Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
An auspicious meeting at a local thrift store has resulted in a trio band garnering much local attention. Blue Jazz played to a packed Rathskeller Oct. 19 with all ages, from 3 years old to nonagenarians dancing, clapping, and singing cover songs by such jazz and blues notables as Billie Holliday, Tom Waites and Aretha Franklin. Lead singer of Blue Jazz, Delphine Kirkland, and band members Dave Stewart and Scott Crowley, are making the “oldies but goodies” their own by adding creativity and a distinct spirit.
“There’s no jazz around here,” said Stewart. “I love it, and I’m glad others do, too. People want to hear it, apparently.”
Blue Jazz’s musicians have Donna Puckett, owner of The Filling Station thrift shop (which closed earlier this year), to thank for introducing them to one another. Both Kirkland and Stewart were regular customers. Kirkland, who moved from Pennsylvania to Franklin in 2016 was a singer in need of a band and Stewart, primarily a guitarist, was on the lookout for a singer to start a distinct band that he knew Crowley wanted to be a part of.
Stewart listened to Kirkland’s voice and Kirkland listened to Stewart play. Then they got Crowley involved. The synergy was instantaneous.
“We didn’t talk for a long time, and we really didn’t get to know each other,” said Kirkland. “They just played and I sang, for hours.”
“There’s a lot of talent and creativity in this group,” explained Crowley, a classically trained pianist, as well as a guitarist, bass player, and keyboardist. When the band requires backup music, horns, drums, or piano, for example, Crowley puts together tracks in his home studio.
“We do that on songs we feel could use a bigger band sound, especially some of the blues songs,” said Stewart, who minored in music in college and took classical guitar. He has been in various bands throughout the years and writes songs. He started a monthly songwriter’s workshop in Franklin, at which at least a dozen people attend to share songs and ideas.
When they married in 2016, Kirkland joined her husband, Artemus Autlav, in Franklin, where he has some family. Together they have a jewelry business, Terre Sainte Creative Jewelry Design, with items on display at NC Mountain Made and Smoky Mountain Host Visitors Center. Kirkland, a mother of five grown children, has been singing since the 1970s, with a concentration in jazz since 1990s. Her former husband of 35 years, who was killed in a car accident in 2013, was a guitarist and song writer and the couple performed together as a band for many years at weddings, private parties, wineries, and in various venues.
Self taught, Kirkland decided to delve into jazz because she especially loves Billie Holliday songs, but her roots – South Carolina lowcountry – are in soul and gospel. “My father was in a gospel quintet when I was real young, and then he became a deacon and then a minister.”
She added, “I lived in Pennsylvania from 1986 until 2016, and I was always singing and performing. But when I moved here I had no musical connections whatsoever.”
Much of the music Blue Jazz performs is from the 1930s and ’40s. The more challenging the better, they all agree. “We like it when it’s difficult,” said Crowley. “That makes it more rewarding. There are so many songs and so little time. It’s like being at a candy store and we want to play these great songs because they are so much fun.”
They practiced together for about a year before deciding to perform in public. Their launch occurred during the summer at the July 4th Macon County Recreation Park celebration.
“A lot of jazz is borrowed music,” said Kirkland. “It’s at least written by others, but we make it our own.” She said she has written some music and hopes that as the group gains in popularity she will be able to perform some of it.
They all bring ideas to practices. “We’re all so easy with each other,” said Kirkland. “No melodrama. We’re excited about each other’s ideas.”
Said Stewart, “We’re just trying to put together a repertoire of songs we feel the crowd wants to hear because they don’t get to hear these songs around here.”
“We just say, ‘Let’s make that happen,’” pointed out Crowley. “When you have accomplished people working together, it takes a whole lot less effort to get to the end result.”
Although Kirkland and Stewart are semi-retired, Crowley has not yet retired and travels with his job providing financial services to accountants. While the band members practice often on their own, they do not get together to practice as much as they would all like. Their goal, when Crowley retires, is to focus on Blue Jazz and possibly even travel to perform. They would like for the band to be a full-time endeavor – playing at restaurants, bars, wineries, and for private events.
“To play all over, especially in Europe, is our dream,” said Kirkland.
“To get paid to do what you love to do, that’s just so awesome to me,” said Crowley.
Stewart said, “I think we were having just as much fun at Rathskeller [October 19] as the crowd was.”
“It was like a big private party … everyone singing along,” said Kirkland.
The next time Blue Jazz is scheduled to play at Rathskeller is Saturday, Nov. 9.