Great Music Around Connecticut

If you’re alert and pay attention to the calendar, there’s lots of great music around—and much of it is free! I would have gone to even more long-form events—very sorry to have missed the Oldtone Festival this year—but COVID reared its ugly head.

But both before and after getting the virus I saw three fine shows, detailed here.

I never miss an opportunity to see Bill and the Belles, a unique country music ensemble, now a trio consisting of singer/songwriter/musical historian Kris Truelsen on guitar, fiddler Kalia Yeagle and banjo/banjo-uke player Aidan VanSuetendael. On August 2, they were at the Levitt Pavilion in Westport—free! The venue has 60 free shows a year.

Bill is Kris Truelsen (center) with Kalia Yeagle (left) and Aidan VanSuetendael.

Truelsen is a scholar of early country music, and hosts shows at Radio Bristol—based at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Tennessee. He and the band are also the hosts of Farm and Fun Time, a television show that celebrates the music and agricultural heritage of the South. It’s been on PBS stations in just the Southeast, but it’s going nationwide—stay tuned for more information.

Ridgefield, Connecticut is home to the (also free) CHIRP concerts, a creation of the redoubtable Barbara Manners—who has excellent taste in music. A lot of the shows are on Tuesdays, when I have my WPKN show, so I don’t get to as many shows as I’d like. But I did make it to see Slade Cleaves—on my birthday, August 4.

Slaid Cleaves.

Slade is an heir of Merle Haggard, if the latter played at folk venues. He celebrates the working-class blues. He writes devastating songs, often set in bars, about despair. “I’m not an innovator. I’m more of a keeper of the flame,” he says. Here’s a bit of the lyrics of “Broke Down”:

Sherry had a pawn shop band of gold
A sink full of dishes and a love grown cold
Along came a boy, pretty as the devil
She took his hand, the whole thing unraveled

There’s no turnin’ round, it’s broke down

Billy took the ring, jammed it in his pocket
Drove down town and tried to hock it
Down at the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain
There’s a love note carved inside a wedding ring

Here’s the video:

I also went to an excellent jazz show at the Torrington Historical Society. In the garden of an old mansion, we listened to a one-off group consisting of leader Adam Nussbaum (a Connecticut native) on drums, saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, Larry Ham on piano and Dave Santoro on bass. They played one standard—“Alone Together”—and then mostly Santoro’s tunes.

Jerry Bergonzi in Torrington. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Nussbaum and Bergonzi are old friends, and both celebrated jazz musicians. They both played with consummate authority. Nussbaum—who’s on hundreds of records—is a fount of energy, and Bergonzi creates his own thing from the legacies of bebop, post-bop and swing. It was fun. Pianist Ham was perhaps a bit subdued for the company but he really added to the ballads.

Bergonzi will be on my WPKN radio show August 23 at 9 p.m.

Tatiana Eva-Marie with guitarist Dennis Pol in Westport. (Jim Motavalli photo)

And finally I saw, August 14, Tatiana Eva-Marie and her Avalon Jazz Band, again at Levitt Pavilion. Fascinating band, channeling the music of Django Reinhardt, but with Eva-Marie adding vocals and her own lyrics to a lot of the tunes. Mostly, she sang in French (she is originally from Switzerland, now in Brooklyn) but English for songs like Irving Berlin’s “Russian Lullaby” and the Gershwins’ “Lady be Good.”

She’s a fine, expressive singer and a lively MC who acts out her songs with spirited hand gestures. And the band was stellar—Dan Rosenbloom was on accordion and Dennis Pol (who has his own acoustic quartet) on guitar. Berklee grad Seoyeon Im was on violin (Stephane Grappelli’s part) and she was superb, as was bassist Wallace Stelzer. It was the first time Eva-Marie has played with Im, but you’d never know. More will be heard from her. Here’s Tatiana with a completely different band–she gets around:

Paul is a fine guitarist, but comes out of more modern players like Wes Montgomery as much as Django himself. No harm done there. Classics such as “Nuages” and “Djangology” were played, as well as obscurities such as “Sweet Chorus”—now with new lyrics.

Eva-Marie is soon to appear in a new movie, Swing Rendez-Vous, which she co-wrote with French director Gérome Barry. It’s coming out in February 2023. So she and Truelsen have something in common—they do well on screen.

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