Album Reviews

Corky Siegel's Chamber Blues - Different voices


Downbeat magazine editors' pick - National Treasure ~ totally killer stuff throughout ~ a truly unique musical journey ~ most original and innovative music ~ smoking out of the ordinary stuff ~ dazzling special guests ~ Fantastical and complete ~ definitely the most interesting, intricate, and daring recording ~ Music of this caliber can keep both sky and earth intact ~ Either a Musical Genius or crazier than the proverbial outhouse rat ~ Facinating ... Compelling ... 5 stars ~ The breadth and layers of this project are so stunning that I can’t recall hearing anything like this. ~ To call this brilliant is to state the obvious ~ one of the most unique and satisfying fusion CDs of the new millennium - triumphant musical journey - A new American Classical music - #1 ALBUM OF THE YEAR

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"National treasure"

Corky Siegel is an underappreciated national treasure. The music he makes is so usual that for his latest release, Different Voices, he has included a description on the album cover: "Blues Harmonica and Classical String Quartet." For more than 50 years, Siegel has been melding his masterful blues harmonica playing with accessible classical music,  and at age 73, he has just released an album containing some of the best work of his career. On paper, it might sound as if Siegel weaves together various instruments and the genres just for the sake of being eccentric, or educational. But in practice, the 12 songs on Different Voices form a cohesive program, all tied together by his emotive harmonica work. The opening track, "Missing Persons Blues–Op. 26," features a terrific tenor saxophone solo by jazz titan Ernie Watts. "One" contains soaring, hypnotic vocals by rock singer Matthew Santos, who, at time sounds a bit like the late Jeff Buckley. Siegel recruited singer-songwriter Marcy Levy (aka Marcella Detroit) to sing lead on a slow, fresh rendition of "Lay Down Sally," a classic that she wrote with Eric Clapton and George Terry. Octogenarian bluesman Sam lay offers an authentic reading of "Flip, Flop And Fly," which is preceded by Siegel's compelling original composition "Italian Shuffle." Siegel teams up with folk trio Son of the Never Wrong for an epic version of the gospel standard "I'll Fly Away." An arrangement of "Galloping Horses" pairs the erhu (an ancient, two-stringed fiddle played by violinist Chihsuan Yang) with vocal beat-boxing (deftly delivered by Santos). It's extremely impressive that the core band–Siegel, Yang, Jaime Gorgojo (violin), David Moss (viola) and Jocelyn Butler Shoulders (cello)– can craft music that gracefully incorporates contributions from diverse collaborators, including tabla players Sandeep Das and Frankie Donaldson, yet still feels wholly organic.

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"one of the most unique and satisfying fusion CDs of the new millennium…the guests are splendiferous…The sky's the limit on this free-form craziness that works in spades."

[This] is one of the most unique and satisfying fusion CDs of the new millennium. As one Minnesota critic put it, Corky has “married Muddy Waters and Mozart.” Plus, the guests are splendiferous. Opener “Missing Persons Blues Opus #26” features rock 'n' roll saxophonist Ernie Watts (ask the Stones about him). The “Time Will Tell Overture” features Indian tabla master Sandeep Das. Marcella Detroit sings the song she wrote with Eric Clapton (“Lay Down Sally”). They meld the 1955 Big Joe Turner hit “Flip Flop & Fly” with an “Italian Shuffle.” There’s even a hip-hop-styled beat-box moment with Matthew Santos whose work with Lupe Fiasco garnered him a Grammy nom. The sky’s the limit on this free-form craziness that works in spades. - Rant n' Roll - By Mike Greenblatt

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"The breadth and layers of this project are so stunning that I can’t recall hearing anything like this."

Apirl 10, 2017

I was unaware of Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues projects until now, though I went to college near Chicago and we often played the discs and saw the Siegel-Schwall Band perform live. A brief history: In 1973 the Siegel-Schwall Band released Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra on the classical Deutsche Grammophon label. Two principals emerged from the project: jazz trombonist and composer William Russo and famed conductor Seiji Ozawa, who had been a long-time fan of the Siegel-Schwall Band. These two, mostly Ozawa, encouraged harmonicist Siegel to move in this direction, resulting in the first Chamber Blues ensemble recording on Alligator in 1994. Two other recordings followed and this is the fourth. So much for the history lesson—let’s get to the music. Google can take care of the rest.

First, you have to admire the concept that lends itself to cute little phrases like “Muddy meets Mozart” or “A bluesman and a classical string quartet walk into a bar.” Yet, this project goes beyond even the seemingly polar opposites of blues and classical, as Siegel invited blues legend Sam Lay, Grammy-winning jazz saxophonist Ernie Watts, Indian table master Sandeep Das, and R&B Singer Marcy Levey (who sings her hit “Lay Down Sally” composed with Eric Clapton), indie singer-songwriter Matthew Santos, and Chicago’s folk trio, Song of the Never Wrong. Not only do we have blues and classical music but jazz, world, gospel, R&B, and smatterings of folk herein – hence the title. The breadth and layers of this project are so stunning that I can’t recall hearing anything like this.

