A year ago at Wheeler Hot Springs, guitarist Robben Ford performed in a special concert with pianist Roger Kellaway, reuniting for the first time since they both played with Joni Mitchell in the 1970s. This Sunday, the guitarist returns for a dinner concert at Wheeler, with a special vocalist in tow--his wife, Anne Kerry Ford.
Although music runs hot in the Ford house, the Wheeler show will be an experiment of sorts. Anne Kerry Ford has worked on Broadway, in film and television, and has sung in theater and at special events, including at the White House. But, in this intimate space in Ojai, ground is being broken.
"I've never sung in front of a band in a club, except for fund-raising events," she said. "In a certain sense, it is a first."
For the occasion, expect to hear a diverse collection of tunes.
"There are so many different kinds of music that I love. What we're putting together for Wheeler's is an eclectic evening of everything from Kurt Weill to Stephen Sondheim to Oscar Hammerstein to George Gershwin," she said.
"It's sort of a Whitman's Sampler of great music, not only from theater, but also including jazz standards and Billie Holiday tunes. It's kind of a departure for Robben, too, in that sense. He doesn't usually back up a singer other than himself."
Anne Kerry Ford's own background took her from her native Texas to New York, where she studied acting at Julliard in the early '70s. After several years in New York, she moved to Los Angeles to work on the small and large screen.
It was there that she met Robben, the guitarist renowned for his fire and his tastefulness, whose resume includes working with Joni Mitchell, George Harrison, Miles Davis and his own blues-based band, the Blue Line. In the '80s, the couple headed east again. But they returned to Los Angeles five years ago, as Robben launched a new chapter in his career, recording for Chick Corea's Stretch label.
More than a year ago, the couple left the urban scene altogether and settled in Ojai. And how is life in Ojai?
"I've never lived in a teeny town before--I like it," she said. "It's a lot more relaxed. You don't have to always be watching your back. The guy at the drugstore doesn't mind if you don't have all the money. You can come back and pay him later. It's sweet. I loved the Fourth of July parade. That sort of sums it up. It had a naivete that is charming and wonderful."
The possibility of a Wheeler performance came up three months ago, and because Robben has been touring for much of that time, Anne enlisted the help of pianist Michelle Brourman in designing a workable set of music. That process proved to be easier said than done.
"Stuff has come in and out of the set like a revolving door," she said. "Even if it's an interesting song, it might be wrong for this event, or it might be wrong with the other stuff, or it's too theatrical or too bizarre. There are some great songs out there that would be for a different evening--not the one we're planning. We didn't want to plaster everybody's hair back."
Filling out the unusual band will be percussionist Arno Lucas and bassist Chris Symer. Although Robben hasn't worked much in the trenches of strictly mainstream jazz, a Broadway-jazz identity evolved as they honed a song set.
"One of the songs we're doing is 'If I Were a Bell,' which is from the Broadway show 'Guys and Dolls,' Ford said. "But Robben always thought of it as a Miles Davis tune. I said, 'No, this is a show tune.' In the end, of course, it doesn't matter if he thinks it's a Miles Davis tune or not."
Rather than attempting to adopt a jazz approach in her vocals, Ford is sticking to the milieu she's most comfortable in.
"It's more from the point of view of an actress," she explained, "looking at songs as little stories and trying to figure out why I'm telling the story, who I'm telling the story to, who I'm telling the story as. I feel more comfortable looking at music that way, since I'm not only a singer."
Is this the first step of a beautiful musical relationship?
"I would say definitely. Robben and I both want to work together. We're both motivated to perform locally, with local musicians, and make this area a thriving arts community," she said. "If we can contribute to that, that would be fantastic."
* WHO: Anne Kerry Ford and Robben Ford.
* WHAT: A dinner concert.
* WHERE: Wheeler Hot Springs, 16825 Maricopa Highway in Ojai.
* HOW MUCH: Tickets are $50, including a prix fixe meal at 5:30 and concert at 7:30.
* CALL: 646-8131.