Once upon a time Birmingham was a wondrous place with lounges and supper clubs. Gentlemen wore ties and ladies wore heels and they all got sweaty from knocking back highballs and dancing endlessly in smoke-filled rooms to swinging jazz combos. Ground Zero for this fever dream of the Fifties was a legendary spot called the Cane Break, a downtown club run by trumpeter Bob Cain and his wife, with a house band, the Canebreakers, that blew as sweet as any Bourbon Street combo. They even had their own theme song, a Dixieland version of “Just A Closer Walk with Thee,” to which new words had been appended: “Just a bowl of butterbeans/Pass the cornbread if you please/I don’t want no collard greens/Just a bowl of butterbeans.” Lots of musicians sat in with the Canebreakers, but only the best got permanent positions. One such was Charlie Giambrone, a professorial-looking gent with a smooth singing voice and a golden touch on the upright bass. Charlie will start things off Friday night at the Music Oasis with Doug McCullough on guitar, Danny Rubio on keyboards and Vince Ceravolo on drums, in homage to the great Magic City club combos. The Church of the Advent is ordinarily a staid venue for Music Oasis acts, but one would not be surprised if its roof gets raised a little bit should Charlie G and the combo just happen to break into a little bit of “Butterbeans.”
Presentation of the City Stages Memorial Scholarships • Friday • 7:25 p.m.
Every year City Stages awards a number of scholarships to deserving local students who plan to study music in college. This year’s winners include Sarah Ha, Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA), recipient of the J.L. Lowe Memorial Scholarship; Crystal Wu, ASFA, recipient of the Sylvester Jones Memorial Scholarship; Mary Price, ASFA, recipient of the Ann Adams Memorial Scholarship; Sarah Morrison and Luke Norton, Homewood High School, recipients of the Thomas P. Williams Memorial Scholarships.
Vicki Hallman Cabaret • Friday • 7:45 p.m.
Erstwhile local Vicki Hallman is the natural segue act following the Sho-Boat Canebreak Combo set on Friday evening, seeing as how the Sho Boat nightclub was her proving ground. Of course, Birminghamians had already watched her grow up on local stage and screen before she ever set foot in the Sho Boat: She made her TV debut on Channel 13’s Talent Showcase when she was only 4; by age 6, she had a recording contract and had appeared on Merv Griffin’s show; by age 8, she had caught the ears of Tonight Show host Steve Allen, who had her brought to Hollywood. As a teenager, she worked the Southeast showroom circuit until she landed the proverbial big gig — sharing a stage with Bob Hope when he appeared at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. The show went so well that Hope invited Hallman to Hollywood again. She went and she stayed, opening for Hope first and Buck Owens later. Her decades in Hollywood eventually included a solo recording career and a 10-year stint on Hee Haw. Although Hallman performed last year at the Veranda on Highland, her City Stages set still counts as a brief break from retirement. It will be her second show anywhere in nearly two decades and the first show in four decades in which she’ll have Canebreak alumni backing her up.
Scholarship Winners Performance • Saturday • 1:15 p.m.
Solos and group performances by Sarah Ha, Crystal Wu, Mary Price, Sarah Morrison and Luke Norton, winners of the 2009 City Stages Memorial Scholarships.
Birmingham Children’s Choir • Saturday • 2:45 p.m.
Surely, there are grownups who have latent love for opera and classical music, but simply never were exposed to the genres before reaching the if-it’s-too-complex-you’re-too-old stage of life. Thankfully none of the young ‘uns who ever were or are a part of the Birmingham Children’s Choir will suffer the same fate. Founded in 1998, the BCC has been nurturing the love of music in the children of this community for more than a decade. Singers ranging in age from 5-15 must audition for the ensemble and commit to rehearsals and performances from August to April (plus the City Stages appearance). The past repertoire has included numbers from La Boheme and Opera Birmingham’s An Alabama Christmas.
University of Montevallo Jazz Ensemble • Saturday • 3:45 p.m.
From swing to Dixieland to contemporary jazz, the remarkable range of the UM Jazz Ensemble makes the outfit a homegrown modern-day big band. Dr. Joe Ardovino, himself a tip-top trumpeter, leads the pack, whose previous gigs have included the Cullman Jazz Festival and the Alabama State Jazz Festival.
Jacksonville State University Jazz Ensemble • Saturday • 4:45 p.m.
If the faculty, staff and students of JSU have anything to be cocky about (besides the school’s athletic teams, all called the Gamecocks, and their mascot, Cocky), it’s the jazz studies curriculum. Seriously, the JSU music department offers a jazz certificate for undergraduates who want to dedicate serious amounts of time and energy to the study of syncopation, improvisation, hot licks, smooth grooves and grace notes as played on trumpets, trombones, saxophones, pianos, bass, guitars and percussion instruments. The JSU Jazz Ensemble, directed by Dr. Chip Crotts, has even released four albums and is working on a fifth. Make your way into the cool of the Music Oasis on Saturday afternoon and you’re liable to hear live versions of new material in addition to jazz standards.
University of Alabama Jazz Ensemble • Saturday • 5:45 p.m.