The first cut, “Missing Persons Blues – Op.26” features Ernie Watts and is a mash-up of blues, classical and jazz. “Time Will Tell Overture –Op, 25” features the table of Sandeep Das. Siegel takes the lead vocal on several tracks but is more than willing to share the spotlight with his guests. Santos takes the lead vocal on “One” and again on his own composition “Shadows in a Shoe Box.” Sons of the Never Wrong deliver innovatively on “I’ll Fly Away” with Deb Lader adding sparking mandolin: and Sam Lay takes his turn as well on the next piece. Siegel describes it, “”Italian Shuffle’ is based on the Chicago Blues style shuffle but you would swear it comes from Tuscany, not Chicago. And you can tell we surprised the heck out of blues legend Sam Lay, who responds by singing the classic ‘Flip, Flop and Fly.’ If there is a theme that has followed me from my first gig at Pepper’s and through this project it is this joy of diversity and togetherness that has enriched and shaped my life. The culmination of all this is reflected in the song ‘One,’ where we look out at the world and see we are all intimately connected.”

The packaging and liner notes are exquisitely detailed with lyrics provided. One little capsule that caught my attention was Siegel’s nod to these four major influencers: Maestro Seiji Ozawa, William Russo, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters. There are some select dates, mostly in the Great Lakes states, where you can hear this unit perform with some of the special guests. Unless you’ve heard Siegel and Chamber Blues before, you really do have to hear this to believe it.

—Jim Hynes

"artistic intricacy and beauty"

This is definitely the most interesting, intricate, and daring recording to come to this reviewer’s attention in quite awhile.  There are musical interludes that include Blues, Folk, Classical, and Jazz that intermix and mingle creating new common grounds that open ever expanding vistas to wider exploration.  This disc which is due to appear on April 4, 2017 has been a long evolving work in progress for this musician and the intimate groups and individuals he works with.  Corky Siegel has long been a legend as a harmonica wielding cross genre musician who loves to break down barriers, and who manages to bring together other like minded souls for certain projects that spark interest in multiple divergent genres of music, from the hard blues of his early days with Jim Schwall to some of the divergent musicians he plays this music with.  Musicians lending their talents include Ernie Watts, Sandeep Das, and Marcy Levy.  This is truly a collaborative effort combining the works of many disparate forces, interwoven by the visionary on the harmonica.  
We have on this disc a carefully selected group of musicians:  think it is safe to say we all know Corky Siegel and his mastery of the Blues Harmonica and Vocals, and then we have the classical string quartet of Jamie Gorgojo (Violin), Chihsuan Yang (Violin/Erhu {a two stringed bowed Chinese Violin}/vocals), Dave Moss (Viola) Jocelyn Butler Shoulders (Cello).  This aggregate is then and reenforced with various voices such as Sam Lay, Sandeep Das, Mathew Santos, Marcy Levy (AKA Marella Detroit) and the Sons of the Never Wrong.  Power and delicacy combined.
Then there are the songs, six are composed by Corky Siegel, one by Corky and Holly Siegel, one by Corky Siegel and Mathew Santos, one by Mathew Santos, one by Eric Clapton, one by Albert Brumley Sr., and one by Hai Huang-Hai as diverse a group of Composers as you will find.  The songs stretch an equally wide variety of material.  Suffice it to say the music is as diverse as both the musicians and the composers but never easy to pin down and always intriguing.  A fantastical and complete work that will provoke much thought and hopefully some comparable works by others coming.  
Bob Gottlieb - Journal of Roots Music - No Depression

"To call this brilliant is to state the obvious."

This ongoing project of harmonica legend Corky Siegel features a string quartet of Jaime Gorgojo (violin), Chihsuan Yang (violin, ehru, a two-stringed Chinese violin, and vocal). Dave Moss (viola), and Jocelyn Butler Shoulders (cello). Additionally, tabla player Sandeep Das is on one track, saxophonist Ernie Watts on one track, vocalists Matthew Santos and Marcy Levy, drummer Sam Lay and the Chicago-based folk trio Sons of the Never Wrong are also contributors. Percussionist/drummer Frankie Donaldson, a 26-year veteran of working with Chamber Blues, as well as a decade with Ramsey Lewis, is prominently featured, as well. Most of the dozen compositions are from Siegel and, as mentioned, they combine harmonica with string quartet. To call this brilliant is to state the obvious. It is also demanding music. It breaks any preconceptions that listeners may have regarding the wedding of classical string quartet and blues harmonica. The Siegel-Schwall Blues Band first tackled this alliance of styles in 1973 on a recording with the Chicago Symphony under the baton of Seji Ozawa. Mr. Siegel saw Alligator release two Chamber Blues recordings in 1994 and 2005 and in 1998 released Complementary Colors on Gadfly Records.

