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Home Reviews Music Reviews True Blue: Area quartet brings jazz standards back to life

True Blue: Area quartet brings jazz standards back to life

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When the subject of jazz comes up, most people think of New Orleans, St. Louis or Greenwich Village in New York City. Hardly anyone thinks of jazz as an option in rural East Texas.

However, the genre is alive and well in the right corner of the state. The Paul Unger Trio played at Mount Vernon Music this spring, and KSST radio personality Enola Gay along with local musician Kurt Bittner, play regular gigs in the area, focusing on the Great American Songbook.

A new group debuted at Brewbaker’s Restaurant and Pub (a/k/a Winnsboro Bakery) recently and was such a hit that they have already been booked for a second engagement.

True Blue, a quartet consisting of Shannon Monk on vocals, George Gagliardi on keyboard and guitar, Rick Murray on percussion and Keith Steele on bass, will be the featured performers at Brewbaker’s on Thursday, Sept. 24, beginning at 7 p.m.

“I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with these guys,” Monk said in an e-mail. “They are wonderful musicians.”

Monk sites her “parents’ music” as one of her most important musical influences.

“It’s cliche, I know, but as long as I can remember, I sang along with my parents’ records,” she explained. “I was all of seven at the time, but I sang all the songs from Lana Cantrell’s album. When I got old enough to buy my own records, I discovered Linda Ronstadt. Her voice has followed me since.”

Monk got interested in jazz during a stint at the Dallas Theatre Center in the 1990s.

“I was working on a production of ‘A Flea in Her Ear,’” Monk said. “The sound engineer used several cuts from Ella Fitzgerald singing from the Cole Porter songbook,  and I was hooked. From Ella, I  discovered Chet Baker, Etta James, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. Recently, I’ve been listening to the early recordings of Doris Day and Dinah Shore.”

Gagliardi’s been at the music game for some 40 years.

“I started back in high school on guitar first, then later began working on the piano,” he explained in an e-mail. “Frankly, I’m still working on both. I listen to someone like Les Paul, who recently passed away at age 94, and I realize that’s the best way in the world to thrive and stay young as a player – just keep trying to grow. The minute you stop, you’re going backwards.”

Gagliardi, who lives in Dallas, counts jazz drummer Dave Brubeck (Take Five), pianist Bill Evans, and guitarists Barney Kessel and Howard Roberts among his musical influences.

“However, I have great respect for past masters like Gershwin, Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael and current masters James Taylor, Jimmy Webb and Billy Joel,” Gagliardi added.

Gagliardi says he doesn’t believe jazz has ever lost its popularity with the listening public.

“I think it ebbs and flows,” he said. “People like me, who have always loved the music, notice that jazz gets rediscovered periodically,  and I think it’s because there’s something vital, alive and genuine about the guys and gals who play it. Plus, jazz doesn’t pretend to be slick or trendy or catchy – it’s got some deeper levels.”

Murray, who moved to Hopkins County in 2000, played his first professional job in 1968, two days after  his 11th birthday.

He likes performing with True Blue because “it’s laid back and easy on the body.”

“When I was young and playing rock ‘n’ roll, there were some mornings when a chiropractor had to be called just to get me out of bed. With True Blue, we can ‘cook’ and still not burn ourselves. It’s kinda like melted butter ... smooth and warm.”

Murray says that Tower of Power and Average White Band are among his musical influences.

“James Brown and Marvin Gaye were big influences on my music as well,” Murray said. “I also liked Three Dog Night and the Doobie Brothers. Heck, I thought Huey Lewis and the News were excellent, although they were in the early 1980s.”

Both Monk and Gagliardi say that listening to jazz takes some concentration.

“Jazz requires real musicianship to play, and it’s like musical gymnastics,” Monk said. “Jazz performances are impressive.”

Gagliardi says that jazz demands a “different kind of listening.”

“I have no intention of indicating any musical snobbery here. However, an appreciation of a genre of music that relies so heavily on improvisation requires a more intense kind of focus – at least that’s my take on it.”

Murray believes that “most non-pop bands from the 1970s were heavily influenced by the older jazz and blues greats.”

When asked what he thought about the recent jazz renaissance, Murray said, “I look around [during performances] and see faces that are the same age as me. I know I would hurt myself if I tried to dance to a Doobie Brothers song, but I can listen to jazz standards and it makes me want to squeeze my wife and remember all our good times.”

All three musicians hope their performances remind people how timeless and classic the standards are.

“I hope they smile at some of the great swinging moments and then maybe reflect on those songs that talk about longing unrequited,” Gagliardi said. “In short, I hope there’s a connection between us, audience and performer, that makes the evening worth remembering.”

Monk hopes that her audience will hear “their song or a song that sparks a fond memory, or discover a song they haven’t heard before that speaks to them.”

Murray wants them “to sense that live music is fleeting art and they are more than the ‘canvas.’”

“They contribute color and texture to something being made right in front of them. Recordings will never really be ‘live’ because of the audience participation, faces, dancing moves and soft smiles are never heard. Of course, someone in the back yelling out ‘Free Bird’ at the end of the night has its own coolness that transcends jazz, blues, country and pop.”

After their gig this month, True Blue will be working on a Christmas show called “It’s Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas,” which will make its debut at the Winnsboro Center for the Arts on Sunday, Dec. 6 at 7 p.m.

“We’re drawing inspiration from the old Dean Martin-style Christmas specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Burns & Allen,” Monk teased. “That’s all I can tell you right now.”

When True Blue plays on Sept. 24, diners will have their choice of royal beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes, asparagus and a salad or talapia with mango salsa, accompanied by rice, asparagus and a salad. The pre fixe price is $25 per person and space is limited. Call 903-342-6119 for reservations, which are required. Spirits are now available at Brewbaker’s so the BYOB option can no longer be accommodated.

This is our fifth feature in a series on jazz. See www.mySSnews.com for articles on Boz Scaggs, The Paul Unger Trio, Melody Gardot and Carol Kidd.



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