AFTER PERFORMING A QUIET BALLAD INSIDE DIZZY’S DEN, on stage alongside bassist Christian McBride and pianist Benny Green, drummer Gregory Hutchinson shared a revelation with the Monterey Jazz Festival crowd. The trio had just finished the famously dawdling “Lil’ Darlin’” when Hutchinson observed that appreciating the art of playing slower songs is a mature musician’s game.
“Patience is a grown man’s tempo,” Hutchinson said during the trio’s similar set on the main stage later in the weekend of the 2018 festival.
This is a notion that, despite his young age of 20, blues guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Christone “Kingfish” Ingram is already beginning to understand.
“Playing slower is finally something I’ve been learning,” he says. “It’s still raw, but has all that energy underneath.”
The music off Kingfish, Ingram’s rookie record, is pretty timeless – classic, tight Southern blues accented by Ingram’s deep voice. Songs like “Outside of This Town” are reminiscent of another modern-day guitar slinger with a fierce bite – Gary Clark Jr., who played in Monterey during the 50th anniversary of Monterey Pop Festival in 2017.
But Ingram hasn’t slowed down the pace entirely. While a lot of his guitar work is fairly straight-ahead blues, his solos can really soar. They’re wild and rude, like if you put a supercharger on a Volkswagen Beetle – the riffs just get turned up to 11 and never back down. Igram’s body takes note as his face contorts and grimaces on stage.
“That’s me in the moment for sure. It’s not a learned expression,” he says. “I’m just in my happy zone. I’m in a place that I’m comfortable.”
Comfort is not what Ingram seeks, however. Traveling the country, as well as moving on in a more emotional sense, are regular theme in blues music. Leaving home is part of the thrill for Ingram.
“You can always call it home,” he says. “You can always come back to it, but you can become too complacent.”
What is Ingram looking for on the road?
“That opportunity, of course,” he says. “I don’t know what I want, but I can’t be stuck in one place.”
So it is when he plays the blues. The roadhouses and hard times from the past are there, as is a modern temperament.
That expansiveness is deliberate, as he’s trying to invite a broader audience to listen. “I want [the blues] to get more young kids,” he says. “You have to make it more adaptable to modern music to get them into it – then we can teach them the real thing.”
The Monterey Jazz Festival has brought plenty of non-traditional acts to its stages over the years, and Ingram is part of that legacy.
“I have a hard time explaining to purists that it’s all just music,” he says. “I just want to play music and hopefully people will dig it.”
Yet he is steeped in tradition. Ingram grew up in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the home of the Delta blues, where legendary musicians like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters made their mark. At 11, Ingram first took the stage at the Ground Zero Club in his hometown. Four years later, he played the White House for Michelle Obama as part of a delegation of young blues musicians from the Delta Blues Museum.
“I was always around the blues growing up,” he says. “It’s the roots of everything. It’s a cultural thing and it’s our history.”
Like many, Ingram was introduced to the blues by his parents.
“My dad showed me a Muddy Waters documentary and my mom played some soul blues around the house too,” he says. “It was just a sound that I liked. I thought, ‘Man, that’s dope.’”
CHRISTONE “KINGFISH” INGRAM 1pm Saturday, Sept. 28. Garden Stage.