If you’ve been around the Tulsa music scene for a while, you’ll probably remember the Sisters of the Sun, a duo best known for a long-standing regular engagement at St. Michael’s Alley. And you may recall the top-notch bluegrass band, the Sons of the Boutonnieres, as well. The origin of The Begonias – the trio making its Jazz Depot debut on Sunday – can be traced back to a mid-’90s marriage between members of those two acts.
“When Rick and I got married, I was playing with Sisters of the Sun and he was playing with the Sons of the Boutonnieres,” explains vocalist-bassist Terry Bentley. “We’d have gigs across town on the same night, and we finally went, `Well, why don’t we do this together?'”
The result was a trio called Ruby’s Begonia, featuring Terry on vocals and bass, new husband Rick Bentley on guitar and banjo, and Terry’s college-student son Levi Dennis on fiddle and guitar. Although the instrumentation would indicate a country act, Ruby’s Begonia drew from an eclectic repertoire – including traditional pop and jazz numbers.
“It was a mixture of things then, ” she recalls. “We started out doing some of those American standards and just slowly evolved into doing more and more of them, and really got hooked on the Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin type of stuff.”
As the playlist evolved, so did the band. Levi left for Nashville – where he currently works in the band of country star Gary Allan – and Rick and Terry played as a duo for a while, with A-list fiddlers like Rick Morton and Shelby Eicher often sitting in. Then they added drums. And a couple of years ago, at the same time David Blue became the group’s regular drummer, the Bentleys changed the name of the act from Ruby’s Begonia (a reference to a famous line from both the Amos ‘n’ Andy and Laugh-In TV shows) to The Begonias.
“When David started playing with us, we just decided to drop that part of the name,” says Terry. “We kept our little logo and everything, but we wanted to kind of make a new start.”
That new start involves not only more classic American pop tunes, but more duet vocals as well.
“They don’t really go with the American standards – I don’t know what you’d call them – but we’ve added a couple of Alison Krauss tunes, the duets she did with Robert Plant. We
heard those, and we said, ‘You know, we both sing. Why don’t we sing more duets?’ So we recently added ‘Something Stupid,’ the Frank and Nancy [Sinatra] song, and we’ve started doing `Call Me Irresponsible’ as a duet. It’s been a lot of fun working with the harmonies.
“The majority of what we do, I’d say, would be the American standards: `Fly Me to the Moon,’ `Mack the Knife,’ `Sway,’ things like that. That would probably be 80 percent of what we do.”
Like many other top-drawer local acts, the Begonias suffered the loss of a major venue when Tulsa’s Ciao closed last fall. Since then, however, they’ve played a variety of rooms, ranging from The Voulez-Vous Club in Eureka Springs and Broken Arrow’s Main Street Tavern to the Cascia Hall Performing Arts Center, where they recently performed for LIFE Senior Services – Tulsa.
“They had about 300 people there at Cascia Hall, in an auditorium setting, and it was great,” she says. “It was just a one-hour program, and it was totally different from playing in a restaurant bar. We enjoyed it a lot.”
The way they see it, the Jazz Depot promises to be that same kind of experience, with an attentive audience that’s there to see and hear the band.
“Yeah,” she laughs. “We said, `Well, we did that once, so we ought to be able to do it again.’ At the LIFE Senior Services thing, pretty much everything we did was the American standards. We’ll probably fill in with some of our other standards at the Jazz Hall of Fame, but not a lot.”
The Begonias are set to begin at 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street. Tickets can be purchased at the depot, from www.myticketoffice.com, or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5.
The show is the first in the Jazz Hall’s 2013 Autumn Concert Series.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.