Bethany to get taste of Big Easy

New Orleans may still be deep in the process of recovering from last summer’s devastating hurricanes, but local musician Don Sharp is aiming to bring a bit of Big Easy flavor to the Bethany Beach Town Hall next week, with a performance of his Jazz Pioneers and their New Orleans-style jazz music.

“It was planned after the disaster,” Sharp noted this week, leading up to the Jan. 25 performance. But the tribute to New Orleans jazz is as least as much a tip of the group’s musical hats to the birthplace of the genre as it is a response to that city’s tragedy.

“Probably a lot of us derive inspiration musically from the older style of jazz,” Sharp said. “New Orleans is the home of that. We feel an emotional attachment to that. Most of us have been there. We know people there.

“When you feel an emotional attachment, it makes you play better, makes you play from the heart,” Sharp continued. “I think we’ll be pretty soulful.”

That inspiration aside, Sharp’s knowledge of musical history will likely make the evening almost as informative as it is entertaining.

“This type of music really evolved from many different musical influences in that city around the turn of the century,” Sharp said of New Orleans.

“It’s the birthplace of Louis Armstrong, King Oliver — there were a lot of musical things happening at that time,” he explained. “You can really pinpoint it to around 1900, when Louis was born and some of the musicians he worked with were teenagers. By the 1920s, it was really roaring.”

Sharp said the jazz style then moved on to Chicago, Kansas City and the West Coast. “When you say New Orleans-style jazz, that’s really where it got started, and it spread from there.”

He was quick to note, however, that the Jazz Pioneers’ primary role at the Wednesday-evening concert sponsored by the Bethany Beach Cultural and Historical Affairs Committee is to make some music.

“I’ll explain a little bit of it at the concerts, but we’re mainly there to play,” he emphasized. And what will they be playing?

“New Orleans-style jazz is a certain sound, but it’s also a collection of tunes that was very popular during the 1920s and has remained popular today,” Sharp explained. “They’re really old songs, but everyone seems to know them.”

On the set list for Jan. 25 are: “Tiger Rag,” “Birth of the Blues,” “Bourbon Street Parade,” “Basin Street Blues” and “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans,” among others.

Sharp said the Jazz Pioneers are all local musicians. “We’ve worked together in many different situations,” he said. “The special thing about this group is that usually we never all play together. This is a real special occasion. The way the music business is, when you pick up the phone and you find out where the job is, there might be one or two of these guys there.”

Sharp said the assembled group has an emphasis on ensemble performance. “There will be a soloist, but we’re all backing up,” he said.

That guest soloist is clarinet player Henning Hoehne, from Germany. Sharp said Hoehne played in the U.S. Naval Academy Band for many years.

Filling out the rest of the band are Sharp on coronet and tuba, Paul Widitz on trombone, Jack Wright on string bass, banjo player Herb Crowe, pianist Earl Beardsley and Drummer Jim Ruark, who Sharp noted as being both from Salisbury, Md., and very famous in his own right.

“Each instrument has a certain role,” Sharp noted of the New Orleans-style jazz ensemble. “The clarinet plays high and fancy part. The coronet usually plays the melody.”

And Sharp said they were very much looking forward to playing in Bethany Beach Town Hall. “Town Hall is such a wonderful place, just acoustically perfect,” he said. “Of course, we have to watch our volume level. But this is going to be very exciting.”

“We’ll be playing all acoustic instruments, except for the piano,” he noted. “It would have been nice to get a real piano in there, but with the way our pianist plays you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference,” he added by way of a compliment.

Sharp was quick to point out the potential to expand the musical experience of those in attendance.

“It would be very nice if some younger musicians from the high school or intermediate schools came. They’ve probably never heard anything like this unless they went to a preservation hall jazz band concert,” he said.

Whether they’re young and hearing the sounds of New Orleans-style jazz for the first time or reliving a favored sound of yesteryear, those attending the Wednesday-night concert can expect a treat, according to Bethany Beach Entertainment Coordinator Gloria Farrar.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” she said. “Anything with Don Sharp’s touch to it is usually extraordinarily entertaining.”

The event is set to kick off at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 25, in the Bethany Beach Town Hall meeting room. There will be light refreshments served, and the concert is free and open to all.