Longtime guitarist Dave Kitchen’s latest band, Kitchen Jazz, may be named after him, but that’s not the only reason for the monicker.
For one thing, the band was formed in a kitchen — at the Moon & River Café, to be more exact. The group’s members — Kitchen on guitar, Jim Connelly on bass, drummer Norm Ainsley and vocalists Sylvie Briber and Moon & River owner Richard Genest — could be considered more an informal gathering of friends who play music together, rather than strictly a band, recalling the folk idea of house or kitchen jams.
Indeed, Kitchen describes his group as a cross between folk and jazz, his two favorite genres of music to play. And with the band’s members having performed everything from country to Elvis Presley tributes, their influences spread out even further than that.
“It started as just me doing jazz standards, but now adding the vocals, [it] has taken on some other lives,” he said recently, sitting with his band mates prior to a rehearsal at Moon & River. “We’ve gone even into — we probably do, what, five Beatles songs or something like that? Anything goes, if Richard or Sylvie . . . wants to sing it — and ‘Anything Goes’ is one of the Cole Porter tunes that Richard sings.
Where: Moon & River Café, 115 S. Ferry St., Schenectady
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
How Much: Free
More Info: 382-1938, www.moonandrivercafe.com
“I guess it’s just a bunch of people that love music that happened to meet each other,” he added.
The band, anchored by Kitchen’s jazzy improvisations and Genest’s crooning vocals, have been playing at least once a month at the Moon & River since forming early this year — the next show is Tuesday night — along with a few gigs at the Schenectady Greenmarket at Proctors.
For Kitchen, who for the past 45 years has played in everything from cover and wedding bands to country groups (and the aforementioned Presley tribute, which was one of the first acts to play at the renovated Proctors), Kitchen Jazz has provided a fresh start. In January of 2012, he was diagnosed with cancer, and began radiation treatments and chemotherapy in March of that year. After his surgery in June, he was unable to even pick up a guitar for nearly six months.
“Prior to that, I could play, in radiation and chemo, but I was so tired all the time that I really just didn’t have the energy or the desire to play out,” he said.
“Really, there wasn’t a lot going on for the first half of the year either. But from June on, I couldn’t even think about it — I couldn’t even pick up the guitar and sit on my couch and play. It was tough. It certainly didn’t help the time go by, by not being able to do that.”
By late November Kitchen had begun playing again, and was soon thinking about playing gigs. “When I did get the ability to pick it up and play and write, I said, ‘Gee, I should go out, it would give me an incentive, a goal — you got a gig coming up, so you gotta put a little practice in, Dave.’ ”
Kitchen’s first gig back was at Moon & River, playing instrumental versions of standards from Cole Porter, George Gershwin and others. Genest asked if he could join in on vocals.
“One song led to 30,” Kitchen said.
The two soon brought in their friends to sit in on the jams. Connelly had been collaborating with Kitchen in various groups for roughly 40 years, while Genest knew Ainsley and Briber (also the editor of the Stockade Spy) as his neighbors in the Stockade.
Dream come true
For Genest, the ability to sing these old songs with a band has been a dream come true.
“For the last few years, I’ve been wanting to sing in a band, and it just wasn’t happening — I would occasionally sit in with a band here, do a song or two,” Genest said. “So when Dave Kitchen entered my kitchen, things kind of changed — it became a possibility after we talked for a while. A couple years ago, I was getting kind of grouchy and sour, and I said to myself, ‘Look, you can either tighten up or lighten up.’ And I decided I wanted to lighten up, and singing is a good way to lighten up — and it worked.”
For now, the band is content playing informal shows at the Moon & River, and just seeing where things develop from here.
“This is the formative stages — who knows?” Kitchen said. “We don’t know ourselves — we haven’t really even discussed it amongst ourselves. It’s just kind of happening. It’s all in its infancy I guess. Who knows?”
“Today, the Moon & River,” Connelly quipped, “tomorrow, the Moon & River.”