The Sausalito Cruising Club often 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 they are joined by Wendy DeWitt, the Queen of Boogie Woogie, on piano. With Ylonda Nickell on alto sax, John Stafford on various woodwinds, Richard Howell on soprano and tenor sax, Larry Vann on drums and kirk Harwood on congos, the group is rounded out with vocals by Thea Rose, a sweet young singer adept in the ways of jazz.
Starting with a couple instrumentals, DeWitt sets the pace with one of her classic boogies rendered in her own inimitable way. Careless Love follows with John Stafford leading the way on tenor sax.
The beautiful Thea Rose takes the stage and belts out Who Could ask For Anything More?, followed by Otis Redding’s Dock Of The bay, sung in a clear tenor voice.
Ms. Rose is in the tenth grade at Terra Linda High, and plays cello, piano and guitar. Her uncle gave her a Billie Holiday CD when she was seven and she has been enthralled with jazz ever since. Her Favorite singer is Ella Fitzgerald and favorite musician is Thelonius Monk, just to give you some idea of where she’s coming from. When time and circumstances permit, she sings with the Medicine Ball Band as she has for the last two years.
After a break she returns with Lullaby Of Birdland, which is completely over the top. Sturdevant and Stafford toss in an incredible harmonica-clarinet duet that makes the whole performance click.
Sturdevant sings My Blue Heaven, written by Walter Donaldson with lyrics by George A. Whiting in 1924. The dance floor fills up with this one, and DeWitt’s keyboard work transports us to the 50s’ and Fats Domino. We get some more of the harmonica-clarinet instrumental section.
Apparently Sturdevant and Stafford have been working this routine up. They are planning a tour of the US to showcase what they have been creating. After the break they give us a demo of playing just harmonica and clarinet. It starts off seeming to be just amusing, but them morphs into a full blown musical tour de force.
There was some good blues on the menu too. The drummer, Larry Vann, is a true original as he delivers his song, Down In Shady Lane, played in 4/4 but overlaid with 6/8 time. It is slow and soulful and you know you are hearing the real deal.
Vann played on many of the famous Motown recordings, toured extensively with Buffy St. Marie and has recently been playing dates with Martha Reeves. He is known as the Groove Merchant, and is the originator of something called the Oakland Scratch Groove. Often appearing at venues like Yoshi’s, Vann is in demand. Check out his website at http://www.larryvann.com/
Richard Howell, impressive to listen to, also has some serious cred in the business. Names like Etta James, Chaka Kahn, Don Cherry, Carlos Santana and Taj Mahal are just a few of the personalities that drop from his lips when he discusses his resume’. Learn more about Richard Howell at http://www.wireonfire.com/richardhowell/rhq/
Not to be outdone by all the name dropping, Ylonda Nickell, takes over the proceedings with her rendition of Misty. Starting a with a slow, roboto introduction, Nickell launches into something bordering on Rhapsody In Blue, Gershwin’s monument to stately blues. Nickell has a way of expanding a simple song like this into a kind of symphony with many movements.
There was lots of other good stuff including Feelin’ Alright, of Joe Cocker fame and sung here by Stafford. Sturdevant and Stafford team up for some vocals too, like on Sweet Georgia Brown, written in 1925 by Ben Bernie and Maceo Pinkard (music) and Kenneth Casey(lyrics). It’s good to hear some male harmony and these guys are getting ready for the road so they have really tightened it up.
They will be back from their tour in October. You can hear them at the Sausalito Cruising Club on Sunday afternoons a couple of times a month.
To learn more about the Medicine Ball Band go to http://www.medicineballband.com/
To Learn more about the Sausalito Cruising Club go to http://www.sausalitocruisingclub.org/
Also check out Last Voyage Of Th Redlegs at http://www.theredlegs.com/JoeTate.html just click on the PDF link
If you are a musician, please come to the Blue Monday Jam Sessions at the Sausalito Cruising Club every Monday at 7.