Chamber Blues

Corky Siegel's Chamber Blues

Chamber Blues

Corky Siegel (of Siegel-Schwall fame) introduces a new concept: blues harp and piano plus classical string quartet and Indian tablas! Serious (and seriously fun). "Eloquent...irresistible"--CHICAGO TRIBUNE

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1. Unfinished Jump 3:10
2. Filisko's Dream 5:17
3. Concerto for Alberti Blues Piano 8:47
4. Koulangatta 5:40
5. Allegro 10:22
6. No One's Got Them Like I Do 7:12
7. Opus 11 for Solo Violin 4:40
8. Slow Blues 7:40
9. Concerto for 2nd Violin 8:57
10. Insecurity 7:14

Corky Siegel's Chamber Blues with the West End String Quartet & Frank Donaldson

CORKY SIEGEL, Blues Harmonica, Piano and Vocal
FRANK DONALDSON, Tabla and Percussion

Current members include:

Produced by Hans Wurman and Corky Siegel
Dedicated to Seiji Ozawa
Sound and mix consultant: Ken Gorz
Performance sound technician: Terry Gurney
Sequence consultant: Bob DePugh

All works except for Unfinished Jump were engineered by Tim Reisig, assisted by Jeff Cline at Universal Recording, Chicago, IL
Unfinished Jumpwas engineered by Chris Sabold at Chicago Recording Company
Mastered at MonsterDisc by Jay O'Rourke on July 15, 1994
Women's clothing and design furnished by Hino & Mallee
Photos: Peter Amft 
Design & Production: Matt Minde and D. Dominick Forte

"Chamber Blues" is a registered trademark of Public Invasions, Inc.

Bookings & Personal Management:
Public Invasions; 312-764-1133
P.O. Box 60102, Chicago, IL  60660

DEDICATION:  This project is dedicated to Maestro Seiji Ozawa, who offered me the classical/blues art form, supported its pursuit of me, and therefore made something like Chamber Blues even possible.  My gratitude to all the blues masters who gave me this life, including but not limited to:  Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Otis Spann, James Cotton, Little Walter, Paul Butterfield and Sam Lay.  This project is also dedicated to William Russo who has been a great support through the years.  Special thoughts to past members of Chamber Blues who are also part of this project:  Shelly Elias, Arnold Roth, Florentina Ramniceanu, Lisa and Felix Wurman, Dan Strba, Bruce Carver, Ramon Satyendra, Robin Cook, Benny Kim, Quing Chen, Pat Brennan, Nate Basa, Peter Szczpanek, Herbert Barrett, Rob Robbins, Bill Thomas, Gary Tucker, Burt Dikelsky, Kay Levine, plus; Mom, Dad, Sister, Wife, and the One who really did it all while I sat back and watched.--C.S.

Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues brings to classical music the same creative genius and instrumental virtuosity which Corky brought to traditional Chicago blues during the heyday of the legendary Siegel-Schwall Band, fronted by Corky and guitarist Jim Schwall during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.  Even then, Corky had begun juxtaposing the two musical genres, not, as he explains, “by performing Brahms on the blues harmonica or begging a symphony to play Hoochie Coochie Man.”  Instead, Corky, in effect, concocted a pure hybrid, crossing the blues and the classical to form a new musical strain, if you will, a third stream blues—Chamber Blues.

“These are two of the most important and influential music forms in the world,” explains Corky, who actually launched his Chamber Blues quartet activities in 1988 to a “resounding triumph,” according to the Chicago Tribune.   “But they’re also the two most diverse, both culturally and in terms of musical notation and theory.  Classical music, from the beginning up until at least the 19th century, borrowed heavily from the folk music of its day.  But blues—the greatest folk music of our day—was mostly overlooked by classical composers.  Also, the blues melodic mode and style is not found in classical forms.  So the ‘Chamber Blues’ blend tends to break some rules of classical music theory.  It can look very wrong on paper at times, but, surprisingly, the human ear loves it!”

Little surprise, though, that longtime followers of Corky’s blues career were quick to embrace his freshly innovative, genre-busting new approach, both in Chicago, where his Chamber Blues group first appeared, and at the many concert venues where Chamber Blues has performed prior to making its first album.  What was surprising, perhaps, was the like reaction of classical purists.  Then again, ever since Corky began incorporating classical music into his blues repertoire, both on record and in performance with the nation’s top symphony orchestras, highbrow audiences have responded overwhelmingly in the affirmative.  After all, the genesis of Corky’s involvement in classical music came about through maestro Seiji Ozawa, to whom Chamber Blues is dedicated.

Back when the Siegel-Schwall Band was thrilling legions of blues fans with its exhilarating brand of blues ‘n’ boogie (as Rolling Stone then recognized, “They knocked everybody flat”), Ozawa was the conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s summer series.  While in town, he’d drop by Siegel-Schwall stronghold Big John’s and stay the whole night.  In fact, Ozawa was so enthralled by the band’s musicianship and dynamic sense that, as Corky recalls, “He wanted my band to jam with his band”—Ozawa’s band being, of course, the Chicago Symphony!  Sure enough, Siegel-Schwall jammed with Ozawa’s band in Chicago in 1968, performing William Russo’s Three Pieces For Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra, and later, as Ozawa’s career progressed, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic (“Cheers ran through Philharmonic Hall,” wrote New York Times reviewer Harold Shoenberg.  “The audience did not merely like it, the audience loved it.”).

