When Pier One Theatre goes dark between its Youth Theatre production in late July and the closing show in late August, what’s the Homer Spit’s funky little red theater going to do? The silvers are jumping, tourists still visit and though school might be looming, it would be a shame to let the theater go empty.
Get outrageous, that’s what. Jazz, baby. Outrageous Jazz.
That’s how a hot little jazz group made of some of Alaska’s best jazz musicians got a gig.
“It was something Lance called me on out of the clear blue one spring,” said Karen Strid-Chadwick of Lance Peterson, Pier One’s director. “He said we need to be offering more jazz.”
Now in its third year, that ad hoc group, Outrageous Jazz, performs two shows this weekend at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Strid-Chadwick said they’ll be playing jazz standards.
“We’ll do different spins on standard tunes,” she said. “We like to do Latin stuff, ballads, swing and blues. We like to mix it up.”
Outrageous Jazz consists of Strid-Chadwick of Homer and Anchorage on piano; Brenda Vulgamore Hune, vocals; Jim Davis, saxophone; Heidi Herbert-Lovern, bass; Cameron Cartland, drums, all of Anchorage, and Dale Curtis, trumpet, from Ketchikan. Cartland replaces former Outrageous Jazz drummer Curtis Bates.
Strid-Chadwick’s connection to Pier One goes back to the 1980s when she performed in “Angry Housewives,” a musical about housewives who start a punk rock band. Most of the musicians know each other from gigs in the 1980s, with Herbert-Lovern and Cartland part of a younger generation of Alaska musicians. Strid-Chadwick teaches piano at the University of Alaska Anchorage and commutes from Homer to teach. Herbert-Lovern is one of her students. Cartland has become one of the most popular and requested drummers in Alaska.
“He’s my go-to guy for hand percussion and Brazilian style,” Strid-Chadwick said.
While Cartland plays a drum set, he also plays the pandeiro, considered the Brazilian national instrument, a hand drum that looks something like a tambourine, but with a tunable head and cupped and not flat jingles. In jazz music, the drummer and the stand-up bass have to stay on the beat, something Cartland and Herbert-Lovern do, Strid-Chadwick said.
“If that isn’t matched together, we’ve got problems in the band, because we ain’t swinging. That’s the difference between a good band and a great band,” she said. “The stars in the band are always the vocalist, the melody players, but it really takes the bass player and the drum to make it happen.”
Strid-Chadwick met Davis in Anchorage. Davis started playing at 11 in Philadelphia and once even hung with John Coltrane for an afternoon. He came to Alaska with the U.S. Army Band at Fort Richardson.
“Jim’s soulful playing and ability to play from the heart has got to be experienced,” Strid-Chadwick said.
Strid-Chadwick met Vulgamore Hune through Davis. The three of them played numerous gigs in Anchorage clubs. Strid-Chadwick met Larry Chadwick, then owner of Round the World travel, and moved to Homer to be with him. In Homer, she played with Vulgamore Hune in 1986 as the Tsunami Mamas at the old Waterfront Bar in Old Town. They got their name from numerous tsunami watches that summer during an eruption of Augustine Volcano.
“We got to know each other in that gig,” Strid-Chadwick said. “I pretty much know what she wants from me.”
Volgamore Hune has a reputation for “flipped out” endings to her songs, Strid-Chadwick said.
“You never know how she’s going to take out a tune. You’ve gotta have ears,” she said. “Dale’s the same way. Jim’s the same way. It’s always fun.”
The connection to Dale Curtis also goes back, Strid-Chadwick said. A trumpet player, she met him in Homer in the winter of 1988-89 when he contacted her to do a gig at the Bidarka Inn.
“He heard me play or I sat in on a gig, maybe at Alice’s or something,” she said.
That easy camaraderie of Alaska veteran musicians backed by a strong rhythm section should promise an evening of toe tapping jazz that finds its groove. The intimate seating of Pier One and the small theater makes a great setting, too, Strid-Chadwick said — with one tiny problem.
“I really like it,” she said. “One thing we have to watch is sometimes we get too loud.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday
Pier One Theatre
Brenda Vulgamore Hune, vocals
Jim Davis, saxophone
Dale Curtis, trumpet
Heidi Herbert-Lovern, bass
Cameron Carhand, drums
Karen Strid-Chadwick, piano