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The Art of Blues at Herberger Theatre

Patricia Myers By

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The Art of Blues
Herberger Theater
Phoenix, AZ
May 4, 2014

"The Art of Blues," an original scripted tribute to blues legends Billie Holiday, Etta James, B. B. King and Buddy Guy, featured speed-artist Randall Hedden creating five-minute portraits to the accompaniment of a Phoenix-based sextet and four vocalists. The performance showcased Hedden's amazing ability to create five vibrantly hued portraits on a constantly spinning easel.

Jazz and blues charts were delivered by the Blues Randelos Band, led by pianist Raul Yanez with Dowell Davis on drums, Mario Mendivil on acoustic and electric bass, Johnny Carrasco on guitar, Adam Roberts on sax and clarinet, plus singer Tim Hern. Roberts played clarinet on "Easy Livin'" for the Holiday tribute, later switching to soprano and tenor saxophones. Yanez both arranged the music and propelled it with his dynamic and stylistic ability.

The concert's featured guest was internationally renowned drummer Bernard Purdie, 74, who has worked with stars such as Miles Davis, B.B. King, Hank Crawford, Aretha Franklin, Paul Butterfield, Herbie Mann, Joe Cocker and Cat Stevens. Purdie delivered a lengthy and inventive stage-center solo as four interpretive dancers used the percussion to fuel their lithe movements.

Billie Holiday was dynamically portrayed by Yolanda London, and Etta James was brought to life by Jennifer Browne, both vocalists delivering excellent phrasing and tone on hits by the late stars. B.B. King's dual talent was recreated by guitarist-vocalist Leslie Gray, and Buddy Guy was represented by guitarist-vocalist Anthony Kinchion, their fluid riffs and rich vocals emulating the sounds and styles of those blues icons.

Rod Ambrose, a longtime Phoenix actor and black history lecturer, portrayed "Bluesy Benny," narrating historical anecdotes for each featured performer with easy warmth and touches of humor.

Dancer Luis Egurrola also portrayed Jimi Hendrix for the closing scene's final artful, magic portrait by Hedden. The afternoon closed with an audience singalong to "Sweet Home Chicago."

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