B at Home
by arwulf arwulf
From the May, 2020 issue
Spring is here, but this is the season of GoFundMe: The web is alive with a chorus of pleas to support every venue, arts organization, and independently owned business that we love and don't want to lose. So far it's been rough. UMS canceled more than a dozen major events, the Ann Arbor Film Festival was forced to go completely online, and then came the news that Edgefest, the internationally acclaimed symposium of free jazz and modern improvised music, had been canceled. Late at night when all is still, I hear the bittersweet song of Abbey Lincoln: "The world is falling down. Hold my hand."
Our culture is a composite living entity, the collective pulse of our people. Adaptability is how we evolve and survive. Musicians of every persuasion have taken to performing online. On March 18, piano man Mark "Mr. B" Braun and master percussionist Pete Siers inaugurated a series of Facebook webcasts "Live from the B Hive" in B's living room. The program was dedicated to Chicago blues legend Jimmy Yancey, who long ago inspired young B to devote his life to the great African American piano tradition. At one point, Siers brought out a diminutive washboard mounted on a music stand and scraped on through the "How Long Blues." Subsequent honorees were Boogie Woogie Red, Roosevelt Sykes and Blind John Davis, old masters who played the Blind Pig when it was a funky little blues club with an upright piano in the basement.
"The thing about musicians is, we love and need to do what we do, we love and need to share it with other people," says B. "This is the only way we can do it right now. This is all we have anymore. There's nowhere else we can go to play."
With Siers staying at home in compliance with Governor Whitmer's order, B continues the weekday 5:30 gigs by himself, playing old favorites and works in progress, speaking kindly to devoted fans
who generate a stream of appreciative online comments. People drop off food and leave tips via PayPal. On what he calls "Philanthropic Fridays," B raises funds for worthy causes; one week, a portion of the proceeds went to the Detroit Street Filling Station to help Phillis Engelbert provide free meals for displaced service industry and Kerrytown shop workers.
Like Engelbert, Mr. B is a devout hands-on humanitarian. When he started in on Jay McShann's "Hold 'Em Hootie"-full speed ahead like a friendly locomotive-I could feel the piano thunder shaking the floorboards as a great seismic wave of boogie-woogie came pouring down the Internet stream, roaring through the little cable plugged into my laptop computer, up through the earbuds, sending me as if I were sitting across the room getting it live and in person.
Mr. B's "Live from the B Hive" show is streamed every weekday at 5:30 p.m. at Facebook.com
[Originally published in May, 2020.]
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