Katherine Davis is one of Chicago's finest blues singers. Her voice is fabulous, but it the soul behind the voice that is the real story. Here is a link to Katherine's web site - check it out to get her complete back story.
Katherine was the headliner at Katerina's last Tuesday. She had a couple of major talents helping her that evening. Erwin Helfer was at the grand piano and the under-appreciated Skinny Williams was blowing the saxophone.
Katherine covers the entire history and range of blues music. She can belt out the classic post-war Chicago blues anthems; she also sings jazz and will go way back to pull out a chestnut like "The Dark Town Strutters Ball." She put her entire range on display during the set I caught at Katerina's. Her voice pours out and it is easy to hear the opera training that she received in her younger days. Her stage presence is remarkable - she connects with her audience in a very personal way. And she is back performing in spite of her grief over the recent loss of her husband, Caleb Dube (see the September 27, 2006 entry in this blog for more on Caleb). Perhaps her singing is part of her journey through the grief.
Erwin Helfer is carrying the flame of blues and boogie piano, the flame created by Sunnyland Slim, Jimmy Yancy, Otis Spann, "Cripple" Clarence Lofton and Speckled Red. Erwin is a conservator, but he makes these classic styles his own through his joyful drive and variations on the old riffs and themes. He carries his rhythm section with him - his rock-steady left hand that lays down the bass and the beat better than most bass-drum combos on the planet. Erwin and Katherine have worked together often; there was a lot of affection between these two fine musicians during the performance at Katerina's.
I had never heard Skinny Willams play before last Tuesday. He is a killer tenor man! His tone reminded me of Ben Webster, but he was ripping out the R&B and funk licks like a combination of Eddie Harris and Lennie Pickett. Skinny and Erwin tossed off a great version of "Chicken Shack" during their set.
Katherine's daughter was in attendence for her mother's gig. She was with a tall, stately gentleman who was invited to the bandstand to play piano and sing. I didn't catch the guy's full name (last name was Dunlap, I believe); he is a gospel artist in Chicago and his voice was huge when he sang the blues. I am always amazed at the quantity and quality of anonymous musical talent in the great city of Chicago.
Katherine said she might show up at the Mystery Band gig at Duke's tonight. Hope she makes it....