Rounding out the afternoon of collegiate jazz is the Capstone’s award-winning combo, directed by Christopher Kozak. The UA Jazz Ensemble has performed at numerous notable festivals, including the Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival, the Mobile Jazz Festival and the Wichita Jazz Festival. The group’s repertoire covers jazz standards and compositions dating from the 1940s to the present.
Alabama Blues Machine • Saturday • 6:45 p.m.
When the Alabama Blues Machine decided to perform in the Magic City Blues Society’s 2008 “Battle of the Blues Bands,” the eight-piece band had only played five gigs ever. What’s more, the ABM had the last time slot on the bill, which meant they had half a dozen tough acts to follow. Happily, the battle ended with a vision-of-the-world-to-come moment – the last shall be first, etc. Alabama Blues Machine was named the best blues band in Alabama and represented the blues society at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in February. Heavy on horns (trumpet, trombone and sax, played by Rick White, Mike Lingo and John Remley, respectively), the ABM is led by guitarist Ross Roberts, best known for his decades in Cozy and Dick’s Hat Band. Clay Swafford, Eric Onimus and Bruce Andrews complete the trio, playing keyboard, bass and harmonica, in that order.
Superjazz • Saturday • 8 p.m.
It’s super. It’s jazz. It’s Superjazz. It used to be UAB SuperJazz and before that it was the Superjazz Big Band. Founded in 1978, the ensemble has survived and thrived through a few name changes and a lot of lineup changes, but the outfit still consists of 21 of Birmingham’s top professional jazz musicians. In 2001, UAB Entertainment Records released a recording of UAB SuperJazz featuring Ellis Marsalis, and the ensemble has performed with notable jazz acts including Ernie Watts, Lou Marini Jr., Lew Soloff and Chuck Redd. Directed by Everett Lawler and Mike Lingo, Superjazz performed at the very first City Stages and several subsequent festivals. That it’s a perennial gig for them suggests they play something worth hearing.
The Progressive Choir • Sunday • 2 p.m.
Some of the 80-plus voices that comprise the Gospel Choir of the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church have been singing together since 1976. The singers have a dynamic, energetic and spiritual new director. Well, sort of new: Charles A. Johnson Jr. of Bowling Green, Ky., took the reins (or rather, perhaps, the baton) in January 2008, giving the group a new name and new energy. The Progressive Choir has toured throughout the Southeast and has recorded two albums, including one with the popular Birmingham-based gospel group, Second Coming.
Isla Duo • Sunday • 3 p.m.
First, the name’s pronounced “Eye-lah.” It’s a Celtic music twosome consisting of Scottish guitarist Peter Cairney and American vocalist Deborah Packard. She is a rich-voiced traditional singer and Ciarney’s playing will lead some to think of Richard Thompson. The music has a strong storytelling component and has an Appalachian ring to it, too (which makes sense considering there are almost as many Scots in Appalachia as there are in Scotland). The set will likely feature selections from the group’s self-titled debut — it’s intimate, ceilidh-type music of a high order and not to be missed.
Sursum Corda • Classic Vocal Ensemble • Sunday • 4 p.m.
Lift up your ears. We lift them up to the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give him thanks and praise, because he allegedly made the Earth and the Earth contains Sursum Corda, a Birmingham-based choir with national recognition. Sursum Corda (which means “lift up your hearts”) is led by Lester Seigel, who is the Joseph Hugh Thomas Professor of Music at Birmingham-Southern College. Established in 2006, the choir has an explicit mission to perform great works of the Christian and Jewish liturgical music tradition.
Cahaba Saxophone Quartet • Sunday • 5 p.m
The Cahaba Saxophone Quartet has been playing smooth jazz, revved-up ragtime and selections from the Renaissance repertoire for more than 10 years. The versatility of styles has always been the hallmark of the group, which has cultivated a cult following throughout Alabama. These high-class musicians will provide a wealth of sonic treats, from Charlie Parker and John Coltrane standards to chamber music.
The Latin Rhythms Band • Sunday • 6 p.m.
The Latin Rhythms Band comes from Rocket City, and the range of jazz and Latin music they play is liable to make you see stars — salsa, merengue, boleros, bossa nova, guajira, gaugaunco, Latin rock, Latin jazz and more. Formed in Huntsville in 1995, the Latin Rhythms Band has an extensive catalog of original compositions and also does covers by acts such as Santana, War and the late, great Tito Puente.
Eduardo Rojas • Classical Piano • Sunday • 6:30 p.m.
See write-up on "Eduardo Rojas on music Oasis"
Red Mountain Chamber Orchestra • Sunday • 8:15 p.m.
Depending on the venue and the desired program, the size of the Red Mountain Chamber Orchestra varies from 45 to 65 members. Part of the appeal of the RMCO is that it’s an all-volunteer performance group. Those are pros wielding oboes, bassoons and clarinets, along with cellos, violins and violas. Likewise the French horns, trumpets and tubas, even the double bass and percussion. Except in this case, “pros” doesn’t mean professional musicians – it means doctors, dentists, band directors and teachers. The group is united by a passion for classical music and its set will surely be a benediction for the 2009 Music Oasis.