This afternoon in the lobby of the Cadillac Hotel, Nelson Lunding took to the Patricia Walkup Memorial Piano for the latest Concerts at the Cadillac performance. For most of the selections, he sang to his own accompaniment. He tends to specialize in the New Orleans tradition of blues, and his opening selection made it clear that he could vocalize the blues with just the right qualities of slightly gritty wailing. However, he was just as much at home with a few more lyrical ballad selections. Also, while there were any number of familiar tropes in just about everything he played, most of his selections seemed to be original. (The least conventional piece turned out to be by Jimi Hendrix.)
The most notable exception was that he gave a highly personalized reading of Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk.” This was a piano solo until he added some words (possibly his own) to the final chorus, concluding with the phrase “got to live life your way.” It was almost as if he had decided to write his own words to describe his individual approach to making music.
The audience was a bit different that usual, since someone brought a small dog that seemed to have opinions about everything. I had to wonder whether the line “ain’t gonna be a low-down dog no more” was improvised on the spot in response to this non-standard audience. The dog dutifully responded to the line by barking.
More likely this was just a reminder of how comfortably casual these Friday afternoons at the Cadillac can be. A relatively small hotel lobby is probably the next best venue for jazz or blues after a small club. The listening experience is enhanced by the personal intimacy of the situation, the sort of ambience you can never get when you have to buy a ticket for a larger venue that distances you from the music and then tries to compensate for the distance with amplification that ends up distorting, rather than enhancing. The Cadillac Hotel may be the best jazz asset within the city limits of San Francisco.