Rob Ickes and Jim Hurst: Workshops and Concert

On the day of their concert at Christ Church in Poughkeepsie, NY, Jim and Rob both offered workshops in their respective instruments; guitar and 6 string dobro. Attendees were well satisfied with the two hours they had with their chosen instructor. Two hours with Jim Hurst or Rob Ickes is going to motivate you to progress with your instrument. Jim and Rob are both generous with their knowledge and quick to demonstrate.

Dobro player Jeff Anzevino enjoyed Rob’s workshop. “Rob Ickes is a great instructor. He broke down the basics into easy steps. Now practice, practice, practice!” The same was echoed of Jim Hurst’s workshop. Jim provided a path to better guitar playing as well as demonstrating chord choices, picking and strumming techniques.

After the workshop Jim and Rob revealed how they work together. Trading solos; who takes what solo; the type of chording used, etc. This exchange with the workshoppers occasioned mini performances including Jim Hurst covering Billy Joe Shaver’s “I’m Just An Old Chunk Of Coal.”

Jim Hurst and Rob Ickes In Concert

The concert was held in the cool, lower level of Christ Church, Poughkeepsie, NY in a Sunday school room.

Before the show you could find some jammers in the hallway picking out some bluegrass tunes.

Snacks were offered and the room filled up with concertgoers eager to hear their favorite musicians.

I first heard Jim Hurst when he played guitar with the Claire Lynch Band. His impressive command of guitar pyrotechnics is well known. Now with a solo career he has incorporated his vocals in the mix. Although a bluegrass picker he seems to be at home with country, blues, and jazz. The concert was to reveal these talents. Jim mixed complex solos up and down the neck of the guitar interspersing with percussive strumming rhythms and well placed harmonics. He easily transitioned from bluegrass chords to jazz chords. Their choice of songs was eclectic, a mix of bluegrass, country, jazz and standards. Jim teamed up with Rob Ickes and when they have an open schedule they team up for these tours that allow them to stretch musically.

Jim Hurst commented, “We played a couple jazz-type songs: ‘All Blues’ (Miles Davis), and ‘If I Had You’ (Irving Berlin).

Playing with Rob is a lot of fun and is challenging too as he is a great player and so much better known than I, or at least is seems that way to me. That doesn’t really matter with Rob and I, but folks are not aware of my musical variety outside of my playing in different ensembles. Being a band-member means the job is defined and self-contained, so the opportunities to play a variety of music is limited and not there for the most part. With Rob and I, it is mostly a shared environment, meaning we both have lots of room to explore our musical improvisation, and ideas for expression. We select the song-list, work on arrangements and much more together. So playing jazz songs and/or jazz style approaches to the songs we do is so much fun… and challenging.

I am not a ‘jazz head’ – meaning I am not a student of the language, disciplines, theorem, and the like… but I love the sound of a lot of it, and I like seeing what I can do to play in that musical sandbox. There’s maybe some law that says I shouldn’t be doing that, but maybe I won’t get arrested… I don’t dally there too often. But when I do, I seem to rely on so much great jazz music I’ve listened to in my years, and I think and play from a melodic standpoint. Jazzers in the audience can tell immediately that I am not a jazz player, but hopefully they can also tell I love it, and respect the greats. I sure like making sounds on my guitar that mimic jazz, and I think the average listener can get some enjoyment out of it, for better or worse.

The effort to play those two songs is a real ‘stretch’ for me, and that’s a good thing, even though it sometimes sounds like it too. But, playing any music can be a stretch if I’m not prepared or disrespectful to it. Playing a solid melody and doing it well can sometimes be a mighty task, but it’s easier if my heart and head is in the right place. And it is so much more fun that way too!”

Rob Ickes is well known in bluegrass circles as a multi knighted IBMA Dobro Player Of The Year but Rob’s other passion is playing jazz. Rob likes the standards as well. Says Rob, “ ’If I Had You’ is just a great melody and the chords are just interesting enough to push us out of our comfort zone.”

Jim Hurst lays a solid bed of rhythmic comping for Rob to romp over with darting melodic riffs. Rob apparently can find every nook and cranny on a dobro at will! The only thing he hasn’t done with the dobro is bounce the bar off the strings and catch it behind his back during a performance!

Rob commented on his singing “Tom Dooley” during the concert, “Playing dobro and singing presents some challenges, but its just one of those things that gets easier the more you do it. I try to use open chords or strings as much as possible to help keep me on pitch, but for some keys there aren’t many open strings available on a dobro! Then you have to get creative!”

Rob – “This is one of the nicest Sunday School rooms we’ve ever played in!

Doug Mathewson

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