The first time guitarist Kirk Tatnall and vocalist Jeannine Rivers worked together something “just clicked, right away,” said Tatnall.
Both Milwaukee-based musicians had admired each other’s talents from afar for some time before they teamed up to perform as a duo about a year ago. And when they did, Rivers said she, too, felt an immediate, musical connection.
“It’s like we feed off each other, like a musical match made in heaven,” she said.
In addition to their work with other groups, they play as a duo regularly at Milwaukee’s Five O’Clock Steakhouse and other venues. And Rivers describes her time working with Tatnall as “such an amazing journey.”
Listeners here are invited to come along on that journey on Jan. 9, when the duo opens the Jean’s Jazz Series of concerts at the Racine Theatre Guild, 2519 Northwestern Ave.
Tatnall and Rivers will be one of two acts performing that night. The other — Orquesta Nabori — will return to JJS (having played the series in 2009) with a slightly larger orchestra and plenty of its original salsa sound. For more about Nabori, go to www.naborisalsa.com.
Tatnall and Rivers’ portion of the evening will feature a variety of musical styles from jazz standards to R&B and pop, with each of the seasoned performers bringing his or her own background and style to the mix.
Tatnall — whom Racine audiences may know from his longtime collaboration with Roy Edwards and the Group Therapy Band — said that everything he does is rooted in the blues.
Whether he’s going down a jazz path or a rock path, the blues are the one element that seem to tie it all together because they are a direct route to the emotions of the listener, said the guitar virtuoso whose early influences range from Stevie Ray Vaughan to the three Kings of the blues — B.B., Albert and Freddie. And being able to connect with the heart of the listener is his ultimate goal, no matter what style of music he’s playing, Tatnall said (http://kirktatnall.com).
Rivers — whose classically trained voice has been described as both soulful and operatic — said she grew up in a musical family, listening to all different kinds of music. Her influences include everyone from an aunt who was a gospel artist to jazz greats such as Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington.
And while she also had a career in banking management, it is music that is Rivers’ passion. She fell in love with jazz later in life, while earning an associate’s degree in music, and has since has performed at Milwaukee music venues ranging from the Pfister Blu and Hotel Metro to the Jazz Estate and Caroline’s Jazz Club.
“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t sing,” said Rivers, whose debut album “Iridescent October,” is scheduled for release in early 2016 (www.jeanninerivers.com).
Fresh and familiar
Rivers’ and Tatnall’s double-header show with Nabori is one of four concerts offered as part of the 15th season of Jean’s Jazz Series. Created by Joe Mooney as a fundraiser for the Theatre Guild, in memory of his late wife, Jean, the series will also serve up another double dose of music on April 30, featuring the Jazz Spectrum Vocal Quartet (www.jazzspectrum.com) — bringing its rich harmonies and tight ensemble work to JJS for the first time — and the Extra Crispy Brass Band (www.extracrispybrassband.com), a New Orleans-style brass band that has wowed Jean’s Jazz fans before.
In between will be two one-act concerts. The Feb. 13 show will feature crowd favorite Davina and the Vagabonds, with their unique blend of edgy nostalgia, entertaining showmanship and Davina’s distinctive voice (http://davinaandthevagabonds.com). And the March 26 show will offer a new experience for area big-band fans, the Shout Section Big Band — a 19-piece, Chicago-based swing band with a female vocalist that Mooney described as “just dynamite” (www.shoutsection.com).
Pleasing JJS audiences by bringing back some of the most often-requested acts is just one way Mooney aims to keep series’ fans happy.
“We’ve always tried to show people something a little bit different and we are still trying to do that,” said Mooney, who credits his friend John Wosyk, with helping scout out new acts for the series.
Through the years, JJS has brought a wide range of musicians to the Theatre Guild stage and, in the process, has grossed more than $100,000 for the theater, where the jazz-loving Jean had been a dedicated volunteer.
More than music
In addition to its music, the series offers a cabaret-style atmosphere, with a cash bar and complimentary desserts at intermission, as well as the opportunity to meet the performers. And it has grown in ways that Mooney said he never expected.
What started out as an experiment Mooney said he expected to last about five years, the series really began to pick up momentum in recent years, after the concert nights were switched from Thursday to Saturday, he said.
“Now people see us as a night out,” Mooney said. “They can go out to dinner, come enjoy the concert and even have dessert.”
All concerts start at 7 p.m. and are performed in the Racine Theatre Guild, 2519 Northwestern Ave. Season tickets cost $56 per adult, $50 for seniors and $15 for students. Individual concert tickets are $18, $16 and $5, respectively.
For tickets and other information, go to www.racinetheatre.org/jeans-jazz or call 262-633-4218.