Blue Note

Spyro Gyra at Blue Note

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I’ve been listening to Smooth Jazz for 30 years. I own nearly all of the CDs/LPs from my favorite performers. Until a few years ago, the only two that I had seen live were Earl Klugh, who I saw in 1981 in Carnegie Hall, and Chuck Mangione at Radio City Music Hall around the same time.

I’ve corrected that by catching shows with Bob James, Acoustic Alchemy, Dave Koz, and others. A few were still missing. At the top of that list were Spyro Gyra and The Rippingtons. I scratched Spyro Gyra off that list last night!

Spyro Gyra played 12 shows on six consecutive nights at the Blue Note Jazz Club in NYC, with the last two shows performed last night. We invited three friends along and the five of us had a fantastic meal at the club before the show.

Spyro Gyra consists of five outstanding musicians, each of whom can carry a show on their own. Their fearless leader is the great Jay Beckenstein, one of the great saxophone players of our time. I also own a solo CD of Jay’s and it too is awesome.

JayBeckenstein

Julio Fernandez played the guitar and sang a bit (Spyro Gyra is mostly an instrumental group). He was incredible on the guitar, and quite good singing.

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Bobby B played the drums, sang a bit and scatted a bit. While I’m writing this, the link to his bio is blank, but I’ll leave the link in, in case they ever update the page. He was unreal last night. Aside from superb drumming the entire evening, he was a real showman, cracking the crowd up and keeping people on their toes.

BonnyBStaring

BonnyBBonnyB3

He sang harmony with Julio on one number (gorgeous), and sang solo and scatted on another. He played one entire song solo (the other four guys left the stage) and he enthralled the crowd with one of the longest drum solos (plus some commentary and scatting) I’ve seen in a long while. Simply fantastic.

Scott Ambush played the electric bass. He was great all night. In the second number, he took a brief solo, and I was extremely impressed. I should have waited to gauge him though. A few numbers later, they played the title cut from their newest album Down the Wire (which I don’t own yet, but will shortly!). Scott wrote the song.

ScottAmbush3ScottAmbushExiting

It starts off with an amazing bass solo. Even that wasn’t the peak of Scott’s talent. Late in the song, after all of the other guys have their incredible solos, Scott takes over again, and he just smokes the house down. Seriously, this is one awesome bass player. Totally captivating.

Tom Schuman played electric keyboards. Tom was excellent the entire set and took a number of extraordinary solos. He and Scott are the glue that keeps the background going for Jay and Julio to wail their leads on.

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All together, they were magic, and any nervousness I had in advance of seeing them live for the first time was completely misplaced. They were and are awesome in every respect. They were on stage for exactly 80 minutes. Not the longest set in history, but every note picture perfect.

JulioJayScottBonny

Earl Klugh and Bob James at Blue Note

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Earl Klugh is my favorite solo jazz guitarist, and has been for 30 years! Bob James is my favorite solo jazz pianist, and has been, for nearly as long! I’ve seen each of them perform (separately) at the Blue Note, but last night, finally got to see them play together, for the 30th anniversary of the release of their album One on One (I own three of their collaborative CDs).

When we saw Earl at the Blue Note, I covered it extensively, including a very long and detailed back-story (how I discovered Earl, how I tried to get Lois to see Earl for our first date, etc.). If you haven’t read it, I personally recommend it. 😉

Since this was a collaboration last night, there were fewer supporting players on stage with them. Earl brought along his normal bass player, Al Turner, and his drummer, Ron Otis, both of whom were with him the last time we saw them. Both keyboard players were absent, naturally, since Bob James is such a master at the keyboards. The horn player (the great Lenny Price) wasn’t there either.

Sitting left-to-right on the stage:

Bob James played the piano (a grand), but it had to have electronic components, because he had cool sounding organ sounds on some numbers. He was beyond brilliant last night. Practically every time he took a solo he received a rousing ovation. Half way through most solos, you could feel people dying to clap to let him know how much they were enjoying his play.

