Let the good times roll, swing

With the festive season here, the capital’s live venues, as expected, have adjusted their agendas accordingly. A couple of the capital’s more active clubs, in the jazz and rock fields, will be relying on retro acts for feel-good nights. At the Half Note Jazz Club, perhaps Athens’s busiest venue, where the entertainment runs seven nights a week, management has booked swing performer Lavay Smith for performances beyond Christmas. Her shows, already under way, are scheduled to run through Monday. Smith, a notable presence on the blues-jazz circuit for over a decade, will take audiences back to the swing era of the ’30s and ’40s. Since emerging in the late 1980s, Smith, a performer endowed with sensuality both in vocal delivery and stage presence, has proven a popular live act. She has found a steady partner in music and life, pianist Chris Siebert, leader of her backing band, the Red Hot Skillet Lickers. Fine showmanship, backed by two strong albums, 1996’s «One Hour Mama« and «Everybody’s Talkin’ ’bout Miss Thing,» released four years later, have established Smith and her band as a force on the blues-jazz circuit. The voluptuous vibes of her live performances have widened the singer’s reach beyond the domestic American market. An in-demand performer, Smith and friends have averaged over 200 shows per year on the international circuit. For their shows at the Half Note Jazz Club, Smith and the Red Hot Skillet Lickers have prepared both original material as well as covers of classic swing, jazz and blues standards. These include tracks originally recorded and performed by the likes of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Smith, Dinah Washington, Duke Ellington and Louis Jordan. Lavay Smith and the Red Hot Skillet Lickers will be succeeded by a scintillating retro-inclined act, Mitch Woods, who sings and plays piano with breakneck frenzy when performing his boogie woogie, swing and old-school rock ‘n’ roll numbers. Woods, who fronts a quintet called Rocket 88s, is scheduled to perform a series of shows between December 28 and January 6. Woods owes his zealous approach to music to an old master, and his mentor, Archie Shepp. As an aspiring musician back in the 1970s, Woods, who, at the time was studying Afro-American music under Shepp, felt intimidated by his instructor when the latter contended that «there is no white person that can play the blues.» Shepp, responding to Woods’s suggestion that Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield were two gifted white bluesmen, offered a mixed appraisal, which prompted the young musician to assert: «But I play very well.» Shepp, whose viewpoint on black versus white in music is well captured by an older phrase of his – «Negro music and culture are intrinsically improvisational, existential. Nothing is sacred» – was impressed by the youngster’s enthusiasm. Years of guidance and friendship ensued. Lively shows can be expected. On music’s wilder side, Rudi Protrudi, frontman of garage-rock legends The Fuzztones, frequent visitors in recent years, will be in Athens for just one night, on December 31, to spin favorite discs at the Gagarin Club’s New Year’s Eve party. His DJ set will be followed by a live set with Frantic Five, a Thessaloniki band formed back in 1994 with mid-Sixties US garage as its main influence. An explosive act renowned for party-like gigs, highlights for Frantic Five include opening slots for local shows by The Fuzztones as well as Question Mark and the Mysterians, the garage rock ’60s legends that have thrived on one smash hit, the frequently covered «96 Tears.»