Jim Turner: An Eclectic Original
by: Blake Hanson
The Southampton Press
Jim Turner ambled onto the Guild Hall stage last winter for his performance at the highly successful East End Music Festival without seeming to notice the sellout crowd. He puttered about setting himself up, sat down, adjusted his mike, paused for a moment as if in thought, then squinted into the bright lights and asked, “Is anybody out there?"
More than 400 people were “out there” and though all six featured local performers were well-received, at evening’s end the consensus was that Jim Turner had stolen the show.
Jim Turner is an eclectic original. He is a musician with Broadway and Off-Broadway credits who is aware of the theater of performance, who senses that there is something happening between performer and audience that goes beyond the music being made on stage. It is a question of visual as well as oral dynamics, and of focus on the performance moment. In a Turner concert, silence and a lift of the eyebrow can be as eventful as one of his riveting amplified harmonica solos.
Mr. Turner’s first song at the East End Music Festival was an understated instrumental invitation [“Won’t you come along with me?”] to join him for a little musical ride on the Dixieland jazz standard, “Basin Street Blues.” “De de dee daa de da” he called out on the single notes of his acoustic guitar. “Waah wa waah waah wa wah wah” he responded with his harmonica. And slowly, but steadily, Jim Turner filled out the tune, taking the audience in tow: “We’ll take a boat/To the land of dreams/Down the Mississippi/ Down to New Orleans.”
Mr. Turner followed Dixieland with an original, punchy country tune, “Truck Drivin’ Baby,” and was just about to launch into a revamped blues, “Way down upon the Sagaponack Ocean…” when a telephone inexplicably rang offstage. Rather than ignore the intrusion, Mr. Turner included it. He did a slow take, peered into the wings, then looked out at the audience as if to say “Is anybody expecting a call?” The crowd loved it. Jim Turner was on a roll.
If he celebrates a certain calculated looseness with much of his performance, on harmonica he is all business. Mr. Turner projects an amiable, almost shy, stage presence, but the intensity of his harmonica playing reveals the depth of feeling which lies beneath that easygoing exterior. To close his set last February, he brought his three rhythm ‘n’ blues sidemen, picked up his harmonica with its mike shaped like a miniature green torpedo, and fired off searing solos in each of two up-tempo rockers, to the delight of the crowd