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September 7, 2006

Heading: Cool, The Hum by BOB DORAN, photo of Easton Stuard

Jazz pianist Easton Stuard got a good music education growing up in Eureka, playing in the Zane Middle School band then moving on to the Eureka High jazz program. He started working paid gigs when he was still in high school, playing at the Eureka Inn at 16.

When it came time for his higher education he studied for a while at HSU then headed for Eugene to attend the University of Oregon. On the side, he worked in three Eugene-area bands, playing funk with Disco Organica, soul with The Essentials and, in what he described as "the one that paid the bills," playing Dixieland jazz with a quartet called Club Seven (it used to be a septet) who worked the Dixie-fest circuit. In the spring he graduated from U of O with a music degree and a focus on jazz studies and performance.

Now he's back home, taking a break before grad school (he'd like to teach), and as you might guess, he's ready to play some jazz. This weekend he'll do just that in an unusual three-night residency at The Pearl Lounge.

"I thought it would be a cool idea to have this killer group play for three days, playing different music each night," he explained with the unbridled enthusiasm of a 22-year-old. The group he assembled is a trio including bass player Josh Tower from U of O and Rob Peterson, a drummer he met while at HSU.

"Thursday will be swing music from the '40s, from guys like Duke Ellington -- "In the Mood," "Take the A Train" -- songs by Cole Porter, show tunes, things like that. Friday we play some more modern jazz, stuff from the '60s, tunes by Miles Davis like "So What" and stuff from Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane and others of that era -- you know, that good jazz from Blue Note."

He figures the first night should be "good for swing dancers," the second for "serious jazz fans."

He seems most excited about the third night, Saturday, when he says, "We'll get into some funk. We'll have fun. I'll play a lot of organ and bring out the synthesizers. I'm inviting a lot of my friends to come jam. It'll be less scripted -- some of my tunes, some transcriptions I've been working on of tunes by Medeski, Martin and Wood and bands like that."

While there's a progression from night to night, he says, "it's not really a history of jazz, just a way to appeal to different audiences. The common thread is it's all improvised based on a prearranged melody. That's what jazz is all about. Inside that framework there's all sorts of things you can do."

He admits he's not sure how people will respond, whether the same people might come more than one night, or for that matter if anyone will come at all. "There may be a reason people don't usually do this," he says with a laugh. "It may not work. I guess we'll see."

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It's a pretty good week for those who dig jazz piano in its varied forms. Saturday evening at the Garberville Theatre, you can spend an evening with George Winston. While the press has long considered Winston one of the prime movers in New Age music, he doesn't care for the term, preferring to call his expressionistic sketches "folk piano." It's a safe bet that this show will also focus on his excursions into stride and R&B styles since his latest album, Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions - A Hurricane Relief Benefit, came out just this week.

Then on Wednesday, Sept. 13, jazz legend Dave Brubeck returns to the stage of the Van Duzer with his latest quartet, which includes alto saxophonist and flautist Bobby Militello, long-time drummer Randy Jones and (yet another) Michael Moore on bass. Brubeck gained his first great popularity 50-some odd years ago playing college campuses, and at 85, he's still doing so. And judging from the show I saw a couple of years ago, he's still got it.

The Mateel's 2nd annual Humboldt Hills Hoedown is back on Saturday with a full day of mountain music in the meadows along the Eel at Benbow. As you may have noticed, music derived directly or indirectly from old timey string band music of the Appalachian Mountains has seen a great resurgence of late, often inaccurately labeled as bluegrass. The bands may come from different mountainous regions or the flatlands but they all play music with roots down south.

Festival headliners Hot Buttered Rum come from the Sierras with what they describe as "high altitude California bluegrass," and their style is close to Bill Monroe's high lonesome sound, although tending more in the direction of newgrass a la David Grisman.

The other headliner is Great American Taxi, a Rocky Mountains Americana jamband brought together last year for an environmental benefit. Vince Herman, formerly of Leftover Salmon, drives the cab, which also includes guitarist Jefferson Hamer from the Single Malt Band and Chad Staehly of the John McKay Band on keys. Expect Boulder-style jamming on a variety of string instruments. Great American Taxi is one of several bands with gigs in NoHum Friday before the Hoedown, in this case at the Red Fox Tavern.