The disc at hand opens with a harmonica wail surrounded by the strings plucking and bowing thoughtfully. Ernie Watts, a first class jazz master adds his voice to the mix, dueting with and chasing Siegel as the strings become more cohesive and couching. Missing Persons Blues, Op. 26 sees these disparate voices join in a harmonious and complementary singular song, sometimes sounding like an outside jazz piece. On One, also from his pen, a beautiful harmonica section surrounded by sweet strings sets the stage for Santos to sing in a jazzy style, “in Paradise a pair of hearts are one.” Strings, percussion and harp work superbly. His Time Will Tell Overture, with Das on tabla, is another voice that weaves seamlessly with strings. The interplay between the strings and the principals is equally mesmerizing. Just when you get into the classical mode, along comes Marcy Levy to sing Lay Down Sally, a song she co-wrote with Eric Clapton. The reading is adventurous with the strings taking on a percussive and swinging role. This is followed by a captivating string-driven version of the Siegel-Schwall classic Angel Food Cake. Corky and the strings work superbly together. On Shadows in a Shoebox, written by Santos, Siegel’s harmonica introduces the theme, with the strings again gently holding him before Santos joins in, sometimes scatting the melody. The following gospel classic, I’ll Fly Away, features the Sons of the Never Wrong’s Deb Lader, Sue Demel and Bruce Roper on vocals. Demel’s guitar and Lader’s mandolin are integrated with the string quartet in a marvelous singing in tandem with percussion and harmonica. Next up is a combination of Corky’s Italian Shuffle with the blues classic Flip, Flop and Fly, sung by Sam Lay in a thoroughly enjoyable lope. Keeping contrasts at the heart of the disc, Galloping Horses, composed by Hai Huang-Hai features Chihsuan on the ehru. This is followed by the two part Counter Intuitive, Op.24 from Siegel. This is a swinging harp piece with strings offering counterpoint. On the second part the viola of Dave Moss is featured. The closing Siegel composition The Sky Will Fall reminds of Charlie Haden in its introductory section for its voicing. Siegel sings, “If we never learn to give/we’ll be facing emptiness…if we don’t learn to love, the sky will fall.”

Siegel has performed around the world as a guest artist of some of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras and he has received countless classical music awards. But, don’t forget that he was the harper for the great Siegel-Schwall Band. The combination of the two Corkys is a delight.

—Mark E. Gallo

Glimpses of my life experience in the Blues from the time I was introduced in 1963 to the present

Glimpses of my life experience in the Blues from the time I was introduced in 1963 to the present

Corky Siegel is either a musical genius, or crazier than the proverbial "outhouse rat."

Corky Siegel is either a musical genius, or crazier than the proverbial "outhouse rat." I guess I'll chose the former rather than the later.  The initial concept for the marriage of blues and classical was most likely when classical conductor Seiji Ozawa brought together the Siegel-Schwall Band and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  They first performed Three Pieces For Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra, by William Russo 1n 1968.   The Siegel-Schwall Band released Three Pieces For Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra, performed with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 1973.  A second piece of Russo's work, "Street Music: A Blues Concerto" was released in 1979.  Corky Siegel is without question, one of the finest harmonica players ever to draw breath.  Past Masters like Larry Adler and Toots Theilemans helped to raise the instrument that was once considered almost a toy, taking it to the concert stages in both Jazz & Classical Music.  Where many saw musical genres, Corky Siegel saw possibilities.  He formed Chamber Blues in 1988 incorporating elements of classical, blues & jazz.  The core band consists of Corky Siegel, obviously, two violinists, Jaime Gorgojo and Chihsuan Yang, a viola played by Dave Moss, Cello by Jocelyn Butler Shoulders and Frankie Donaldson, a percussionist.  This union of styles, which was envisioned so long ago, is going stronger than ever.  The Different Voices referred to on the album include Ernie Watts, Sandeep Das, Mathew Santos, Marcy Levy, Sam Lay and Sons of the Never Wrong.  Beside those mentioned earlier, Corky wishes to thank Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf for their contributions.  Different Voices may well be Corky Siegel's Chamber Blues finest work to date.  I recommend it very highly.  As for my favorite cut, I would have to say Italian Shuffle/ Flip Flop & Fly.  This is, at the very least, cutting edge stuff. - Bill Wilson

"It all works magically ... a triumphant musical journey."

Interesting possibilities exist in the realm of classical string quartets willing to engage eclectic versatility. The musical adventurism of the Kronos Quartet aptly proves that you can play nearly anything in the classical realm and make it intriguing. The most recent comparable example to Chamber Blues–Different Voices was cellist Yo-Yo Ma's Appalachia Waltz project which combines the contrasting genres of classical and mountain roots music in a critically acclaimed musical collaboration. Here Siegel's efforts are unique and that he dares to bring the “ignoble” little harmonica into the “noble” realm of the classical. That takes some guts, but he has the technical proficiency to carry it out convincingly.

Siegel reports that this project was the idea of his erstwhile collaborator Maestro Seiji Ozawa, the famed Japanese conductor who is renowned for his fearless musical experimentation and genre amalgamation.  Disconcertingly, This venturesome CD is branded in the iTunes album identification as “New Age” a virtual marketing kiss of death.

This project of blues harmonica and classical string quartet demonstrates that if you bring a bunch of superlative musicians together, lift the restrictions and loosen the collar, good things can come out of it. The diverse cross-cultural string quartet features Dave Moss on Viola, Taiwanese violinist Chihsuan Yang, the remarkable African American cellist Joycelyn Butler-Shoulders and, from Spain, Jamie Gorgojo.  Siegel's pedigree as a blues master is by now well established. He learned directly from the Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. Here he also brought on blues and jazz saxophonist Ernie Watts, the soulful blues singer Sam Lay and tabla players Frankie Donaldson and Sandeep Das.  If that wasn't enough he lined up the Chicago-based folk trio Sons of the Never Wrong.  Singers Marcy Levy and Matthew Santos round out the ensemble.

