Duke Robillard Band bringing swing blues and more to Jazz in June
By Doug Hill
“At Jazz in June we’ll be playing a cross section of all the things I do,” Duke Robillard said. “Which is a lot of stuff.”
The Rhode Island resident isn’t exaggerating. Robillard is a mid-60s guitarist who has been playing the blues since Pluto was a pup. He has a discography and session history that boggles the mind with its length and variety of other artists he’s recorded with. And all that history hasn’t slowed him down a whit. Robillard just released a new album titled “Independently Blue” and is touring with Bob Dylan this summer.
“At our show in Norman there will be a lot of traditional blues, old style rhythm and blues, swing and a little bit of jazz,” he said. “We touch on many different things.”
A key to Robillard’s vitality is continuing to participate in the different sounds that he came up with when playing in Roomful of Blues, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and with Ruth Brown, Jimmy Witherspoon and Johnny Adams among many others.
“I keep my fingers in all the different things I do with my own band which includes roots rock 'n' roll, along with a jazz trio playing old standards,” he said. “After Jazz in June we’ll be going to the T-Bone Walker festival in Texas.”
He thrives on the busy schedule because it’s all music they love to play.
Robillard has continued to learn during a long and satisfying career and it’s apparent from the variety in his songbook and propensity for collaboration.
“My view of performing live is that I try to make something that keeps me and the musicians I play with interested in the music,” he said. “That usually spills over into the audience. That’s my way of looking at it from a real musical point of view. My shows are always diverse with not just one style.”
At Jazz in June he’ll be accompanied by musicians on bass, drums and keyboards.
During most of his professional life Robillard has been a band leader.
“I like that because I have a real musical vision of what I want to do,” he said. “I also enjoy backing other people up but as leader there’s more weight on your shoulders and being responsible for everything from business, how you travel, how the show goes and making sure it’s a good performance that the audience is going to love.”
With over four decades of experience it’s a challenge he’s become accustomed to and welcomes with open arms. For Robillard there’s no list of do’s and don’t's because it has become almost a matter of being on automatic-pilot.
“It’s more a stream of consciousness situation,” he explained.
Robillard’s swinging tenure has been notable for the many different fabulous musicians he has worked with.
“I have been very fortunate that I have been able to play with, back-up, record and produce a lot of my idols,” he said. “It’s very important to me and means a lot and what I’ve learned from those people have been some of the greatest lessons of my career.”
One of those greats was swing and jump blues band leader and pianist Jay McShann (1916-2006). McShann was a Muskogee native who began playing in Tulsa but made his name and home in Kansas City, Mo. He performed at Jazz in June in 1996.
“Jay was one of my idols and I got to play with him a lot,” Robillard said. “I produced three of his albums and played on four of them. He was a great soul and great pianist in jazz and blues. He was a very important force in the development of jazz in the southwest in big band music. Jay was the greatest.”
Robillard is excited about returning to Oklahoma. He doesn’t remember his first visit but it’s a place that has always been welcoming.
“I love Oklahoma. I’m kind of a historian in my music and the electric guitar got its start in Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri,” he said. “The Southwest was the most important area for the popularization and development of the electric guitar. Charlie Christian came from Oklahoma and T-Bone Walker from Texas. Your part of the country is very dear to me.”
If You Go
What: Duke Robillard Band in concert headlining the Jazz in June Festival Blues Night.
Where: Brookhaven Village Shopping Center, NW 36th and Robinson.
When: 9 p.m. June 20
Duke Robillard's career has included working with jazz luminaries such as the late Jay McShann (r).