You walk into the theater and are immediately immersed in crazy hot blues––a soaring electric violin, a blues busting guitar, a wailing sax, a red-hot keyboard, and behind this a powerful rhythm section of drums and bass pounding out the back beat. Your body starts to sway and rock. You can’t help yourself. You’re drawn onto the large dance floor next to the musicians, joining the electrified crowd dancing with wild abandon. This is what you can expect—in fact, what you will be encouraged to do—at Bluesy ZUZI! on Saturday, May 9.
Bluesy ZUZI! is a dance-jam fundraiser that will benefit ZUZI!, one of Tucson’s cherished community resources and dance establishments. Founded in 1998 by Nanette Robinson and Nancy Mellan, ZUZI! is a unique multifaceted arts organization that offers dance performances, a multigenerational dance school and a 150-seat performance space for themselves and for other collaborating performance organizations. “What better place to have a fundraiser for people who like to dance to the blues than ZUZI!,” exclaims Geoffrey Bruce, the producer of this event. It was actually inspired by his well-attended and wildly successful birthday party held at ZUZI! in 2013 “It’s a perfect space, there are great support people, enough room to dance, enough room for all of the other things that are going to happen that night.” He’s talking about the ZUZI! Theater’s location inside the Historic Y just off Fourth Avenue.
One of the attendees at that birthday party, David Magoon, recalls it the quite well. “It was insanity! And I mean that in the best possible way. The music was smokin’ and the dance floor was vibrating. Looking forward to this year’s event.” And Bluesy ZUZI! is conceived as an annual event, something blues lovers and dancers can look forward to every year.
“Look at the world class blues musicians we have on stage performing,” Bruce says, reciting them on his fingers by heart. “Heather ‘Lil’ Mama’ Hardy on electric violin, Greg ‘the Blues Doctor’ Davidson on electric guitar, Ralph Gilmore on drums, Les Baxter on bass, Michael P. on organ and Carla Brownlee on sax. That’s a tremendous amount of talent jamming together! And there will be others sitting in.”
Greg Davidson, former guitarist for Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, is coming all the way from Chicago to play at this event. “We have great music in my city,” he says. “However, one of the main reasons I go to Tucson is to play with Heather Hardy. When Heather plays the violin, it has all the fluidity of that instrument, but it scrapes and digs right into your body. And she sings like an angel with grit. I’m really looking forward to playing with her at Bluesy ZUZI!”
Scott Bird, a ZUZI! Board member and longtime dancer himself, observes that while each musician is a top notch performer in their own right; it’s what they create together that amazes him. “Greg and Heather improvise and make a musical conversation that has never been heard before and will never be heard again. It’s alive and in the moment. That’s what is so exciting for me as a dancer. I become part of the conversation through movement.”
Hardy, former member of the Sam Taylor Blues Band, described the Bluesy ZUZI! prototype birthday party as “a moment in time where the love of dancing was the center of the room.” She recalls that even the non-dancers were drawn to the dance floor. “What was also remarkable was all of the styles and different levels of dance ability,” she says. “And for us musicians, such a receptive audience that becomes part of the band with their dancing right in front of us was very special. There’s no way that Bluesy ZUZI! won’t be another incredibly fun event!”
Fundraisers are the life support for most nonprofit organizations. ZUZI! has always operated on a shoestring budget, which is astounding for all it does as an educational facility and home for independent artists, dancers, choreographers and collaborators. However, with more art funding cuts from the Arizona budget this year, ZUZI! needs your help, and the first Bluesy ZUZI! annual event on Saturday will be a great step in that direction.
What better way for you to help than by purchasing a ticket and having a memorable night of fun, dance, and camaraderie. Be part of a community supporting a community resource. “I can’t think of a style of music I love more to dance to than the blues,” says Bird. “There’s just something powerful about it.”