Archive for February, 2011

Roy Book Binder, known around the world for his acoustic blues playing, songwriting and storytelling, calls St. Petersburg home. But after touring eight to nine months each year, the Travelin’ Man doesn’t work in the area during his winter break.

But last year we changed that when Roy played to a packed house in our Side Door Cabaret. This year, Roy and I hatched a mainstage show that features Roy and three of his favorite blues artists. That show happens on Saturday, March 5 at 8 p.m.

We are humbly calling the show – The Greatest Acoustic Blues Show on Earth! – and that’s not really a stretch. Roy will open the show and the  guitarist, songwriter and singer Rory Block, will close  it out.  In between Jimmy “Duck” Holmes and Paul Geremia, both popular on the blues fesitval circuits, will do 30-minute sets.

And all  four players will gather on stage for a grand finale.

Keep an eye on this blog for an interview with Roy next week. For more show details, check our website at: www.mypalladium.org


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 How and why did you and the group come to choose the Weavers as an inspiration?

Growing up in California, I discovered and admired Pete Seeger and the Weavers from afar from their records. When I moved to New York some years ago, I realized I was in the heart of where so much folk music history had taken place, and that three of the original members of the seminal group that had influenced and inspired us were still among us. Rather than wait to memorialize them some day in the future, I thought it a good idea to thank them for their contribution to our musical and social evolution while they’re still here.

  I see on your website that Pete Seeger has said nice things about you. Has he seen a show?

After we had developed and rehearsed our program, but before we ever set foot on a stage, we performed it for an audience of one, none other than Pete himself. He was gracious enough to offer constructive comments, as well as confirm or correct aspects of the historical chronology which we interweave among the songs. Since then we have performed together on many occasions.  By the way, it was our banjo player, David Bernz, who produced Pete’s two most recent Grammy Award-winning CDs.

 Tell me a little about the folks in the band.

Well, in-depth information about each of the band members can be found at our website, www.WorkOTheWeavers.com, but in brief, Martha (alto voice) is a fulltime Middle School music teacher, Mark (bass voice/bassist) divides his time between his carpentry skills and playing with a gazillion groups and individuals, both live and in the studio. David (tenor voice/banjoist) is a semi-lapsed attorney, focusing his attention these days on his family and his producing projects. I (baritone voice/guitarist) try to maintain a balance between the group’s needs and my solo musical career as a globetrotting singer-songwriter (www.JamesDurst.com).

What can the audience expect when they come to see Work o’ the Weavers?

Judging from audiences we’ve enjoyed over the past eight years, they can expect to hear and sing along with the songs that provided the soundtrack to their youth, courtship, early family life — or perhaps were songs they learned in school music class, but the origins of which have faded from memory. Our interwoven narrative and accompanying visuals drawn from the Weavers’  archives will place the songs in historical context and provide an edifying reminder of who it was that first popularized the songs they know and love. On the whole, the program promises to be rousing, refreshing and relevant.

  There’s a rumor that you are really in Florida to see spring training baseball games and the shows are just an excuse?

I can neither confirm nor deny these rumors. But tell me, what would be so wrong about that?!

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The February return of the Palladium’s Encore Chamber Series, now in its 11th season, always reminds me that the year is passing fast. Our season, which started last September, is now more than halfway through.

We’ve been too busy to celebrate but this season has been the Palladium’s biggest and best in our history. So Tuesday’s night’s Encore was a  bit of a celebration for me. And Encore Artistic Director Mark Sforzini’s original composition, Frizzante, was a musical champagne toast in itself. Mark actually pictured a toast with the clinking of glasses as he wrote the piece especially for our two visiting pianists.

Pascal Roge, who has a long association with Encore, returned with his wife, Ami, who is also a reknown concert artist. Their four-hands performances of pieces by Ravel, Debussy and Brahams’ Liebesleider Walzer, were mesmerizing.  And a beautiful vocal quartet rounded out the evening.

Encore continues in March with three more concerts which feature musicians from our own Florida Orchestra. TFO’s Wind Quintet, featuring five first-chair players, will be here March 1. That’s followed on March 15 by an evening with the Florida Orchestra Brass Quintet, which is always an audience favorite. Finally, concertmaster Jeffrey Multer appears on Tuesday, March 29, which a pianist and a special appearance by Mark Sforzini. All those shows are Tuesday nights.

