Veteran pianist Henry Townsend is known among aficionados as an accomplished purveyor of the sparse, expressive Saint Louis keyboard style that developed in the 1920s and ’30s. Townsend achieves profound musical and emotional depth through uncluttered phrases and an unerring instinct for playing the right notes–and only the right notes–at the right time. But there’s more to his music than that; he also has solid roots in the rougher traditions of the Delta. He traveled with the likes of Robert Johnson, Rice Miller, and Robert Nighthawk in the 1930s, and when he switches from piano to guitar his Delta emotionality becomes more evident. Beneath the elegance of Townsend’s playing lurk myriad influences and stylistic shadings–everything from the haunting intensity of Robert Johnson to Lonnie Johnson’s sly macho assertiveness–but really Townsend is a genre unto himself: one of the last remaining proponents of a seminal style, fusing more than half a century of blues tradition into a personal canon that remains as fresh now as it was when he was developing it in the 1930s. Tonight and Saturday, Rosa’s, 3420 W. Armitage; 342-0452.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.