Siegel’s harmonica playing fits impeccably no matter what song he touches. On some songs the quartet adds sustaining dimension while preserving the genre of the featured artist; on others the classical dimension takes center stage. It all works magically, organically, not forced, as if it was always meant to be played this way, lovingly, sweetly, sophisticated but not haughtily.

Whenever so many styles blend, there is likely to be something for everyone, but perhaps not everything for all.  Blues audiences will most easily identify with Italian Shuffle /  Flip, Flop, Fly, featuring Sam Lay.   Marcy Levy, the co-writer of Lay Down Sally with Eric Clapton sings that major pop hit in what is perhaps the oddity on the album. There are a few joyous cross-cultural gems like Galloping Horses featuring Chihsuan Yang, Missing Persons featuring Ernie Watts, and the folkie I’ll Fly Away featuring Sons of the Never Wrong.  Inexplicably, the cellist Joycelyn Butler-Shoulders is not featured up front and in any of these cuts, which is disappointing. She is the sole African-American in the quartet,  and it seems like a missed opportunity to establish a meaningful cultural connection to the blues. - Still, it’s a triumphant musical journey.

–Living Blues Magazine - Frank Matheis

"Totally killer stuff throughout."

Over 50 years in, with the aid of crowd funding, we find Siegel finally making the album he had in him all along or else the album he always wanted to make.  With nobody from Vanguard, RCA or Dharma telling him what to do, he calls in an incredible array of guests, breaks down the fourth wall to reach you directly and makes an album so cinematic that it’s better than most of the movies coming out these days. This is smoking out of the ordinary stuff from an old pro that sounds like he’s really come into his own here (if that even makes sense).  Sounding a million miles away from a bunch of white boys with the blues fighting a turf war with the Butterfield bunch, this is state of the art white boy blues---with lots of soul stirred in.  Totally killer stuff throughout.

Chris Spector - Midwest Record -

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"Global Village BEST of 2017"
Top 25 CDs for 2017
#6 in Top 40 CDs for May


Review Rating 5 Stars

"fascinating and thoroughly organic musical fusion"

By Duane Verh-  April 9, 2017 - 12:00am EDT

From the opening choruses of the leadoff track, “Missing Persons Blues- Op.- 26”, as the lines of blues harp, strings, tabla and sax entwine around each other, each gliding forward with snake-like grace, one is taken in by the fascinating and thoroughly organic musical fusion Chicago blues vet Corky Siegel and company have realized.  Long a practitioner of this particular strain of genre-splicing, Mr. Siegel provides this mix with compositions and adaptations suitably compelling and quirky.  And rest assured, this blues bar-bred bandleader has blocked out plenty of time for his own solid blow choruses. While the cover of “Lay Down Sally”, fronted by Eric Clapton collaborator Marcy Levy, is a safe bet for airplay, tracks including “Shadows In The Shoe Box”,  “Angel Food Cake” and the very haunting “One” are attention-worthy as well.

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"some of the most original and innovative music"

May well be some of the most original and innovative music I have heard in a while.  Combining classical stylings with blues harmonica and so much more" Ear2TheGroundMusic

Breaking the Ground a Little More

"music of this caliber can keep both sky and earth intact."

March 25, 2017 Tom Orr

If the title doesn’t say it all, as in the case of Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues’ album Different Voices (Dawnserly Records, 2016), it might be necessary to add an explanation like “Blues Harmonica and Classical String Quartet,” which this one does on the front cover. Siegel’s blues harp is certainly the first thing heard, in the form of a mournful wail that ushers in violins, viola, cello and the saxophone of guest Ernie Watts on the cheeky drag of “Missing Persons Blues.” That one’s a head-bobber, and nothing that follows breaks the flow, be it the vocal contributions of Matthew Santos (who also does some handy beatboxing), blues vet Sam Lay or Marcy Levy (reinvigorating that old warhorse “Lay Down Sally,” which she co-wrote with Eric Clapton).

High marks also for the aching gospel tinges of Chicago folk trio Sons of the Never Wrong on “I’ll Fly Away” and subtle counterpunch of the tabla that adds a groove dimension throughout. The interwoven tones of harmonica and strings bring forward the roots of their respective traditions while keeping the blues undertow intact and allowing for experimentation such as the Central Asian-flavored “Galloping Horses,” a track which ends too soon. It all wraps up beautifully with “The Sky Will Fall,” a most heed-worthy lament; although I think music of this caliber can keep both sky and earth intact.

"...a true pioneer who won't dream of slowing down."

