Sunday, June 10, 2007

“If Joe Negri doesn’t stop making eyes at you, I’m going toe to toe with the old man.”

That’s what I whispered to my wife Friday night at Lincoln Hall which takes up the second floor of the Foxburg Public Library. It turned out, we decided later, that he was actually establishing a rapport with the woman who sat directly behind us, who, I’m guessing was the bassist’s girlfriend, so the spectre of my getting beat up by a 77 year old jazz great was not to be seen.

There’s not a lot to review with a show like this. Joe Negri is without a doubt, one of the best jazz guitarists in the country. He’s an old time bandleader who signals his players when to start and end solos, whispering corrections in their ears while they play and congratulating them out loud when they do well. His show, which drew heavily from what he called “The Great American Songbook” was well planned out, and the patter was down, but still seemed spontaneous. He was a consummate showman taking in stride the failure of his mic (or rather than incompetence of the MC to figure out how the mic worked. This guy poured on the shtick so thickly that it seemed like he thought the evening was about him and not Negri. It would behoove them to find a better, more natural spokesman and ditch Schticky Smith or whatever his name was.)

The trio was bassist Paul Thompson ( a great, expressive player who Negri claimed would be the next Ray Brown), Joe (who was playing what I think was a Benedetto – that the heat and humidity quickly brought out tune. “A guitar is like a woman Negri sheepishly said as he tuned it between numbers. You think everything is going fine and then…”) and Max Leake at piano (a beautiful 1911 Steinway Grand that seemed to glow even under the simple lighting of the Hall).

There weren’t any surprises in the show, just a lot of standards played well with a passion
Setlist (from memory – there will be lapses):
“This Will Be My Shining Moment”
Unidentified number from Big River
Cole Porter Medley
Billy Strayhorn Medley
Unidentified solo piano number
Charlie Parker’s “Hothouse”
“Someday my Prince Will Come”
“Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood/Fred Rogers Medley”

How’s that for vague recollection.

What struck me as very interesting was the size of the crowd – no more than 25. Amy and I were the youngest ones there by 20 years. I worry that a series with that sort of draw simply isn’t sustainable. I mean $20 does seem a little high for a 70 minute show, but at the same time, I was close enough to touch the players if I wanted and they did a little meet and great afterwards, so yeah, I would pay it again if it was someone I wanted to see.

The Hall itself is an incredible space. Oil City native Arthur Steffee moved to Foxburg after his retirement from medicine (although in the town, everyone I talked to called him “The Doctor”) and set about single handedly remaking it 9which has been a good thing overall, but when you read of the rest of his project list you start to get the idea that he’s using his considerable finances like the old robber barons – that he gets his own way because of the money. No wonder so many old school Venango-ites love him. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he has any sinister motives, other than need to be loved and respected, but he’s not a young guy and one has to wonder what will become of all of these eggs that Foxburg has placed in a single, albeit gold plated, basket).

In less than 5 years, he’s built or restored a winery, restaurant, hotel and performance space – Lincoln Hall. It’s the second floor of the Foxburg Library – an intimate spot with room for, I’m guessing around 80 people. I can’t speak to the acoustics because Amy and I sat dead front and to the right – great seats that didn’t require amplification. The stage itself has a restored mural behind it, sconces in front of the footlights (which I would bet money used to be gas), high ceilings and just a generally comfortable feeling space (although not a terrible comfortable space in reality – it must have been 80 degrees with no air conditioning - I was wearing a seersucker suit and was horribly warm and the performers shucked their jackets almost immediately and the straight-backed chairs, though beautiful put my butt to sleep faster than a Xanax and a shot). I’d be remiss as well if I didn’t mention the unisex bathroom down a flight of stairs of stage right filled with stained glass and art with a 12 foot ceiling – rather unsettling, I felt as if I were peeing in someone’s foyer.

A couple of years ago, under circumstances that I can’t remember, I was on the top floor of the Oil City Library – there’s a theatre there too, decrepit, and run down, but if not a twin of Lincoln Hall, then a close relative. At the time, I thought, “My Gosh, I would love to see this place restored.” No, after seeing this guy’s effort, I’m more than ever convinced that the Oil City’s should be restored as well.

Buy Negri’s work:
A Common Sense Approach to Improvisation for Guitar
Afternoon in Rio
Guitars for Christmas

Buy (and stream) Max Leake’s Album Trios

RIF lists summer books for kids classified as to where they take place. Our region’s includes:
I am Regina by Sally Keehn.
Maggie Among the Seneca & The Bread Sister of Sinking Creek by Robin Moore

The PostGazette reviews the Warhol’s climate change show. breaks down the scene state by state.

I’m hoping Father’s Day brings me an Optimash Prime Mr Potato Head Transformer.

Venangoland says goodbye this year’s crop of graduates.

What play would I like to see in Franklin next year? Glad you asked; it’s Lucia’s Chapters of Coming Forth by Day

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