On Oct. 27, the African American Network of Kern County is taking jazz all the way to the top — the 12th floor, that is, by way of the Petroleum Club of Bakersfield in the Stockdale Tower building.
L. Dee Slade, the organization’s executive director, hopes to make “Jazz On The 12th Floor” as entertaining as it is informative as well as having it stand out from prior community events. This one will be focusing on the arts and humanities, befitting their 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational status.
“At all of our events you'll learn something,” Slade said. “You’re going to learn something about Bakersfield, you’re going to learn something about black history; just history, period.”
Audience members will be treated to a fun night of music by saxophonist Ronnie Laws; trumpeter Tom Browne, who is best known for his 1980 single “Funkin’ for Jamaica (N.Y.)” with local singer Crystal Jackson singing backup; vocalist Eloise Laws (Ronnie’s sister); and local chanteuse Dena Reynolds. Their sets will be interspersed with informative tidbits ranging from the history of jazz to the creation of the saxophone.
Some readers might be familiar with Dena Reynolds from her residency at the pre-vamped Padre Hotel in the mid-to-late 1990s. Since then, she’s kept busy opening up for big acts such as Ray Charles Jr., George Benson, Nancy Wilson and playing private gigs. She’ll be opening up the show giving the audience that aforementioned primer in the history of jazz, talking about the types of music that existed before it and how those elements came together to create it. She’ll be performing examples from as far back to 1874 to present time as snippets and in full form.
“Well, I’m really excited about it,” Reynolds said. “I think music education is very important for the children and the generations coming along. Because not only does it benefit them just learning music but it also stimulates the part of the brain for learning mathematics and science. And, of course, music is math and it is science because it’s all based on numbers.”
Ronnie Laws is a criminally underrated fusion jazz saxophonist whose smooth, funky cosmic sound in the 1970s helped pave the way for the success of artist like Kenny G and the popularity of smooth jazz a decade later.
There’s a sense of joy in Laws’ music, evidenced in his 1977 song “Friends and Strangers” that hints at an optimistic sense of social consciousness.
His 1975 album “Pressure Sensitive” has songs both groovy (“Tidal Wave”) and cinematic (“Nothing To Lose”) and is about as 1970s as you can get. The highlight is a killer version of “Tell Me Something Good” that fans of the Beastie Boys’ song “Shake Your Rump” will recognize. Just listening to the album will make your pants flare and make you want to get in a car chase in San Francisco, make some lovin’ or join a bank heist.
I hope he performs his version of The Stylistics’ “People Make The World Go Round.” It’s fantastic and poignant and, again, pragmatically optimistic.
Laws’ sister Eloise is an artist in her own right with her own hits from 1980s and she’ll be performing her own set earlier in the evening. Her 2018 song “Don’t Move, Don’t Blink” (with her brother, flutist Hubert Laws) is a lovely single. A dramatically different version of the song was released in 2016 labeled as a "Veteran Tribute." Both can be found on Spotify.
The general admission ticket price ($60) might be steep to some, but audiences will be treated to a fantastic concert and will be contributing to a good cause. A percentage of the ticket sales will go toward the network's “Each One, Teach One; Partners in Progress” program, which aims to empower youth and adults through education and knowledge to give back to their community.
"Jazz On The 12th Floor," 7 p.m. Oct. 27, Petroleum Club of Bakersfield, 5060 California Ave. 12th floor. $60 at eventbrite.com.
Spurling's swan song
For years, Bunky Spurling has been a hugely influential mainstay in the local music scene. The guitarist has played just about everywhere there is to play with in this town both solo and in groups and has opened for some pretty big names that have come through town like B.B. King. He even scored a record deal with Rip Cat Records a few years ago. His is one of those names that has been around so long, you just assume he’ll be here the next time around.
Life is change and Spurling and his wife, Cherie, will be moving to Fort Worth, Texas, by month's end, spurred by Cherie’s work and as a way to be closer to their family on both coasts simultaneously.
This Saturday, O’Hennings Bar will act as an intersection for a few special events that night; one being an impromptu farewell party for Bunky as well as a performance by the fantastic funky blues guitarist Gino Matteo and his vocalist wife, Jade Bennett. Matteo, Bennett and their band will perform their set with Bunky sitting in on some songs. There will also be a set that night where Spurling's friends will sit in and play with the local legend one more time.
“I’m gonna miss all the relationships with all the great players and the regular faces, folks that care enough to come and see me play,” Spurling said. “Of course there's the separation from family, but I got a lot of friends. They might not all come over for dinner every week, but we're friends.”
“There's something about playing with others that's like a joining of spirits. I just love the experience of playing with players that have something to say.”
The show is also being billed as a birthday party for Cherie, Carrie English and O’Hennings’ promoter KayKay Jagger. Never have I seen so many reasons for cake in one gig.
For a 40-something musician like myself, I still see myself in junior high compared to Bunky and his peers' comparative high school level. If you’ve ever bended a string and played blues in this town, you were probably inspired by Bunky or by one of his acolytes. It was a pleasant surprise to find out that he was hugely influenced by The Allman Brothers. Their spirit of next-level musical improvisation, exploration and engagement is evident every time Spurling strapped on his guitar, and in the spirit of those he inspired, specifically guitarists Kyle Appleton and Brett Cox.
“There is quite a number of good and great players around town,” Spurling said. “I've had the honor for this last year, starting in January, playing once a month at O’Hennings with Eddie Marquardt on drums, Ray Sadolsky on bass and Kyle Appleton on guitar. Kyle, he just blows my mind and he's in his mid-thirties.”
“Brett Cox is an uncontrollable enigma. When he's on, it’s ‘oh my goodness!’ But he doesn’t feel like he has to be on for anybody at any moment. He has no problem with drifting off. ‘Hey, I’m doin’ what I’m doin,’” but I love playing with him because you never know what's going to come out of him.”
“I look at them as the young guns. Well, actually, Kyle is older than Brett, but they're both a lot younger than me.”
Bunky Spurling’s Farewell Show, Gino Matteo featuring Jade Bennett, KayKay Jagger and friends Birthday Party, 8 p.m. Saturday, O’Hennings Bar, 1312 Airport Drive. Free.