Holding down Tuesday nights at B.B. King's Blues Club in Universal City in recent weeks are the Polyester Players. A disco band playing in a blues joint? What's this world coming to? Isn't that sacrilege to the blues gods?
"It's actually more like a 1970s funk and soul band than straight disco," said Saul Davis, the entertainment director of the club. The Polyester Players are not to be confused with another local act, the Polyester Pimps.
The Polyester Pimps are one of the dozen or so Boogie Knights acts, which all are the same--a singer with a guitarist, a bassist and a drummer, all performing over the same prerecorded, one-size-fits-all backing tracks of keyboards and horns. Afro wigs, disco costumes, comic high jinks, all your favorite hits but no musical surprises, because it's not a real musical performance.
An analogy might be if you bought tickets to a Lakers-Bulls basketball game but when you got to the Forum, they screened a video of the 1991 NBA Championship Finals instead. Admittedly, it was a great championship series--Magic's last, Michael's first--but you know how it's going to turn out.
But, the Boogie Knights are very popular. As is karaoke.
On the other hand, the Polyester Players, although still a '70s cover band, perform live. The 10-piece band with a full horn section has been playing regularly at Luna Park in Hollywood. And it brings a lot of people to the Universal City club on Tuesday nights, Davis said.
But disco in a blues club? Does this mean the local blues boom has gone bust?
The business brought in by the Polyester Players, Davis said, "allows us to be more eccentric with our other bookings."
Those eccentric bookings include jazz-flavored trumpeter Chris Botti, who comes to B.B. King's this Wednesday.
Botti performs what some people call contemporary instrumental pop. Other names such as smooth jazz, ambient jazz, contemporary jazz or adult contemporary jazz have also been applied. His second CD, "Midnight Without You," was released on the Verve label in May. In reviewing the album, The Times' jazz critic Don Heckman compared Botti's sound to Herb Alpert's. Translation: Botti is not playing jazz.
Musically, the stuff on "Midnight Without You" sounds like pop tunes you might hear on a Don Henley album, but with a trumpet way out in front instead of a human voice.
A busy 32-year-old session veteran, Botti has played with Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Thomas Dolby and others. He also had a five-year recording and touring arrangement with singer-songwriter Paul Simon. Besides Simon, Botti's influences include such diverse artists as Woody Shaw and Peter Gabriel.
Botti, who has been called the "sexiest jazz trumpet player since Chet Baker" by none other than Rex Reed, recently made his acting debut on the ABC soap "One Life to Live." Botti depicted himself playing at a local jazz club.
Quite a stretch.
* Polyester Players perform Tuesdays and Chris Botti performs Wednesday at B.B. King's, Universal CityWalk. (818) 622-5464. Tuesday's cover is $12; Wednesday's cover is $14.
Coffee Club: The Coffee Junction in Tarzana is somewhat different from other coffeehouses in that it's primarily a coffee store. Its walls are lined with shelves stocked with various coffee makers, carafes, mugs and the like that are offered for sale. The Junction only has music Thursday to Saturday evenings and open-mike Sunday afternoons. The capacity of the club is small, but the energy of the room is friendly.
Owner Sharon Benson is a musician herself, and it shows in the quality of the people who perform there. The acts are granted much respect, if not money.
Last Saturday, Dawn Hummer and Don Connor performed. The duo have been working together off and on for 20 years. They play their own country-flavored pop tunes as well as some eclectic covers.
"We do some weird stuff," Hummer said.
Last Saturday, they opened their second set with a respectable version of the Byrds' "So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star." And they followed it with two Beatles songs, "I'm Looking Through You" and "I'll Be Back."
Later in the set, they did the old Hank Williams Sr. country swing tune "Mind Your Own Business."
Connor and Hummer are old pros at this.
"I sang in every Cask 'N Cleaver from Bakersfield to Riverside," Hummer said of her early music career playing dinner-house lounges.
Hummer was raised in Orange County. Her early influences include a number of 1970s folk-country singer-songwriters such as James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Steve Gillette, Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris.
After several years on the Southern California night circuit, Hummer decided to cut back on her performing. Now she only plays occasionally, about once a month at the Coffee Junction.
* The Coffee Junction, 19221 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, (818) 342-3405.