Blue Note Grill owner Bill Whittington got the first call Wednesday (09/24) afternoon. A local BNG patron had friends & relatives visiting Durham, one of whom was a singer looking for a place where she & friends might play that evening. The singer? Award-winning chanteuse Madeleine Peyroux. Whittington checked with pianist Clark Stern, booked for that evening at BNG, and Stern enthusiastically agreed. (During their Thursday set, Peyroux said of Stern, “this man is so generous.”) Peyroux played an early set with Gene Clarke and Danny Fitzgerald from The Lost Wandering Blues and Jazz Band (visiting Durham with her), then sat in with Stern during his set. From all reports, the combination of players and audience worked perfectly.
Peyroux thought so, because mid-afternoon Thursday she contacted BNG about the possibility of a return appearance that night. Whittington agreed and sent out word at 4pm to folks on the BNG email list (at which point I first became aware that Peyroux was in town). Thursday evening, Peyroux once again took the stage at Blue Note Grill (as with the previous night, there was no charge for admission). Gene Clarke artfully handled both piano & cornet for the first set. Stern, who had an earlier gig, showed up for the 2nd set, and the energy went up a notch (upon his appearance, Peyroux remarked “we can do anything now”).
Known for eschewing publicity and preferring clubs to bigger venues, in spite of the demand for appearances in larger settings, Peyroux tours infrequently and has dropped out of public view for extended periods since her initial success with the album Dreamland in 1996. The impromptu shows in Durham showcased the singer in her element.
Her two Thursday sets included early 20th century blues and jazz as well as her own compositions. My favorite combined two 1920s blues, “He May Be Your Man (But He Comes to See Me Sometimes)” and “He’s My Man, Your Man (Somebody Else’s Too)”, and included a scintillating solo from Stern, with which Peyroux was visibly impressed. The chemistry between those two gave an added dimension to the show. Fats Waller’s “Lounging at the Waldorf” and “Trouble in Mind” with local guitarist Tommy Goldsmith were among other highlights.
For the elegant muse she is, Peyroux in person was as down to earth as one could imagine, chatting and mixing with fans at the bar. On stage, she engaged the audience with stories and conversation. (Asking about the status of same-sex marriage in NC, she got a memorable response – “Durham is a pat of butter in sea of grits.”)
I shouldn’t have been surprised when I heard, at 8pm Friday, that Peyroux was performing once again (at 9p). In this case, three times was not the charm, and Friday’s show reminded those who had been in attendance the previous nights how fortunate they were. The late show announcement (word went out at 7p) produced an audience which was partly Peyroux fans and partly a normal Friday night boogie crowd, so loud that Peyroux, at one point, admonished them to quiet down & listen. That didn’t happen until a third mini-set and a touching version of “God Bless the Child.”
Overall, a memorable & moving experience that left me and the town buzzing. Video from Thursday night below. To see more, click here.