As an added bonus this season, Encore concludes with a 25th anniversary concert from the La Musica Chamber Festival in Sarasota. The matinee program, on Sunday, April 3, celebrates the anniversary by recreating the opening concert from 25 years ago. Ten players will take part and will perform some of chamber music’s greatest hits including: Mozarts Eine Kleine Nachtmusik., Schubert’s Trout Quintet, and Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Minor Opus 95.

Come celebrate Encore and La Musica at one or all of these great shows.

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Jim White writes the BlueNotes’ blog for the Pittsburg Post-Gazette and divides his time between Pittsburg and our The Burg. Here, repeated with his permission, is his report on our Boogie Woogie Blues Piano Stomp. For more check out:


First published Monday, Jan. 30: At the risk of repeating myself, BlueNotes has always been a sucker for the pulsating, pounding piano music — boogie woogie or blues, or even better, both.

And both is what happened Saturday night here in the sunny Burg (sorry chilly Burghers) of St. Pete, Fla., at the second annual Boogie Woogie Blues Piano Stomp in the Palladium Theater. It was their second event, and mine, too, as BlueNotes continues to operate out of his Winter Headquarters.

Bob Seeley

It was a night of more great piano music, with furiously flying fingers romping through sets by four players, and a finale that included everybody.

The headliner, as last year, was the great boogie master, the elfin Bob Seeley, 82, who learned his licks at the feet of the legendary Meade Lux Lewis. Seeley is probably the sole survivor of the music generated by players like Lewis, Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons and others.

Seeley worked his way through a set of boogie classics and put his own stamp on non-boogie tunes like “St. Louis Blues” (moving effortlessly between boogie and stride), “Amazing Grace” (a wild and spiritual ride) and “Sing, Sing, Sing,” where his left hand was Louis Prima and his right hand, Benny Goodman.

He also featured “Boogie Woogie Dream,” from the song and 1944 short film that starred Lena Horne with Ammons and Johnson in a rollicking piano duet that’s still sets a boogie-woogie standard.

Seeley has chops to spare, but if you can have a delicate touch with boogie woogie, he does. He plays, rather than pounds. Although, as you’ll see later, there’s nothing wrong with the right kind of pounding.

And the right kind of pounding is probably the best way to describe the rocking boogie and blues of  Bronx native and now Los Angelean, Rob Rio, who plays wicked piano boogie laced with rock and blues, and shouts a mean blues himself.

Rob Rio

Rio came out swinging, and pounding, with “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie,” which he heralded as the first mention of boogie woogie music on record, from 1928.

Incidentally, the song’s composer, Pinetop Smith, spent most of the 1920s in Pittsburgh, before moving on to Chicago.

Then he lit into a churning “Honky Tonk Train Blues,” and followed with a deliciously salacious “Chiropractor Blues” and a sentimental romp through “Valentine’s Blues.” He also offered a very unusual bluesy piano version of “Stavin’ Chain.”

Rio was a pleasant surprise — a powerful player who knows his stuff and has a lot of fun with it. I liked his gold suit, too.

Also on the bill was Joe Krown, a New Orleans piano guy who provided a slightly different flavor, working in the piano magic of Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina” and the incredibly unique work of  James Booker. He offered a little less boogie, but a lot of classic N’awlins piano that fit right in.

Krown offered a very tasty piano version of “St. James Infirmary,” and closed with a medley of Longhair songs.

The opening act for the night was St. Pete’s boogies ‘n’ blues piano lady Liz Pennock, who was responsible for the concert concept, with guitarist/husband, Dr. Blues. Liz (an Ohio native) is a first-rate boogie piano master herself, and adds a lot of blues on the side.

Pennock opened with her original “Six Finger Boogie” (she was born with three fingers on each hand), and she and Doc worked their way through their own material — “Boogie Woogie Staircase,” “Taxi Driving Woman” and “Blues Loving Woman,” plus a few lessons on how the left hand drives the boogie piano.

Everyone got together for a blazing finale, paired off at the two Baby Grand pianos on stage, trading licks and places on the benches. It’s great to know that there are some great players still out there, keeping this classic music alive.

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The following are excerpts from a short speech I gave to the SPC Values and Visions luncheon on Thursday, Jan. 27, in the Stavros Great Room at the Palladium:

Welcome to the Palladium at St. Petersburg College. You’re in our Side Door Cabaret where the best jazz and blues musicians in the bay area come to play. You’re also in our staging room where opera performers get made up and dressed. You’re in the rehearsal hall where members of the St. Petersburg College concert chorus do their vocal warm-ups before a concert AND you are in a St. Petersburg College classroom, where students in the Music Industry and Recording Arts Program take classes.

