As a Riverside resident, Piazza is usually at the ABC, as it's known, about once a month. This is undoubtedly a coup for the club, as Piazza and company has become one of the most visible and viable bands in all of contemporary blues. Piazza — a blues veteran whose first band came together in 1965 — tours relentlessly.
Piazza is not an act — he's an artist. His mastery of the difficult chromatic harmonica puts him in a category with just a few blues harp icons like Little Walter. Piazza's apprenticeship with the late blues-harmonica griot George “Harmonica” Smith and many years as head of the Mighty Flyers have made him a well-rounded bandleader and soloist.
Piazza has made the Flyers a rhythmically invigorating band, capable of many calibrations of blues-related form: 4/4 swing, jump blues, funk beats, New Orleans second line, lazy shuffles of the variety that Jimmy Reed made famous — these metric frameworks are all part of the band's stock-in-trade.
The Flyers represent the New York Yankees of blues bands. Only seasoned and tested players with potential still untapped are invited to join. When they leave, they're often known as outstanding soloists to the blues public, ready to become bandleaders. A certain amount of the Flyer experience can have a boot-camp aspect.
Guitar ace Junior Watson was one of the original Flyers; his tenure with the band began in the 1980s. In 1999, he offered the following about Piazza the bandleader. “Rod can whip a drummer into shape faster than anybody I've ever seen,” Watson noted. “I saw him take three drummers — Willie Schwartz, Ed Mann and Jimi Bott—and yell at each one after every number until they played what he wanted. Drummers are more naturally attuned to guitar players than harmonica players. They play shuffle beats and backbeat shuffles. Rod gets them to play double-backbeats pretty fast.”
That same year, Piazza spoke of the larger implications of the blues — a deceptively simple form of music that reveals more and more opportunities for enlargement the deeper a musician delves into it. “You have to put in the time,” Piazza said, “to be able to hear the depth of this music. Then you have to have the creativity to create something new upon it.”
Where: Arcadia Blues Club, 16 E. Huntington Dr., Arcadia
When: Saturday, Dec. 31, 9 p.m.
Contact: (626) 447-9349, arcadiabluesclub.com
KIRK SILSBEE writes about jazz and culture for Marquee.