Paul Tillotson and Janie Harris go way back. Twenty-five years ago, he was but a cocky high-school kid when her husband Gene would invite Tillotson, Curtis Stigers, Jim Kassis and Rod Wray to gather around the Baldwin and perform during those locally legendary sessions in the lounge of the preternaturally funky Idanha Hotel. The boys called themselves "The Young Jazz Lions," and it fit, although these young lions tended more to purring than roaring. They had a smooth, polished sound, mature beyond their years.
Tillotson is still one of the most pleasingly cocky people you'll ever run across. He has centered his career in the Big Apple for more than 20 years now, and if New Yorkers are judging Idahoans by what they see in him, they must think we are the grinningest bunch of cowpokes west of the Pecos.
Janie traveled the world with Gene to his various musical settings, but everyone stayed close. Gene would light up like a proud pappa every time he spoke of his young lions. When the Boise State/Gene Harris Jazz Festival kicked off, Tillotson, Stigers, Kassis and Wray were always part of it. Stigers has established himself solidly in the jazz-pop field, Kassis and Wray also continue to make beautiful music (Kassis in Los Angeles; Wray right here in Boise) and Tillotson turned himself into not only a first-rate piano picker, but a first-rate entertainer as well. He comes home regularly to play venues in Boise and Sun Valley, and never fails to fill the room.
Today, Gene has passed on and Janie is currently in dire financial straits. For more than a year, she has been beset by a plague of medical problems, the most serious being a prolonged struggle with breast cancer (see Cope, Page 8). She has come out the other side cancer-free, but thanks to an insurance company that threw her a "pre-existing conditions" surprise after some mighty expensive treatment, she has been hit with an avalanche of medical bills and no possible way to pay them.
In typically energetic fashion, Tillotson has rushed to the aid of his musical godmother. Earlier this summer, he offered to organize and tickle his dazzling ivories in a benefit to help her out, and she accepted. The event is being called "The Janie Harris Cancer Survivor Benefit Concert."
Tillotson has gathered an impressive string of musicians, many going back with Gene and Janie as far or farther than he does. Some jammed with Gene the giant not only during the Idanha days, but on those heavenly Sunday afternoons out at Ste. Chapelle Winery in the '80s and '90s. Saturday evening, they will all perform at the Egyptian Theatre, and all of the proceeds from both ticket sales and a mid-show auction will go toward Janie's medical bills.
As of press time, the lineup includes Tillotson, Kassis and Wray, the Not-So-Young-Anymore Jazz Lions. (Unfortunately, Stigers is on tour in Europe and can't make it back for this event.) Cherie Buckner and John Jones will be there as well. Both of them often sat in with Gene over the span of many years, and Buckner even recorded a CD of jazzy gospel tunes with him.
Also on the bill is The New Trio with Chuck Smith, Sandon Mayhew, Scott Reusser and the busy Wray.
The Frim Fram Fellas--which is a name variation the Frim Fram Four adopt whenever they add or lose a player for any particular gig--will perform on Saturday night, and the lineup will be comprised of Jonah Shue, Cody Ramey, Greg Belzeski and Pete Petersen.
Somewhere in the mix will be the reunited Capitol City Jazz Band, a Dixieland group made up of people who played with Gene in several venues. Capitol City includes Billy Mitchell, Harry Lawless, ex-Gov. and clarinet tooter extraordinaire Phil Batt and this writer.
Included in the evening's entertainment will be a cash donation auction, conducted by auctioneer Larry Flynn.
Whether you love jazz or you love Janie, this is an opportunity not only to catch some of our best local musicians, but to lend a much-needed hand to one of the Boise music scene's central figures.
Saturday, Aug. 22, 8 p.m., $40 adults, $20 kids 16 and younger. Egyptian Theatre, 700 W. Main St., 208-345-0454, egyptiantheatre.net. Donations can be made directly to Janie Harris and sent to 5699 Fortress Ct., Boise, 83703.