Tuesday, 21 May 2024

CyberSoulMan: Piano and bass dialogues with Rodney Franklin, Curtis Olson

Jazz pianist Rodney Franklin shared his magic at the Concert with Conversation on Saturday, March 27, 2010, at the Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake, Calif. Photo by Jillian Billester.







UPPER LAKE – Last Saturday, March 27, just before intermission at the Tallman Hotel’s Concert with Conversation featuring the prolific stylings of Jazz pianist Rodney Franklin and bassist/band leader Curtis Olson, I glanced around the room and noted some of the changing faces of Lake County.


The hotel’s Riffe's meeting room was slightly over the advertised 40-ticket limit. In that intimate setting was the enraptured countenances of music lovers, really into what Misters Franklin and Olsen were putting down.


This burgeoning appreciation of Jazz/Funk/Fusion in Lake County is no new thing. A few years back, when James Brown’s last guitarist Robert Watson was the music director at the now defunct Konocti Blues Café, Watson consistently brought in a cast of world-class players from the above-mentioned genres, including Franklin, Miles Davis guitarist Barry Finnerty, Maze/Santana drummer Billy Johnson, Sly & The Family Stone’s Rusty Allen and a host of others.


So, memory not withstanding, it was refreshing to see the patrons at the Tallman come to support the event, many of whom never made it to the KBC.


The cool thing about Concerts with Conversation is the workshop-style format. As the title of the series suggests, dialogue between the artists and the audience is encouraged.


One of the first things out of the mouth of Curtis Olson was how much he admired Rodney Franklin’s understanding and execution of harmonic structure. A little history on the evolution of Rodney Franklin as he himself explained during a break in the music.


“As a child born and raised in Berkeley, I was placed in a great music program at the age of 6 and was taking Jazz piano lessons,” he explained.


“Instrumental in my early development was Dr. Herb Wong, KJAZ disc jockey and music educator. Dr. Wong would consistently bring world class Jazz musicians to our school,” Franklin continued. “As a youngster I saw Miles Davis and Rhasaan Roland Kirk at school. I was introduced personally to Oscar Peterson, who so dazzled me with his playing that I decided that’s what I would do.


“I entered my first music competition at age 8,” he added. “I played in an award-winning junior high jazz band. We lost our first three competitions, which made us get serious enough to win one hundred-seventeen in a row.”


Curtis Olson was a witness to the prowess of the Berkeley Music Education program. Olson grew up in nearby Pittsburg, Calif., and remembers as a high schooler, Franklin's junior high school band coming to Pittsburg and outplaying by far the Pittsburgh High School Band.


That experience, said Olson, spurred him to study harder and as fate would have it, he and Franklin started playing the occasional gig together later in life.


Saturday night’s Concert with Conversation found the duo playing from the songbooks of Hoagy Carmichael, Ray Charles, George Gershwin, Stevie Wonder and originals as well.


Franklin was on the road for years with Stevie Wonder. Olson was on the road with Ray Charles for years as well. They both told interesting revealing anecdotes about their respective tenures.


This reviewer has seen Franklin in action close to a half a dozen times or more. It was my second time hearing Curtis Olson. They complemented each other very well.


The all-important eye contact, in terms of their improvisational delivery, was very evident. Franklin would call out a key signature, then at the last millisecond before the down beat, change it and Olson could not be thrown off. Great chops – and I don’t mean suey.


And in other pertinent Lake County Music News, Twice As Good was awarded the Best New Band of The Year at the West Coast Blues Hall Of Fame Awards Show held at the Oakland Airport Hilton on Sunday, March 28.


The house was packed as Paul and Rich Steward received their award among other awarded luminaries such as Jazz great John Handy, Laura Joplin, who received a posthumous award for her sister Janis, Snooky Flowers, saxophonist who recorded with Janis and Big Brother and The Holding Company, Juan Escovedo for Shela E., Zakiya Hooker, Freddie Hughes and many, many more.


Keep prayin, keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts!


T. Watts is a writer, radio host and music critic. 



Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .




Paul and Rich Steward of Twice As Good recently received the award for the Best New Band of The Year at the West Coast Blues Hall Of Fame Awards Show. Here they show off their award at the Bue Wing Saloon and Cafe in Upper Lake, Calif. Photo by Bernie Butcher.

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