the wonderful show at the old Pin Room, I ran into local jazz fan extraordinaire Alan Olmstead from Sirius Studios, who was giving a new CD he produced to Tim Randles, who’d just wrapped up a set with the Latin Peppers. The Bill Allison Quartet: Elegant (s)Cat is a live recording of a set at (or in) The Basement with Dave Wilson on guitar, and a different rhythm section — Mike LaBolle on drums and Alex Monte de Oaka on bass. Bill is in fine form, scatting his way through a set that starts with Hoagy Carmichael’s Rockin’ Chair, and works its way through the G.A.S. with a few bebop standards, like Mingus’ Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, an elegy for saxophonist Lester Young, with scatable lyrics supplied by the great Roland Kirk. “Can you dig it?” he asks. Absolutely.  

One more thing, the Sunday sessions at the Graves always conclude with an open jam, so “Don’t forget to bring along your instrument for a jam session with the band!” 

Later the Sunday, starting at 7 p.m. at the Van Duzer Theatre, CenterArts presents Sweet Honey in the Rock, a performance ensemble with a mission, “rooted in African American history and culture, the ensemble educates, entertains and empowers its audience and community through the dynamic vehicles of a cappella singing.”  

The group was originally founded by Bernice Johnson Reagon, the daughter of a Georgia Baptist minister, as part of her civil rights work. She retired a few years back passing the torch to the next generation. She took the Sweet Honey name from a parable she had learned from her father. It told of a land so rich that when rocks were cracked open, honey flowed from them. She saw it as symbolic of African American women: sweet as honey, strong as a rock. The songs they sing often touch on politics from a spiritual p.o.v. so they should be perfect for the evening before Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Thanks to Stevie Wonder, we have a three-day weekend, sort of anyway — it’s a federal holiday. There are a few things happening Monday (Jan. 20). At HSU, “MLK Day of Service” is celebrated as “a day on, not a day off,” with students, faculty and staff joining together for a day of community service. You may already have registered, in which case you get a T-shirt (and they’ll feed you).

The Eureka NAACP Chapter has their annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration, asking via a quote from MLK, “Life’s most persistent question: What are you doing for others?” I’m not completely sure exact’s what’s planned for the event at the Adorni Center from noon until 2 p.m. aside from the fact that Sista Vegan Food Truck will be parked in front. (She makes some fine sweet potato pie.) Halimah “the Dreama” Collingwood tells me, “I know the Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir is singing. [She’s a member.] There are usually a few speeches, dancers of some sort, Donna Landry usually sings, maybe others.” 

I ran into the oh-so-soulful Paula Jones last night and she told me she’s doing a solo thing on her own in Eureka as well as singing with AIGC. “I was thinking about Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come,” she said, “but I want to do something more positive for these times when there’s so much dividing us.” 

In Arcata we have the 19th Annual Bowl of Beans Benefit, put on by the City of Arcata Recreation Division and Arcata Elementary School. The simpler meal includes rice, beans, cornbread and salad prepared by volunteers,  with a program including the busy Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir, plus the AIGC Youth Choir, master storyteller Baba Jamal Koram, “conscious world funk” by Asha Nan “and more.” There’s a raffle and you can usually buy a handmade bowl. It runs from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Arcata Community Center, located (appropriately) on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.

Every third Monday, the new Septentrio Winery has an ongoing Starry Story Night with local poet Anne Fricke as host. “Come gather to drink local made wine, tell a story or support the storytellers. Since this storyteller’s night falls on Dr. Martin Luther Kin, Jr. Day, we are asking the stories to be along the theme of “Unity.” No experience necessary. The theme is open to your interpretation and creativity.” 

They prefer short stories in the 5-7 minute range, and ask that you come to listen. “And most importantly, have fun and be inspired.” 

Quickly, Wednesday, Jan. 15, rapper Tech N9ne is at Blue Lake Casino’s Sapphire Palace with Krizz Kaliko and 1Ton (formerly half of Potluck). Show at 9 p.m.

“Experimental shoegaze rock” musician MeadowMaker is at the Redwood Curtain Brewing Co. Tasting Room on Thursday, Jan. 16, from at 8 p.m. His music is “inspired by Earth/Wonder/Nostalgia/Realization.” 

At the Miniplex Friday Jan. 17. 10 p.m. it’s a “Totally ’80s Night” with DJs Red and Dacin playing “all your favorite dance-able ’80s hits plus some soon to be favorites. Get Into the Groove with a Safety Dance while Red and Dacin Pump Up the Jams for all you Dancing Queens who Just Can’t Get Enough... because We Got the Beat! OK, that’s enough of that.” 

Next Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 7:30 p.m. the Arcata Playhouse welcome The Wardens, a folky trio, Scott Ward, Bradley Bischoff and Ray Schmidt, who are Banff National Park rangers. 

They sing  and tell stories from their lives, accompanied by a slide-show of the “rugged, remarkable Canadian Rockies.” Jackie, who is Canadian, promises they put on a great show.

That’s all for now, ’til we meet again…



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