I look forward to the month of March for two reasons. First the middle of the month signals the beginning of Spring and the other is the Berks Jazz Fest. I've gotten to a number of events in Reading, traveling to listen to a variety of musicians. The last couple of years my brother Gary and I attended the kickoff event at Jimmie Kramer's Peanut Bar.
The Groovemasters have opened up the jazz fest for years, only I was too busy on a Friday afternoon to get there. I made it a point to take the time as Pottstown High grad and friend Bennie Sims is part of the group. We grew up in the north end of town playing sports on the playground and field at Franklin Elementary School.
Bennie with 'Baby'
I knew Bennie liked music as he and his brother Victor tried to teach me a four step crossover dance move at their house when we were teenagers. Lets just say that I lacked the skill to pull it off. My friends and I would see him as part of area rock bands at dances we'd go to as teens. After some years, he moved to Wyomissing and followed his dream playing bass guitar as a jazz musician. We lost touch as you do with many friends and only recently connected again.
He's traveled the world and recently toured in Japan. He along with Curt Harman, Erich Cawalla and Cliff Starkey put out a powerful sound. I'm not a music critic but I know what I like and these musicians sound good. Soloist Jenifer Kinder sang a Whitney Houston number hitting the high notes that brought the crowd to their feet with a standing ovation. Bennie and Curt Harman also formed the group New Foundation writing the lyrics and music for their CD titled 'Goin' Places'. It was a labor of love as the pair worked in the production studio for several years to get the sound they wanted before releasing the album.
My brother Gary also has a passion for music and played brass instruments in the junior high band. After years of not playing he decided to pick up the guitar and has gotten so proficient that he's performing on the acoustic guitar as part of the Sunday worship band at the New Hanover United Methodist Church. It's quite a big stride in his life. With a full time job it's hard to commit to all the practice to be good enough to get up on stage. He puts in many hours in a small room he renovated for all his musical gear.
Erich Cawalla, Cliff Starkey, Bennie Sims & Curt Harman.
Last year we snuck up on Bennie in between sets. At first he didn't recognize us and then the big smile appeared. With a hug he was glad we came out to watch him play. We caught up on bits of life over the years during his break and then he was back for the second set. Bennie and the group have a large following and the show is like a reunion of friends.
This year he brought 'Baby' onto the stage at the Peanut Bar. Baby is the name of his upright bass he has been seriously playing for over a year. His band mates tease him about playing the 'oversized violin' but he's up to the challenge of trying something new. I shot some photos for keepsakes.
We stayed for a couple more numbers waved to him to say goodbye and we were on our way home. But not before making plans to get together again next year for our annual spring ritual.