Ian Whitcomb to Rehearse and Conduct “Old-Time Orchestry”
Thursday, May 24 at Sky Harbor Steakhouse
Grammy-award winning performer, composer and arranger Ian Whitcomb will direct the Old-time Orchestry during a weekend of activities around the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest over Memorial Day weekend in Peoria. The LA-based performer is looking for musicians in the area who’d like to play along for the benefit of the contest’s efforts to preserve and perform music from the 1890s through 1929.
Whitcomb had a big hit 45 single with “You Turn Me On” at about the same time the Beatles were rising, but is now a ukelele virtuoso and Ragtime aficionado, often joined by his singing wife, Regina. Appearances on Shindig, the Tonight Show and at the Hollywood Bowl chronicle four decades in music that has ranged from rock & rock to jazz to the American standards.
Now, he hopes that others will join him as he puts together a band on Thursday evening, May 24, 2012 at the Sky Harbor Steakhouse around the old white upright piano in the dining room. Musicians who volunteer to rehearse and then play together on the Saturday Night Sing-along get their chicken and ribs all-you-can-eat buffet compliments of Daryl Klusendorf, but others can join in 5-8 p.m.
Whitcomb has outlined some tunes that he would like to rehearse Thursday night, including Darktown Strutters Ball, When You’re Smiling, Till We Meet Again, I Want to Go Back to Michigan (Down On The Farm). Musicians may continue to play throughout the evening following the buffet if demand warrants, but this will likely be a fun evening, with Adam Swanson, Faye Ballard and others taking a turn at the keyboard.
Popular music writer Richie Unterberger says, “An odd footnote to the British Invasion, English singer and pianist Ian Whitcomb formed his R&B group Bluesville in Dublin, Ireland. He never had a hit in the U.K. and wasn't all that wild about rock & roll in the first place, preferring traditional forms of blues, ragtime, and Tin Pan Alley. But “You Turn Me On”—a tongue-in-cheek three-chord knockoff at the end of a session with exaggerated falsetto vocals and an unforgettable orgasmic vocal hook—hit number eight in America in 1965, and Whitcomb was briefly a star. The bluesy follow-up, “N-N-Nervous,” was a small hit, and that was the end of Whitcomb’s hit-making days. Not much of a rock & roll singer, Whitcomb quickly turned to vaudevillian, British music hall-styled material on his subsequent releases, with meager commercial (and artistic) results. A dedicated archivist, Whitcomb’s book, After the Ball, is a thorough history of pre-rock popular music forms.
Whitcomb will also conduct a workshop on “The Treasures of Tin Pan Alley” on Sunday, May 27, at 9:30 a.m. at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel for a small door charge. This hour-long presentation with Q&A will feature ukelele, piano and vocal renditions of some of America’s favorite or most unusual tunes.
Those who wish to sign up for the Old-Time Orchestry should contact Sky Harbor at 309-674-5532 and indicate they are a musician to get the free buffet (additionals at $17 including tax and tip). Klusendorf, a musician himself, has long promoted live music at Sky Harbor and has hosted informal pre-contest parties for a couple of years.
Those who can’t make the rehearsal or buffet can still catch up with the band on Friday night at the hotel where a instrumentalists can jam around a piano, with a new piano player every few minutes. They’ll be rehearsing the Saturday night show tunes at some point that evening.
The two musical party rooms open up Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening for impromptu performance around pianos after other activities are over. One room has two pianos for duets, the other just one so the saxophone, guitar, horn and banjo players can join.
Other activities include a day and a half of competitions, the screening of a documentary about the contest shot in Peoria, a dozen piano players on the Spirit of Peoria riverboat and a workshop with Ragtime legend Johnny Maddox. OMPA awards more than $4,000 in cash prizes each year in youth and regular divisions for playing tunes written prior to 1930, and its New Rag Contest for composers.