Sunday at the Sausalito Cruising Club

NIGHT BEAT on Rhythm Street              Joe Tatedsc01097

Sunday

The Sausalito Cruising Club hosts the Medicine Ball Band Sunday afternoons from 5-9:30 PM. This group must be one of the best-kept secrets in the Bay Area music scene. Their excellent music far exceeds the notoriety they have been accorded.

Led by guitarist David Sturdevant, who moved here from upstate New York 38 years ago, MBB delivers a versatile repertoire with everything from swing standards to R&B with a distinct New Orleans flavor. If you ask, they will even play Dixieland. They were kind enough to play dinner music for a while so everyone could enjoy the buffet.

Founded in 1971 by Sturdevant, the group started by playing in the street for tips at Union Square in San Francisco. Along with Sturdevant was a pair of banjos played by Dave Marty and Abe Van Der Meulen. The late Amanda Hughes started singing with them later as they moved on to clubs. Their first bass player was Randy Jackson, the world famous producer and arranger who is now a judge on American Idol.

Today the band is a very tight ensemble with Charley Hickock on keyboards, bill Belasco on drums, John Hunt on trombone and Curtis Lindberg on trombone. Lindberg is substituting for Yolanda Nickell tonight. Nickell usually plays alto saxophone for the group. Bass is also supplied by Hickock who plays it left handed on a separate keyboard. Sturdevant doubles on chromatic and blues harmonica.

A small retinue of singers, all members of the choir at Plymouth Church in Oakland, are also present. These include: Steve Randolph, Yvonne Dawes, and Mwanza Furaha. Vocals are also provided by Sturdevant, Hunt, Hickock and Lindberg.

Hickock, from Cleveland Ohio, joined the group in 1980 when they had a steady gig at Clancy’s Irish Pub in San Francisco. It was here that the main repertoire was worked out between Sturdevant and Hickock.

Herb Caen was a patron at Clancy’s where he often sat in with MBB on drums. Though occasionally mentioned in Caen’s column, MBB has never been reviewed. At this time, the situation will be corrected.

Bill Belasco, who handles the drums, has been with the group on and off since the 80’s. He also played many years with the Pickle Family Circus. He is a native San Franciscan.

John Hunt, the full time trombone, is from Baytown, Texas and has been a member of MBB since 1982.

Lindberg, tonight’s special guest, has had a long career playing with the likes of Dr. John, Dave Bromberg, Lou Rawls, The Beach Boys and even Tommy Dorsey.

The program starts with Honeysuckle Rose with Hunt on vocals. This rendition is mostly instrumental with interesting trombone harmonies that are interspersed with groups of “fours,” little sections where each member plays four bars. This gives each instrument a little showcase that lends variety to the overall sound.

Next is “Sunny Side of the street,” with Hickock on vocals. This old standard really comes to life when Sturdevant plays a solo on chromatic harmonica. The sweet harmonica strains give this an old world flavor that is at once sophisticated and continental.

Sturdevant next treats us to his version of Fats Domino’s “My Blue Heaven.”  The trombones let loose on this one with a little Dixieland fervor. One realizes, this isn’t your average club band.

Sturdevant and Hickock harmonize on George Jones’ ”The Race Is On,” before calling up the singers.

First up is Steve Randolph with “Satin Doll.” Randolph, who has over six years with the band, has a smooth tenor voice that drips with professionalism. Sturdevant assist on this one with his melodic harmonica to provide a truly enchanting effect.

Yvonne Dawes steps up with “Bye Bye Blackbird,” the Ray Henderson mystical standard that has delighted audiences for more than 80 years. Dawes voice is made for this song, which she delivers with seemingly no effort.

The band gives us an instrumental groove with “Rosetta” before bringing up the heavy hitting, Mwanza Furaha.

Furaha, formerly with Pharaoh Saunders, has been with MBB for about four years. She sings with a powerful yet sublime voice that lifts each song above the ordinary. Her laconic improvisations give “Georgia On My Mind” a Cab Calloway feeling which blends with the mood here as the sun sets over the bay.  She sings “My Funny Valentine,” with a samba beat, adding little scat sections that are applauded by the audience.

Many other exciting things happened including when Hickock picked up the melodion, a small breath powered keyboard, and marched through the audience with the rest of the band following. The drummer switched to tambourine for this. The electric guitar is hooked up wireless so Sturdevant was also in the parade.

For more information about the Medicine Ball Band go to http://www.medicineballband.com/

The Sausalito Cruising Club can be reached at 332 9349 or go to http://www.sausalitocruisingclub.com/

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