Sunday, September 17, 2017

Paramount Theatre produces electrifying version of "Million Dollar Quartet," show runs through Oct. 29

Photo by Liz Lauren

Paramount Theatre’s 2017-18 Broadway Series opener "Million Dollar Quartet" stars, from left, Gavin Rohrer as Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Scott Sheets as Johnny Cash, Kavan Hashemian as Elvis Presley and Adam Wesley Brown as Carl Perkins. The show will run through Oct. 29 at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora.


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

There aren't many musical moments bigger than the one that occurred on Dec. 4, 1956, when Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley – who were all in their early 20s at the time – came together for a jam session at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Paramount Theatre, located at 23 East Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora, recreates that night in electrifying fashion in its joyful version of "Million Dollar Quartet," which runs through Oct. 29. Thanks to an immensely talented cast, it doesn't take long for the audience to be pulled into the magic that is being made on stage. 

The audience is made to feel like they are part of that moment through the interaction the cast members have with the audience. Standout performances abound, including that of Gavin Rohrer, who is making his Paramount debut in the role of Lewis. He brought the energy early with a unrestrained version of "Wild One."

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Rohrer is dazzling behind the piano and and is just as impressive in imitating Lewis' frantic stage antics. Kavan Hashemian's dead-on performance as Presley shows he studied Presley's concert footage in order to give a performance as authentic as possible. Not surprisingly, he was named "The World's #1 Rock 'N Roll Elvis by the BBC in a television competition filmed in London.

But standing taller than even their performances is Bill Scott Sheets' take on Cash. He embodies the sound and spirit of Cash, right down to his rich bass-baritone voice.

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Apart from the music, it is the interaction between the characters that makes this production so entertaining. Because most of us have only seen these musicians perform on their own, it is interesting to see how they got along with each other (or didn't, in some cases.)

The Paramount Theatre produces another win with its version of "Million Dollar Quartet." Tickets are available by calling the Paramount at 630-896-6666 or visiting its website, www.paramountaurora.com.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Chicago musician Chip Ratliff takes funk, soul to new heights on new album, "Resilient"


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Chicago musician Chip Ratliff is dedicated to taking funk and soul to new heights. He takes another step in that direction on his new album "Resilient," his first full-length album in more than 10 years. 

He will celebrate the release of the album by performing at 7 p.m. Aug. 26 at Shorefront Legacy Center, 2214 Ridge Ave., Evanston. There is a $20 donation.

I had the chance to talk to him about the new album:
 
Q – Great talking to you. "Resilient" is your first full-length album release in more than 10 years. Have you been writing these songs for a while? Was this just the right time to release a new CD?

Thank you for having me! A lot of the tunes on “Resilient” are songs that have been in the hopper for a while. A couple are brand new.


For instance, the dance tune “DirtyBlu” was actually the first song I wrote after Prince’s death. It was the first groove I played when I picked up my bass.



After going through a lot of challenges the past few years, I really felt that it was time to share my gifts and make sure I leave some kind of legacy. I really felt it was time to put something out that reflected my love of funk and my blues roots. 

Q – Do you see the album as a natural progression from your last album, "Electric Chittlin' Stew"?

Not so much a natural progression from the last album, but more of a natural progression for me personally and as an artist.  When I did “Electric Chittlin’ Stew” I felt the need to be everything to everybody, which is why it has such a broad range of material: funk, R&B, rock, Santana style Latin-rock… a little bit of everything, like a stew! “Resilient,” on the other hand, is more of me having a great time being me! I wanted to put together an album that if you came out to a Chip Ratliff show, this is what you would hear.




Q – What would you like people to get out of the album? I understand that the album's title refers to overcoming any obstacles and challenges in one's way. Have you had to do that in your own musical career?

I’m hoping that it not only entertains, but also inspires. [I hope that it] inspires people to keep moving forward, regardless of the obstacles that are in front of them.


The title “Resilient” actually comes from something one of my doctor’s said to me on a follow up visit. He said, “Mr. Ratliff, you are one of the most resilient patients I have ever seen!”

It is a testament to God and the strength that he gives me. As I say in the title track, “The Creator is brilliant…through Him, I am resilient!”

Q - You come from a musically rich family, including being the cousin of Chicago blues singer and guitarist Lefty Dizz (I watched a YouTube video of one of his shows at the Checkerboard Lounge and he put on quite an energetic show), along with the fact that your grandfather, Herman Ratliff Sr., played guitar in Memphis clubs with legends B.B. King and Muddy Waters in the 1940s. Was it inevitable that you would become a musician? What kind of support did you get from your family?

