Hello, pork pie hat
Sacramento’s diverse music scene illuminates a benefit for jazz education
This time each year, teeny-boppers head out to Arco Arena for one of those holiday promotional concerts staged by local radio stations. You know the shows: Their playbills feature an outrageous number of acts, each one delivered by a record company hoping for future airplay. These mini-extravaganzas pack a lot of talent—and a few no-talents—into one boffo night of entertainment.
The kids have it pretty good. Do adults in Sacramento get to have any kind of parallel experience?
Sure. There’s at least one night this month where you can see an eclectic mix of local acts perform, and it’s for a good cause. Earlier this year, musician-educator Harley White created the New World Orchestra, an ensemble designed to give students—who might not otherwise get a chance—develop their musical skills in a group context. Proceeds from this show will help White continue his educational program.
For some, perhaps, charity isn’t motivation enough to attend. But for anyone wanting to catch a pretty good cross-section of locally produced music, this show presents a fine opportunity.
Get there early enough, and you’ll see White’s New World Orchestra in its maiden public performance. Actually, you’ll get to see two orchestras—the kids, followed by the adults in the Style Shop Big Band. The younger edition will stick to a program that draws more from a classical-music tradition: First, the string section will play some Mozart and Beethoven, perhaps something else, then the entire orchestra will play “Jupiter” from English composer Gustav Holst’s symphonic suite The Planets.
The adult band won’t be playing classical—unless you consider the music of Ellington and Mingus to be America’s contribution to the form. “We’ll be playing a very John Coltrane-esque ‘Greensleeves,’ ” White says, “along with Duke Ellington’s ‘C Jam Blues.’ ” The rest of that ensemble’s program will be drawn from the Charles Mingus songbook—“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” et al—along with some Ellington and Basie numbers. “It’s not unlike what the Capital Jazz Project does,” White adds, referring to the ad-hoc ensemble of local jazz players that gets together to stage concerts honoring one artist or theme.
Each act on the bill will have between 45 minutes to an hour to work its magic on the audience. White will put the butt-shaking, crowd-pleasing stuff on the main stage downstairs, while the more meditative, conversation-friendly acts will play upstairs in the Momo Lounge.
While Daisy Spot—arguably the most wildly original act in town—had to bow out, the lineup does include headliner Socialistik, which White calls this town’s premier hip-hop group; Free Association, a hip-hop act from Davis; Original Heads, White’s own hip-hop ensemble; and Storytellas and Dr. Echo, a pair of bands that play dub, a very stoned style of instrumental music from Jamaica.
Acts representing an aesthetic outside hip-hop nation include country-rock group the Tattooed Love Dogs, a longtime barroom favorite; Hell Toupée, a group led by longtime area percussionist Rick di Prato that plays what White calls “knitting factory lounge”; and Swing Nation, which White insists is the hottest swing band in town.
“Everybody involved in this is about the music,” he says. “This is almost like a personal statement; these are my hand-picked favorites.”
If the show makes money, White says, he’ll mark the proceeds to begin a series of jazz clinics for local musicians at Joe’s Style Shop, throwing out the names Mimi Fox and Cedar Walton as possible art.
“I want Joe’s Style Shop to be the epicenter of jazz education in the area,” White says. “Not in the classroom, like Sac State; I want it to be the epicenter for people who get out in the clubs and play it.”