LAVAY SMITH & HER RED HOT SKILLET LICKERS
You won't find a better match of picture and frame than Lavay Smith's combo at FitzGerald's: roadhouse jazz at the best little roadhouse in Chicagoland. The Bay Area band's second disc, Everybody's Talkin' 'Bout Miss Thing! (Fat Note), shakes the dust off classic blues (Jay McShann's "Hootie Blues"), hoary standards ("Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You"), and novelty numbers ("He Beeped When He Should Have Bopped"); last week it crept into the Billboard jazz chart's top ten, which is pretty much unheard-of for a poorly distributed album on a small indie label. A gardenia-in-the-hair singer with a big, bluesy, and mostly accurate voice, Smith formed the Red Hot Skillet Lickers with pianist, arranger, and swing-era historian Chris Siebert in 1989. Smith herself is relatively young, and the band was one of the earlier contestants in the neoswing arena, but to validate their enterprise she and Siebert recruited several alumni of the swing-to-bop jump bands that proliferated in the 40s and 50s; this extra effort has given the Skillet Lickers' sound an authenticity that often eludes retro groups consisting entirely of wannabes. Musicians generally shy away from road life when they get older, though, and in Smith's touring octet the only old guy is Chicago-bred alto saxist Bill Stewart--a classmate of Gene Ammons at DuSable High School in the 40s who's crafted the most soulful aspects of Charlie Parker's style into a bluesy museum piece. Hopefully his hard-won experience, and that of the other veterans who've worked with the band, has rubbed off on the youngsters who've had to learn from records. The Skillet Lickers were somewhat underwhelming on the big outdoor stage at last year's Chicago Jazz Festival, but the intimate confines of this venue will better suit their mix of barrelhouse rhythms, interlocking horns, and Smith's sexy barroom vocals. Thursday, July 20, 7:30 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Erin Katgely.