Feb 02, 2015 - LEGENDARY BLUESMAN BOBBY RUSH PLAYS JAZZ DEPOT BENEFIT FRIDAY. FEB. 13
You could say that Friday's Jazz Depot concert by Grammy-nominated blues star Bobby Rush—celebrating the birthday of the well-known Tulsa-based harmonica player and blues educator David Berntson—has been six decades in the making.
Rush himself explains: “See, there's a combination here. He's turning 60 years old. I've been performing for 60 years, so I started right around when he was born. That makes it real good.”
“The Oklahoma Jazz Hall has been strong supporter if music education in our state. I’ve personally worked with them on our annual Harp [harmonica] summit and other programs we've done and I believe in their mission,” says Berntson. “We're expecting a big crowd which translates into big support. I'm saying to people, `Don't give me presents.” We'll pass the hat when we get there, and we'll give that to the Jazz Hall’s music education, too.”
Berntson, his wife, Liz, and area blues figure Big Al Jamieson are the show's sponsors, along with the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
“Liz has been hatching this plan with Bobby for a while,” Berntson says, who calls the blues legend “just an amazing guy.”
“If you come early to the show, Bobby'll be in the crowd, and he'll talk to you and make you feel like a million bucks, man. He's one of my all-time favorite blues performers, and he has been for many years. I grew up in Illinois. I was living there 35 years ago, when he was living in Kewanee, Illinois, and we connected up then. I've seen him play festivals all around the world and gotten to know him. He's an absolute national treasure.”
As an illustration, Bernston tells a story that happened during the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas a couple of years ago.
“Bobby was headlining on Thursday, and I was doing Blues in the Schools all that day,” he says. “The Sonny Boy Blues Society brings us in to talk to a thousand kids and give away harmonicas, and in the afternoon, the tradition is that Liz and I donate harmonicas to the Boys and Girls Club in West Helena, a town that's down on its luck. We give away a few dozen harmonicas and do harmonica lessons, and it's really, really fun.”
A little over a month earlier, Berntson had seen Rush at another festival and mentioned what he was going to be doing in West Helena on the day that Rush would be performing at the King Biscuit event.
“So that Thursday, we're doing our deal in West Helena and he shows up,” remembers Berntson. “Bobby Rush shows up. And those kids hugged on his legs, and their moms are coming in, and they're saying, `Oh, wow. It's Bobby Rush!'”
“They're lovely people,” says Rush of the Bernstons. “They started out as fans, and they've become friends. They've supported me as an entertainer in every angle you can think of. They always come to my shows, they always laugh and talk with me. They've just come to be good friends, and I'm happy to do this for Dave's 60th birthday and raise some money for the Jazz Hall’s education programs and the whole bit.”
“The dozens of educational programs at the Jazz Hall are made possible thanks to the generous and steadfast support of music lovers like our friends the Bernstons,” says Jason McIntosh, CEO, the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. “We appreciate David and Liz pouring their love and energy into organizing this incredible show. The Bernstons understand you don’t have to be a Rockefeller to help a ‘fella. It’s because of supporters like them—throughout our community—that we are able to do so much to support music education.”
When Rush plays the Jazz Depot show – only a few days after he finds out if he won a Grammy for his current disc, Decisions, recorded with Blinddog Smokin' and Dr. John – he'll be returning to a city he first played 56 years ago, well before his first blues hit, 1971's “Chicken Heads.”
A native of Homer, Louisiana, Rush had relocated to Chicago with his parents as a teenager in 1953. A few years later, he was leading bands that included such future stars as Luther Allison and Freddie King as his star ascended on what has been dubbed the “chitlin' circuit,” an unofficial chain of clubs throughout the southern, southeastern, and southwestern United States that featured entertainment from predominately black acts. Those venues included several nightspots in Tulsa's famed Greenwood district, only a few blocks from what's now the Jazz Depot.
“That was back in '59, and Greenwood Avenue was the place at that time,” Rush recalls. “If you came to Tulsa, Oklahoma and didn't go to Greenwood Avenue, you hadn't been to Tulsa, Oklahoma. That was the thing where we came from – the chitlin' circuit, you know.
“I've crossed over to some better kinds of venues, but that don't mean I don't remember the things I did before I crossed over,” he adds. “I'm so glad to be back doing the thing in Oklahoma, especially for Dave and Liz. They don't do it for the money. They're doing it to help young muscians. It's going to be a great party, and not only a party, but a great benefit for the young folks the Jazz Hall teaches.”
The Bernesto Birthday Bash and Benefit, starring Bobby Rush, is set to begin at 9 p.m. Friday, February 13, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the Depot, from www.jazzhalltickets.com, or by calling 918-928-JAZZ.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through the preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.