"Corky Siegel's Chamber Blues, Different Voices. Why not? Take a long-time Chicago blues groover and cross him with a chamber string quartet and several very special guests and see what happens. Corky Siegel has always been someone with an ear for adventure, all the way back to the Siegel-Schwall Band that infiltrated the South Side clubs in Chicago to learn blues at the feet of masters like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. Siegel's harp playing became its own force of nature, and he's survived a lot of miles and milestones. He's also been someone who likes to cross-pollinate and work with outside influences like classical musicians to see what happens. His compositions with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra blew minds a half-century ago, and Corky Siegel hasn't slowed down since. Now that he's recording here with a classical string quartet along with guests like Paul Butterfield Blues Band drummer Sam Lay, singer Marcy Levy, tabla master Sandeep Das, folk trio Sons of the Never Wrong, and jazz saxophone legend Ernie Watts, it's like his palette is growing exponentially. It's almost like listeners need scorecards to track all the action. But that's Corky Siegel, a true pioneer who won't dream of slowing down." (Bill Bentley/ Bentley's Bandstand)

I just had the opportunity to review the most recent release (April 7, 2017), Different Voices from Corky Siegel's Chamber Blues and it's quite different. Corky Siegel, once member of the famed Siegel-Schwall Band, is back with an interesting concept. Orchestral blues. Opening with Missing Persons Blues - Op 25 forms around a traditional Chicago blues theme but featuring the strong sax work of Ernie Watts with Siegel on harp, Jamie Gorgojo on violin, Chihsuan Yang on violin, Dave Moss on viola, Jocelyn Butler Shoulders on cello and Frankie Donaldson on tabla.  ONE features lush harp work by Siegel and crystal clear vocals by Matthew Santos on vocal, this track having more of a euro, show sound. Time Will Tell Overture - Op. 25 features Sandeep Das on tabla balanced with Siegel and enriched by nicely orchestrated violin accompaniment. On pop track, Lay Down Sally, an Eric Clapton and Marcy Levy composition, Marcy levy takes the lead on vocal, maintaining it's pop roots but with a critical orchestral spin. Siegel layers harp soloing over cello and viola giving the track a bluesy feel. Angel Food Cake features Siegel on lead vocal and fuses the styling of the original SSB with orchestral accompaniment. Cool. Shadows In A Shoe Box is one of my favorite tracks on the release with a more classical stance. Santos and Yang share the vocal floor with a light jazzy flavor and Siegel layers in rich harp work. Very nice. Albert Brumley's I'll Fly Away maintains a lot of it's original structure and builds in a gospel manner with Bruce Roper, Deb Lader and Sue Demel on vocal and guitar/Mandolin nicely laid on a string backing. Very nice. Italian Shuffle/Flip Flop & Fly opens with a light, airy orchestral piece over a 12 bar bottom, evolving into a blues standard featuring the great Sam Lay on vocal. A more deliberate classical composition, Galloping Horses, features Chihsuan Yang on erhu and Matthew Santos on beat box. Nicely done.   Another nicely fused classical blues track, Counter Intuitive Op. 24 Part One has a deliberate walking bass line performed on strings and plucked violin strings with Siegel playing classic blues harp riffs but dressed with classical violin dressing. On Part 2 Siegel takes a more adventurous lead harp role and with violin supported melody and classical structure. Wrapping the release is The Sky Will Fall, with a solid Americana feel. Siegel is front and center on lead vocal and harp. Santos adds contrasting vocals over a passionate violin bridge and Siegel is showcased on harp to close out the release.

Bmans Blues Report

Nashville Blues Society
Nashville Blues Society

"a truly unique musical journey!"

Long-time blues fans may remember The Siegel-Schwall Band, led by harp ace Corky Siegel and guitarist Jim Schwall.  They were originally based in Chicago in the mid-Sixties, holding down a regular gig at the legendary Pepper’s Lounge.  After releasing their first album in 1966 for Vanguard, they headed west to San Francisco, continuing to record until the early Seventies before going on an extended hiatus.

During that time, Corky Siegel had a unique vision–one that would incorporate the blues of Muddy and the Wolf with classical chamber music.   Corky recorded three albums of this “chamber blues,” two for Alligator and one for Gadfly Records.  His latest set “Different Voices,” continues his path toward melding traditional blues with classical themes.  He employs some dazzling special guests throughout this one, too.

One can get a firm grasp on what the concept of “chamber blues” is by listening to the opening instrumental track, “Missing Persons Blues Op. 26.”  Corky’s harp spars with the sax of two-time Grammy winner Ernie Watts as the strings pull it all together.  Corky takes the lead vocal as pizzicato strings set the tone on a Siegel-Schwall fan favorite, “Angel Food Cake,” while Marcy Levy easily hits the upper-register notes on a fine read of her iconic “Lay Down Sally,” which was co-written by Marcy, Clapton and George Terry.

We had two favorites, too.  One of Chicago’s favorite folk trios is The Sons Of The Never Wrong, and they breathe new life into Albert Brumley, Sr.’s traditional “I’ll Fly Away.”  Consisting of Bruce Roper, Deb Lader, and Sue Demel, Sue adds a new verse to this Sunday-morning staple.  And, what begins as “The Italian Shuffle” with Corky’s harpover the strings, gives way to the mighty Sam Lay’s vocal on a clever segue’ into “Flip Flop And Fly.”

Corky Siegel has composed and performed works for the Grant Park Symphony in Chicago and the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center.  And, thru the fusion of the music of the legends of Chicago blues he grew up listening to with the textures and sounds of classical music, he is, indeed 'the father of chamber blues.' Give a listen to his latest, “Different Voices,” for a truly unique musical journey!

Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.



" A delightful masterpiece ... an absolute must."

Translated by Google Translate:

Corky Siegel was the early sixties singer and harmonica player in the The Siegel-Schwall Band bluesrock band, when he was approached by a man who asked him if he did not even want to work with his "band". That man proved to be conductor Seiji Ozawa of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and after performing a number of pieces by the composer William Russo after the late sixties, the orchestra and Siegel recorded a long composition of Russo in 1979: "Street Music, A Blues Concerto ", which was released on a long-playing record with Gershwin on the other side (I still cherish that album).

Through that collaboration Siegel inspired, and ten years later, he founded Chamber Blues, a unique band that combines chamber music, blues and jazz into an exciting new swinging chamber music.We have been in nearly thirty years, and Corky Siegel's Chamber Blues Is still a completely unique band. Their new album has captured them thanks to crowdfunding, and it has again become a delightful masterpiece, where Siegel and his band have re-examined different boundaries by inviting a number of different guests.

Those "different voices" are saxophonist Ernie Watts, who in the first song, Siegel's Missing Persons Blues Op. 26 may join. Particularly how both harmonica and saxophone appear to melt into a string quartet. Sandeep Bas is a tabla master from India, and he makes the borders literally moving a little more. Matthew Santos is a singer / songwriter you can hear in, for example, Galloping Horses as a beat boxer. Marcella Detroit is a R & B diva, who wrote along with Eric Clapton Lay Down Sally, who is also on this album. Sam Lay is a blues legend from Chicago and old friend of Siegel, and Sons of the Never Wrong is the best folk trio that Chicago knows. Varied enough, I thought so.

Different Voices make more songs than we used to in Chamber Blues albums, where the instrumental instruments especially impressed, but the fact that new roads are being searched and that the adventure is being re-searched is also worth a while. And the album, as always with this magnificent band, again shows a growth dia, which turns better every turn. An absolute must so. - Holly Moor

Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues: Different Voices (Dawnserly Records)

The Siegel-Schwall Band was one of Chicago’s “white blues” pioneers along with Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield. As early as 1973, Siegel-Schwall recorded with the San Francisco Symphony, a direction Corky Siegel continued to follow in his solo career. On Different Voices, the blues harmonica player works with a jazz saxophonist, an Indian percussionist and a string quartet—often to good effect. The songs occasionally suggest the sort of thing George Gershwin might have done had he lived post-Porgy and Bess.



...beautifully conceived and executed ... strongly recommended.

In a world where artists from other disciplines have tended to consider blues a poor, undisciplined stepchild even though it gave birth to all Western music forms, Chicago-born harmonica master Corky Siegel has done his best to change that view. And this beautifully conceived and executed CD, recorded with a four-piece classical string quartet and musicians from the blues, jazz, folk, rap and indie world go a long way in carrying that message forward.

Born in the Windy City during World War II, Siegel and partner Jim Schwall were standard bearers among the multitude of young white blues artists who exploded on the scene in the ’60s. Corky — originally a sax player who’s also a gifted vocalist, keyboard player, composer and author — and Jim — a guitarist whose background was in country music — met while students at Roosevelt University in The Loop.

Formed in 1965, the Siegel-Schwall Band drew immediate comparisons to contemporaries Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield and Charlie Musselwhite and soon became the house band at the historic Pepper’s Lounge, where they hosted a galaxy of blues superstars. Signed to Vanguard Records and later Wooden Nickel, with whom they won a Grammy, they toured nationally before disbanding in 1974.

Despite their blues roots, their love for classical music ran deep. They performed the William Russo composition, “Three Pieces For Blues Band And Symphony Orchestra,” with the San Francisco Symphony in 1968, becoming the first blues group ever to enter the world of classical music. The idea was conceived by SFS conductor Seiji Ozawa, who fell in love with Siegel-Schwall during his stints in Chicago, and the performance subsequently appeared as an LP on the prestigious Deutche Grammophon label.

Siegel-Schwall reunited for two albums on Alligator in the ’80s and continue to work together on occasion. But both men continued with their lofty pursuits. Jim earned a PhD and became a college professor, while Siegel released two solo blues albums before delving into the blues/chamber ensemble format a decade later. Different Voices is his fourth release in the concept. He’s joined here by Jaime Gorgojo on violin, Chihsuan Yang on violin and erhu, Dave Moss on viola and Jocelyn Butler Shoulders on cello.

They’re augmented by Sandeep Das and Frankie Donaldson on tabla, Grammy-winning indie singer-songwriter Matthew Santos, R&B diva Marcella Detroit (aka Marcy Levy), saxophonist Ernie Watts, Blues Hall Of Fame drummer/vocalist Sam Lay and Chicago-based folk trio Sons Of The Never Wrong — Bruce Roper, Deborah Lader and Sue Dumel, all of whom are listed as the “different voices” of the title. Siegel composed eight of the 12 cuts and provided arrangements for the other four.

