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Andy Cohen, Eleanor Ellis & Walter Liniger: Piedmont blues, Ragtime, Early Jazz & Rev. Gary Davis Gospel Tunes

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We're planning a party -- an old-fashioned house party -- for our next program on March 13 at the Washington Ethical Society Auditorium. Andy Cohen will come from Memphis to lead the festivities. His cohorts in country blues will be Eleanor Ellis and Walter ?Wale? Liniger. They all fell in love with the old songs in the old styles, learned from the masters, and have been telling the world about it ever since.

  • concert
When Mar 14, 2010
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Where Washington Ethical Society Auditorium, 7750 16th St, NW. Washington, DC
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Andy Cohen grew up hearing recordings of Dixieland jazz and blues. Seeing Rev. Gary Davis perform took him in a new direction. Andy began to absorb the old music of the American South. Then he mastered playing it, in part while doing fieldwork with several blues elders for his anthropology degree. He became lead boy for blind bluesmen Jim Brewer, Rev. Dan Smith, Brother Daniel Womack, and briefly the very same Rev. Gary Davis. Other musical influences include Skip James, Bukka White and Brownie McGhee; and he's worked and hung out with a "who's who" of the blues.

Not only a serious musician singing and playing intricate and interesting songs, Andy has a great sense of humor and more than a few astonishing tricks up his sleeve. He plays old, wonderful guitars, ragtime and blues piano, and he's considered one of two of the world's experts on the Dolceola - an early 20th-century zither-type instrument played with a keyboard which calls to mind Shroeder's piano. You'll be amazed to hear it.

Locally in our area Andy teaches and performs for a week each summer in Westminster Maryland at the Common Ground On The Hill music camp. He has made about a dozen recordings, mostly vocal, piano and guitar on the Riverlark label, four solo, including one featuring music played on the Dolceola; it's apparently the only CD of such music in existence.

One of Andy Cohen's recordings, the phenomenal "Preachin' in that Wilderness" also includes Eleanor Ellis. Born in Louisiana near New Orleans, Eleanor dabbled in bluegrass before moving to the DC area. By then she was smitten by the blues. She soon began backing up street singer Flora Molton and later worked with Piedmont performing legend Archie Edwards. Eleanor was a founding member of the DC Blues Society and the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation. The latter was originally a barbershop in NE Washington DC run by the barber Archie Edwards, where he put down the scissors every Saturday afternoon and began to jam with Eleanor and other musicians. After Archie's passing Eleanor and others turned it into a teaching center and weekly jam space. The "barbershop" is now located in Riverdale Maryland.

Eleanor's beautiful guitar work and heartfelt and expressive singing in her rendition of Memphis Minnie's "In My Girlish Days" and other traditional pieces sends chills down the listener's spine. Eleanor continues to be a major fixture in the DC Area music scene where she has been a regular performer at the Washington Folk Festival and other venues. She has added her time and effort to support the wonderful Saturday afternoon open jams at the Archie Edwards Barbershop, where she sits right down with everyone from baby-beginners to experts to sing and play with them and share her knowledge of Piedmont style guitar.

Eleanor's first solo recording was self-released; her latest, "Comin' a Time", is on the Patuxent label out of Rockville Maryland. In the 1980s, Eleanor produced a video documentary, "Blues House Party," that included several of her Piedmont blues heroes. It still serves as a fine teaching aid. Eleanor lives in Takoma Park where she teaches guitar and writes on blues topics. She also teaches, leads open jams and performs each summer at the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins West Virginia.

Swiss-born Walter "Wale" Liniger fell in love with the blues via a Lightnin' Hopkins recording. After several years teaching school, he moved to the US, and worked with the University of Mississippi's Blues Archive. A Mississippi Arts Commission Folk Art grant allowed him to apprentice with Delta bluesman James "Son" Thomas, a relationship that lasted about seven years. He also backed Etta Baker on stage, with vocals, guitar and harmonica. Wale has been teaching blues courses at the University of South Carolina and the South Carolina Honors College, and he has taken the blues to concerts and workshops across Europe, as well as at Common Ground in Westminster.

This is going to be a fun concert of fun music -- country blues played by people who fell in love with it, play it really well, record it, teach it, write about it. They will proclaim it to you on Saturday, March 13, 8 pm at the Washington Ethical Society, 7750 16th St., NW, Washington, DC 20012. General admission is $15, free to Folklore Society members.

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