The first time Chicago-born musician Bud Hudson sat at a piano, Franklin Roosevelt was occupying the Oval Office, the clouds of war in Europe had just begun to form and America was beginning to emerge from the Great Depression.
Today, 65 years later, Mr. Hudson still finds solace playing 88 gleaming keys. The Augusta resident will perform Saturday as part of the Augusta Jazz Project's Chamber Jazz series concert at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta on Walton Way.
"Yeah, I've got a long history," Mr. Hudson said. "I started playing at 5 - classical piano. I played classical from the time I was 5 until I was maybe 20. What changed was I got a job at 17, in a restaurant. I started washing dishes and finished playing piano in the room upstairs. That's where I started playing the things I heard on the radio."
And what Mr. Hudson heard on the radio was jazz.
Mr. Hudson broke from the classical world in 1952, when he began playing with legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Stitt in and around Chicago. His residency with the master musician turned out to be the first page in a scrapbook filled with some the most famous names in jazz and blues.
"Sonny Stitt was the first musician I really played with," Mr. Hudson said. "That was in about 1952, and that's when I really started playing jazz. Then I met Muddy Waters and he asked me if I wanted to play the blues. Of course, I said yes. I told him I wanted to play the blues and jazz."
In the years that followed, Mr. Hudson found himself keeping musical company with blues pioneers such as Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins and B.B. King. He also served as a sideman to artists such as Tony Bennett and a little-known Chicago jazz vocalist named Lou Rawls.
"Lou Rawls," Mr. Hudson said with a sigh. "Yeah, I loved Lou Rawls. He wanted me to go on the road with him, but I wasn't ready to leave. I loved my home in Chicago."
Mr. Hudson did eventually take to the road, playing for two years with a Chicago combo called the Five Blazes and spending most of 1958 in Las Vegas, playing rooms at the Stardust and Tropicana hotels. Eventually, Chicago called him back.
"There was just too much drinking that wine and smoking that smoke," Mr. Hudson said wryly. "So I just left. Left and went back home."
Mr. Hudson left Chicago again in the late 1960s, attracted by the warm climes of Florida. There he played Miami's resort hotels and became acquainted with jazz pianist Herbie Hancock. He said conversations he had with Mr. Hancock best explain his continued attraction to the piano.
"The whole thing, in a nutshell, is about loving the music I create. I love the relationships, the compositions, the playing and the sounds that come out of me. That's the musical triangle that Herbie Hancock and I used to talk about - composition, sound and people - and those are the reasons I play. Mostly the sound. The sound, you see, is the absolute truth of the piano."
WHAT: The Bud Hudson Explosion
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: The Unitarian Universalist Church, 3501 Walton Way
ADMISSION: $15. Visit www.augustajazz.com
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org