The Palladium is that kind of place.

The Palladium turns 13 in 2011 and I’m happy to report the theater survived childhood and is becoming a very precocious and busy teenager.  With us today in the audience are some of our founders –  Bill and Hazel Hough, and Gus Stavros.   

Back in the late 1990s these community leaders had a vision for an affordable, professional venue for Tampa Bay performers, schools students and our arts and cultural organizations.  They acquired this magnificent building and gathered adjacent property for parking, and made the theater work, despite the odds.

 Four years ago, the Palladium board of directors entrusted St. Petersburg College with the future of the Palladium. And I’m happy to report that we are in the midst of the Palladium’s most successful year in its history. We are hosting more events and selling more tickets than ever before. 

The college has been a very good steward of this theater. Adding a new , state-of-the-art sound system, a new air conditioning system, fiber optics, more reliable electric power, a freight elevator and much, much more.

When the college took over the Palladium there were plenty of people asking – why does the Palladium exist? We are in a market with three major performing arts venues – so who needs another one?

 But while those venues bring us Broadway shows and national and international performers – the bulk of their events involve touring companies and road shows. The Palladium is all about our own homegrown talent and creative efforts.

 We are the place where a Isabelle Poole, a young St. Petersburg ballerina like gets a chance to play the lead in the Nutcracker. Where Kyle Gee, a local opera singer on his way to Julliard can do a recital to raise money to help pay for his schooling.  A place where St. Petersburg College student Sean Neavins gets to work the sound board for his event and many others.

It’s also the place where hundreds of local musicians and pick up a paycheck and get to play in the best music room in the bay area. 

It turns out this is a perfect week to describe about what we do here. Let’s just review eight days starting last Friday, Jan. 21st – opening night of Rigoletto.  The St. Petersburg Opera sold out two of their three performances of that great Verdi opera. Last Tuesday, when the weathermen were telling people to stay home the opera played to a crowd of over 500 people. 

The Palladium helped birth this incredible organization by providing low-cost space and encouragement – Dar Webb, my predecessor,  was responsible for that.  Now, the opera has become its own organization and the Palladium’s biggest client. And while a number of the leading roles are cast nationally, most of the singers and musicians on stage live in our community.

During our 2010-11 season SPO will  perform three fully staged productions. Madame Butterfly is next.  And they’ll be back for three more next season.

 Yesterday, the opera loaded out and the Buglisi Dance Theatre loaded in. Their show is tonight (Jan. 27) and the noise you hear upstairs is the start of their tech rehearsal. Buglisi is here because they are a magnificent company I saw at a New York showcase, but also because their lead dancer, Helen Hansen French, grew up in St. Petersburg. A local committee helped bring the company here and has helped us sell more than 400 tickets so far for tonight’s show. Helen, by the way, is also an adjunct dance instructor at SPC. 

On Friday (Jan. 28), the band of the United States Air Force Reserve will play a free concert to a capacity crowd and music student from SPC will join them on stage for at least one number – as they have for the past two years. 

Saturday (Jan. 29), we present my favorite show of the year – The Boogie Woogie Blues Piano Stomp. We’ve sold almost 600 tickets for that show so far. It’s not a touring show but our own creation. We bring in four of the best boogie and blues pianists in the country, including St. Petersburg’s own Liz Pennock.  

And finally, on Sunday, in partnership with the St. Petersburg College Sustainability Office, we’re presenting a documentary called “Climate Refugees.” That showing is free and the director will appear via Skype for a live Q & A.

 That’s just one week. If my staff members look haggard, you can understand why. We have eight full-time staff and a dozen or so part-timers making this all happen. 

We’re a small operation but as my Director of Operations Kathy Oathout likes to say – being part of St. Petersburg College is like having the Verizon Network behind you. When we need something, the college folks are there to help.

That said, we’re still an arts organization that depends on community support to fulfill our mission. You can do that by becoming a member. You can donate to our Friends of the Palladium program fund. You can volunteer. You can bring your friends to a performance.

My thanks to everyone at St. Petersburg College and to all our members, audiences and friends for helping us to reach this point. I’m happy to report our future is bright and the Palladium is here for the long-term.

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