Yeah, entertainment is definitely in my DNA! I’ve actually been entertaining all my life, in one way or another.


I was the kid who would get up at the drop of a dime and do my spot-on Michael Jackson or Elvis (yes…I was an Elvis fanatic!) impersonation for the entire family...or whoever wanted to watch! I actually call myself the first Michael Jackson impersonator!

But as for my family, yes, music and entertainers were all around me. My uncle Fernando (Jones) and I would play our instruments (me on bass, him on guitar) in his mom’s (my grandmother’s) living room all day on Sunday afternoons!

His brother, my other uncle Greg, would teach us songs that he liked. Then we would play them all afternoon!

The only reason that no one stopped us was because we sounded pretty good! So, yeah, it was pretty inevitable. 

Q - You shared the stage with Lefty, along with your uncle, Fernando Jones, Buddy Guy, Willie Dixon and others. What did you learn from playing with musicians of this caliber? What advice did they give you?

Playing with those guys allowed me to sit at the feet of some of the greatest musicians and performers of all time and learn! I learned about showmanship, timing and, most of all, TO BE YOURSELF!



One of the best pieces of advice I got was from Fernando. He said, in so many words, that the way you make people remember you is to be yourself. Be genuine.

Q - I understand you wrote your first song when you were 5, a duet with Jones (who was 6 at the time) called "Get Out Of Here." Does writing songs come easy for you?

One thing I’ve found is that you constantly have to keep practicing and honing your craft. I always say that songwriters “tune in” to the gazillions of songs that are out there in the air.


Not everyone can hear them…but they’re there. Now…I don’t mean to be all deep, but the more you stay in tune, the less difficult it becomes to channel the songs.
  
Q – You are president of the board of directors for Shorefront. Is it an honor to be associated with such an organization?

It is an amazing honor to be the President of the Shorefront. Shorefront is a non-profit organization that collects, preserves, and educates about Black history on Chicago’s suburban Northshore.


I have learned so much about Black history in general, and the importance of preserving heritage and using it as a foundation to move our community into the future.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it?

The Chicago music scene is not as open to new, original music as I and others would like for it to be. Even with that said, it is a major city, and it affords opportunities to create your own opportunities.


That’s what I’m trying to do…not just sit and wait for things to happen. Make them happen! Create opportunities for myself and others!

Q – What is on your plate for the rest of the year?

Well, more live performances to celebrate the release of the new album. I’m looking to get my music heard by as many people, not only locally but nationally and internationally, [as possible].




I’m also looking to my move forward with the “Practice Your Purpose™” initiative. The mission is to inspire the global audience to find and practice their purpose on a daily basis. 

Leave your legacy!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Clinard Dance Theatre to present Flamenco Quartet Project


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Ever since forming Clinard Dance Theatre in 1999, Wendy Clinard has been pushing flamenco in a new and fresh direction.

Clinard Dance will present an afternoon of flamenco featuring the Flamenco Quartet Project at 3 p.m. Aug. 20 at the National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St. Chicago. Tickets are $25 for general seating, available at www.brownpapertickets.com.

I had the chance to talk to Clinard about the upcoming show.

 
Q - Great talking to you again. So what is the concept behind the Flamenco Quartet Project and what should people expect from the show?
 
This project is dedicated to exploring new exponents of flamenco. Led by an open minded spirit, our ensemble seeks to engage with contemporary culture through vibrant performances that honor traditional flamenco and our shared passion for music and dance discovery.



People can expect to see/hear flamenco in the traditional sense but notice unique instrumentation and world-informed influences. What is important is to note that this is not a “fusion” project; the inventions are born from a deep understanding of how traditional flamenco functions.

Q - Violinist Steve Gibons, guitarist Marija Temo and percussionist Javier Saume also are part of the show. What do you think they bring to the show?
 
Steve and Marija have composed original pieces for the Quartet. Marija has an extensive background in Classical Spanish and Steve has an extensive background in Balkan forms as well as American jazz (including his amazing improvisation sensibility).


Javier draws on classical and world-form, as well.

Q - You created Clinard Dance in 1999. How did you think your group has brought flamenco dancing in the spotlight? Where do you think flamenco dancing has to go from here?
 
Our work is rooted in flamenco and understanding the unique way the guitar, song and dance interplay (otherwise known as flamenco structure). We lift this structure to play with unique instrumentation and/or devise original departures from this structure.



