The news that guitarist "Bowling Green" John Cephas and "Harmonica Phil" Wiggins won the W.C. Handy Blues Entertainer of the Yearaward in Memphis last month came as a pleasant surprise to a lot of their home-town fans here. But probably no one was more surprised than Cephas himself. He and Wiggins had traveled to Memphis to pick up the Best Traditional Album award for their last release, "Dog Days of August" (on the Flying Fish label). They were backstage when they overheard someone announcing them as winners of the Entertainer award.
"I was really dumbfounded," says Cephas, who spends his workweek as chief of buildings, grounds and utilities at the D.C. Armory. "After they presented us with the trophy I tried to give a response, but for a moment there I couldn't cut it ... I was thinking about playing music for all these years and finally getting this great award. There were tears in my eyes. It was really something."
The irony, according to Joe Wilson, the executive director of the National Council of Traditional Arts and the producer of "Dog Days," is that local record stores aren't stocking the album. "I've been in a lot of the major outlets in town and they've sold out and haven't reordered," he says.
The good news is that Cephas and Wiggins are expected to have a new album out in a couple of months, if not sooner. In the meantime, they'll join many area blues musicians at Gaston Hall Friday night, when the D.C. Blues Society hosts a fundraiser for the Community for Creative Non-Violence and Washington's homeless. Everyone is encouraged to bring a can of food to the concert. For ticket information call 369-6781.
"I've had managers that wanted me to wear a scrub suit and stethoscope on stage," says songwriter and guitarist John Zambetti, who has so far resisted such exhortations. "I just want to keep the two things separate." In fact Zambetti, who graduated from Georgetown University in 1970, has been leading separate lives in California, working as an emergency room physician and trying to make an impact in the rock 'n' roll world. A few months back he released his first album, "Bring Back the Night" by the Johnny Z Band (on Cypress).
"It's a perfect situation," he says. "I have a company that contracts with the local hospitals for private doctors, so I make up the schedule. I work 24-hour shifts, usually Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I'm off the rest of the time. If I've got to be in the studio for a couple of weeks, I just schedule myself out. And if we had to tour or anything, I could get away very easily, though the reality of it is that until we have some success, the money's really not there for me."
Zambetti, who's been playing on the L.A. circuit since 1979 and with the same band lineup since 1982, started out as a 13-year-old in the semilegendary East Coast surf band the Malibooz, which also featured Walter Egan, who would later have several albums on CBS and a Top 10 hit duet with Stevie Nicks, "Magnet and Steel," and Chris Murray, owner of Georgetown's Govinda Gallery. Zambetti, Egan and Murray went to high school at Brooklyn's Loyola and all went on to Georgetown, where the Malibooz evolved into Sageworth & Drums and frequently played at the now-defunct Emergency club. Others in that band included drummer Matt Sheppard, now road manager for the Beach Boys; keyboardist Bing McCoy, who has been busy inventing new guitars and toys for children; bassists Tom Gudeira, now a photographer in Baltimore, and Ralph Damen, a builder in Charlottesville; and singer Annie McLoone, who with husband Tom Moncrieff has been doing commercials in California and, like Egan, is shopping for a record deal.
Swing Into Christmas
The Smithsonian Collection of Recordings has issued a fine new boxed set just in time for the holidays. "Singers and Soloists of the Swing Bands" contains 94 selections chosen by Martin Williams, the noted jazz critic and longtime director of jazz programs at the Smithsonian, and an informative 78-page booklet by jazz scholar Mark Tucker. Among the artists and bands featured: Bing Crosby with Paul Whiteman; Coleman Hawkins and Red Allen with Fletcher Henderson; Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb; Billy Eckstine with Earl Hines; Frank Sinatra, Dick Haymes and Kitty Kallen with Harry James; Sinatra and Jo Stafford with Tommy Dorsey; Billie Holiday, Helen Humes, Jimmy Rushing and Joe Williams with Count Basie; and Ivie Anderson, Cootie Williams, Al Hibler and Johnny Hodges with Duke Ellington. The set, which ranges from the '30s to the '50s, is available (in either six-record or four-cassette packages) at all Smithsonian shops or by mail order from Smithsonian Records, P.O. Box 23345, Washington, D.C. 20026.
The Smithsonian has also updated, expanded and remastered its award-winning "Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz," first released in 1973. It grows from 80 to 95 selections (additions include Jimmie Noone, Jack Teagarden, Wes Montgomery, Horace Silver, Stan Getz and the World Saxophone Quintet) and benefits from advances made in audio engineering technology, particularly in pulling clearer sound out of old recordings. With Williams' 120-page booklet as a guide, this remains the finest overview of jazz available.