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Blue Chunks and Friends: Oceanside, CA, February 26, 2011

Dan McClenaghan By

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The Blue Chunks and Friends
An Evening of Performing and Visual Arts
Sunshine Brooks Theater
Oceanside, CA

February 26, 2011

The Sunshine Brooks Theater hosted a stirred-up gumbo of entertainment, main ingredient jazz, on Saturday, February 26, in the old movie house that sits in the historical heart of the city of Oceanside, San Diego County's northernmost beach town, on what used to be called Hill Street, and is now named Pacific Coast Highway. For the old timers, it's Highway 101, the original route between Los Angeles and San Diego before Interstate 5 sliced through the coastal mesa on what was then—the early sixties—the east side of the city.

The seventy-five year old downtown movie house—that devolved in the 1960's into an "adult theater"—has regained a good measure of its original classy sheen, hosting open mic poetry readings, community theater plays, and live jazz, including, on a blustery, rainy winter night, The Blue Chunks, a Vista, California-based ensemble featuring a flexible line-up anchored by bassist Scott Gressitt, guitarist Dan Cassina, soprano and tenor saxophonist Troy Jennings, and drummer Gusso Morrison.

A mixing of artforms—poetry, paintings, spoken word and flash fiction and music—was deftly co-hosted by the lovely and very funny Coco Tanner and the also very funny and occasionally cross-dressing (he claims to have stumbled into the wrong changing room) Conner Gressitt.

The sprawling hodgepodge of a show began with with the slinky groove "6-9 Blues" by the Blue Chunks, showcasing Dan Cassina's Frank Zappa-like guitar noodlings inside a cohesive ensemble momentum, followed up by the band-accompanied poetry from the night's renaissance man, Nino DeGennaro. The Blue Chunks churned into an extended jam, post-poetry, then segued into "A Child is Born" before bringing DeGennaro back to do a cool, Chet Baker-ish rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim's classic "How Insensitive," buoyed by the bubble and pop of Roy Gonzalez's conga work.

The first set wrapped up with an exuberant beat style prose poem by DeGennaro, backed by the Blue Chunks take on "Bemsha Swing," one of the legendary Thelonious Monk's most distinctive tunes, before Coco Tanner introduced painter Jami Goode Goddess. The lobby of the theater featured dozen's of the surreal works created by the beautiful but dangerous-looking artist, paintings small and large of a compelling array of unabashedly modern women brimming with sullen sexuality and chip-on-the-shoulder-elegance, the type of under-a-dark-cloud beauties who draw all the eyes in the room but don't often get approached for fear of the razor blades that might be hidden in their bras.

The second set shifted the night into a higher gear with the addition of violinist Alicia Previn (who can play it straight or plug in and fly way out there) and bassist Nathan Brown, from Detroit, for a couple of instrumental numbers, followed by the classy and vivacious Debora Galan, who put some zest into the Great American Songbooks gems, "Night and Day" and "My Funny Valentine," with some very soulful accompaniment by the Blue Chunks saxophonist, Troy Jennings.

One of the night's many highlights was a spoken word piece by the Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist, Kit-Bacon Gressitt, an ardent and articulate feminist with a devilish sense of humor. Backed by the band's subdued rendition of the jazz jewel, "Poinciana" (made famous by pianist Ahmad Jamal), Gressitt, in a nod to Women's History Month (March), gave a hilarious skewering to the concept of the use feminine deodorizing products as a way to gain the confidence and equality in the work place—something that was oddly advertised in a two page spread in Woman's Day Magazine. The raucous laughter generated by Gressitt's energized performance gave way to DeGennaro's return for the vocal on the classic "On Green Dolphin Street," with very able accompaniment by Previn and the Blue Chunks, including six year old Sam Gressitt sitting in on drums, giving a very solid and credible performance.

The last set kept a good percentage of the crowd hanging in for a good time ride, leaning more on the music, and included one of the evening's stranger moments: a brief and offbeat bit of flash fiction by Wormwood Review alum Dan Lenihan reading a mini story involving a back yard drinking party interrupted by a meteor impact on the lawn, and the subsequent alteration of gravity over the crater. Another extended jam ensued, followed by—on a stormy, rain-and-hail Saturday—a rollicking take on "Stormy Monday," with all of the musical contributors—vocal and instrumental—collected by organizer Scott Gressitt onstage for a spontaneous, rousing and loose-jointed goodnight to an extraordinary night of jazz and other arts.

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