Chamber Blues

Corky Siegel’s band brings unique sound to Rim

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Doyle Armbrust

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Frank Donaldson

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Jill Kaeding

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Chihsuan Yang

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Jeff Yang

The Tonto Community Concert Association (TCCA) will close its 2008-2009 season with Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues Band wrapping up the season on May 10.

The association brings world-class performances to Payson featuring musicians who have performed via an array of venues including PBS, Lincoln Center, Busch Gardens and National Public Radio.

The Tonto Community Concert Association is a nonprofit organization that brings high quality concerts to Arizona Rim Country at an affordable price. The all-volunteer group also supports other performing arts activities in the region.

The concerts feature artists of national and international reputation and are held at the Payson High School auditorium.

Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues Band performs at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, May 10.

Corky Siegel has earned an international reputation as one of the world’s great blues harmonica masters. He is a composer, blues pianist, and singer/songwriter.

Is it blues, is it classical?

Walking the line between Beethoven and B.B. King and armed with the creative genius and instrumental prowess that have defined his career for nearly four decades, Siegel has pioneered an original, genre-busting Chamber blues — a fresh, innovative sound capturing the sparkling qualities of classical music merged with the emotional melodic style of blues, all within an intimate chamber setting.

Under Siegel’s lead, The West End String Quartet and percussionist Frank Donaldson complete the Chamber Blues Band. Described by critics internationally as: remarkable, astonishing, extraordinary, hot, mesmerizing, joyous and outrageous fun, their music and concerts have delighted diverse audiences globally and their genre-defying presentations are drawing new and old concert-goers to places they have never been before.

Chamber Blues is a juxtaposition of classical and blues flavors, Siegel explains. A meeting of the two of the most important and diverse music forms.

The juxtaposition is not just about the instrumentation of string quartet, east Indian tabla, and blues harmonica and piano (with a vocal thrown in now and again). It is a “compositional” juxtaposition.

“I call this ‘cross-under.’ The written music is Chamber Blues. It can be played on six saxophones and it would still be Chamber Blues. It also is not exactly a ‘blend.’ I consider jazz to be a blend of classical and blues and I think George Gershwin certainly blended the forms in a beautiful way. With jazz for instance the blues seems to disappear into the classical and visa versa turning up a third form — called jazz,” Siegel said

Chamber Blues is two forms working together. blues and classical. Each form’s personality is maintained.

“Chamber Blues was neither my idea nor my fault. It grabbed me and it won’t let go,” Siegel said.

“My greatest inspiration in my life has been the blues. What an amazing opportunity in 1966 at Pepper’s Show Lounge in the south side of Chicago as a young musician blues lover to be part of the house band that hosted Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Hound Dog Taylor, Little Walter, James Cotton, Jr. Wells, Buddy Guy and all the great blues masters you can think of. What an experience to be taken under the wing of these people.

“And then this Japanese fellow shows up in 1966 and wants my band — Siegel-Schwall — to jam with his band. His band was the Chicago Symphony and he was Seiji Ozawa. He explained that blues was the very spark that classical music needed. Traditionally, classical music forms borrowed from the folk forms of the day. And what more important folk form is there than the blues? Understand, it was Seiji that was thinking out of the box and taking all the risks.

“Over the years as we performed together with many orchestras, and recorded two projects for Deutsche Grammophon, Seiji insisted that I pursue this juxtaposition of blues and classical. At first I wasn’t interested. But that didn’t matter, it pursued me. Eventually in 1983 I just fell in love with the idea. Took me long enough! In 1988, Chamber Blues gave its first performances.”

About the artists

Corky Siegel

Corky Siegel has earned an international reputation as one of the world’s great blues harmonica masters. He is a composer, blues pianist, singer / songwriter, and recent winner of the Lila Wallace/Reader’s Digest/Meet the Composer’s national award for chamber music composition and the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship Award for Music Composition.

Siegel’s career began with a fortunate break when he formed the legendary Siegel-Schwall Band that toured the major rock palaces and clubs in the ’60s and ’70s. He was introduced to the blues through his very first steady engagement at Peppers, the internationally renowned blues club where his job included performances with the blues masters themselves.

