Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cocktail Boogie Captures Delightful Pianist

The Music Maker Foundation ( is a marvelous organization that is devoted to helping preserve some of America’s southern music traditions and the persons who perform them. It notes as its mission to help the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern music gain recognition and meet their day to day needs. We present these musical traditions to the world so American culture will flourish and be preserved for future generations.

MMF accomplishes this through three programs: Musician Sustenance- grants to meet basic life needs and emergency relief; Musician Development - grants and services for recipient artist professional development and career advancement; and Cultural Access - supports the preservation and proliferation of American musical traditions. It puts together tours of its artists, it records and documents the lives of these performers, as well at meets immediate needs of its performers.

Mr Q as Tim Duffy looks on

The driving force behind the MMF is Tim Duffy a folklorist, that I first was in contact with around 1991 when he was issuing recordings by one Guitar Gabriel. What was amazing was this individual was a gentleman that had recorded a superb album of down home blues for the Gemini label in the 1970s that was under the spell of Blind Boy Fuller and Lightnin’ Hopkins. His efforts at recording and promoting some of the treasures of the southern blues and other traditions led to the creation of the Music Maker Foundation and over the years MMF has issued over 100 albums of music that document many artists who are have made few recordings. The albums are of uneven quality but there are many gems and recordings by Beverly Watkins, and Jerry McCain played significant part in the revival of their performing careers. Then there was Etta baker, who chose to stay home rather than travel to Newport in 1957, but whose guitar playing is on the level of Elizabeth Cotton. Many of these performers played neighborhood bars or simple house parties.

One of the recent releases is by a pianist, Mr. Q. A slip in the very simple cardboard cover for the CD, “Cocktail Boogie,” says liner notes are downloadable and one should be able to get a pdf file. The biographical information from Tim Duffy of the MMF notes that Mr. Q was born in 1913, and that this self taught pianist fashioned his own sound by mixing the piano styles of Art Tatum, Earl Hines and Oscar Peterson, interspersed with songs by the Ink Spots. After graduating North Carolina A&T in the ‘30s; after finishing school he started his career by traveling and performing with Blanche Calloway’s orchestra as a singer. At some point Mr. Q migrated to Harlem and got a job playing the harmonica with the Savoy Sultans, the house band at the Savoy Ballroom. He sang at tables at local nightclubs. He went to all-night jam sessions where he witnessed the legends of the day perform- legends such as Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson. In 1963, he returned to Winston-Salem and became a fixture performing at piano bars.

The music on “Cocktail Boogie” was recorded by Tim Duffy in 1991, 1992 and 1993, after he had been introduced to Mr. Q by Guitar Gabriel. Mr. Q was always dressed in a perfect suit and thought highly of himself as a musician; his entire life, he had made a living with his music. Mr. Q was a regular member of the early Music Maker Revue with Willa Mae Buckner, Macavine Hayes, Preston Fulp, Jahue Rorie and Guitar Gabriel. He also played the Blues to Bop festival with John Dee Holeman. He died of natural causes in 2000 so did not live to see his music released.

Cocktail Boogie” may not be an essential piano blues-jazz recording, but still is a delightful collection of piano bar performances. Particularly on vocal tracks, the piano sounds a bit muffled. Mr. Q sings a range of uptown blues (“Everyday I Have the Blues,” “What’d I Say,” and “Juice Headed Woman”), pop standards (“(Left My Heart In) San Francisco,” “You’’ Never Know,” and “Thank-You Pretty Baby”), and several instrumentals (“title track, “Mr. Q’s Blues, “Mood Indigo,” and Begin the Beguine”). Despite the muffled audio quality, Mr. Q displays an agile style whether handling a boogie or a more complex melody and while not a great singer, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he had a significant regular local following at the time Tim Duffy made this recordings of him.

Cocktail Blues” is an enjoyable collection of urbane piano performances with blues roots. This can be ordered at the MMF’s website on the store page and as I write this is among the Foundation’s most recent releases. it is also available on itunes through the website. The website has much more information on the MMF and its activities.

I received this CD from Music Maker Foundation as a member of MMF’s
Givin' It Back Record Club, one of the various membership categories for supporters of the Music Maker Foundation.

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