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Don’t shoot the piano player

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Ben Sidran will play his annual late-summer gig at the Dakota Jazz Club, on Sept. 7

By MORDECAI SPECKTOR

Jazz pianist Ben Sidran will travel next month from his home in Madison, Wis., to Minneapolis, for his annual date at the Dakota Jazz Club.

While on the road about half of the year, Sidran also plays clubs in Europe. In Paris, Sidran and his quartet hold forth at the Sunset/Sunside, a jazz spot on the rue des Lombards. Sidran’s 2004 album, Bumpin’ at the Sunside!, was recorded at the club.

Ben Sidran: I’ve thinking a lot about Mose Allison, and who he is and what he meant to me. Photo: Bruno Charavet.

Ben Sidran: I’ve been thinking a lot about Mose Allison, and who he is and what he meant to me. (Photo: Bruno Charavet)

On Friday evening, Nov. 13, 2015, the Ben Sidran Quartet had played its first set at the Sunset/Sunside, when word came that there had been a shooting in the city.

In a special episode of his son’s music-oriented podcast, The Third Story Podcast with Leo Sidran, Ben Sidran recalled that someone said “it’s serious, but I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t take it seriously. We went up on the stand, we played the second set.”

Then everything changed.

“It wasn’t so much any one piece of information that I remember, but the feeling in the room, of like the floor opening up, you know, it just felt suddenly like we were in a state of suspended animation, and that we were in the middle of something very serious,” Sidran said on his son’s podcast.

Indeed, the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks, the work of ISIS, killed 130 people, including 89 people attending a rock concert in the Bataclan theater. It was the deadliest attack in France since World War II.

Fortunately, the Sidrans and everybody in the club survived the night of terror. Hopefully, the musicians will never have to experience anything like that again.

The Ben Sidran Quartet — with Ben on piano and vocals, Leo on drums, and brothers Billy Peterson on bass and Ricky Peterson on Hammond B-3 organ — will play the Dakota on Sept. 7.

Ben Sidran talked recently on the phone with the Jewish World, from his home in Madison.

“This is my natural resting place,” commented Sidran, regarding his home in Wisconsin. He had been traveling and working recently in California and New York.

“In New York, I played an interesting gig,” he says. “My last CD was Blue Camus, and it did well in Europe, and it found its way into the hands of Albert Camus’ daughter. And she did a series of concerts in New York in the spring, and had me participate in that. So I did a bunch of new tunes based on Camus, The Stranger and [The Myth of] Sisyphus… It was a bit of a Camus festival,” marking 70 years since the late French author’s last visit to New York.

In California, Sidran worked on a forthcoming book, a biography of American music producer Tommy LiPuma. The name rings a tiny bell.

“He’s produced Miles Davis, Barbra Streisand, Diana Krall, George Benson, and a lot of other folks,” Sidran notes.

The phone conversation veered into a discussion of jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, who’s a captivating performer at the age of 81 — I saw his May show at the Dakota. The South African musician, who used to go by the name Dollar Brand, is one of the many jazz luminaries Sidran interviewed for his Sidran On Record program on NPR. You can hear many of the interviews, which are archived on his website (bensidran.com). And 43 of Sidran’s conversations with the jazz greats make up Talking Jazz: An Oral History, a 1995 book published by Da Capo press.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous Ben Sidran stories, the musician is also one of the foremost scholars of American music, with a Ph.D., from Sussex University, in Brighton, England, to boot. His dissertation on black music was published under the title Black Talk, in 1971. His lively memoir, A Life in the Music, includes a selection of Sidran’s tunes on a CD packaged with the book.

And four years ago, Sidran published There Was a Fire: Jews, Music and the American Dream (Nardis Books), an authoritative history of the significant role Jews have played in American popular music — from Irving Berlin to the Beastie Boys. That volume came out of a course Sidran taught at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, when he was the university’s artist-in-residence. Recently, Sidran’s been posting videos of himself reading from There Was a Fire, on a Facebook page named after the book title.

At the upcoming Dakota show, Sidran will play some of his new tunes. He’s working on a new album, one inspired by another piano player and singer.

“The best way I can describe it, is I’ve thinking a lot about Mose Allison, and who he is and what he meant to me,” says Sidran, about the theme of the new record. “It’s not literally a tribute, it’s not his tunes; but it’s definitely influenced by him, and the kinds of things that he got me to think about in terms of music, and the experiences I had with him over the years when I was producing his records. So, it’s definitely dedicated to Mose, let me put it that way.”

Jazzman Allison, 88, born in Tippo, Mississippi, has not performed in several years, according to Sidran.

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The Ben Sidran Quartet will play 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 7 at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant, 1010 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis. For tickets, call 612-332-1010, or to: dakotacooks.com.

(American Jewish World, 8.26.16)

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