Elkhart Jazz Festival 2015: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy channels jazz greats, leaves the Lerner ready to dance

June 20, 2015

Surprising Elkhart’s official historian and lifelong resident Paul Thomas is not easy.

But Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s headlining performance at Elkhart Jazz Festival Friday evening, June 19, left the 91 year old with an unexpected revelation.

“That’s the first time I’ve seen that many people in the balcony,” said Thomas, who has volunteered at festival each summer since its inception 28 years ago.

Throughout two sets and a two-song encore, shoulders shook and heads bobbed inside the near-capacity Lerner Theatre as roughly 1,500 attendees absorbed the Ventura, Calif., septet’s contemporary take on vintage swing and blues-based jazz.

Even Indiana Rep. Jackie Walorski could be seen nodding in time to drummer Kurt Sodergren’s bass drum.

“The city of Elkhart isn’t lost on this band. Some of the best horns ever created were made here,” said lead singer and guitarist Scotty Morris to the crowd, referring to local instrument manufacturer Conn-Selmer.

Friday’s show found the group pulling from every corner of its catalog, including performances of “Jumpin’ Jack,” the first tune Morris wrote for the group 23 years ago, and a string of Cab Calloway covers, including “Hey Now (Hey Now),” “Minnie the Moocher” and “Reefer Man.”  

“It’s like the first church of Cab Calloway in here,” joked Morris before paying homage to the jazz legend. 

The call and response portion of “Minnie the Moocher” was reminiscent of Calloway’s role in the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers,” when the rubber-lipped scat master left audience members at the Palace Hotel Ballroom tongue-tied as they tried to keep up. 

Morris’ vocal rendition and urging of crowd participation stirred the seated attendees, some of whom upon leaving the show could be overheard voicing a desire to have danced in the restrictive setting of the theater. 

And who could blame them? 

The frenetic soloing and steady beats of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy were designed for dancing.

“We started out playing in mostly dance venues, and we developed a show that’s for a performing arts center,” said trumpeter Glen “The Kid” Marhevka following the concert. “That’s kind of what we wanted to do. We wanted to adapt to a bigger situation, and we’re really at home playing in a performing arts center.”

And as it is at home, no good host leaves guests unsatisfied.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy knows this.

The band autographed merchandise and posed for photos with fans in the lobby of The Lerner until the last cellphone flash had faded. 

“We had a great time, it was really fun. It’s such a beautiful theater,” Marhevka said.

“The festival is great. This is a world-class jazz festival — we got to hear Bucky Pizzarelli earlier. It’s just a beautiful little town.”