Siegel has 18 recordings and more than 35 reissues. He has written and performed works for Arthur Fiedler and the San Francisco Symphony, the Grant Park Symphony, the National Symphony Orchestra — for a Kennedy Center performance. His latest symphonic work Blues for a Green Planet —Opus 10 was commissioned and performed with the Grant Park Symphony in Chicago. This was his second commission from that orchestra. His music has been choreographed by five different international ballet companies and has been used for many national TV specials and motion pictures as well as the 1988 Olympic men’s figure skating competition, the 1997 World Championship skating competition with Olympic gold medalists, Torvill and Dean, and a recent ABC-TV series including two works for three PBS programs — one of which won an Emmy Award for 2002.

Siegel’s partnership in the renowned Siegel-Schwall Band, his performances as soloist with orchestras worldwide, and his collaborations with conductor Seiji Ozawa in bringing a ground-breaking blues-classical sound to national attention are all a reflection of Siegel’s prodigious talent. Siegel continues tinues to perform as guest soloist with symphony orchestras worldwide, which have included the New York Philharmonic, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Orquestra Metropolitana De Lisboa in Portugal, and most recently, the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, the NHK Symphony in Japan, and the Philadelphia Orchestra with Maestro Charles Dutoit. In addition to ongoing tours with Maestro Dutoit, he has continued to perform numerous symphonic collaborations through the years with Doc Severinsen.

Doyle Armbrust

The eldest of three siblings, all of whom are violists, Doyle Armbrust began his studies on the viola at the age of 5 at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill. The orchestral repertoire proved to be his first love as he went on to become principal violist in the Midwest Young Artists, DuPage, and Chicago Youth Symphonies. During his college years, Armbrust was principal violist of the Northwestern University Chamber and Symphony Orchestras as well as the Civic Orchestra of Chicago under Maestro Daniel Barenboim. Most recently, Armbrust enjoyed a three-year fellowship in the New World Symphony under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas.

The most profound period in Armbrust’s training began in his studies with renowned violist Donald McInnes during his senior year at Northwestern University and later, as a master’s student at the University of Southern California where he was a merit full-scholarship recipient. During this time, he received first place in the Northwestern University Chamber Music Competition, was a prize winner in the USC Concerto Competition, and made his solo debut with the Filarmonia das Beiras in Aveiro, Portugal.

Armbrust currently performs with Camerata Chicago (principal), New Millennium Orchestra, Ars Viva Symphony Orchestra, and Chicagoland Pops Orchestra among others. An avid proponent of new music, he has performed with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) and Anaphora, and has recorded commercially for Chicago composer Augusta Read Thomas. Armbrust can be seen regularly on the Chicago Symphony’s MusicNow Series at the Harris Theater.

When not playing the viola, Armbrust can be found sea-kayaking in the Apostle Islands, hunting through dusty bins for (vinyl) records, and creating haute cuisine. He considers performing with Corky Siegel and the Chamber Blues Band to be one of the singular highlights of his musical life in Chicago.

Frank Donaldson

Percussionist Frank Donaldson is a leading exponent of funk, fusion and jazz drumming, as well as an accomplished bandleader. Donaldson began studying piano at age 7 and switched to drums at age 9. He turned professional at age 15. He was a member of Archie Bell and the Drells who had the No. 1 Billboard hit “The Tighten Up.” In 1969 Donaldson entered North Park College where he studied with Don Koss of the Chicago Symphony.

Throughout the 1970s Donaldson continued to expand his playing talents and musical options. He enrolled at the American Conservatory of Music in 1971, where he studied under James Dutton. Donaldson was the percussion soloist with the North Shore Philharmonic Orchestra, which gave more than 38 performances of Milhaud’s Concerto for Percussion.

Donaldson was the drummer with the Ramsey Lewis Trio for 11 years recording four albums on Columbia Records including a recording with the London Symphony Orchestra. He toured worldwide at auditoriums, festivals and symphony orchestras including the American Symphony Orchestra in New York.

He is currently on the faculty of Columbia College and tours with his own jazz ensemble as well as the Chicago Jazz Ensemble. He has also toured and/or recorded with Curtis Mayfield, Angela Bofil, Ray Charles, George Shearing, Bill Withers, Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turentine, Roy Ayers, Noel Pointer, Patty Austin, Carmen Mac Crae and others.

In his 15th year with Chamber Blues, Donaldson’s percussion work is described as “deliciously original,” by the Denver Post.

