Blue Notes: Chicago blues

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 June, 2013, 5:48pm

The local blues scene has picked up considerably over the past year or two, and one of the most prominent figures involved in it is harmonica player Henry Chung.

On Saturday at Grappa's Cellar, Chung will present what has been billed as a "Night of Chicago Blues".

Songs most famously recorded in America's Windy City will provide the core of the evening's repertoire, but the set list will draw on a broader range of blues-based material.

Chung has put together a special band for the evening, billed as the HK Blues All Stars, featuring - as gigs of this kind typically do - several musicians known primarily for playing jazz.

He has also enlisted a guest vocalist, now living in Hong Kong, but with an international reputation that precedes her.

"I've always wanted to work with Sybil Thomas because she's a legendary singer," says Chung. "She used to be the featured singer with George Duke."

Thomas has also appeared on records by Luther Vandross and Phyllis Hyman, among other artists, and has serious blues/soul lineage. Her father is the late Rufus Thomas, and her sister is the "Queen of Memphis Soul", Carla Thomas.

"I wanted to put together a really stellar line-up for this," says Chung, and there have been some changes to the advertised personnel.

A second guitarist - Dan Lavelle - has been added to complement the fretwork of Jason Kui, who Chung met in the course of a gig with Eugene Pao. Pao called Kui out of the audience to sit in with the band, and Chung was impressed.

Session and touring drummer Anthony Fernandes is standing in for Joel Haggard.

Jezrael Lucero will be on keyboards, and Tsang Tak-hong on bass completes the band.

"Jason has toured a lot with Jun Kung's band and Dan is a fantastic all-round guitar player," says Chung.

"We're lucky to have two amazing guitarists for this gig. Jezrael I've worked with many times before and it was natural to have him to play keyboards. For bass I've always used Ah Hong."

So far as the set list goes, expect plenty of the standards from the repertoires of Chicago legends such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Elmore James and Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, but also less familiar songs.

"We've put together a really cool repertoire for the show. A lot of blues songs that people will know, but some really obscure blues as well," says Chung.

Thomas, Chung and the HK Blues All Stars will be appearing at Grappa's Cellar on Saturday at 9pm. The show will be the last at the venue until August. It is closing for renovation work on July 1, to reopen August 2.

Another gig not to miss, if tickets are still available from Urbtix, takes place on June 30, at Sha Tin Town Hall where ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro is appearing.

Shimabukuro is not strictly speaking a jazz musician, although jazz tunes feature in his repertoire, but he has completely reinvented his chosen instrument.

The concert is the last in the first half of the year's Jazz World Live Series of concerts, organised by Clarence Chang.

The concerts will resume on September 9 with the Enrico Pieranunzi Trio featuring Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard, followed on October 2 by the return of Ulf Wakenius in a duo format with bassist Lars Danielsson.

Gigs featuring singer Inger Marie Gundersen and possibly the Michael Landau Trio are planned for November, while bassist Janek Gwizdala and guitarist Nir Felder with the Peter Erskine Trio should be visiting in December.

Take Three

Three classic Chicago blues albums.

  • Hoodoo Man Blues (1965, Delmark): in 2003 When Downbeat magazine asked a panel of blues experts to choose their Top 50 blues albums, this set - featuring singer and harmonica ace Junior Wells and his long-term sparring partner Buddy Guy - came first by a long distance, even beating B.B. King's legendary Live at the Regal. If you haven't already, you should check out both.


  • First Time I Met the Blues (1989, Charly): the Chess Records back catalogue of classic blues recordings has been endlessly recycled, but this two-volume set of hits licensed by the British Charly reissues label is a great introduction to Chicago blues and there is nothing but meat on the bone. Elmore, Muddy, Buddy, Walter, the Wolf and many others are represented by 48 great tracks.
  • Good 'Uns - The Classic Cobra Recordings (2000, Westside): many people associate Chicago blues with major key chugging boogie, but it has its darker minor key side, and the master of that is Otis Rush, now 78 years old. This collection of recordings made between 1956 and 1958, several of which became blues-rock standards, represents him at an early peak.