Arts Listings

Cajun, Zydeco Band Returns for Another Stroll

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Tuesday September 04, 2007

At the top of the hill for the Solano Stroll, C.Z. and the Bon Vivants will be pumping out Zydeco and Cajun music for listening and dancing. It’s the third time the popular group will do the Stroll, and as fiddler Catherine Matovich said, “It’s been more fun every time—and nicer up there at the top. People can dance, then go into Andronico’s for something to drink, to keep from passing out!” 

Matovich talked about the musical and ethnic backgrounds of the quintet’s players. 

“Four out of five of us have no business playing this music, if you go by ethnicity,” she said. “Marty Jara, our guitarist, is Mexican, a fabulous dancer, known in L. A.; Tim Orr, the drummer’s from Massachusetts, whose family probably came over on the Mayflower; I’ve never asked Elaine Herrick what her background is, but a woman playing bass with Cajun, Latin and Jazz groups is suspect, anyway, right? and I’m Montenegran, classically trained, having played for symphonies, string quartets and backing people on tour like Neil Diamond and Olivia Newton-John! That leaves Andrew [Carriere], who’s Creole from Lake Charles, our accordion player. Andrew’s father, Bebe, was a famous Creole fiddle player in Louisiana. There’s a video of him playing in the 70s, not that long ago, but a different world. Some people follow us just to hear Andrew sing in the old patois.” 

Andrew Carriere turned 70 last Friday, and spoke from his East Oakland home about where he came from and moving to the Bay Area in 1972, taking up his instrument here. “About 80 percent of my people were musicians in Louisiana. The old people back home were kind of strict. They wouldn’t let me play accordion, said, ‘You’re going to break it!’ When I was eight or nine years old, I used to watch them. I knew how to sing that stuff, and after I moved here, say sometime in ‘73, I grabbed my cousin’s accordion ... it was a right-handed instrument, and I’m left-handed!  

“After a while, he let me get on stage,” Carriere said, “and people liked my style, mixing up Cajun music with Zydeco, which is mostly a faster two-step. People love that stuff. Finally, he wouldn’t let me up, ’til people asked for me—then only let me sing! I bought me an accordion, maybe in ‘83. In ‘95, my cousin, who was music representative of the California Cajun Orchestra, died of a bad heart, and I took over for him. I had to study real hard, get busy ... but it didn’t take me long!” 

Carriere plays regularly with the Bon Vivants and works with other groups occasionally. “Everybody hires me to go ‘way up and down somewhere for weddings.” He’ll sit in with his friend, Gerard Landry Sept. 4 at Ashkenaz, and on the 5th will play with the Creole Belles from 6:30-8 p.m. at Albany Memorial Park. 

“Andrew’s the type of person who’d get along with the president of the United States and with ditch diggers,” said Matovich. 

She spoke about playing Cajun music and Zydeco, and how the group got its start. “I got started late in this sort of music. I was used to the classical scene, all the music written out on charts. I wasn’t used to playing by ear, That was a big learning curve for me. Andrew doesn’t play the music by rules; he’s heard it from birth. It’s not a formula. He keeps us on our toes, lots of times throwing out a song we don’t know: ‘Come on!’  

“The group came about as an accident, and was originally an all-girl group called The Cajun Babes. My day job was with the California Symphony, and then heard Tom Rigney, fiddler who used to play with Queen Ida and the Bon Temps Zydeco Band. I went up on stage and said, “You’ll teach me!” In 2003, for Mardi Gras in Alameda, I found a bassist in a jazz bar and told him I was trying to put together a group, and he said his girl friend could help—so it was Elaine who found almost everyone. Then our accordionist had a baby, and Andrew was suggested. We had to change the name, and did it by democratic process. There were five of us, and it took eight months!” 

For the Solano Stroll, Matovich said there will be “a few special guests sitting in, who are under four feet tall—I’ll leave it like that as a teaser. She put in a last word and a couple anecdotes about playing the music. “It’s really simple roots music, and I appreciate it for that, in a different way than symphonies. Something about the beat; maybe close to the human heartbeat. I’ll see the huge delight on the faces of children of three or four years old hearing it, as if they’re saying, ‘Let me out of the stroller! I’ve got to rock!’ 

“One time, Andrew, Marty and I were playing up on a mountain at 7 a.m. for a bicycle marathon—and Andrew was having a party! I admire that; he’s the real deal. Another time, the three of us were busking on Solano—and George Cleve walks by! I’ve been under his baton in symphonies and operas—and his double take was worth everything! ‘What are you doing?’ he said—and I said, ‘I’m playing music for quarters. What are you doing today?’ And he laughed.” 


C.Z. and the Bon Vivants will perform at the Solano Stroll on Sunday.