Blues Piano Fest | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Blues Piano Fest 

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This weekend-long tribute to Chicago's living piano blues tradition encompasses at least four generations and upwards of 150 years of experience. Although Sunnyland Slim is 85 and Pinetop Perkins turns 80 this July, the two are roughly a generation apart musically, and the difference is notable. Sunnyland's percussive style, featuring chiming treble chords and a driving but rudimentary bass line, occasionally ascends to a lithe, danceable boogie-woogie. Pinetop, in contrast, starts where Sunnyland leaves off, but he still flavors his lighter textured romps with a healthy dose of down-home emotionality. Erwin Helfer, now in his 50s, brings the romanticism of New Orleans to the joyously emotional Chicago swing he learned from masters like the late Art Hodes and Jimmy Yancey, as well as a soulful bluesiness (Sunnyland and Pinetop have also been colleagues of Helfer's for many years). Barrelhouse Chuck is finally freeing himself from the apprentice role he's occupied since coming to Chicago to learn from both Sunnyland and Little Brother Montgomery. He adds the brash exuberance of (relative) youth to his tasteful and deeply felt brand of traditional blues. As a keeper of the flame, he both nurtures and expands upon the heritage. Friday (Sunnyland Slim and Barrelhouse Chuck), Saturday (Pinetop Perkins), and Sunday (Erwin Helfer), Rosa's, 3420 W. Armitage; 342-0452.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/James Fraher.

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