August 16, 2004
I'm taking off to Chicago for four days on Thursday, but last night, I didn't want to leave the city. As I listened to the R&B and blues of Jimmy Ballero, I focused on the words "New Orleans" below the Snug Harbor sign inside the performance room. Ballero's music felt like home, and I wanted to live inside it for as long as possible. It was the music's raw emotion and down-home congeniality, along with the talent of Ballero's band and their humble approach to their role as sidemen. He was joined by Fats Domino soprano, alto and flute man Frederick "Shep" Sheppard, bandleader/keyboardist Marc Adams, touring drummer Kerry Brown, and Jim "a bassist for all seasons" Markway. Each of these guys could have been out fronting their own bands, but they were backing Bolero because they loved the music. I understood why.
Ballero's guitar work was impressive, but just as important was his laid-back personality during the concert and his ability to pace the set. He moved from original slow blues burners to faster, more strolling blues numbers. He also threw in a funky Mardi Gras tune here or there and did an amazing, understated version of "Georgia on My Mind." Ballero treated the song with a soft, delicate hand, and Sheppard pulled all the beauty out of the song with his superb soprano work. It was romantic. It was how music was supposed to feel--fulfilling.
Now, to the band. Sheppard held a note for so long on his soprano sax that I moved past the point of wanting to applaud or gawk with my mouth wide open. I just tried to focus on the moment and be fully conscious. Wow. Sheppard's supreme musicianship was evident, but there was also an indescribable passion that came through his playing. I sat back in my chair every time Adams was called on to do an organ or piano solo because I wanted to be ready for something good. Markway was the band's anchor because he was so relaxed and confident throughout the set. He played a great high-pitched solo on his bass like it was a guitar. And then there was Brown, who held it down and kept things simple. His swinging tendency gave the music an eccentric but fun feeling at times.
Balleroo played for an hour and a half, and my foot was shaking or tapping the whole time. It was great to hear some good New Orleans music and feel like a part of the city.