The Claudettes bring a blended sound to Norman’s The Depot

The Claudettes (Jaka Vinsek / The Claudettes / provided)

The Claudettes (Jaka Vinsek / The Claudettes / provided)

Piano player and songwriter Johnny Iguana moved from Philadelphia to Chicago to play jazz and blues. He learned from some of the masters — Junior Wells, Otis Rush and Buddy Guy, to name a few.

Yet two major influences also placed a stamp on Iguana’s approach to music: categorization-defying Mose Allison and Bobby Timmons, whom Iguana called “the bluesiest of the jazz piano players.” So when he decided to form a two-piece band from the Chicago blues piano tradition, it ended up being infused with his early rock and punk experiences.

“I started this band as a duo,” Iguana said. “I started it as a piano-and-drums duo with an attempt of spilling off of the Chicago history and tradition of great piano players and piano blues. … I thought that would be a good time for myself.”

Eventually, he expanded his sound, adding two singers, one of them also on bass.

“We split our sets between vocal songs and instrumentals, which I think keeps it really moving, keeps it really lively,” Iguana said. “Most of our songs range from two and a half to three minutes. In an hour set, we’re liable to play 20 songs, and in a 75-minute set play 25 songs. That’s high-energy.”

The full four-piece band, comprised of Iguana on piano, bassist/singer Zach Verdoorn, Matt Torre on drums and singer Berit Ulseth, brings its take on jazz, blues and roots music to the metro 7 p.m. Sunday at The Depot, 200 S. Jones Ave., in Norman.

The name Claudette goes back to the act’s early days and one of its biggest fans. The original Claudette owned a bar outside Chicago, and Iguana and his group were the house band.

“She was eccentric, to say the least,” Iguana said. “She was really business-oriented about selling beer while we were playing. She even started coming to some of our shows — outside in her car — and wanting to sell beer while we played, wherever we played. … After we stopped touring with her, we kept the name on as a reminder of where we began on this journey together.”

Over the past two years, The Claudettes have had two albums carried on the Memphis-based Yellow Dog Records label: Infernal Piano Plot…HATCHED! (2013) and No Hotel (2015).

The act has played everywhere from Paris, France, to Missoula, Montana, which Iguana said was one of his favorites. The Claudettes have also played established jazz and blues venues such as Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago, Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis and Dakota in Minneapolis.

Unlike some bands, The Claudettes don’t focus solely on other jazz sounds such as big band swing or bebop.

“The tones are all warm, and the music is played with a certain intensity that makes it hard to categorize as blues and jazz,” Iguana said. “It’s a little more sort of gonzo than that. We’ve got a certain quality of instrumentals that I think is perfect for animation such as new Looney Tunes. We should certainly be doing the soundtrack for that.”

Tickets are $20. Call 405-307-9320 or visit pasnorman.org.


The Claudettes

7 p.m. Sunday

The Depot, 200 S. Jones Ave., Norman

pasnorman.org

405-307-9320

$20


Print headline: Beyond blues, The Claudettes blend jazz, blues and punk to create its gonzo sound.

Brian Daffron

This article was written by an Oklahoma Gazette contributor. To reach an editor, please email jchancellor@okgazette.com with this story's headline in your subject line.

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