Between the first and second weekends of JazzFest, I decided to try WWOZ's Piano Night on Monday. The show started at 7 p.m. and continued until after midnight and my bedtime, but I managed to hear several amazing performances from both veteran performers and emerging artists in standing-room only.
First off was Carol Fran who's been singing for 50 years. She was a featured vocalist with Guitar Slim in the 1950s, sang "Crying in the Chapel" before Elvis, and was nominated for best female vocalist in the Annual W.C. Handy Awards two years in a row.
Fran was followed by Henry Gray, a blues pianist who started playing at age 8. Howlin' Wolf's piano player for more than a decade, Gray played for Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal, B.B. King, Washboard Sam and many others.
Funk singer, songwriter and musician Jon Cleary aggressively played local favorites while periodically mugging for the adoring, mostly female, crowd. David Torkanowsky changed the format, playing more modern and complex music with focused intensity. He was followed by Alvin Batiste's charming protege, Jonathan Batiste - winner of the Movado Future Legends award for emerging artists of exceptional talent.
By the time blues piano singer/piano player Marcia Ball got on stage at 11, my feet were giving out, but she kept us rocking with her energetic blend of blues and honky-tonk.
Around me were tourists from Colorado and Connecticut - all in blissful exhaustion after a muddy weekend of JazzFest in the pouring rain.