John Carswell - Blues Union

By Deanne Savage

Vince Fejeran has booked an inspiring blues combo for his “Second Sunday” series on January 11th,  when     JAZZ AT THE LIBRARY features organist and blues vocalist, John Carswell, drummer, Jud Sherwood and Saxophonist, Josh Cook – they call themselves the  BLUES UNION and these guys bring it.

I remember going to hear Kevin Mahogany, in 2005, and his opening act was Blues Union. They had such soul and were so in the moment; combined with the kind of musical finesse that is only achieved after years of working on your craft – I would have preferred to have them stay and finish out the gig and let Kevin Mahogany sit it out (and Kevin Mahogany is a personal favorite – so, that’s saying something!).

John Carswell is described as the “groove merchant”. He is a local Blues and R & B treasure and has played with legends such as B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, Tower of Power and Ray Charles. His voice is sultry and rich with a disarming gravel and his phrasing is that of a singing Jedi Master.

Jud Sherwood is one of my favorite drummers. His level of collaboration and the joy he brings to his craft is a musical combo’s dream. He has actively promoted jazz in our region, as the creator of “The Jazz Project” in Bellingham (http://jazzproject.org/). He is often the first draft pick of musicians visiting our area to perform.

Carswell and Sherwood have been playing together since 1998. Their most recent album collaboration is, “BLUES UNION: The Man” – released on Jud Sherwood’s Jazz Project label. They recently added the very talented Josh Cook to their mix.

Josh trained at NYU in the heart of Greenwich Village, and studied under James Moody. Josh has quickly established himself as one of our areas’ top saxophone players. He is on the faculty at Skagit Valley College as the lead reed instructor.

Now, you may ask, how blues fits it to the Second Sunday Jazz and Swing theme? When I studied Jazz at Edmonds Community College, Frank DeMiero often had us improvise to 12 bar blues, in order to hone our interpretive jazz craft – and it was there that I discovered the deeply rooted connection between blues and jazz. Blues is the key that opened up an entirely new approach to Western harmony, ultimately leading to the high level of harmonic complexity in jazz.

The music website, www.allmusic.com has an enlightening section regarding the marriage of jazz and blues. They state, “As a specific stylistic term, Jazz Blues can refer either to a) a blues artist who employs more advanced harmonies and/or rhythms which break out of traditional, straightforward blues patterns; or b) to a jazz artist who keeps his harmonies and/or rhythms relatively simple, making the music more visceral and emotional than intellectual or sophisticated. The results might sound more like one side of the equation with a touch of the other mixed in, or even approach R&B. Blues and jazz were rooted in the same African-American musical traditions in the first place, and they have always intersected enough that an absolute dividing line has never been a reasonable (or, to many listeners and musicians, desirable) proposition”.

In blues and jazz, the element I find so enriching, is the freed up interpretation of a tune in very individual ways. One never plays the same composition exactly the same way twice; depending upon the performer’s mood and personal experience, interactions with other musicians, or even members of the audience – a blues and jazz musician will alter melodies, harmonies or time signature at will – and these attributes are signature to blues and jazz – and precisely why I revel in it!

You can discover many blues/jazz artists for gratis, thanks to your Anacortes Public Libraries extensive Dominic Manieri CD collection (curated by John Gilbreath, of the Earshot Jazz Festival) and by using the Anacortes Public Library online music library service, NAXOS http://anacortes.naxosmusiclibrary.com/jazz/page.library_cardno.asp

Check out some contemporary blues/jazz artists like, Norah Jones, the late, great Amy Winehouse, Bluesiana Triangle (David Fathead Newman, Art Blakey and Dr. John) the Japanese phenomenon, Seatbelts with Yoko Kanno and yes, Kevin Mahogany!

 

Resources:

The Bellingham Herald Website – http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2014/04/14/3582095_blues-by-two-john-carswell-and.html?rh=1, accessed on December 29, 2014

AllMusic Website – http://www.allmusic.com/subgenre/jazz-blues-ma0000011827, accessed on December 30, 2014

 

Chicago Tribune, 1915 Arts and Culture Section article, “Blues is Jazz and Jazz is Blues” –http://www.omf.paris-sorbonne.fr/IMG/pdf/1915_article_Seagrove.pdf, accessed on December 30, 2014