Jill Kaeding

Jill Kaeding, cello, began her study of the piano at age 7 and the cello at age 10. She earned her degree at DePaul University where she studied with Gilda Barston and Joseph Sciacchitano and the late Frank Miller both of the Chicago Symphony.

In addition to numerous solo recitals, Kaeding has appeared as guest soloist with many orchestras in the Midwest and is a founding member of the highly acclaimed Metropolis Symphony. Recently she was invited to participate in the renown Banff Festival of the Arts in Canada which included extensive concertizing throughout British Columbia.

As a member of Trio Elan (with a new nationally distributed CD), Kithara Trio, and Ensemble D’Accord, she has performed in many chamber music concert series including the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert Series where Kaeding is heard frequently on nationally syndicated broadcasts on WFMT radio.

Known for her versatility in all mediums of chamber music, Kaeding has performed with contemporary multi-media ensembles as well as jazz standard deconstruction and rock with Lyle Lovett, Ray Charles, the Revolution Ensemble, and with her husband Jim Gailloreto’s Jazz String Quintet.

In her 14th year with Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues, The Naples Daily News Critic has recently heralded Kaeding’s cello work as “... world-class.” She can be heard on all three of the Chamber Blues recordings.

Chihsuan Yang

A native of Taiwan, Chihsuan Yang started playing violin and piano at an early age; her principle teachers have included Cyrus Forough, Stefan Hersh and Ilya Kaler. She holds a bachelor’s degree of violin performance from DePaul University, and along with being a member of the New Millennium Orchestra, she is an active freelance musician/teacher — tackling every musical style from classical to rock to traditional Chinese music, or from orchestra to theater and performance art; she has toured Taiwan, Australia, Canada, and throughout the U.S.

As a multi-instrumentalist specializing in Western violin, electric violin, Chinese erhu (fiddle), and piano, she has played in a diverse array of ensembles and styles of music. Chihsuan is a founding member of the chamber quintet “Accende Ensemble.” She has served as concertmaster on the Chinese erhu within a Traditional Chinese Orchestra, and has played in a multitude of venues on electric violin as well. Recently she performed in the sold-out Lookingglass Theatre production of the multi-nominated JEFF award Chicago musical “Sita Ram.”

Aside from her Rock Band and Classical ensembles, Chihsuan can currently be found teaching piano and violin, and working with the Chicago Children’s Choir. She has grown to love and appreciate Chicago and its people.

Jeff Yang

Jeff Yang was born in Taiwan in 1971, of Chinese parents and came to the United States in 1979 growing up in Seattle, Wash. He began studying violin at the age of 5, and gave his first major solo performance with the Northwest Symphony Orchestra at the age of 19, performing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. He caught the attention of one of the leading violinists in the world, Steven Staryk, who became his mentor at the University of Washington where he earned his undergraduate degree in music and industrial engineering. Yang also studied with violinist Gerardo Ribeiro at Northwestern University where he earned his master’s degree. He furthered his studies with Joe Genualdi at De Paul University receiving his Performance Certificate.

Yang has served as the concertmaster with many leading symphony orchestras including the Spoleto Festival Orchestra in Italy, and the National Repertory Orchestra in Colorado. He served as assistant concertmaster with the International Symphony Orchestra of Israel, and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. He also toured throughout Russia as principal second violin with the American-Russian Youth Orchestra including performances in the United States at Carnegie Hall and Tanglewood.

Yang also performs as guest soloist from time to time with symphony orchestras in the United States including concertos by Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Prokofiev, Beethoven and Vivaldi. He has won many awards for his solo violin playing including the Anna Lockwood Award for Excellence in String Playing from Northwestern University and the Civic Graduate Fellowship in Chicago. He has won auditions and was finalist for many symphony orchestras, however, chamber music is his first love. He continues to enjoy taking many master classes from the world’s great virtuoso string artists which have included Pinkas Zukerman, Lynn Harrell, Elmar Oliveira, Borodin Quartet, Donald McGinnis, and Valentine Zhuk Concertmaster of the Moscow Symphony and Alexander “Sasha” Schneider from the Budapest Quartet.

Yang has performed with Chamber Blues for six years, and is a featured soloist on the 2005 live recording for Alligator Records.

Yang’s other interests include playing rock music on electric bass guitar and electric violin.

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