We also extract the universal qualities –the rhythmic /percussive nature, call and response, isolations in the flamenco body so that the participants can join in with whatever the “theme or story” of a given project directs. Repurposing flamenco to find the live qualities of a particular time and place (i.e. 2017 in Chicago,) is what is fundamentally and historically “flamenco” and it holds the potential for growth in the form.

Sincerity to place, person and the moment are of upmost importance to how flamenco became an art form and how it will continue to grow.

Q - What projects are you most proud of? Where do you see Clinard Dance going from here?

I’m most connected to our original works like "From the Arctic to the Middle East" and "Chicago’s Watershed: A 156-Mile Choreography." The heart of these works are dedicated to people’s place and their sense of belonging and our artistic disciplines are used to serve that inquiry.



The story that emerges aims to rally the human spirit. Where do I see Clinard Dance going from here is rooted in a long term dedication to art and flamenco; we’re in it for the long haul, large and small projects alike.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Chicago musician Ryan Joseph Anderson releases second album, will perform at The Hideout




By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Chicago musician Ryan Joseph Anderson wears his heart on his sleeve.

That is evident on his sophomore album, the passion-filled "City of Vines," which was released on June 30. To celebrate the release of the album, Anderson will perform Aug. 4 at The Hideout, 1354 West Wabansia Ave., Chicago.

The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $10, available at www.ticketfly.com. I had the chance to talk to Anderson about the new album:


Q - Great talking to you again. "City of Vines" is your sophomore album. Did you feel any pressure in following up your first album, "The Weaver's Broom"? What were your goals for the album and do you think you accomplished them?

I didn't really feel any pressure, but it did take some time to get all of the songs together. "The Weaver's Broom" was made up of a lot of story songs...that's an element of this record too, but "City of Vines" is more personal than anything I've made before.




I spent a lot of time tweaking the lyrics. Other than that, I wanted a bigger sound: more layers, more electric guitar, horns, etc. I definitely think we accomplished that. 

Q - You released the album on three different formats – vinyl, CD and digital streaming. It seems like many artists are following that route these days. Which format do you like the best?

Definitely vinyl. I've been collecting since I was a kid and have a pretty big soft spot for records. I like everything about the format: how it looks, how it sounds, and how it demands attention.


I know that if somebody buys a vinyl they are going to sit with it. CDs are becoming more and more obsolete and digital doesn't seem as tangible.
 
Q - How did you go about choosing the musicians on the album?

I've been playing with the core band on this record since 2014. They're some of my favorite players in Chicago.


When I was writing for "City of Vines," I was writing with them in mind: Brian Morrissey (guitar), Dan Ingenthron (bass, keys), and Mike Holtz (drums). Dan and I have played in a ton of projects together (including my old band Go Long Mule) and he's easily one of  the best musician I know. He can play anything.

Brian Morrissey is an amazing guitar player and songwriter in his own right, and Mike Holtz seems to always play the perfect part on drums...he's super creative. Nick Broste put the horn section together and arranged the parts.

Chicago legend Gary Scheppers came in to play some tuba. Gabriel Stutz put down some beautiful pedal steel and my partner-in-crime Jen Donahue sang harmonies.

It was really just a great collection of friends working on this together. It was a ton of fun to make.

Q - You produced "City of Vines" with Brian Morrissey, who also plays on the album. What do you think he brings to the table?

Brian has a great ear for production and is a killer songwriter...he really knows how to make production serve the song. For me, it was really important to have somebody to bounce ideas off of and vice-versa.


I like hearing different ideas and trying different approaches. The song "Diamonds" is a really good example of what Brian brought to the table. The feel changes significantly from verse to verse, while the chords and melody stay the same. That was Brian's idea.

Then, along with the band and the wizard like skills of Nick Broste, we figured out how to make it work . Brian and Nick really helped me get the sound that was in my head out. I can hear their contributions in every song and feel really luck to have had them working on this. 
 
Q - You will be actively touring around the country in the fall, including playing several dates in Oregon. Are there any areas of the country you like playing the best? What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it?

I'm pretty excited to get back to the northwest. We have some great friends out there and it's always a blast. Honestly, I really like touring around the Midwest.


There are a ton of surprising things happening around this region of the country - a lot of people are starting venues or festivals, and truly supportive musical communities are popping up where there used to be none.



As for Chicago, there's so much talent here it's mind-numbing. I think my favorite thing about this scene is how collaborative it is.

Also, Chicago musicians love taking risks. It's great to be surrounded by that kind of community.