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Arts Blast: Premiere paintin' and playin' 'Art of Blues' at Herberger

'The Art of Blues' will be “paintin’, playin’ and payin’ tribute" to America’s greatest Blues legends at Phoenix's historic Herberger Theater next Sunday evening. The world premiere, created by painter Randall Hedden and narrated by stage personality Rod Ambrose brings together Grammy musicians, live "speed painting", Blues performance and dance. The two Arizonan, big-name, hometown artists visited yesterday with Examiner about the unique show's inception.

'The Art of Blues' a tribute to Blues icons, May 2014
photo: courtesy of Randall Hedden

"Bluesy Benny [the role Ambrose plays] makes everything cohesive, takes us on the Blues journey." said Hedden with infectious enthusiasm. Celebrating and enlightening the audience about the historical roots and progressive importance Blues has had on American society, the show pays tribute to BB King, Etta James, Buddy Guy and Billie Holiday

Hedden, who has made his living as a gallery owner and portrait-mural artist, said he took the script to Ambrose, asking him to narrate the show and "doctor it up a bit to make this white guy, a painter, relevant to the show."

Peppered with deep belly laughs, Ambrose responded, "Randy is supremely relevant. This whole concept is his brainchild. Simply, Randy has a Blues soul."

Ambrose continued, "There may be an annoying notion that because Randy is white, Blues doesn't belong as much to him as it does to the artists that first created and defined this music. That's ridiculous. Randy, like Billie Holiday or BB King, has in him those elements that find expression in a Blues paradigm. By benefit of their creative instinct, the Blues strike an emotional chord in these artists. Randy's medium is graphic, but he is a brilliant Blues soloist."

"I don't know how many Grammys are in our five piece Blues combo, but it's amazing." said Hedden. Among them is music legend Bernard Purdie, the world's most recorded drummer. Purdie has performed with musicians like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, Steely Dan and many more. "Our vocalists are absolutely outstanding, too."

"The huge portraits I create onstage while the performance is happening will be on sale at the merch-counter in the lobby, complete and ready to hang," Hedden added.

"Randy said to me, Benny is a personification of the Blues." Ambrose recalled. "Here, I can do Blues right. My dad blew the harmonica. My grandfather and uncle are actually part of America's Blues history. I remember we lifted and slid my uncle's mammoth Hammond B-3 organ out of his station wagon and into big-time night clubs in downtown Phoenix. Now, I'm adding something. I've never been able to do this before."

"It starts with appreciation of the Blues," summarized Ambrose.

If that's the case, then all of us with a Blues bent, or even the desire to discover one, have an incarnation of the art form at the Herberger next weekend. It's a bright-color kaleidescope through multiple mediums of an American grass roots artistry: 'The Art of Blues'.

because art IS a BLAST
because sometimes a quick heads up makes you want to head out
BLAST off!

- Jennifer Haaland

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