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After marrying in 1979, the couple spent most of the 1980s and 1990s touring Asia, finding particular success in Japan. "They are really the biggest jazz market in the world," said Cunningham, noting the attentiveness of Japanese fans. "They don't dare talk when you're performing. They're really listening to you."
Cunningham also earned international attention a couple of years ago when the San Francisco label Luv N' Haight reissued Something for Everyone, an album he cut in 1965 while his group was the house band at the St. Louis Playboy Club. Inspired by Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, Les Baxter and music he heard in Hawaii while touring with Mathis, Cunningham incorporated those exotic sounds into his own act, eventually cutting an LP and pressing up 500 copies to sell at the club.
More than 30 years later, one of those copies found its way to Luv N' Haight, which included a bootlegged version of the song "Tabu" on a multi-artist compilation aimed at DJs. "Tabu" caught on with record spinners in Brazil, Japan and elsewhere, prompting the label to locate Cunningham and arrange an authorized re-release of the entire album. "It seemed like a panic button got pushed, and they said 'We better find this guy,'" Cunningham says with a laugh. "I was just happy that this thing had caught on."
The Cunninghams' St. Louis concert will include guest appearances by two of the musicians who played on that LP Marion Miller on piano and Manny Quintero on percussion as well as Don Cunningham's old friend Chuck Tillman on tenor saxophone. The first half will feature straight-ahead jazz, showcasing the duo's vocal skills that a Japan Times reviewer once compared to the Manhattan Transfer and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. For the second half, Cunningham said they'll revisit material from Something for Everyone, giving another generation of St. Louis listeners a chance to enjoy its distinctive blend of Latin jazz, lounge and exotica. (The Cunninghams can be found online at www.myspace.com/thecunninghamsjazz.) Dean C. Minderman 7 p.m. Thursday, July 12. Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Boulevard. $20 to $30. 314-533-9900.