Live Jazz: Phil Upchurch and Sonya Maddox-Upchurch at Vitello’s

By Tony Gieske

I’d like to thank a guy on YouTube  who saved me the trouble of thinking up a lead for this review of  Phil Upchurch’s set at Vitello’s the other night.

“One of the few guitarists to take really scary chances when playing and leave you on the edge of your seat,” the guy who called himself “taildragger51” wrote.

I knew what he meant because Upchurch’s album Darkness, Darkness, which got played for two straight days at a party I went to in Chicago, contained a perfect example of this ability  on the track titled “What We Call the Blues”: One great ending after another, each one more brilliant, deep and satisfying than the last. And none of them interfering with the full size backing band.

So Upchurch’s tact proved all the more remarkable during his performance at the side of his new bride, Sonya Maddox-Upchurch. She is an agile singer with a voice like clover honey; and it would be hard to find a performer who knows more about staying out of the way of the star, without false modesty. You should hear him on YouTube with organ star Jimmy Smith on “Chickenshack.”

At Vitello’s, the songs were all originals with solidly built chassis, adroitly positioned climaxes and big endings. Upchurch again formed a kind of shadow government as his wife emoted. The lyrics were another ball of wax.

A typical example was one about a “trophy wife” whose husband doesn’t love her in the hallway, only at the party on the other side of the door.

That is an idea of a sort, but perhaps it belongs to the genre with which Mrs. Maddox-Upchurch is handier, the singing commercial. She is the CEO of Wondervision Entertainment and Music, and has performed in more than 200 TV commercials for such clients as Listerine, Orville Redenbacher Popcorn, Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Gatorade.

The couple dedicate their spare time to spreading the gospel with their Christian Music Marriage Ministry. And they are members of the Crenshaw Christian Center, led by Frederick K.C. Price, D.D.

OK, OK, it may seem like a long way from what we call the blues. But I gotta say these two guys can blow.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  To read and see more of Tony’s essays and photos click HERE.


2 thoughts on “Live Jazz: Phil Upchurch and Sonya Maddox-Upchurch at Vitello’s

  1. Once Again I Say, YOU TWO ARE THE EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD, OOPS! MAKE THAT THE NINTH WONDER BECAUSE PRESIDENT OBAMA IS THE EIGHTH WONDER! I can’t wait until you all are here for your next major booking. We enjoyed you all so at the Brewery a few years back! Stay Blessed as you have been!
    ~Positively Cousin Toni Harris Driskell~
    A Regal Event by Especially Yours (since 1980)


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