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Eden Brent: A Jazz Queen With a Case of the Blues


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Jazz grew out of the blues some time in the late 19th or early 20th century in and around New Orleans. While the two styles grew apart as each developed its own lexicon, there's no mistaking the fact that the they are deeply intertwined—one need look no further than Billie Holiday, Count Basie and most musicians from New Orleans and other places on the Delta.

Pianist Eden Brent falls into this nebulous musical world, singing in a raspy voice and banging away on her piano as if she was playing at a speakeasy during Prohibition. Perhaps she could have been a contemporary of Bessie Smith, but to see this woman play and hear her speak leaves little doubt that she lives in the here and now. The proof is also on her third album, 'Ain't Got No Troubles,' which was recorded at the famed Piety Street Studio in New Orleans.

Like early jazz, Brent's music blurs the line between jazz and blues with an extra quotient of sass thrown in for good measure. Now 44, she comes by this naturally, having grown up in Greenville, Miss., a small city 300 miles up river from the Big Easy. Her great-grandfather worked the river as a famous tugboat captain and her mother claims her happiest memories were as a sharecropper's daughter, but Brent family's legacy is really in music—the family would pass around a guitar and sing after dinner.

Brent's parents enrolled her in piano lessons at age 5, telling the skeptical teacher if she didn't take Eden, they'd find someone else who would because she had been crawling up on piano stools since she was 3, banging away. She attended the University of North Texas' acclaimed music school for four years, studying theory, piano and voice, but she probably owes her recent Blues Music Award for Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year to her long tutorial with Abie “Boogaloo" Ames, who died in 2002.

“The two were actually quite complementary," Brent says of her dual education, between stops on a West Coast tour in support of the new album. “He put in my hands what North Texas had put in my head. I probably enjoyed the process with Boogaloo more. There was a lot of laughter and drinking involved.

“Boogaloo was a fixture around the local lounges and he played a lot of the social events," Brent adds. “For example, he played my sister's wedding reception. He did all the highfalutin Delta parties. People just loved him because he knew all the old tunes. Nearly anything you requested that was written after the turn of the last century to 1975, he knew it."

She played and studied with Boogaloo from 1985 up until he died, including a gig at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., but she had never planned on studying with him as long as she did, but the friendship blossomed and she took care of him at the end. So compelling was their story that an award-winning 1999 documentary called 'Boogaloo & Eden: Sustaining the Sound' was produced by Mississippi Educational Television.

She paid off his belief in her by preserving some of his playing in her own style, even earning the nickname Little Boogaloo. Like her mentor, she loves interpreting songs, explaining, “I'm not the greatest singer in the world or the greatest pianist, but I certainly enjoy interpreting songs and I feel like I'm somewhat effective at that because I always use songs that mean something to me."

You can you hear this come through on interpretations like 'Beyond My Broken Dreams,' the soulful 'Goodnight Moon,' the hard swinging 'Later Than you Think,' and the rollicking 'Right to Be Wrong.'

'Ain't Got No Troubles' also features eight original tunes, which is the most she's recorded to date. And while 'Let's Boogie Woogie' sounds like it was written by Fats Domino 50 years ago, the title track takes the blues concept and turns it sideways by saying, “It's OKto have nothing at all if you are happy." 'In Love With Your Wallet' is a hilarious take on gold-digging women. (Brent says she wrote it about her father's girlfriend.) While the subject matter may be cause for anger, Brent seems to savor her lecture as she delivers lines like “Oh, Daddy, oh, Daddy, can't you see/She's in love with your wallet/Not your personality."

The musicians are top-notch, including a horn section, but it's Eden Brent's devil-may-care attitude that makes 'Ain't Got No Troubles' work so well. According to Brent, that's the way it should be.

“Life is tragic enough and frustrating enough," Brent points out. “Not that there isn't plenty of joy. But during a performance I like to let people feel something. So even if I'm doing a sad song, I'm taking them away from whatever bad day they've had. It's like watching a movie where you can get so involved in the characters that you aren't really thinking about yourself."

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