Saturday, July 1st – 7:30-10:00 pm
Wendy DeWitt, Queen of the Boogie Woogie
live at Bird & Beckett’s jazz club! when lights are low…

Throughout a career that has included touring the United States and Europe with rhythm-and-blues legend Hank Ballard and nearly a quarter century at the helm of a powerhouse blues combo called Blue Saloon, boogie woogie and blues pianist and vocalist Wendy DeWitt always worked with a bass player, except when doing the occasional solo piano gig. Then one night when her bassist didn’t show up for a club engagement in San Francisco, she discovered she didn’t really need one.

“Her left hand is as good as any bass player I’ve ever worked with,” veteran drummer Kirk Harwood says of her bass patterns. Noted for his stints with Clover (a band fronted by Huey Lewis that also included future Doobie Brothers guitarist John McFee), harmonica virtuoso Norton Buffalo, and slide guitar great Roy Rodgers, Harwood has been performing with DeWitt in a duo format for the past three years.

DeWitt was born in San Francisco and grew up north of the Bay Area in Napa and Sonoma counties. She began “messing around” with her parents’ piano when she was 4 and took formal lessons during her tenth and eleventh years. Her most important lessons, however, were the informal ones she got from a friend of father’s, Western swing Hall of Famer, singer, guitarist, and pianist Tommy Thomsen. Besides Thomsen, other early influences on DeWitt’s piano style include Speckled Red, Memphis Slim, Otis Spann, Sunnyland Slim, and the ‘big three” of boogie woogie: Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis.

In Northern California, DeWitt played in bands with Larry Lynch (Greg Kihn), and Applejack Walroth (Boz Scaggs, Elvin Bishop) before launching Wendy DeWitt and Blue Saloon in 1986. The band became a popular attraction at clubs throughout California and also appeared at the San Francisco and Monterey blues festivals. She also has collaborated with Chicago blues guitar great Steve Freund (she in his band, he in hers) and performed during the late 1990s at Boston Symphony Hall and the Blues Peer Festival in Belgium, among many other venues, with Hank Ballard and the Midnighters.

For the past fifteen years, DeWitt has presented an annual show called Queens of Boogie Woogie at Yoshi’s in Oakland. Participants have included Deanna Bogart, Sue Palmer, Dona Oxford, Lisa Otey, Lady Bianca and Annieville Blues. “Big Joe Duskin and Mr. B. have been queens, too,” DeWitt notes. She also does occasional shows called Blues Piano Orgy with Bay Area pianists John Allair, Steve Lucky, Sid Morris, and Bob Welsh. Starting in 2012 Wendy also produces the San Francisco International Boogie Woogie Festival.

Kirk Harwood was born in Kansas City, Kansas, on December 2, 1949, and lived in a Chicago suburb between the ages of 5 and 12. He took up drums at 15 after the family moved to El Cerrito, California. His early favorites included Joe Morello, Buddy Rich, Art Blakey, and Jack DeJohnette, and he studied for three years with Benny Goodman drummer John Markham. Through John McFee, an associate of Harwood’s neighbor Norton Buffalo, he was recommended in 1974 to fill the drum seat in Clover, with which he spent a year and a half performing in California and Nevada. After leaving Clover, he spent two years with Norton Buffalo (with whom he made two albums for Capitol Records) and two more with Roy Rodgers. And for the past 35 years, Harwood has played on and off with Tommy Thomsen’s Western swing band.

On a gig with Thomsen six years ago, DeWitt was the pianist. For a later engagement many miles away from the Bay Area, Thomsen suggested that Harwood and DeWitt ride together in order to save on gas. “We had a wonderful conversation on the way up and on the way back,” the drummer remembers. The two friends played their first engagement as a duo three years ago in Berkeley and have been doing so ever since. Sometimes they hire a guitarist or a saxophonist to join them, but very rarely a bass player. “Kirk is such a creative drummer,” DeWitt says. “In the context of a duo, we both have room to back off or fill the sound up. It gives us a lot of flexibility.” “It’s a lot of fun and a lot more freeing,” Harwood adds. “It kind of frees me up to do more innovative stuff. I just have one person to communicate with music-wise, rather than trying to do it with two or three others. It’s just Wendy. I can put all my attention on her and what’s she’s doing and play off of that.” Their flagship performance as a duo in Berkeley led immediately to romance after DeWitt invited Harwood back to her place for a drink when they finished. “We’ve been perfecting the duo thing ever since,” he says. “It seems to be working out really well.”