Bob James

Bob James

Earl Klugh was superb, but for the most part, took shorter leads than Bob did, which made people miss opportunities for applause, because they didn’t expect him to pass off the lead so quickly. Don’t misunderstand, he got plenty of applause, and most of the songs were his compositions (fabulous set selection last night!), but he wasn’t as highlighted as Bob James was.

Earl Klugh

Earl Klugh

Al Turner was fabulous all night (mostly on the electric bass, but on two songs, on an upright bass as well). Toward the end of the song Angela (the theme from the TV show Taxi, written by Bob James), Al took a smokin’ bass solo that rocked the house. People were applauding wildly long before he was done, which is cool, and he appreciated it, but it also means you’re missing part of the solo.

Al Turner

Al Turner

Ron Otis was incredible all night. A soft but inspirational touch all night. Even though it was soft (appropriately), his hands were flying, keeping an extremely up-tempo beat for Bob and Earl to dance around.

Ron Otis

Ron Otis

During the encore, Ron took a long solo, or rather, a long duel, with Bob on the piano. Ron would take a solo, then Bob would do something dazzling on the piano, and when he stopped, Ron would counter with a drum solo to match what Bob did on the piano. They kept it up for a few minutes, and it was awesome (both of them). Great way to close a great show!

In total, they were on stage for 80 minutes (they never left the stage to play the one song encore, which would take too long at the Blue Note).

Last night I had the Grilled Salmon (I usually have the steak there), and it was perfection. I haven’t been highlighting the food aspect of many of these clubs lately, but I feel compelled to do so now. I believe that Lois enjoyed her chopped salad nearly as much as I enjoyed my meal. 😉

Wonderful Weekend

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We’re in NYC for an unusually long stretch. We’re at the halfway point, and it will be hard to top last week, but we won’t stop trying. 🙂

We returned from VA on Tuesday to one night of solitude. Our extravaganza started on Wednesday. Since we had been away, I got back on the exercise track by taking a seven mile walk by myself.

At 4pm, friends of ours who were passing through arrived to spend the night. After catching up a bit on the deck (in perfect weather), we walked up to the Peking Duck House for a wonderful meal. We waddled back, taking a tour of Grand Central (including the amazing Food Market), and after schmoozing a bit more, collapsed.

The next morning, I took another long walk with our friends, this time roughly six miles. They (correctly) shamed me into getting a new pair of sneakers when they heard me tell Lois that I had not forgotten to stuff some tissues into my socks to stop my sneakers from cutting my heels. I am now the proud owner of a new pair of New Balance, purchased at Modell’s (Gotta Go to Mo’s!). 🙂

In the afternoon, we dropped our friends off uptown and headed straight to LaGuardia to pick up David. Since it had started raining reasonably hard, and his flight was delayed, we parked the car in the garage (highly unusual for us), and we relaxed at the food court, where we had excellent coffees from Coffee Beanery. I watched a bunch of The Onion video podcasts on my iPod (laughing my head off non-stop), while Lois browsed at Borders.

Rain At La Guardia

Rain At La Guardia

David was only an hour delayed, and even though it was still raining, we made great time back to the city. We ran across the street and had a terrific Mexican meal at El Rio Grande. Afterward, Laura and Chris came up to catch up with David.

On Friday, David had lunch out with his college roommate, and Laura (who took a half day off) planned to take another long walk with me. Just as we were about to leave, David texted me that he could be back in 10 minutes if we could wait. We did, happily, and the three of us did the full 8+ mile walk, on yet another glorious day.

Friends of David and Laura (and us as well, though we’re their parents’ ages) were flying up from Richmond, scheduled to arrive at 3:30pm. When a flight attendant was unable to make it on time, they were delayed awaiting a replacement who was flying in from Cincinnati! We had tickets to the Blue Note Jazz Club that evening, and they ended up having to meet us there straight from the airport (putting their luggage in the coat room).