Siegel-Schwall had made a series of classic blues albums for Vanguard and RCA/Wooden Nickel, but prior to disbanding in 1974, the group recorded Russo’s Three Pieces with Ozawa for the Deutsche Grammophon classical label.  Corky then commenced a solo career, during which he continued his symphonic associations, including another recording with Ozawa for Deutsche Grammophon, Russo’s Street Music.  Beginning in 1975, Corky accepted commissions to write experimental blues/classical music for such esteemed clients as the San Francisco Symphony.  But it was in 1983, while working on compositions for Chicago’s Grant Park Symphony, that the idea for Chamber Blues was sparked.  “Suddenly I had this explosion of inspiration,” Corky remembers.  “I envisioned the sparkling qualities of classical music merging with the emotional melodic style of blues in the intimate setting of chamber music: blues harmonica with string quartet!  There is no ensemble more passionate than a string quartet.  Pure, sweet, wooden music…such a nice alternative to the synthesizers which were so prevalent at the time.   This inspiration was so powerful that I felt compelled to explore more deeply the territory where classical and blues complement each other.”

Exploring this territory, then, is what Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues is all about.  And as this groundbreaking album remarkably demonstrates, Corky has boldly discovered the musical and cultural boundaries between these two most diverse and important musical forms—and just as boldly dissolved them.  What we have here is the singular vision of one of contemporary music’s truly unique artists. ---JIM BESSMAN

Jim Bessman is a regular contributor to Billboard.

COMPOSER’S NOTES:  Chamber Blues in general is an inspiration that grew from all my years as a blues musician, the many symphonic collaborations with Seiji Ozawa and William Russo, and my love for the uplifting qualities of classical music. *  1.  Unfinished Jump (Opus 13), which is dedicated to Michael Jordan, was written as a last minute addition for Bruce Iglauer, the founder of Alligator Records, after he and his associates decided to take their own spectacular jump and market the first recording of Chamber Blues on their all blues label.  Unfinished Jump was an attempt at combining into a homogenous mixture, in a three-minute gulp, the more rigid but sparkling qualities of classical music with the more traditional blues harmonica feel one would expect on an all-blues label.  *  2.  When I began experimenting with the Chamber Blues concept in 1983, I found that not only did early classical styles and urban blues forms work well together but that they were really made for each other.  Filisko’s Dream (Opus 12) is my favorite example of how classical and blues can work in a simultaneous fashion to create a third experience.  The harmonica was altered to a special tuning by Joe Filisko, master harmonica maker and teacher, and so the title Filisko’s Dream.  The String Quartet introduction fully utilizes what I have been call in the “Blues Glissando” or “Timed Glissando” technique.  *  3.  The more classically oriented Concerto for Alberti Blues Piano (Opus 6) was conceived in 1983 and finished in 1987 and is the first work written for the Chamber Blues repertoire.  It is based on the simple Alberti bass common to early classical music and is a gentle step into the Chamber Blues form.  *  4.  A mostly classical sounding work, Koulangatta was a wonderful collaborative experience with Phillip Kent Bimstein, who was a punk rocker with a group called Phil N’ The Blanks.  He is now writing classical avant garde music in his home at the mouth of Zion Canyon where he presides as Mayor of Springdale, Utah.  *  5.  Allegro (Opus 8) is written in three sections.  The first section is an improvised introduction by tabla and piano.  This is followed by an allegro passage in the quartet which moves into what we call the “detunando” section where the cello and viola tune down their “C” strings to a “B.”  This section is based on a blues ostinatto of Rollo Radford’s invention (the bass player from Siegel-Schwall).  This section features a non-barline, semi-improvised battle between the violins.  *  6.  No One’s Got Them Like I Do introduces the first of two vocals on this recording.  The orchestration is based on a precursor to the Chamber Blues repertoire that was written in 1975 as one of three of my first classical/blues composition experiments commissioned by the City of San Francisco for the San Francisco Symphony.  It was the success of this concert at the Civic Auditorium in 1976 that led Steve Ovitsky to commission works for the Grant Park Symphony in 1983.  While composing these symphonic works, the idea for Chamber Blues sprang into my life.  *  7.  Opus 11 for Solo Violin was written for Benny Kim.  *  8.  Slow Blues (Opus 7), the second work written for the Chamber Blues repertoire, is a developmental piece (in this case classical melting into blues) that is based on the 12 bar slow blues form.  *  9.  Concerto for 2nd Violin (Opus 9) is a classical sounding String Quartet piece that utilizes contrasting blues and classical sections and is dedicated to the memory of the great blues master, Howlin’ Wolf.  *  10.  Insecurity:  I’m not sure about this one.

Let me now take this opportunity to thank you sincerely for your interest in Chamber Blues –Corky Siegel