Sunday, March 19, 2023

Chris Walters digs the masterful composers

Nashville-based pianist and singer Chris Walters dug deep into the Great American Songbook - and two of his own worthy gems - in what mostly was a tip of the hat to icons George Gershwin and Cole Porter at the Gulf Theater in Punta Gorda, Florida on Saturday, March 18.

Walters called this tour "Rhapsody in Burlesque" - melding a reference to Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" with his sometimes playful and unusual treatments of the material. Rest assured, there were no dancers involved, other than his fingers dancing over the keyboard. 

Chris Walters
He was backed by bassist Zebediah Briskovich and drummer Miles Vandiver, both from St. Louis. While each had a few improvisational moments, this was more a well-arranged tribute to composers who had a profound impact on 20th century American music and the extensive jazz repertoire.

Walters opened with medley from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess operetta that included an intimate, dirge-like take on "Summertime" and infused "It Ain't Necessarily So" with a bit of honky-tonk piano and his husky vocals.

Miles Vandiver
Zebediah Briskovich
Porter's "Night and Day" and a boogie-woogie treatment of "Anything Goes" followed. Briskovich's rich-toned bass was featured on Gershwin's "Lullaby," which segued right into his "Cuban Overture." Much later in the program, Vandiver was featured with a wide-ranging drum solo on Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," which provided the most extensive jazz feel of the night.

Walters made sure to acknowledge a few other composers, with instrumentals that included Willie "The Lion" Smith's "Echoes of Spring," Jack Fina's sprightly "Bumble Boogie" (based on "Flight of the Bumblebee"), Peter Nero's clever "Scratch My Bach" and a solo piano journey through "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The latter piece ended with a snippet of Judy Garland's vocals from The Wizard of Oz. 

The trio delivered several standout moments:

  • Walters paired a salty take on Gershwin's "Here Come De Honey Man" with Porter's "Love For Sale" with his own unusual twist. Both lyrics were sung from the viewpoint of a pimp, not the lady marketing her wares upstairs.
  • He also shared two beautiful standards-quality originals: "Waltzing With a Broom," about a man whose wife/dancing partner had passed on, and "Cool Blue Swing," the latter a metaphor for living the good life. It was delivered with a shuffle-beat rhythm of his native New Orleans.

The 90-minute performance, with no intermission, concluded with Walter's exquisite interpretation of "Rhapsody in Blue."

Walters has extensive jazz, pop and country music credentials. He was pianist and musical director for Barbara Mandrell and J.D. Souther, toured for seven years with the band Alabama, and now works with Alison Brown, the Peter Mayer Group and saxophonist Jeff Coffin's Mu'tet.

The concert was co-sponsored by the Gulf Theater at the Military Heritage Museum and the Charlotte County Jazz Society.

Briskovich, Walters, Vandiver

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