It all worked out fine, and they got there in plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely meal with us. Chris joined us a bit later, due to work, work, work…

Group At BB King

Group At BB King

We saw Charlie Haden (a great bassist). He was playing six consecutive nights at the Blue Note in an Invitation Series with a different guest performer each night. On Friday night, Kenny Barron was the guest, an amazing piano player. The two of them played together, and each took a number of long solos for 70 minutes. It was a slightly short show for the Blue Note.

The air-conditioning seemed to be off only during the show (it came on seconds after the show ended) and they were working so hard on the stage, that I wouldn’t be surprised if the heat caused them to cut it short just a bit. A lovely evening of good food, great company and excellent music.

When we returned to the apartment, the old folks hit the sack, and the youth stayed up (who knows how long?). Before I said goodnight, Chris asked if I wanted to walk in the morning. That would have made four days in a row for me (something I hadn’t attempted as yet), and being the macho machine that I am, I said yes.

I was a bit late (sorry Chris), and met him downstairs at 8:19am. We did the full 8+ miles, at a faster pace than most of my group walks (in fact, we shaved 24 minutes off of the average group walk time, and only six minutes longer than my best time ever). Chris kept me on a crisp and steady pace. Thanks!

While I was off walking with Chris, our guests enjoyed breakfast on the deck.

Breakfast

Breakfast

After a shower, the boys (David, Chris, Clint and I) headed to the new Yankee Stadium to catch the game against the Oakland A’s. This was collectively our first time at the new stadium. In my opinion, it’s awesome. Nice job Yanks!

The Boys

The Boys

Too many food choices to articulate, so I’ll just say what we selected. Chris had the Pizza from Famiglia, which was not exceptional, but not bad either. The rest of us had Philly Cheesesteaks from Carl’s. Pretty good, but I’m not sure I would call it Best in Manhattan (as the web site claims). Not that I know of a better cheesesteak in Manhattan, just that it was good, not amazing. 🙂

Three of us had a $10 beer (which included a plastic commemorative cup, valued at $1).

We fried in the sun for an hour (and I have the sunburn to prove it, especially on my knees). Once the sun passed, the breeze made the rest of the day delightful. Unfortunately, I continue to be a curse on local sports teams. The Yankees had an eight-game winning streak snapped on Saturday. They made it exciting, almost pulling it out in the ninth inning.

Last year (at the old stadium), they lost when I showed up. The year before, the Mets lost when I attended a game. My new retirement plan will be to charge both the Yankees and the Mets to keep me away from the stadiums. I should be able to make a good living, since they play 162 home games between them. 😉

Laura and Sally Ann had a mini-spa afternoon followed by Vietnamese food, while Lois slaved away at her computer.

The Girls

The Girls

When we got back to the apartment, another round of showers was in order due to the aforementioned frying in the sun. Then we walked up to the Duck House, where David’s college roommate and his fiancée joined us for dinner (nine of us in total). We had an absolutely spectacular meal. With that many people, we get to order that many more dishes, and therefore more tastes, than with the four of us who attended on Wednesday night.

Duck House Dishes

Duck House Dishes

Group At Duck House

Group At Duck House

Again, the old folks headed home, and early to bed. The youth headed to see Harry Potter 6, and told us the next morning that they thoroughly enjoyed it!

On Sunday morning, the youth all attended Church Services at Redeemer. Lois and I headed to BB King and waited on line for them to join us. The same nine people who ate the night before at the Duck House now gathered to see the world famous Harlem Gospel Choir over a wonderful brunch at BB King. It was our second time, but the other seven were experiencing it for the first time.

It’s hard to describe the show, unless you’ve been to a revival service, in which case it wouldn’t be hard to describe it all! 😉 Awesome music (both the singing and the band), with wonderful spirituality, including forcing participation by the entire crowd.