An extended note on harmonica kicks off “Missing Persons Blues — Opus 26,” in which Siegel’s harp trades lines with Watts’ horn as the strings provide a rich, warm, rhythmic foundation. Watts’ closing riffs are stellar. Santos handles vocals with Corky on chromatic on “One,” which sings sweetly of love in Paradise, before Das is featured on the instrumental, “Time Will Tell Overture — Opus 25.” Next up, the strings kick off a sensationally different version of “Lay Down Sally,” delivered vocally by Detroit who composed the original with Eric Clapton.

Corky steps to the mike and the strings come to the fore for “Angel Food Cake,” based on a Siegel-Schwall composition, before Santos handles guitar and gets an assist on vocals from Yang on a dazzling new arrangement of his original, “Shadows In The Shoe Box.” Next up, the Sons Of The Never Wrong take command for an interesting version of “I’ll Fly Away,” delivered with an old-time country feel and one of the most successful gospel tunes ever, before the interesting juxtaposition that combines Siegel’s “Italian Shuffle” with the Big Joe Turner jump blues classic, “Flip, Flop & Fly,” the latter featuring Lay on vocals.

Three more instrumentals — Hai Huang-Hai’s “Galloping Horses” and Corky’s two-part “Counter Intuitive — Opus 24” — follow before Siegel and Santos share vocals on “The Sky Will Fall” to bring the set to a close.

If you’ve got a friend who shies away from the blues, Different Voices is the perfect vehicle to convince them that the roots of the tree have produced quality, classy music that they never could have imagined. Available through Amazon, CDBaby and other retailers, and strongly recommended.  -  Marty Gunther

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"a new American classical music."

June 13, 2017
Blues, Classical & Corky Siegel Ascendant - by David McGee

As if emphasizing that he isn’t the first composer to advance a blues-classical fusion, Chicago blues harmonica master Corky Siegel begins “Missing Persons Blues, Op. 26,” the first work on Different Voices, with an opening measure on harmonica echoing the iconic clarinet glissando heralding the start of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” The tune doesn’t unfold with the orchestral grandeur of Gershwin’s masterpiece, but over the course of its four minutes-plus running time it does achieve a textbook meshing of blues and classical elements, from the languid, moaning, New Orleans-textures Siegel crafts on harmonica to the cool swagger Ernie Watts brings on sax, while the West End String Quartet, working here in its guise as Siegel’s Chamber Blues String Quartet, injects rather Stravinsky-ish retorts in motivic development with a blues edge.

Rather than Stravinsky, though, the apt touchstone for Siegel’s work is Antonin Dvorák, specifically his Symphony no. 9 (“From the New World”), of which Dvorák, newly infatuated with the roots of American music, said: “It is the spirit of the Negro…melodies which I have endeavored to reproduce in my new symphony.” This leads us to the New World Symphony’s Largo movement with its opening theme being derived from a song called “Goin’ Home,” with its twelve-measure opening theme of three four-bar phrases—what we might call a 12-bar blues form. As musicologist Brent Pimentel points out in his essay “Dvorák’s ‘New World’ and jazz music: Heirs to a common heritage,” “Dvorák’s belief that American music would grow from the songs of slaves proved true.”

Taking his cue from Dvorák, the brilliant Mark O’Connor has for years been fashioning what he terms a “new American classical music” built on our indigenous folk, country, blues, jazz and classical heritages. He’s still working on it, but has come far—all the way, in fact, to composing the Americana Symphony, released in March 2009 with O’Connor accompanied on disc by the Baltimore Symphony as conducted by Marin Alsop. (An in-depth interview with O’Connor is featured in the April 2009 issue of, our original incarnation, in which he discussed the genesis and development of himself as a composer and of the Americana Symphony in particular.)

But when it comes to a blues-classical fusion, our foremost practitioner is Corky Siegel, accompanied by his Chamber Blues String Quartet, on a journey that began four albums ago, on 1994’s Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues (on Alligator). To be precise, however, Siegel himself set out on this rarely trod path even earlier. Listeners of a certain age may well remember, from the ’60s, a celebrated Chicago blues outfit, the Siegel-Schwall Band, and perhaps remember as well its groundbreaking 1973 release on the prestigious Deutsche Grammaphon classical label titled Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra, composed by jazz trombonist William Russo. This in turn found Siegel-Schwall performing with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops on PBS, and Siegel appearing on harmonica and piano on another Russo composition released as an album in 1979, again on DG, titled Russo: Street Music—Op. 65—A Blues Concerto. Since introducing his Chamber Blues in ’94, Siegel has employed it on Complementary Colors (1998) and on 2005’s Corky Siegel’s Traveling Chamber Blues Show—Live. So it’s been a while since we’ve heard from him in this configuration, and let it be said he doesn’t, and they don’t, disappoint.

It’s important to note here the meaningfulness of the album title. Different voices indeed make this endeavor quite distinct from Siegel and company’s efforts heretofore. The six-and-a-half-minute “Time Will Tell Overture—Op. 25” is highly impressionistic, a work on contrasting colors—Siegel’s harmonica shimmering, moaning, sputtering and crying as the string quartet develops a singsong motif behind him,.,and Indian table master Sandeep Das adds a whole other layer of exotic atmospherics to the arrangement in response to the strings and harmonica. Later comes one of the album’s most playful moments in the form of the two-part “Counter Intuitive—Op. 24,” with the strings and Siegel’s harmonica in a kind of sunny, instrumental pas de deux, advancing, retreating, teasing, before the flirtation takes on a more sensuous nature in Part Two with the sonorities added by Dave Moss’s viola and the gathered tension the strings express near the end ahead of Siegel returning to calm the emotions down to a closing ensemble swoon.

