Friday, June 25, 2010

Dave Alexander a/k/a Omar Sharriff a/k/a Magnificent!

I like to marvel at the miracle of youtube. Youtube gave me my first vision of T-Bone Walker playing his guitar. Youtube let me see Charlie Parker listen to his friend Coleman Hawkins play saxophone. But it has its limits. Youtube hasn’t let me see Elmore James yet. And youtube couldn’t find Dave Alexander.*  (*Found Omar Sharriff, though!  See below.)

I first heard Dave Alexander in a coffee house at San Jose State University in 1973, where I spent three semesters before escaping. I didn’t know anything about him—but the poster said blues, so I went.

Before youtube I had to rely on real life to provide miracles, and that school-supported coffee house was the closest thing to a miracle that I found at the otherwise bleak SJSU. It gave me two gifts in the course of a few months: Alexander, and Mark Naftalin, another blues pianist then fresh from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The manager of the club must have been a smart guy.  At my request he even made a good faith effort to book an appearance by Jerry Riopelle.

Alexander, when I saw him, was a lean, serious man who played a mean piano, mixing boogie woogie rhythms, a bit of New Orleans and serious jazz chords with a rattling right hand that could replace the atomic clock. There were no supporting musicians. He didn’t need any.

What I didn’t know is that my sister Maggie and her husband Ty were going to see Alexander weekends down the road in San Francisco at a little place in the Fillmore District called Minnie’s Can Do Club. (My sister Ann got to see him there, too, but I would never have gotten past the ID check.) Read about Minnie’s HERE.

I’m sure that the scene at Minnie’s Can Do Club was a whole lot different than the dark little coffee shop where a few blues lovers got treated to a nearly private performance of solo piano. But I never forgot Dave Alexander. I got one of his two albums, “Dirt On The Ground,” a short time after the concert, and played it pretty much into the ground.

I saw Alexander again a few years later at an early incarnation of the Sacramento Blues Festival, where he was forced to play a blond wood upright that looked like it was taken from one of the classrooms at my old primary school! He grumbled, but the piano growled.  It's probably why modern piano players like to use digital pianos instead of relying on the promoter to provide something that's playable.

My understanding is that Alexander is now living in Sacramento, my birthplace, where he goes by a variety of names including Omar Sharriff and Omar the Magnificent. I hope he still plays his magnificent piano. And it looks like he does.  Minimal google research got me to Have Mercy Records where I see Alexander has recorded three new records!  The site is below, and if you have better technical skills than me, you can hear some of the tracks.

You can’t find him on youtube—yet—but if you’re smarter than me you can here bits of his older music HERE.  And you can find out about his newer recordings at Have Mercy's website:  (Now that I have done so, I'll have to track one down!)


Maybe I'll find Elmore, after all!  Here's a taste, 35 years after I saw him in San Jose.

And here's another bit (I was searching the wrong name is all!)

And this is probably more what Minnie's CAn Do Club felt like!

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