Let's Hear It

Susan Wagener, Lens To Pixels Photography / http://www.lenstopixels.com/

Have you ever had a friend who can remember, and appreciate, the old days with a vividness that brings it all back to life? In this episode of Jazz Currents, host Keith Hall visits with with jazz pianist John Shea, of the John Shea Trio. He's a beloved West Michigan musician who never forgot a kind favor, a funny story, or a long-gone music venue. Hall and Shea both grew up in Battle Creek, MI.

Shea is a walking lexicon of jazz knowledge. His mentors included jazz drummer Bennie Carew, a bandleader who shaped the Michigan scene from the 1940s to 80s, and a music teacher, Margaret Skidmore, who vouched for the young Shea, then in ninth grade, to play piano in the pit for a production of Fiddler on the Roof. His variety of experiences, and his habit of always learning another tune has given Shea a staggering mental playlist upon which to draw.

In the studio at WMUK, John Shea plays Irving Berlin's "Always," Gershwin's "Someone To Watch Over Me," one of his own pieces, "Shawn's Blues," and others.


C. Lieurance

The band Daymark - fiddler Dan Foster, flutist/uillean piper Will Woodson, and singer/guitarist Eric McDonald - are an Irish trio with no Irish-born members. But they've spent years immersed in the Irish traditional music community, and are welcomed far and wide as expert practitioners.

In the studio with Cara Lieurance, Will Woodson says he began playing tin whistle when he was around 9 or 10 years old, and developed his "northern" style of playing while living in Glasgow, Scotland. Fiddler Dan Foster was classically trained from a young age in York, England, and was fortunate to find a group of top-notch Irish musicians in Manchester, who passed on their love for the music. Eric McDonald met Woodson when they both lived in Portland, ME, a hub of Irish sessions. They began playing with Foster around 2016, and Daymark was formed.

"Celtic" music is a useful marketing term but a fairly meaningless music term, according to Woodson. The members of Daymark enjoy exploring the sub-categories of Irish traditional music, like the Scottish-influenced playing of Cape Breton, or the Irish-American recordings by Michael Coleman and others in the 1920s and 30s. Their selections, played live in the Takeda studio at WMUK, include a set of highlands and reels, the song "The King's Shilling," a set of slip jigs and jigs featuring "Doodley Doodley Dank," and a reel set starting with "The Black Haired Lass." Daymark plans to release a full-length debut album in 2018.


Craig Freeman

For classically-trained jazz pianist Dan Willenberg, Thelonius Monk is a creative genius who was both generous with his fellow musicians and uncompromising in his mission to live his music his way. In a free-ranging interview with Craig Freeman, Willenberg shares a personal vision of the sometimes-misunderstood jazz master, highlighting some special aspects of his playing and personality. 

Willenberg plays the Thelonius Monk tunes "'Round Midnight," "Bye-Ya," "Let's Cool One," "In Walked Bud," plus Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss." 


Joe Policastro

Near the release of the Joe Policastro Trio's latest album, Screen Sounds,  Jazz Currents host Keith Hall invited bassist Joe Policastro, guitarist Dave Miller, and drummer Mikel Avery to show off their sound in WMUK's Takeda Studio, and have a conversation about the rock, soul, film, and pop influences that appear in their creative arrangements.

One of the unusual things about the trio is they have their own personal "sandbox" for exploring music together: a 3-day-a-week standing gig at the Chicago nightclub Pops for Champagne, which allows them to explore their repertoire to the edges. The three members of the trio talk about their work together and apart, and how they find compelling music in everything from Japanese westerns to daytime soap operas.


Johnny Rodgers

Johnny Rodgers began his life as a performer in theatre - singing, writing songs on piano, and dancing - when he was a boy growing up in Florida, egged on by his music-loving grandmother.  But he credits Western Michigan's Gold Company, and director Steve Zegree, with some of the most critical training for his career. Today he is an acclaimed one-man-band performer about whom the Chicago Tribune wrote: "He plays piano better than most singers. He sings better than most pianists. And he writes songs better than most singer-pianists." (Reich, Howard. "Johnny Rodgers: A Singer-Pianist For All Seasons." Chicago Tribune. Nov 25, 2014).  

Rodgers joined Jazz Currents host Keith Hall in the studio at WMUK during a visit to his alma mater in December 2017. He plays his own songs, "Home To Mendocino," "The Best of You And Me," and "Mid-Day Moon," as well as the popular song, "What a Wonderful World."


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