Saturday, October 18, 2014

StLJN Saturday Video Showcase:
The return of The Cunninghams

This week, our video spotlight shines on The Cunninghams, a duo comprised of singer, multi-instrumentalist, and former St. Louisan Don Cunningham and his wife Alicia, a singer and pianist. The Las Vegas-based couple are returning to St. Louis for a show next Saturday, October 25, at the Ozark Theatre.

Billing themselves as the "Super Jazz Vocal Pair," the Cunninghams' main calling card is their close harmony vocals, delivered in a style that may remind jazz fans of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, Jackie Cain and Roy Kral, or the Manhattan Transfer, and spiced with touches of Latin jazz, lounge and exotica. They've toured with the Count Basie Orchestra, enjoyed great success in Asia as well as in the US, and even were nominated for a Grammy Award back in 1989.

Don Cunningham began his professional career here in the 1960s, playing in Gaslight Square and leading the house band at the Playboy Club, which is what led me to write about him and Alicia for the first time back in 2007 for the Riverfront Times. Since that piece and one of today's videos recap much of their back story, we won't do that again today.

Instead, let's go straight to the videos, starting up above with a brief promo clip they put together a couple of years ago to help introduce their act to the uninitiated.

After the jump, you can see a segment from the April 2012 episode of HEC-TV's "I Love Jazz" that includes performance footage as well as an interview, conducted by the program's host Don Wolff. After that, there's an extended excerpt from another homecoming gig the Cunninghams did a few years back at Harris-Stowe State University, accompanied by pianist Jeter Thompson's trio.

Since that's all the footage of them that seems to be available online, we'll wrap up with some vintage audio, specifically "Tabu," the track from Don Cunningham's St. Louis days that 40 years later helped him become known by DJs and record collectors all over the world. From the 2007 RFT article:
"Cunningham also earned international attention a couple of years ago when the San Francisco label Luv N' Haight reissued Something for Everyone, an album he cut in 1965 while his group was the house band at the St. Louis Playboy Club. Inspired by Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, Les Baxter and music he heard in Hawaii while touring with Mathis, Cunningham incorporated those exotic sounds into his own act, eventually cutting an LP and pressing up 500 copies to sell at the club.

More than 30 years later, one of those copies found its way to Luv N' Haight, which included a bootlegged version of the song "Tabu" on a multi-artist compilation aimed at DJs. "Tabu" caught on with record spinners in Brazil, Japan and elsewhere, prompting the label to locate Cunningham and arrange an authorized re-release of the entire album."
For more about The Cunninghams, check out this article that Dennis Owsley wrote in 2011 for St. Louis magazine; this story written by Roscoe Crenshaw in 2009 for the St. Louis American; and this 2005 interview with Las Vegas Talk Radio.

You can see the rest of today's videos after the jump...

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