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Rockin' at the Rockville
Mardi Gras!
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Tim Onasch, Publicity, PRJC

February can be downright fickle here in the DC area. Last year at this time, we had to deal with 3-4 feet of snow on the ground with temperatures below freezing. Yesterday (February 13), however, fine weather enticed some 120 or so traditional jazz aficionados to show at the Rockville Elks Lodge for the PRJC's 2011 Mardi Gras and some authentic N'Awlins flavor with John Royen, one of the finest trad jazz pianists in New Orleans. A DC-area native, Royen has come up North to play for the PRJC before and the turnout has always been exceptional at every one of his sessions.


   This year's Mardi Gras celebration was also to feature another musician of equal status: cornetist Jim Ritter, formerly of the Buck Creek Jazz Band. However, Jim could not perform at this event, due to a prior commitment. So, thanks to some desperate, last-minute action by a number of folks, the PRJC was able to replace Jim with another headlining horn-player: Jon-Erik Kelso. As many of you know, Jon-Erik's been one of trad jazz's stalwarts in the New York City area for a number of years. He's also come down to our area to perform for the PRJC a number of times in the past. With John and Jon-Erik on stage together, both the Big Easy and the Big Apple were represented at our fine little Mardi Gras bash!

   The rest of the band was ably complemented by a number of musicians from the DC/Baltimore/Annapolis area. On reeds was Gary Gregg who played with the Federal Jazz Commission back in the 1980's and is still very active in the DC area. On trombone (and a few vocals) was Rhoades Whitehill. Chris Hofer, another veteran of many trad bands in the area, was on string bass. John Reynolds was on guitar and Howard Kadison, former member of the Dukes of Dixieland and currently playing in a number of local trad bands, aptly kept time on the drums. Last, but certainly not least, was the incomparable Lena Seikaly on vocals. This Writer has heard Lena sing for the past 7-8 years now and she just keeps getting better and better!

   Our Mardi Gras fest began with an appropriate tune, "Sunday", as the event was held on a very nice Sunday. The first set also included 4 consecutive numbers to which Lena contributed her dulcet tones: "After You've Gone", "Ain't Misbehavin'", "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoene", and the marvelous Duke Ellington ballad, "In A Sentimental Mood". The first set ended with a stirring rendition of "Limehouse Blues", which enticed a number of couples to get up and dance.

   After a short break, the band began set #2 with a number appropriate for the occasion, "Bourbon Street Parade". This was followed by another good ol' good one (as Satchmo used to say!), "South". The next 2 numbers featured dueling clarinets as Anita Thomas took the stage to perform "Struttin' With Some BBQ" and "You're Nobody's Baby Now". Lena then regaled the audience with her magnificent vocals on "Ain't I Good to You?" and "'Deed I Do". The second set concluded with "Bye-Bye Blackbird" with Rhoades ably supplying the vocals.


   The third and final set began with "The Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me". The band next performed a spirited rendition of the Fats Waller standard "Honeysuckle Rose". Lena returned to sing another old chestnut, "I'm Beginning To See the Light", followed by her melifluous rendition of "Blue Skies". Next came "Sheik of Araby" with Rhoades doing a fine job on vocals. At this moment, Yours Truly eyed his timepiece and saw that the afternoon's entertainment was about to draw to a sad close. The final number was indeed about to be performed. However, said number was Lena's signature rendition of "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues", indeed a fine way to bid adieu to the day's music.

   As mentioned above, in addition to the stellar lineup on stage, the mild weather undoubtedly contributed to the large crowd in attendance - possibly the largest we've seen in quite some time. A handful of ladies brought their parasols with them and danced around the room during many of the livelier numbers performed. This, of course, greatly embellished the Mardi Gras ambience.

   Even though it wasn't Mardi Gras in the Big Easy, it was still a rockin' Mardi Gras in Rockville! With a number of monthly specials still to come during 2011, This Writer intends to make it to as many of them as possible. Hopefully, after reading this humble account, you'll do the same. If so, I'll see you there...

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