The Oxford, Downtown Bend’s only swanky hotel, hosts a series of concerts called, appropriately, Jazz at the Oxford. Friday night, I saw Curtis Salgado, which was a slight departure from the series since it was more blues than jazz. 

The Oxford banquet room was all gussied up in a charmingly earnest portrayal of a jazz club, including the obligatory purple lighting and a velvet backdrop. All in all, it was a bit too pristine to actually be a real jazz club, but the room was packed, and once the music was rolling, it mostly felt like the real thing. 

After being given complimentary wine, we sat in our reserved seats, side by side, facing the stage, with a little sliver of the table between us. When the band came on to warm up the audience, I couldn’t stop watching the drummer, Edwin Coleman III. 

I love watching a musician totally surrender to the moment, like they lose themselves, and stop caring about how they look or the technical precision of a piece of music. I find the technically perfect musician boring to watch.

As a spectator, it is far more interesting to watch music pour out of someone. I like music as an art (vs. science).  Edwin Coleman III is an artist.

I should pause for a moment and confess. I know very little about music. I love music, but I can’t pretend to be an expert. I am not a musician, so I couldn’t tell you that the guitarist played too many unnecessary notes and just did a lot of scales (I learned this from my date).

All I can tell you is that the guitarist mostly felt like he was phoning during his performance. He could be a musical genius, but I couldn’t feel his soul.

Ditto for the sax player and the keyboardist. They had moments of artistry, but their playing felt a little too intellectual for dirty blues.

Coleman, however, was fully engaged, in the zone, like the audience was an afterthought. He was simply jamming with every cell in his body. Coleman is clearly a man who feels the blues in his bones and loves his job. 

Vocalist LaRhonda Steel came on stage, and she had her moments for sure, but I still found myself watching Colman.

Then, Salgado sauntered in and finally wrenched my attention to center stage. Salgado was dressed in black from head to toe. His button-up short-sleeve shirt hung out over a bit of a pot belly.

He is one of the only men I know who can get away with wearing short sleeves, sunglasses indoors, and a beret. It all fit on him, somehow.

Though it wasn’t his appearance that captured me, it was his passion.  His first piece was all harmonica, with no vocals.

Salgado practically ate his harmonica while playing… He made it sing and slide and wail in ways that seemed impossible and yet totally right. And then in the next number, he sang. Wow.

This was no half-ass performance. He WAS the blues. There were moments when I forgot the sanitized velvet-clad ballroom and felt like I’d been transported to some dive on Frenchman Street.

It felt like New Orleans to me for some reason, or at least like the raucous random performances, you might stumble on there. 

At some point, Salgado turned the focus to the sax player, John Nastos, and said off mike, “Make it dirty, Johnny.”  Nastos was good, for sure, but  “dirty” is not how I’d describe his style; it was more studied, though he did a decent approximation of “clean trying to be dirty.” I like being dirty. Dirty blues.

Salgado and Coleman totally brought the “dirty,” and transported me to another place. To be fair, they got some solid help from John Pain (B-3 organ), Peter Dammann (guitar), and Nastos. 

So thanks to Salgado and Coleman, I got lost in the blues… in Bend, Oregon of all places.

Not bad.

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