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Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009

Monday Nights with Ballini, Ogburn and Baumann

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The Jazz Estate’s Monday night residency is billed as Ballini, Ogburn and Baumann, but internally those three players prefer to call the event by a less formal name.

“We call it ‘Honest Mondays,’” says singer-songwriter Marc Ballini, who shares the stage with mandolinist Ryan Ogburn and guitarist Craig Baumann. “We just play like it’s Monday, and you’ve got to be honest on a Monday, because it’s the beginning of the week. So we just go up there and be ourselves. We try to keep it intimate and talk a lot with the audience and keep them involved.”

The residency has changed markedly since its inception, when the weekly event was billed just to Ballini and Ogburn. Ballini played guitar initially, dueting with Ogburn, who remains best known locally as the mandolin player with the bluegrass band Stealin’ Strings. It was the addition earlier this spring of Baumann, the longtime guitarist for the soon-to-be-defunct regional jam band Fat Maw Rooney, that gave Ballini the opportunity to move back to the instrument he was trained on and still feels most comfortable playing, the keys.

“That really opened up a lot of opportunities for us,” Ballini says. “And Craig really added a swampy, folky, bluesy kind of flavor to our songs, and allowed us to do three-part harmonies, which was a great addition.”

Though all three players have ties to the jam scene, they try to keep improvisations concise to focus on songs, most of which are originals, though they’ll throw in the occasional cover of a song by Ray Charles, J.J. Cale or the like. Even though they’re not a jazz ensemble in any traditional sense, the trio was drawn to the Jazz Estate.

“We play with a jazzy flavor, but we’re not priding ourselves as jazz musicians,” Ballini says. “The Jazz Estate has for me personally been my favorite club, though. I used to go for years and watch some of the best musicians play that place. It’s so dark and comfortable; it’s different from any other venue in town.”

Between the cozy venue and the laid-back mood, Ballini says the gig feels more like a respite than a weekly commitment.

“Gigging and music is my full-time gig; it’s my workload,” he says. “But playing in this trio is more soulful for me. I love playing with people and bouncing music off of them, especially playing with Ryan and Craig on these Monday nights. Ryan and I have been really good friends for a while, and playing as a duo or in groups for almost nine years, and Craig I have known each other for a long time, too. It’s just really nice to be able to play with your friends. I think we all kind of complement each other.”

Ballini, Ogburn and Baumann perform for free every Monday night at 9:30 p.m. at the Jazz Estate. Their Dec. 28 performance will double as a food drive and an ugly Christmas sweater party featuring snacks and eggnog.