A newsmaker you should know: International competition draws local blues band
January 24, 2013 9:30 PM
By Dave Zuchowski
For nearly a quarter of a century, Pittsburgh blues artist Jimmy Adler has entertained audiences throughout the region. Next week, he'll leave his hometown and fly to Memphis, where he and his band will compete in the International Blues Challenge.
"We'll be performing against close to 160 bands from around the world," said Mr. Adler, whose band won the right to represent Pittsburgh at a regional competition in April, staged by the Blues Society of Western Pennsylvania.
"This will be the first time we've participated in the challenge, which no Western Pennsylvania band has ever won in its 29-year existence," said Mr. Adler, who lives in the Bon Air neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
Other members of the Jimmy Adler Band who will take part in the competition are bass guitarist Mike Sweeney of Morningside, percussionist Joe Cunningham of Youngstown in Westmoreland County, and pianist John Burgh of Sewickley.
Each band will perform in front of two panels of judges Wednesday and next Thursday at a club in Memphis. The highest-scoring bands will go on to compete against one another, and the first-, second- and third-place finishers will be selected.
Each competing band will perform a 25-minute set and be judged on several categories, including originality. Mr. Adler said the trick is to try to get as many different blues flavors as possible into the set, which will consist of six original songs. Three of those songs are on his latest CD, "Midnight Rooster," recorded in McKeesport's Bonedog Records. In April, he toured France to promote the CD.
The songs on the CD are all original and co-written by Mr. Sweeney, who also wrote the title song. Mr. Adler said he picked up on the theme and wrote additional songs based on what he calls the "blues mythology."
Critic Thomas Flavin wrote that "Midnight Rooster" was "fantastic" and that Mr. Adler "has created a virtual journey through bluesdom showing off his slide and 'fat guitar' tones."
The Jimmy Adler Band plays on average about six times a month at places including Moondogs in Blawnox and the R-Bar in Dormont. The band also does occasional swing concerts at Bobby D's Swing City in the Wightman School Community Building in Squirrel Hill. Mr. Adler also plays with John Gresh's New Orleans mojo-flavored band, Gris-Gris, at Nola in Pittsburgh's Market Square on the first and third Friday of every month.
An English teacher at Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, Mr. Adler also teaches music to children and has them perform at the Pittsburgh Blues Festival at Hartwood Acres, a fundraiser for the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.
"I got started in music way before I pursued my teaching career," he said.
In his early adulthood, he traveled the country, working odd jobs such as carpet cleaning, bartending and roofing. In between, he said, he checked out the music scene where his travels took him.
"When my daughter was born, I decided I needed a bit of stability, so I enrolled in college and supported my family by telemarketing and playing music with various Pittsburgh blues bands. In 2001, I started the Jimmy Adler Band after leaving Gary Belloma and the Blue Bombers."
From the time he was a child listening to recordings in his mother's basement, his musical focus has been on black blues artists from Chicago. While he has many favorite blues musicians, he places one at the top of his list.
"B.B. King. He's gotta be the king of them all," he said.
The Jimmy Adler Band has to pay its own expenses for the trip to Memphis, but Mr. Adler said the cost is worth it because of the exposure the band will receive. To help with costs, the band held a fundraiser at Moondogs and has passed the hat at other performances.
The band can be heard at 9 p.m. Friday at Moondogs in Blawnox and at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the R-Bar in Dormont.