Crowd Participation

Crowd Participation

Only the infirm didn’t stand (at least at some point during the show) and clap and dance along. As much as we enjoyed our first time, this one was substantially better, so we’re doubly glad we suggested this activity for the group.

At each show, a group of people is invited on the stage (I won’t tell you why, so you can be surprised if you ever see it), and one of the people in our group ended up on the stage. See if you can spot her (hint, hint). 🙂

One Of Us On Stage

One Of Us On Stage

After the show, Lois bought one of their CDs, and got it signed by all seven of the singers, plus the founder of the Harlem Gospel Choir. We also made a separate donation to their ministry.

We walked back to the apartment and relaxed while watching the Yankees win on TV. I’m awaiting my royalty check for not attending the game yesterday. At the same time, I finally caught up on the weekend’s email and Twitter stream, having not logged on at all on Saturday (a very rare occurrence for me!).

The youth headed across the street for a superb Sushi meal at Hane Sushi. Just as they finished up, the heavens opened up, and we all waited out the thunderstorm. The second it let up, all of us (except for Lois) walked nine blocks to Berry Wild (only Laura and Chris had been there before). Everyone loved theirs, including me. I had Banana and Coffee yogurt, with shredded coconut on top. Yummy!

When we got back, our Richmond friends headed out to JFK. Their flight ended up being delayed by the continuing storms, but they did arrive in Richmond safe and sound, shortly at 2am! 🙁

The rest of us watched a DVD of the 1989 movie The Dream Team. Wes sent it to us as a gift a few weeks back, so we were looking forward to watching it. It starts off a bit slowly (or perhaps awkwardly is more apt), but, it builds, cleverly, and while it’s kooky or corny, I have to admit that I laughed out loud quite a bit. Definitely an enjoyable evening.

David had a 6am flight back, so alarms were set for 4:25am, and Lois and I didn’t get much sleep. David has already landed safely, so the weekend extravaganza is now officially over, but we’re both wiped like the party is still going on. 😉

While we don’t have company staying with us any longer, we do have plans for the next six consecutive nights (alone for the first four, then with other people on Friday and Saturday), before we finally get to completely collapse!

Jerry Douglas at Blue Note

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Last night we saw Jerry Douglas play at the Blue Note in NYC. We saw him and the same band (with the exception of the drummer) on April 23rd at BB King. I wrote a long post about that show the next day. Every word in that post applies to last night’s show as well (other than the drummer being different), so I’ll try not to go on too much in this one.

Jerry is considered by most to be the world’s greatest Dobro player, and I am a giant proponent of that view. His fingers mesmerize as they pick and his left hand glides effortlessly up and down the neck placing the slide bar wherever it’s supposed to be. It’s no surprise then that the title of his new (current) CD is called Glide.

In addition to being an incredible musician, he’s also a helluva nice guy (more on that at the end). Rather than go on and on about Jerry, or repeat specific things I said in my previous post, I’ll provide a link here to an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal profiling Jerry Douglas. Last night Jerry sang incredible harmony on two or three songs with Luke Bulla (the fiddle player). It made this quote from the WSJ article all the more real to me:

“I’m a singer at heart,” Mr. Douglas admitted during a recent interview in Nashville, “but when I started playing dobro, I stopped singing — because it took that space in my head. At times I’ll feel strongly about hitting a harmony note with Alison’s voice, accenting the line, and it gives the illusion of there being a harmony singer.”

Jerry Douglas Dobro

Jerry Douglas Dobro

Left-to-right on the stage:

Guthrie Trapp played the guitar (or more accurately, an acoustic guitar and an electric one, roughly 50/50). I place guitar players in two major categories: Solo style artists, where the entire song is really about the guitar (e.g., Andy McKee, Antoine Dufour, Don Ross, Craig D’Andrea, Phil Keaggy, etc.) and ensemble artists, who support a band, taking extraordinary leads whenever appropriate (e.g., Bill Cooley, Cody Kilby, Tommy Nash, Buddy Miller, etc.). Guthrie is in the second camp (not that any of them lacks the talent to be stricly solo guitarists!). He’s one of my all-time favorites (as I pointed out in my previous post).

