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Corky Siegel uses a Siegel-Schwall classic to market his Chamber Blues group

You can easily explain Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues as a novel blend of the Chicago blues form that Siegel mastered in the early 1960s with his still existing Siegel-Schwall Band and the classical music that he’s explored, first with Siegel-Schwall in the early ‘70s with both the Boston Pops and Seiji Ozawa, and since 1987, with his Chamber Blues ensemble.

Chamber Blues
Marc Hauser

But until you hear it, or better yet, see it, you won’t get the full effect. So Siegel has just sent out a video of Chamber Blues performing the Siegel-Schwall classic “Angel Food Cake,” and is making it available for fans to share.

“It's a live performance, created for me by John Anderson, the Emmy-winning, Grammy-nominated director and producer of documentaries including Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE, and Born in Chicago,” says Siegel, who appears in the latter feature-length documentary on Chicago blues.

“I’m honored that it was recorded by Shure Microphones, Inc., and mixed by award-winning sonic genius Ken Goerres,” he adds. “But the main thing is that it features my beautiful team of Chamber Blues players—violinists Chihsuan Yang and Jaime Gorgojo, violist Dave Moss, percussionist Frank Donaldson and cellist Jocelyn Butler Shoulders. I’m happy that people get to see it and share it.”

Siegel and Chamber Blues recorded about a dozen songs at Shure’s studios.

“I was very happy with the way the videos came out,” he says. “'Angel Food Cake' is one of the ones that I felt helped define what Chamber Blues is: Specifically, it’s a ‘call-and-response’ version of a compositional style of Chamber Blues.”

First appearing as a live version on the 1970 album Siegel-Schwall ’70, “Angel Food Cake” was noteworthy for Siegel’s psychedelic lyrics—though he never partook of any drugs—and the pitched call-and-response battle between his harmonica and partner Jim Schwall’s guitar riffs--always a concert high point.

“The blues/classical juxtaposition approach is the compositional sauce of Chamber Blues, but can be approached many ways,” Siegel continues. “As you can see, the blues element and the classical element maintain their personalities. It's a little more difficult to pull off when it isn't call-and-response, but having both sail along together—and still maintaining their character--is always my ultimate goal. The marketing idea just came because I felt I could finally express, in a clear way, what Chamber Blues is.”

Throughout his long career, Siegel has never focused on marketing over creating.

His marketing idea of sending the “Angel Food Cake” video out to fans and encouraging them to share it “was just to have a lot of stuff happen all in one day,” he explains.

“I understand that it helps increase the viral aspect of marketing on the Internet,” he says. “The advantage for me of people not knowing about Chamber Blues, is that I get to tell them about it. So the irony is, if the video accomplishes what I hope, that ‘everyone’ knows about it, it won't be so much fun for me anymore: Who will there be left to tell? Who will be left to surprise? However, an artist has a bit of a responsibility to make his work available, instead of leaving it locked up in the basement. Otherwise how does it serve a broader purpose?”

“Whatever marketing has happened in my name over the last 50 years I am grateful for, because it has allowed me to keep doing what I'm doing,” Siegel concludes.

“So I'm just trying to spend a bit of artistic capital in letting this out. What is interesting is a conversation I had with Richie Havens: We both agreed that when we were making phone calls to get the gigs we wanted, we never got any gigs. But when we focused 100 percent on our art, the phone started ringing. So there is a little of that in there, too.”

[The Examiner has written liner notes on several Corky Siegel-related recordings.]

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