Another Hoedown band, Lansdale Station, jams Southern-style Friday at Humboldt Brews and Saturday at Benbow. Fronted by New Orleans-born Lauren Murphy and her husband, Judge Murphy, both Zero alums, the S.F.-based band also includes Sam Johnston from Box Set on keys and pedal steel, and drummer extraordinaire, Brent Rampone, from the New Riders playing something they call "bluesiana country rock." If you get up early enough (8:30 a.m.) you can also catch them on KHUM Friday morning.

Arcata pickers Bucky Walters open the show at the Hoedown then head back north to play for the NoHum crowd at Humboldt Brews Saturday night. They're also part of the line-up for the two-day Klamath Watershed Art and Music Festival up in Happy Camp. I'm guessing they must play Friday night, which is when the fest starts. The Superfines, The Deep Woods Band and Mambo Hernandez are among the others scheduled.

Among the many others at the Hoedown: The Pine Box Boys, who also offer a workshop on one of their specialties, the murder ballad. Joe Craven, who wowed the crowd at the Organic Planet Fest last weekend, mixes Latin and Gypsy jazz with his band Django Tango, and gives a workshop on rhythm (one of his specialties). The venerable local bluegrass band Compost Mountain Boys plays in the afternoon at the Hoedown. They're another outfit with a NoHum gig the night before, playing Friday at the Jambalaya. While they were regulars at the Jam back in the day, this is the first time they're back in I don't know how many years.

There are still a couple of weeks till the end of summer, but that won't stop the HSU Associated Students from celebrating the first of a two-part Fall Harvest Festival this Saturday. Lyrics Born, a conscious rapper from the Solesides/Quannum crew, is joined by Jamaican dancehall vet Everton Blender and DJ Cheb i Sabbah, an amazing electronica artist/mix master who draws on traditional Indian music for his source material. The Harvest Fest is on the Quad at HSU. Oh yeah, I should mention, it's free.

OK, we all know that pirates are cool again what with the massive success of Pirates of the Caribbean and all that. But did you know that puppets are in with the in crowd? Thursday at Six Rivers Brewery Jolly-Ship the Whiz Bang presents a pirate puppet rock opera set to "catchy nautical electro pop." J-StWB, described as "between a band and a theater group," is the brainchild of Nick Jones and Raja Azar from Bindlestiff Family Cirkus. They're friends with The Rubberneckers who will open the show as The Jade Stems, the acoustic version of the punky Blue Lake band (who BTW were MIA at Bummerfest).

Want more puppets? Catch The Spores Saturday night at the Jambalaya, led by bass player/puppeteer Molly McGuire, who tells me, "We've been dubbed as everything from 'electro stoner' to 'David Lynch dance rock.' We incorporate puppets into our act, giving a 'performance art' feel to the live show. The music is pretty indescribable, yet not inaccessible." The indescribable (yet not inaccessible) Strix Vega opens the show.

Expect more puppets soon. Muddy Waters is about to reopen and the new owner, Corey Stevens, is a puppeteer.

Also worth mentioning: Heavy Weight Dub Champions return to Mazzotti's Friday night. I caught their set at Reggae and it was pretty awesome in the dread/dub/electro vein.

Saturday at The Red Fox it's the SURF4PEACE after-party featuring something called Ukexperience and the last performance by Kulica for a while since Julie's baby is due some time this month.

There are two Humboldt Fee Radio shows this weekend: First on Saturday at the Alibi, Monotonix, a garage prog-rock band from Israel, plays with Vincent Black Shadow, a "twin fuzz Mekong Delta soul-stomp band from Baltimore." Then on Sunday at Six Rivers, it's the return of the nasty rapper Blowfly, who for some reason is paired with Bob Log III, a wild slide blues guitarist who plays in a flight suit and helmet.

Those who read this column closely might have noted that last week I suggested that Hedwig and the Angry Inch was ending its run last weekend. Well, they added another weekend: This Thursday, Friday and Saturday are it, at least for now. I got a glimpse at Bummerfest and was once again impressed. I'm going. Maybe I'll see you there.

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