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Grand Lake: Pregeant jazzes up winter nights

by Cyndi Palmer
Sky-Hi Daily News

During this, the first winter he has spent in Grand County in years, pianist Brad Pregeant is enjoying the weather.

Coming from New Orleans, the former part-time, this year full-time, resident brought that Bourbon-Street heat with him to the Rocky Mountains through his music.

As a young man, Scott Joplin’s “Ragtime,” made famous by the movie “The Sting,” caught Pregeant’s ear by surprise and he followed his heart through studies of piano performance in college. While at Southeastern Louisiana University he was exposed to a variety of musical influences and got the chance to study with jazz piano great Ellis Marsalis.

It also happened that jazz pianist Bill Evans, who played on Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” album, had gone to the same university. Pregeant recalled going with his mom to hear Evans and his trio at SLU, “which was really a thrill.” A couple years later, its halls would embrace Pregeant as a piano student and he would play on the same piano during a future recital.

From the first time he picked out a song by ear on his great aunt’s piano, that signature jazz sound has followed him through his formative years and the improvisation and spirit of it is what keeps him loyal to the genre. He guesses, too, that he’s been playing blues as long as he’s played jazz, considering how closely related the two types of music are.

“What I like about playing the blues,” he said, “is that it is rhythmic, compelling and everyone seems to relate to it. “Something about the blues makes you smile, even though it’s the blues.”

Musician styles he pays homage to include those of Professor Longhair, Dr. John, J.B. Lenoir, Chris Kenner, Earl King and Fats Domino (all from New Orleans), as well as Jelly Roll Morton, W.C. Handy, Georgia Tom Dorsey, Charles Brown, Eddie Harris “and, of course, Ray Charles.”

Since he and fellow musician and wife Lynnea Godfriaux have made Grand County their second home, Pregeant has played everywhere from steamboats and cruiseships, to jazz clubs, resorts and community cafes. He admits he’s always compiling something at home, and said he has put together around 50 original pieces.

He’s shared the stage with big names from not only Grand County (like Walter Holland, Patrick Brower and Warren Ward from Mango Chutney) but also world-renown musicians such as Dr. John, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, the Iguana and Marcia Ball. His second-to-latest album “In Black and White,” with Godfriaux on vocals, flute and percussion won an award for Best Jazz Album in 2005. His latest holiday album, which also features Godfriaux and Dan Shapera, was released last month.

“I love playing with Brad because he is simply an excellent musician open to many different interpretations of most any song,” Brower said. “To put it simply, it’s just fun playing music with Brad. When we perform, it’s easy to see that this feeling of fun if felt by the audience to.”

Brower said Pregeant is “the greatest musical travel guide you could find in all of Grand County,” citing his ability to lead listeners through a variety of states and styles.

“First, you are transported to New Orleans for Cajun-flavored music, then it’s to Chicago for Midwestern jazz swing, then it’s to Alabama for hard-driving Southern rock,” he said. “The musical voyages with Brad also take me to New York City, for open-ended, serious jazz, then to L.A. for crisp fusion and funk.” But he doesn’t stop in the states, Brower said, adding that Pregeant also has a flair for songs from Cuba, South America and Europe.

Pregeant and Brower, a drummer, play jazz and blues 3:30 to 6 p.m. and 8:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday night at Devil’s Thumb Ranch House restaurant. They are also set to play, along with Holland and Ward, at next weekend’s Snow Shoe Festival in Grand Lake. Pregeant is also a regular special at Caroline’s Cuisine, where he plays New Orleans jazz piano for dinner guests, and he has been known to tickle the ivories at the Rapids Lodge Restaurant.


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