Last night was magical, in nearly every respect, but if I had to nitpick one thing, it would be that the volume on Guthrie’s acoustic guitar was too low. It was perfect for his electric guitar, but someone even yelled out to him to raise the volume on his acoustic one, and he said that it was at the maximum level. I could hear it, and see his fingers flying, but it would have been even better up a few notches.

Guthrie Trapp

Guthrie Trapp

Chad Melton played the drums (the only change in the band from the BB King show earlier this year). He did an excellent job all night and seemed to be having a blast playing at the Blue Note (actually, they all seemed to be enjoying the experience).

Chad Melton

Chad Melton

Todd Parks played the bass (mostly upright, one number, an electric). He’s extremely solid, just like at BB King. We thoroughly enjoyed his play the entire show.

Todd Parks

Todd Parks

Luke Bulla played the fiddle (and the acoustic guitar on one number) and sang lead on three numbers. Just like at BB King, every time Luke took a fiddle lead, or sang, the applause went through the roof. He’s a genuine crowd pleaser.

Unfortunately, since Luke was the furthest away from us on the stage, Lois was unable to get a good shot of him given the lighting. Sorry Luke!

Luke Bulla

Luke Bulla

They came on stage at exactly 8pm, and left the stage at exactly 9:40pm, for a 100 minute show (including a one-song encore, thankfully without leaving the stage). It was a fantastic show, in every respect.

We wanted to sit right up against the stage, so we got to the Blue Note very early. The doors don’t open until 6pm for an 8pm show, but we were outside at 5:25pm. The weather in NYC was spectacular yesterday, so it was quite pleasant to stand outside. We were the 4th and 5th people on line, and at exactly 6pm, they let us in.

From the BB King show, I knew that Guthrie stands on the left side of the stage (though you could see the instruments laid out anyway, so I would have figured it out even if I hand’t seen them before). I wanted to sit close to him so we chose the table just to the left of center stage, so that we could be right between Jerry and Guthrie (that turned out to be right in front of the drum set).

That worked out perfectly, as Jerry spent a good portion of the evening facing Guthrie, putting him roughly two feet from Lois, and three feet from me. Guthrie was three feet from me, but when he took a solo, he stepped toward Jerry (and therefore toward me). At those times, his guitar was roughly 18 inches from my nose, which was as good as it gets for watching his fingers fly up and down the frets!

Guthrie’s set list was about 10 inches from me. It was also 10 inches from the woman who sat back-to-back from me. I knew she was interested in it, because she took a photo of it before the show even started. When Guthrie took the solos that he stepped forward for, he often stood right on his set list. I couldn’t help thinking that if I snagged it, I could ask a CSI person to make a plaster cast of his footprint for me as a souvenir. 😉

The instant the show was over, the woman behind me grabbed the set list before I could even blink. Lois had to lean over on the stage to grab the one Jerry was using. So, we got one, used by the master himself, but without a shoe print on it. 😉

Set List 20081009

Set List 20081009

Before the show, Lois went upstairs to buy the new CD. We both knew that we overpaid (dramatically) from what it costs at Amazon.com, but we did it anyway, for two reasons: 1) We believe (or rather hope) that the artist gets more of the sale when it’s at a show, and 2) We hoped to get it signed after the show.

Thankfully, at least #2 came to fruition. After the show, Lois went upstairs and Jerry was kind enough to sign the CD and chat with her for a minute or two. At the BB King show, he signed our copy of his American Master Series CD, and chatted with us for a bit as well. He’s simply a super person! Here’s a close-up of Jerry right after signing our new CD:

Jerry Douglas

Jerry Douglas

Typically, the Blue Note fills up earlier than many other clubs that we go to. Even though it seats 250 people, the layout isn’t the greatest (for seeing the performers), as it’s long and narrow, with the stage at the center of the long part. So, if you’re at either end of the club, you have a tough angle at best (even though the sound is great in all parts of the club). So, I believe that many people show up early, trying to get a better seat.

