There are two overriding reasons to make plans now to attend the House Rent Jazz Party on July 19 in Livermore.
The first is that the event serves as a fund-raiser for the city’s Bothwell Arts Center. The facility “serves as an arts incubator, offering affordable and rentable classroom, rehearsal, performance, event, and studio rental space for artists, musicians, theatrical, acting, choral, and other individuals, groups or events with a cultural arts focus.” Sounds eminently worthy of our support.
The second reason concerns the event’s headliner, veteran Bay Area jazz-blues vocalist Barbara Dane. Check out her impressive bio.
Right out of high school, Barbara began to raise her strong voice regularly at demonstrations for racial equality and economic justice. While still in her teens, she began to sit in with bands around town and won the interest of local music promoters. She even got an offer to tour with Alvino Rey's band, but she turned it down in favor of singing at factory gates and in union halls.
Moving to San Francisco in 1949, Barbara began raising her own family and singing her folk and topical songs around town as well as on radio and early TV. The traditional jazz revival was then shaking the town, and by the mid-'50s she became a familiar figure at clubs along the city's Embarcadero with her own versions of the classic women's blues and hot jazz tunes. Visiting old-time New Orleans jazz greats like George Lewis and Kid Ory and locals like Turk Murphy, Burt Bales, Bob Mielke and others were inviting her onto the bandstand regularly. Her first professional jazz job was with Turk Murphy at the old Tin Angel in l956.
By 1959, Louis Armstrong had told Time magazine readers, "Did you get that chick? She's a gasser!" and invited her to appear with him on national television. She toured the East Coast with Jack Teagarden, played Chicago with Art Hodes, Roosevelt Sykes, Little Brother Montgomery, Memphis Slim, Otis Spann, Willie Dixon and others, played New York with Wilbur De Paris and his band, and appeared on Johnny Carson's “Tonight Show” as a solo guest artist. Other national TV work followed.
In 1961 Barbara opened her own club, Sugar Hill: Home of the Blues, on San Francisco's Broadway, with the idea of creating a respectful venue for the music right on the tourist rialto where a wider audience could come in contact with it. There Dane performed regularly with her two most constant musical companions: Kenny "Good News" Whitson on piano and cornet, and Wellman Braud, former Ellington bassist. Among her guest artists were Jimmy Rushing, Mose Allison, Mama Yancey, Tampa Red, Lonnie Johnson, Big Mama Thornton, Lightnin' Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, as well as the many jazz musicians who came regularly to sit in.
During all her years singing blues and jazz, Barbara continued to weave in appearances as a solo performer on the coffeehouse circuit with her folk-style guitar. She also stepped up her work in the movements for peace and justice as the struggle for civil rights spread and the war in Vietnam escalated. She sang at every big peace demonstration in Washington and many of those in small towns and byways all over America, taking her songs to the Freedom Schools of rural Mississippi and right up to the gates of military bases from Japan to Europe as well as all over the USA.
In l966, Barbara Dane became the first U.S. musician to tour post-revolutionary Cuba. In 1970, Dane founded Paredon Records with a deep commitment to making the music of the musicians and singers identified with the liberation movements then rocking the globe, many of whom she met during her travels, available to the U.S. listener. She produced 45 albums, including three of her own, over a 12 year period. The label was recently incorporated into Smithsonian-Folkways, a label of the Smithsonian Institution, and is available through their catalog.
Barbara's own recorded output has not been very readily available in recent years. Much of her early jazz and blues material has now been released independently and can be purchased here. In 1996 Arhoolie Records issued a CD from some tapes recorded 30 years earlier singing solo and improvising blues with Lightnin' Hopkins. After rambling through the music of the world, Barbara has returned at last to the blues.
Want to keep up with the best in Bay Area jazz and blues?
Subscribe to me: Have our jazz and blues Examiner columns sent to your inbox. Click the SUBSCRIBE button on this page. It's free. (And I won't spam you or give out your information.) Bookmark me: http://www.examiner.com/jazz-music-in-oakland/brian-mccoy. CONTACT ME FOR YOUR JAZZ AND ARTS GRANT WRITING NEEDS