By: Kathy Foster-Patton
On January 18, an all-star group of musicians will perform at Bimbo's 365 Club in San Francisco at Groove Is In The Heart, a benefit for children's music education programs. The mastermind behind the event is Jimmy Dillon, who plays guitar and sings with Clarence Clemons, Bruce Springsteen, and more. Upon being asked to work on the benefit, Dillon immediately thought of other musicians he could ask to play with him, and at the top of the list was Chuck Leavell, legendary keyboardist who's played with The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, The Allman Brothers, The Black Crowes, and others. These well-respected musicians joined together to talk about this event and give some hints of what the night might bring.
Dillon, based in San Francisco, is the musical director and main producer of Groove Is In The Heart. He explained how the benefit came to be, "I'm a longtime musician and I run Blue Star Music Camps. I was approached by Saints and Sinners, a foundation that funds kids programs, to do an event at Bimbo's. My friend Steve Cinelli [President of Saints and Sinners] said we should put together something that's really fun and I came up with the name 'Groove Is In the Heart' because I figured it's musicians coming in to support kids programs. Bimbo's is up there with the Fillmore in terms of vibe, a great kind of Rat-Pack room with a lot of history. I've played there many times over the years as a musician."
"My idea was to put together an event that benefits different programs for kids in the whole Bay Area," enthuses Dillon. "We picked four programs we thought were strong and worthy of donation — all non profits, of course. One is called Oaktown Jazz, which is in the East Bay; Little Kids Rock in San Francisco; the California Music Project representing the South Bay; and Blue Star Music Camps, in the North Bay."
"So, this sort of came together as an idea and grew, and Steve asked me to put together the music and help produce it," continues Dillon. "Well, I first thought I'm going to call Chuck Leavell because he's a good friend and we have a little band called The Werewolves that we put together now and again. Then, I decided to bring in some other good names like Narada Walden, who's a Grammy winner and a great drummer. And, I thought of Bob Weir and Mark Karan. I basically brought in a lot of people who had been supportive of Blue Star Music Camps in the past and helped assemble this cast of luminaries who are going to sort of lock arms on stage, if you will, for kids. It's basically musicians really getting together because it's so tragic how music programs have been pulled out of schools and so we made it our business to make it available to kids."
Jimmy Dillon by Jack Perno
Dillon described the cast of musicians that he has assembled. "We've got Mark Karan who's the guitarist for Ratdog, and Bob Weir, and Narada, myself and Chuck being sort of the front line. Norton Buffalo is a latecomer. He's a wonderful, virtuoso harmonica player and world class musician with Bonnie Raitt. We've got a number of really fantastic singers involved. One is named Larry Batiste, who I'm recording with in Oakland today. And [we have] Ozzie Ahlers, who's my keyboard player, who plays with Van Morrison. He's my musical partner. So, we have quite a band. In fact, it's almost set-up like a Stones kind of set-up where you have three backing singers and two keyboards, couple guitars, bass, drums."
Dillon only shared small tidbits about what the setlist for the evening might include. "Each artist has a little vignette, a little moment on stage where we do what we're known for. Narada will have his moment, Chuck will have his moment, I'll have my moment. There'll be some shining moments there, and I think with a band this good, if I were someone else out there, like any other big players around the area, I'd kill to jam with a band like this. There's no telling who might show up, being that we have this really strong camaraderie and we all know each other. I wouldn't be surprised to see some surprises."
The musicians will be joined on stage with some of the young people who they are working to benefit. Dillon says, "Yes, we're going to have the kids from the Oaktown Jazz Project. They're a great brass project and they'll be playing some stuff. There are some special things that are going to happen. The Little Kids Rock will be performing and some very special Blue Star kids will be performing as well. There will be an auction that will include celebrity guitars. That has been our basis for our auctions in the past. I go to celebrities and have them sign appropriate guitars and we auction them off."
Jimmy Dillon by Jack Perno
When Chuck Leavell joins the interview, he's just as enthused as Dillon about the project. "I'm just a minor league player in this thing," offers Leavell. "Jimmy is the main man. He has done so much work, what he's done with Blue Star and the other three partners on this is just amazing to me. I think it sets a great model for others to follow. If we can partner like this maybe we can make a significant difference in music education, and I'm just proud to be a part of it. I'm there to have fun, play music, play with my friend Jimmy, and, of course, all of these other great musicians that he has lined up. It's an honor for me. I think it should be very smooth sailing. It's going to be a lot of fun to work with these fine players. It's going to be a night to celebrate music, and to celebrate music getting to young people."
Leavell and Dillon both shared their exposure to music as children. Leavell says, "I played tuba in junior high school and I will never ever forget the day the band director brought all the instruments to the elementary school. It was the practice in Alabama at that time that a band director would come into the elementary school once a year and run the older elementary students through all the instruments and see if there was any obvious talent. I wanted to start on the drums. I went rat-a-tat-tat, and they moved me on to trumpet and I blew in that and made a terrible noise. Then the trombone, and eventually to the tuba, and somehow I made a decent sound on that thing and they said okay you ought to think about this. I played for two years in the concert band and it was an absolutely great experience. I had a wonderful band master named Jimmy Jones and he made a big difference in my understanding of ensemble playing and listening to all of the other instruments and hearing yourself within that blend. I must confess that I gave it up because rock & roll was coming into my life and we had a band and I was more interested in guitar and keyboard at that point."
Chuck Leavell with The Rolling Stones
Dillon chimed in with his own story, "My mom made me go out and mow lawns if I wanted a guitar and I did. Once I got it I was off and running. I didn't do a lot of music in school because we didn't have the opportunity in the school I was at. I pretty much did it on my own and that's why I'm so passionate about making it available for kids. I didn't have anything available to me and I had to just find my way."
For more information on The Groove Is In The Heart go directly to
www.acteva.com/go/vibes or Bimbo's 365 Club. The event will be web-cast live from the event at lala.com/groove on Thursday, January 18 and will be available afterwards for viewing and to donate to the charities.
Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell & all-star band, The Werewolves, howl to benefit Bay Area Kids Music Programs.
The rotating lineup of special guests includes:
Bob Weir - Guitar/Vocals (Grateful Dead, Ratdog)
Norton Buffalo - Harmonica (Steve Miller Band, Bonnie Raitt)
Narada Michael Walden - Drums/Vocals (Sting, Jeff Beck)
Jimmy Dillon - Guitar/Vocals (John Lee Hooker, Bruce Springsteen)
Mark Karan - Guitar (Ratdog, The Rembrants)
Ozzie Ahlers - Keyboards (Van Morrison, Jerry Garcia Band)
Dewayne Pate - Bass (Robben Ford Band)
Larry Batiste - Vocals (Musical director for the 2007 Grammys)
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