Enterprise music critic
ÕTis the season to be charitable, celebrate the holidays … and rock out.
You can do all three at the fifth annual ÒHome for the HolidaysÓ concert, taking place at 7 p.m. Monday at the VeteransÕ Memorial Theater, 203 E. 14th St., Davis. Tickets Ñ $20 general, $8 children (under 18) Ñ are available at Armadillo Music, 205 F St., (530) 758-8058.
Proceeds will benefit the Davis School Arts Foundation, which supports music and arts education in Davis public schools.
The concert features a wealth of acclaimed local musicians, many of whom attended Davis schools: Joe Craven; Drive 5, featuring Mumbo GumboÕs Billy Fairfield, Brian Rivers and Reggy Marks; Tracy Walton, also of Mumbo Gumbo, with Bill Edwards; Rita Hosking and Cousin Jack; the Davis ChildrenÕs Tree Lighting Choir, led by Mindy Manville; the Harper Junior High School Jazz Band; Cody Craven; and The Little Charlie Caravan.
ÒLittle CharlieÓ Baty formed Little Charlie and the Nightcats with Rick Estrin way back in 1976. The Chicago-style, jump blues band was a fixture at blues festivals and on the club circuits for decades. After 32 years, Baty left the band for a ÒsoftÓ retirement. The Nightcats continued on, with Chris ÒKidÓ Anderson taking BatyÕs place on guitar.
But Baty didnÕt sit still for long; he took on the intricate, Gypsy jazz/swing stylings of The Little Charlie Caravan.
ÒI never played this type of music before in a professional band,Ó Baty told me, during a recent phone chat. ÒIÕve been learning, and weÕve been rehearsing a lot.Ó
The Caravan is influenced by blues, swing and the music of Django Reinhardt. Jason Vanderford, of the celebrated Hot Club of San Francisco, plays rhythm guitar. Multi-instrumentalist Bob Armstrong Ñ boasting a wealth of knowledge of songs from the 1920s Ñ plays guitar, steel guitar, ukulele, accordion and saw. Bassist Keith Cary brings his knowledge of swing, polka and country western.
The most difficult change for Baty has been the transition from electric to acoustic guitar.
ÒThe hardest thing is being able to control the sound in the way I did with electric. I didnÕt have to think twice. ItÕs hard to play in different-sized rooms with acoustic guitar, not knowing what it sounds like from day to day. Playing around the house, you just worry about playing.
ÒIÕm used to standing up when I play. But with this kind of music, you have to sit down.
ÒI never played a waltz with the Nightcats. And gypsy waltzes arenÕt the old-fashioned, minuet type of thing; theyÕre intense, difficult songs to play. They call them the bebop of gypsy jazz.Ó
Blues fans have responded favorably to The Little Charlie Caravan.
ÒThe kinds of music arenÕt much different,Ó Baty pointed out. ÒTheyÕre both based on roots-type music and swing.Ó
Gypsy jazz is a smaller niche than blues, but the fans are just as dedicated.
ÒA lot of young people are into it,Ó Baty said. ÒTheyÕre drawn to the skill and practice that go into it. Bluegrass fans appreciate it because of that, and because of the tradition.Ó
Baty is happy to help support the Davis School Arts Foundation.
ÒMusic is drifting away,Ó he said, clearly concerned. ÒThereÕs not a culture of music like we used to have. People donÕt seem to be focused on the skill of playing. Playing a video game isnÕt the same thing. You have to learn your instrument: work, practice, get up and play. ItÕs great if kids can learn that in school.Ó
Nightcats fans will be happy to know that Baty is playing a reunion show this Friday, at Biscuits and Blues in San Francisco.
ÒWeÕre all still friends,Ó Baty said. ÒI respect the band. Rick is a great front man and songwriter.Ó
So, why did Baty leave?
ÒI got burned out,Ó he admitted. ÒWe did more than 200 shows a year during the last 20 years. I was driving 50,000 miles a year, and going overseas several times a year. I was getting run down with stress, and I needed to relax.
ÒIt is fun, and I miss performing. I miss the people I met on the road, who I inspired through the years. Later, IÕd hear their bands.
ÒI think back to when I saw BB King and Buddy Guy, who got me in the process. I miss that.Ó
ÒHome for the HolidaysÓ is more than just a night of entertainment; it helps keep music programs alive in Davis schools.
And who knows? Perhaps a young person in MondayÕs audience will be inspired to pick up a guitar, just as Baty was.