Modern magic: Melvin melts the crowds

George Melvin
at South Street Brewery
Monday, January 6


True entertainers are rare, and George Melvin is one of the few. Enthroned behind his Kurzweil electric baby grand, he shows himself time and time again as a master of his craft.

Responding to the audience reaction, he effortlessly tosses off jazz piano classics, barely glancing at his fingers dancing over the keys. Instead, Melvin works to woo the crowd, matching tune and style to mood. He even shows the same careful deliberation in conversation; the warm, easygoing manner he radiates comes with a St. Nick-issue pipe, which he clamps loosely between sentences.

In 1971, Melvin met Count Basie. It was a big moment. The musician imparted some sage advice to the budding pianist: People should understand and enjoy the music they're being exposed to, and it lies with the entertainer to encourage and foster that appreciation. It's apparent that Melvin has taken those words to heart.

I enjoyed the set at South Street Brewery Monday night. Melvin often sounds as if he's dueting with an unseen partner. The technique is easy to understand, but I imagine extremely difficult to perform: With his right hand, he plays both the melody and nearly all of the traditionally weightier, complementary chords usually reserved for the left hand. With walking bass and more chords from the freed digits, the numbers instantly unfold into rich, dense material.

Most of the time, Melvin often has several keyboards at his command. He likes to drape modern age magic over his electric piano-playing... eliciting fairly believable trumpet solos and bossa nova snares from a collection of synths, for example. At South Street, however, he relied primarily upon the skills of a trombonist and electric bassist to back him up. The result was not disappointing.

If you've missed George Melvin in the past, you can usually find him throughout the week adding class to evenings at Rococo's. If you'd rather try this at home, Melvin has released several solo CDs. He's also managed to find the time to start a booking / promotions company on the side, Lady L Productions. (The mysterious name once encouraged a late-night lonely heart to mistake the enterprise as an entertainment service, and call for male dancers at four in the morning.)

She could have gotten more swing eight hours earlier, with style.


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