Otis Spann Memorial Piano Festival | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Otis Spann Memorial Piano Festival 

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These shows, billed as a tribute to the great Otis Spann, bring together several generations of blues piano experience. Among the representatives are Jimmy Walker, who's been playing in Chicago since the 20s; he lays an easy-rolling treble over a distinctive, gently propulsive bass line, harking back to the roots of the classic Chicago style. Also Sunnyland Slim, who settled here in the 40s and helped forge the driving, Delta-derived music most people think of when they think of postwar Chicago blues piano. But especially notable is the presence of Erwin Helfer; despite his relative youth, Helfer's playing provides something of a stylistic bridge between the other two. Helfer plays in the pre-Muddy Waters boogie-woogie tradition, featuring a rollicking beat augmented by a witty, light-fingered approach to treble improvisation. But his music is not for the museum; his love for a wide range of styles, including traditional New Orleans jazz and 50s-era New Orleans R & B (especially the work of pianist Leon T. "Archibald" Gross), makes him a uniquely valuable and contemporary representative of the venerable Chicago boogie-woogie legacy. It's becoming rare, even in Chicago, for this much living history to gather under one roof. Tonight and Saturday (Jimmy Walker, Sunnyland Slim, and others), and Sunday (Erwin Helfer and others), 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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