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I’m walkin . . .

It’s been some time since I was able to attend JazzErie’s annual Jazz Walk. This year, the blues has been added to the title, probably as a nod to the commercial realities of the Erie market. But I brook no quarrel with that.

It’s always a treat to hear Charles Ventrello in any context, and at the opening ceremonies at the Erie Art Museum Annex, he seemed to be indulging his looser, more crowd-pleasing instincts. Old friend Derf Hopsecger was having a fine time on piano and Charles himself seemed to be dipping into his R&B bag. It’s really fun to hear him play like that — when you can hear him. The room was simply too convivial and crowded to fully appreciate what was happening onstage.

So, it was south to whatever the Holiday Inn Downtown is called these days for Potato Battery, one of my favorite local bands. It’s remarkable how much more assertive Matt Ferguson is behind the kit than he was when I returned from Florida in 1979, and he really puts a charge into the Battery. Unfortunately, the hotel’s air conditioning system lost its charge and the room, while beautiful (the view north on State Street from the bandstand in the east window was the Erie equivalent to the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s vista on Central Park), was uncomfortably warm.

To bring my core temperature down, I headed to papermoon, a reliably air-conditioned venue. The room was cool, but the music was hot. It was a tight little band led by Basil Ronzitti, Erie’s answer to Lennie Tristano. New Yorker Ed Russell
(née Pooton), a high school classmate of mine, was on guitar and Dick Thompson on bass. But it was Brad Amidon, normally the most deferential and musical of drummers, who really kicked this band along. It was so good, that I delayed my plan to go to Scotty’s to hear Jim Madden’s trio.

I arrived in time for the last set, and though I was deep in conversation with another high school classmate (back to the future!) for much of the time, I managed to get the flavor of Jim’s music. It’s been a while since I had heard Jim (or anybody else, for that matter), and to my new ears, his music has loosened up, embraced the groove and become more extrovert. All good, as far as I’m concerned. The Brad Mehldau thing was nice, but even Mehldau has mellowed these days. The next time this band plays out, I’ll be there, and I’ll bring friends. Club owners, are you listening?

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