Hey Nonny (Arlington Hts.)
Erwin Helfer/ Photo: Roman Sobus
Erwin Helfer, Brother John Kattke, Marty Sammon & Marty Binder will perform two shows, at 7 and 9 p.m. on Thursday May 20 at Hey Nonny, Arlington Hts.
After all these years, it’s still difficult to think of Erwin Helfer as an “elder statesman.” Of course, we know he’s 85 years old; we know he was mentored by some of the greatest figures in blues and boogie-woogie piano (start with New Orleans legends like Leon T. “Archibald” Gross, progress through Chicago-based icons such as Cripple Clarence Lofton, Little Brother Montgomery, Sunnyland Slim, Jimmy Walker, and Blind John Davis, and go on from there); we know he befriended and worked with Estelle “Mama” Yancey, the beloved widow of boogie-woogie master Jimmy Yancey, during the last decades of her fabled career; we know that his sidemen over the years have included some of the most iconic figures in Windy City blues and jazz; we know that he was instrumental in supporting erstwhile aspirants such as Deitra Farr, Katherine Davis, and the late Big Time Sarah early in their careers by featuring them as vocalists on his shows.
Yet, despite his age, he carries the torch that was handed down to him with elegance, grace, and a buoyant enthusiasm that might challenge that of a man 65 years his junior; when we think of Erwin Helfer, we think of life-affirming optimism – an indomitable spirit that welcomes us into a blues-enriched landscape of musical eloquence and playfully gritty uplift, albeit deepened by an undercurrent of hard-earned, sweet nostalgia. Helfer may well have been an “old soul” for most of his life, but his music retains a sparkling, childlike sense of wonder and delight.
David Whiteis, Chicago Blues Guide