Composer, pianist, harmonica virtuoso and singer/songwriter Corky Siegel has been bringing his critically acclaimed, blues-influenced music to worldwide audiences for three decades.
His early years with the Siegel-Schwall Blues Band, his solo performances, and his groundbreaking blues-classical collaborations with conductor Seiji Ozawa are all a reflection of Corky's wide-ranging talent. His Alligator release, Corky Siegel's Chamber Blues, integrates the delicate structure of and complex qualities of chamber music with the emotion and spontaneity of the blues.
Blending classical and blues was not a departure for Corky, but a continuation of his life's work. According to Corky, "It seems like my thirty years of writing and performing have just been preparation for Chamber Blues. I have never done anything that has been so right for me before, creatively. It's like I've been working up to this since I started."
Renowned for his recordings in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the Siegel-Schwall Blues Band, Corky counted many famous musicians as his personal friends, including Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and many others. Among them was Chicago Symphony Orchestra conductor Seiji Ozawa, who would often drop by Corky's gigs and stay the whole night. "Ozawa wanted my band to jam with his band, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra." Sure enough, the first jam took place in 1968, when Siegel-Schwall and the Chicago Symphony played William Russo's Three Pieces For Blues Band And Symphony Orchestra, and it was a smash success.
After the successful performance with the Chicago Symphony, Siegel-Schwall Blues Band went on to perform with the New York Philharmonic in 1969. "You have to remember, " says Corky, "this was in the 1960s. We went on stage with long hair, amplifiers and vests without shirts. When the subscription audience who was there to see the symphony saw my band, they booed. But when we finished, the reaction was so strong that the president of the Symphony Association said it was the longest and most intense standing ovation he had ever heard in Lincoln Center."
In 1971 the Deutsche Grammophon label recorded Three Pieces For Blues Band And Orchestra with the San Francisco Symphony under conductor Seiji Ozawa. The album was released in 1973 and it quickly became a major seller. In 1976, Siegel recorded William Russo's Street Music with maestro Ozawa and the San Francisco Symphony. The album won the French government's Grand Prix du Disque when it was released in 1979. The album also received the Recording of Special Merit citation in Stereo Review in 1979 and again in 1988 for the re-released compact disc.
Corky has written and performed works for many symphonies including the San Francisco Symphony and the National Symphony Orchestra. His music has been choreographed by four different international ballet companies and has been used for many national TV specials and documentaries including Carl Sagan's Cosmos, the ABC television series Missing Persons, and even the 1988 Olympic men's figure skating competition. He also accepted commissions to write experimental blues/classical material for such organizations as the City of San Francisco and Chicago's Grant Park Symphony.
It was Corky's association with the Grant Park Symphony in 1983 that first led to the creation of Chamber Blues. "Suddenly I had this explosion of inspiration. I visualized an emotional classical blues blend that created a new form with the sweet wooden sound and intimacy of a string quartet. And then I was compelled to focus on the elements of blues and classical that complement each other."
Siegel and his string quartet with percussionist (and Ramsey Lewis alum) Frank Donaldson, challenge the conventional boundaries of both classical music and blues. Chamber Blues has been described as a cross between Muddy Waters and Mozart. "The whole concept of Chamber Blues is not experimental," says Corky, "it's natural and palatable … it's neither classical nor blues - it's just music."
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