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Ted Ludwig is a rare bird. The New Orleans transplant, who came to Arkansas in the wake of Katrina and now says he can't imagine ever leaving, makes a living playing music in Little Rock. Never mind that I can count the number of working musicians I know who aren't merely slackers who self-identify as musicians on one hand. Ludwig makes a living playing jazz, a genre long celebrated here, but not embraced in any broad sense, in years.
Not only that, the seven-string guitar whiz has a patron. Ludwig says the genesis of his excellent sophomore album, “Shabang!” came from a conversation between him and Dr. Rex Bell, a longtime supporter of local music, owner of Infrared Studios and a jazz student of Ludwig's.
In a kind of rich-man-offers-to-fulfill-dreams moment that seems to only happen on TV, Ludwig recalls Bell asking one night, “If you were going to do a CD and you could get anybody, within reason, to record with you, who would you get?”
When Ludwig rattled off Michael Pellera, a renowned New Orleans pianist, and saxophonist Tony Dagradi, the leader of the internationally acclaimed group Astral Project, Bell said, simply, “Well, call them up,” Ludwig remembers.
So just like that the Ted Ludwig Jazz Trio, which includes Joe Cripps on bass (not to be confused with the other Little Rock Joe Cripps, a percussionist and producer who's played with Brave Combo) and Brian Brown on drums, became the Ted Ludwig Quintet.
Over the course of three days at Bell's Infrared Studios, the quintet laid down the nine songs that make up “Shabang!” Ludwig says the album opener, an effervescent take on the standard “Softly as a Morning Sunrise,” captures the band playing together for the first time. That song and the album's two other longest tracks, “New Orleans Native” and “The Q,” were recorded in one take.
Like Ludwig's previous effort, “Common Ground,” “Shabang!” is firmly rooted in traditional jazz structure, but with plenty of room for improvisation. Dagradi and Pellera fit seamlessly in with the ultra-tight three-piece. Everything always swings, perhaps nowhere more than on “The Q,” a jaunty piece inspired by the trot of Ludwig's Jack Russell puppy, Suzy Q.
To make sure everyone has a chance to see the quintet live and celebrate the release of the CD (and buy one; they're $15 apiece or $25 for a copy of “Shabang” and “Common Ground”), the group is halfway finished with a four-gig celebration that began Wednesday night and continues on Thursday, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Capital Hotel Bar (free), and at 8:30 p.m. at the Afterthought ($7). At each show there will be a raffle for prizes.
On a typical week, you can catch the Ludwig Jazz Trio from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Capital, and at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Afterthought. Ludwig and Cripps also play the Sunday jazz brunch at Vieux Carre, adjacent to the Afterthought.