Her dirty laundry at times got more ink than her talent. The tabloids and other media gossip platforms love a good fall from grace, especially when it involves tales rife with drugs and minor assault offenses. But for those musicians and music fans in the know, the off-stage and out-of-the-studio exploits of the late Amy Winehouse are a minor, and unfortunate, footnote in a tale of great musical talent and accomplishments. That talent and those accomplishments should be stamped in the musical history books, far away from the anecdotes of the pitfalls that came with Winehouse’s fame and money.
The demons that chased the English vocalist ultimately led her to joining the “27 club” – the army of musicians whose demons robbed them of their lives at the ripe old age of 27 – where she sits in good company, right alongside Hendrix, Joplin, and Cobain, among many, many others. Prior to her demise, Winehouse garnered huge musical accolades and earned the respect of music fans across the world, all while straddling the fence that divides the hip independent artist underground and the overproduced realm of pop music.
Her territory covered rock, blues, jazz, and blue-eyed soul, a wide-reaching terrain filled with a wealth of talent. Yet somehow, Winehouse prevailed, time and time again.
That musical prowess will be celebrated Friday, May 25, when J. Calvin’s Funk Express honors Winehouse by playing a night of her music at the Animas City Theatre.
J. Calvin’s Funk Express is a perfect fit to take on Winehouse’s music, with a core made up of Jesse Ogle on bass, Ted Moore on drums, Sam Kelly on saxophone, Guillaume Metz on guitar, and Sarah Pumpian on vocals.
“The band is funky, and we’re kind of a soul band in nature, so it makes sense to do a tribute to someone that’s in that kind of genre. We’re rearranging a little bit of the songs to make them funkier than they are, and then Sarah, once we started playing with her more, she’s perfect for this,” said Ogle. “Sarah’s going to crush this, and I’ve never heard anyone doing a tribute to Amy Winehouse. I thought it would be something different and cool to bring to this town. And we’ll grow as musicians.”
J. Calvin’s Funk Express is a band of teachers that make up the faculty of iAM Music, so there’s always an underlying and important mission, in addition to entertaining. The idea is to let the music they play guide you to learning not only about what’s on stage, but what has influenced the music being made. Winehouse may be a perfect study for this, as fans can work backwards from her music into the tunes and musicians that contributed to the soul and blues landscape Winehouse reveled in. Think of it like the stage is a classroom.
“I think one of the things for her is she brought a throwback vibe. However you interpret her, she’s a jazz and soul singer.” said Ogle.
“In a way, Amy Winehouse is a gateway drug to a lot of really cool music that, these days, isn’t getting much exposure. Any of these other tunes, there’s so much depth there, and she was an excellent jazz singer. She had the feel and the capability,” said Moore.
And that dirty laundry so often associated with Winehouse is being left behind in lieu of the music, which will far outweigh any negative that may be presented with it. It’s time to let the woman rest, and allow the music she left behind become a door to some of the better soul music to emerge this century.
“You look into the music and the talent she has, and you recognize her not as a singer but a great musician,” said Ogle. “So what we bring, we bring these grooves, this beautiful music that has a lot of color and showcases depth over the drama.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected]