Thursday, June 15, 2006
Let’s hope the Monterey Bay Aquarium is ready for an otter population boom, because when Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers take the stage, nature seems to take its course.
The curvaceous jazz and blues chanteuse headlines the Jazz Club at the Aquarium concert on Saturday, the annual fundraiser for the Kuumbwa Jazz Center and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Watching Smith perform at Enrico’s on a recent Monday, her regular night at the North Beach eatery for nearly a decade, it didn’t take long before she cast a lascivious spell on the club, facilitating a quick connection between a pair of young uniformed sailors and two friendly women out for a night of adventure at the bar.
“I really love this gig,” Smith said after the show. “We had a conga line going around the room for the last set.”
On Saturday, she’ll be performing in the Marine Mammal Gallery backed by a band packed with some of the region’s finest players, including tenor saxophonist Howard Wiley, altoist Charlie McNeal, trumpeter Bill Ortiz, trombonist Marty Wehner, bassist David Ewell, drummer Darrell Green, and head Skillet Licker and musical director Chris Siebert on piano. Over the past decade Smith has built a national following with a bodacious mix of suggestive originals, bawdy blues, jive classics and double-entendre laden standards. Even when she’s singing soul-bearing ballads, like the Billie Holiday-immortalized “Good Morning Heartache,” Smith has a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
“When my heart was broken one time and I listened to that song I didn’t see nothing funny about it,” Smith says. “But now I see Billie Holiday had a really good sense of humor, even though a lot of time when you hear it, it doesn’t sound like that—she is tongue in cheek. If we’re having a good time and it’s not a heavy vibe, I might do it that way. It just depends on my mood. But I think it’s good to show the whole gamut of a person, and not just play the tough mama every minute.”
Between Skillet Licker sets, local treasure Marshall Otwell, a veteran accompanist who has worked and recorded with jazz stars such as Carmen McRae, Dizzy Gillespie and Gerry Mulligan, will play solo piano.
Over in the Kelp Forest, the wondrous music of Trio Paradiso will compliment the sensuously flowing vines. Featuring guitarist-composer Steve Erquiaga, accordionist Rich Kuhns, and bassist Rich Girard, the trio has developed an expansive repertoire drawn from Latin-American composers such as Argentine nuevo-tango legend Astor Piazzolla and Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Egberto Gismonti.
In the Outer Bay, saxophonist Kristen Strom, a highly melodic player with a clear warm sound, performs with her superb group featuring guitarist Scott Sorkin and the brilliant rhythm section tandem of bassist John Shifflett and drummer Jason Lewis. She’ll be trading sets with the Kuumbwa Honor Jazz Band, a high school all-star ensemble directed by Terrel Eaton.
And upstairs in the Splash Zone, the Jazz Birds, a quartet of women players who all contribute on vocals, will hold forth. Focusing on classic material from the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, reed player Penny Hanna, bassist Gail Cruse, guitarist Vicki Neville-Coffis and drummer Cher Peterson will deliver original arrangements that combine deft, old-style swing with lush vocal harmonies. Hopefully the tide won’t muss their vintage gowns.
With each group playing several half-hour sets over the course of the evening, the concert is designed so that it’s possible to hear every band. For Smith and the Skillet Lickers, the show offers a perfect opportunity to play for jazz lovers who will appreciate their arrangements and for dancers who will be moved by the groove.
“I like to get up and dance, but sometimes I just want to sit on my behind,” Smith says. “We actually don’t get to play for dancers a lot anymore, and that’s always fun, but serious jazz listeners are welcome as well.”
JAZZ CLUB AT THE AQUARIUM happens Saturday, June 17, at 8pm at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, 886 Cannery Row, in Monterey. $50/members; $65/non-members. 648-4880 or kuumbwajazz.org.