But other voices—human voices—will linger long in memory for most listeners. Seigel’s expansive vision finds him spotlighting one of Chicago’s beloved folk trios, Sons of the Never Wrong, on an intriguing gospel round rendition of Alfred E. Brumley’s gospel chestnut “I’ll Fly Away” that’s all jagged edges and ecstatic spirituality (plus a new, intense verse contributed by Sue Demel). Elsewhere he enlists earth vocalists such as Matthew Santos on “One,” an aching appeal for unity and this album’s most overt cry of conscience; and Marcy Levy, who hits a tape measure blast on her gospel-rooted, shimmying and shaking re-imagining of the hit song she co-wrote with Eric Clapton and George Terry, “Lay Down Sally,” further enlivened by Siegel’s soaring instrumental set-to with the frisky strings. In many respects the album’s highlight is the delightful strut of “Italian Shuffle,” fueled by the strings plucking and soaring as Siegel weaves bright strands of blues between them before, about halfway through, blues legend Sam Lay saunters into the fray with a wry, swinging reading of Big Joe Turner’s 1955 jump-blues classic, “Flip, Flop and Fly.” Seemingly enjoying himself to the hilt, Sam’s delight is infectious. Different Voices is nothing if not different. Clearly, Corky Siegel is neck-and-neck with Mark O’Connor in fashioning a new American classical music. - David McGee


"Siegel takes the listener to places one may not have realized were imaginable let alone possible. ...experience music without pre-existing limitations. ...Invigorating" 

One of my favourite and most memorable live performances was a Edmonton Folk Music Festival showcase featuring the SteelDrivers and Hanggai interacting to create a bluegrass-Mongolian throat-singing amalgam that was more than brilliant.

I mention that 2009 event because up to the moment I started listening to Different Voices, it may have been the last time I was so impressed by disparate musicians working together in a manner that isn’t just surprising, but also invigorating and enjoyable.

Blues harmonica fronting a classical music string quartet with jazz shadings? What could possibly go wrong? Turns out across this hour long set, nothing.

Corky Siegel has been at this for quite some time, having established a line of recordings that mix the blues and chamber music; I’ve never heard them, but lack of familiarity doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for his brand of music.

The opening track, “Missing Persons Blues- Op. 26” is a spirited, dark exploration of atmospheric notes and instrumental brilliance. Featuring the legendary Ernie Watts on saxophone, this expansive interplay of borderless genres sets the tempo for a recording that unveils surprises song after song. Beautiful.

Another highlight is Marcy Levy’s (Shakespears Sister, Marcella Detroit) sultry interpretation of her song “Lay Down Sally,” a ’70s hit for Eric Clapton. Tabla from Sandeep Das underscores the violin-rich majesty of “Time Will Tell Overture- Op. 25.”

Also featured on select tracks are vocalists Matthew Santos, Sam Lay, and Chicago’s Sons of the Never Wrong. One of the more intriguing pieces is “Galloping Horses,” a brief, meditative, and yet engaging exploration of far eastern sounds mixed with beat box.  While Siegel is present on each track and is the album’s featured core, he doesn’t overly dominate the selections; rather, like any bandleader worthy of the name, he complements the proceedings to make the whole greater than himself.

Near the end of the album, on the two-part “Counter Intuitive- Op. 24” Siegel does indulge himself a might, to no detriment of our enjoyment. Again playing off the ever-present Classical String Quartet, Siegel takes the listener to places one may not have realized were imaginable let alone possible.

Certainly not our typical roots and Americana offering, “Different Voices” allows one to experience music without pre-existing limitations. It holds up to repeated listening, and makes one curious to discover the legacy of Corky Siegel. Start exploring, y’all!  -  Donald Teplyske

#1 Album for 2017 - Centerline News - Jim Bessman



"Different Voices will likely land on my list of favorite CDs of 2017" - Eric Steiner

I’ve long been a fan of Chicago harp player Corky Siegel. Not only for his work with the groundbreaking Siegel-Schwall Blues Band, but also his solo LPs and the way he’s artfully combined traditional blues harmonica with classical music. His latest Chamber Blues CD, Different Voices, includes contributions from the legendary Sam Lay (vocals on “Italian Shuf e”), Marcella Detroit, the co-writer of “Lay Down Sally” revisiting the Eric Clapton hit, Ernie Watts on sax (“Missing Persons Blues”) and Indian tabla master Sandeep Das (“Time Will Tell Overture”) and Grammy-nominated songwriter Matthew Santos (“Galloping Horses”). Popular Chicago folk trio, Sons of the Never Wrong, add to this eclectic mix on “I’ll Fly Away” and each song builds upon the Classical String Quartet: Jaime Gorgojo on violin, Chihsuan Yang on violin, erhu and vocals, Dave Moss on viola and Jocelyn Butler Shoulders on cello. Different Voices will likely land on my list of favorite CDs of 2017 for the way it explores a unique combination of traditional blues and classical music. - Eric Steiner