Crazy Like a Fox serenades a packed room of appreciative fans at Anacortes Library.
Sunday afternoon is a great time to engage in a whole range of activities, especially when it is a sunny day. Sitting and listening to great swing and cool jazz music is one of my favorites. In keeping with our theme of the Month of Love we highlight local trio Crazy Like a Fox. The group is comprised of Phil Nakano and married couple Ben and Mia Starner. They played yesterday at the Anacortes Library Second Sunday Jazz Series. The series is sponsored by the Manieri Endowment.
Ben and Phil kicked off the event with a smooth, syncopated jazz tune. While Phil kept a steady beat on percussion, Ben showcased his confident, seemingly effortless piano work. The two exchanged solos, with Phil deftly weaving in and out of the rhythm on the soprano sax. I looked around at the audience, and several of them were sitting with their eyes closed, a smile on their faces. Their second offering was a cool jazz number with a Latin beat. Multi-instrumentalist Nakano picked up his flute for a solo on this piece. Third up was a Vince Garaldi tune featuring beautiful cascading runs on the piano and a tenor sax solo. After the two men ripped through a classy honky tonk ragtime tune featuring another sweet soprano sax solo, Mia stepped behind the mike to join them.
The song started out slow and soulful, and when Mia sang the first line, “I could while away the hours….” a ripple of laughter circled through the crowd as they recognized the Wizard of Oz favorite. On the second number, a cool jazz selection, Mia began to loosen up, swaying to the beat. Next up was the swing vocal standard “Lullabye of Birdland.” This is one of the trio’s strongest offerings. Mia’s range is well suited to the song, and Ben embellished the tune with a solid left hand bass beat. He even tossed in a jaunty ragtime solo. Needless to say, the audience did not hold back their approval. Right after that was another vocal standard, “Honeysuckle Rose.” Perfectly timed cascading runs on the piano added a really nice touch.
After taking a break, the two men came back out and launched into a funky, ‘60’s grooving song. It wasn’t until Ben started to lay the melody over the top that I realized it was the Beatle’s tune, “Mean Mister Mustard.” They played a medley of the Fab Four songs all executed with strong left hand bass notes and complex melodies in the right hand. The arranging of the songs shows what a command of unique music styles Ben has. Mia came back up and provided the voice for a bluesy, Broadway cabaret number. On their rendition of the “Girl from Ipanema,” her ability to express emotion really shined. Mia’s vocal range extends from rich low tones all the way up to soprano height. It reminds me of Ella Fitzgerald when she was young. The last song she sang was an obscure Nora Jones’ tune about the man of the hour. Soulful with a lot of feeling, it turned out to be an ode to the singer’s dog. To round out their wide selection of works, Ben and Phil closed the performance with a New Orleans style stride piano number complete with trilling soprano sax notes. They received a well deserved standing ovation in return.
While the band was packing up, I managed to ask Ben and Phil a couple questions. Mia was busy chatting with her fans.
Phil has been around the local music scene for years. I’ve seen him play with Rivertalk and Fidalgo Swing to name a few of the bands. When I asked him when he first started playing music around here, he laughed.
Gee, I don’t know, maybe around 1980.
I asked him how he and the Starners linked up and it seems that they were both playing at the Conway Muse, and began talking about the kind of music they like.
When I asked Ben what he thought of the spinet piano that they use in the meeting room, his reply was,
It’s okay, a little out of tune, but that sort of adds to the feel of the music. Not bad for a piano in a closet. I’d rather be playing the grand in the library itself.
It’s been fun watching he and Mia raise their adorable daughter Cadence, who I think is around three or four. I asked him how parenthood has effected his musical life.
Sometimes it’s hard to squeeze time in between caring for Cadence. Music now seems like an outlet, kind of like a treat.
Ben mentioned that they will be playing at the Anacortes Starbucks sometime in March. Thanks to the library and the Manieri Endowment for hosting such great, approachable local talent.
Entertainment Writer Mark Perschbacher… A man who will cross great barriers to find exceptional music, art, food, and beer. Mark is a long time Skagit County resident, contributor to, and supporter of local arts.