Last night, the club was nearly empty even at 7pm, which was shocking. We immediately thought that it was a combination of two things: 1) The economy (stupid!) and 2) Jerry is a traditional Bluegrass artist, and this is one of the purest Jazz clubs around!

By 7:30pm, the place was nearly full, and when the show started, there might have been a handful of empty seats, but the place was clearly packed and energized. For us, this has obviously been a very depressing week watching the markets and the dire economic predictions. Last night was a respite from the doldrums, clearly for many others as well.

Sadao Watanabe at Blue Note

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Last night we saw Sadao Watanabe (one of the world’s great Saxophone players) and his band at the Blue Note Jazz Club in NYC. I’ve been a huge fan of his forever (owned many of his LPs before I bought my first CD). I’ve never seen him in concert.

The band came on the stage at exactly 8pm. I was surprised to see that all but one member of the band was Japanese (not that I had any idea what the band makeup would be). Then Sadao explained that the Japanese airline ANA sponsored this tour, and for the first time, he was able to bring his own band members from Japan with him for a US tour. Previously, he picked up local professional session musicians to accompany him.

Already it promised to be a cool show. While he didn’t tell the following story until the middle of the show, it’s more appropriate at this point in my narrative. The lone non-Japanese person was the percussionist (separate from the drummer). Sadao met him eight years ago in Senegal. He then met and married a Japanese woman and moved to Yokohama. Aside from also having two children now, he was able to join Sadao’s permanent band.

Here’s a photo of Sadao Watanabe speaking to the audience:

Sadao Watanabe Talking

Sadao Watanabe Talking

To summarize, the show was fantastic. The selection was incredible (Sadao has something like 69 albums, so choosing what to play is not a simple matter!). His playing was crisp, fast and fabulous. The few stories he told were touching, amusing and heartwarming. He’s as lovely in person as he is a great musician.

Here are two more shots of him. The first is of him playing the sax. The second shows him playing the flute, which he did on one song only last night:

Sadao Watanabe Sax

Sadao Watanabe Sax

Sadao Watanabe Flute

Sadao Watanabe Flute

From left-to-right appearing on the stage with Sadao (he was in the center) were:

Akira Onozuka on electric keyboards and grand piano. Sadao mentioned that he’s also a great percussionist, but the budget didn’t allow for them to bring his set along. 😉 While there aren’t a ton of real pianos in the shows we frequent, there are many electric keyboards. Akira played roughly five songs on the electric stuff, but the majority of the show was on the grand piano.

Akira Onozuka

Akira Onozuka

I’d be hard pressed to say that I ever heard a better pianist live, including David Benoit (who blew Lois away when we saw him), Bruce Hornsby, Bob James, etc. He was both flawless and fascinating, on every single note. He could play the slowest, softest ballads (on one number, he was the only one accompanying Sadao) as well as rock out to hard-driving funk jazz numbers. He took long, detailed, mesmerizing solos. Let me not slight his electric keyboards work, it was unbelievably good as well!

Jun Kajiwara on electric guitar. In a word, wow. The first thing Lois said when we left the club was “Don’t you think he’s better than XXX?” (I don’t want to offend fans of XXX, so I won’t repeat the name. 😉 Seriously, this guy is awesome. He was highlighted early on, and late in the show again, and blew the crowd away every time. Harder for me to peg him above my favorites, because I listen to so much more guitar work (live and on the iPod) than to piano, and those all get the spotlight in every song. In any case, Jun is fantastic.

Jun Kajiwara

Jun Kajiwara

Kichiro Komobuchi on electric bass. He’s likely the youngest (and perhaps newest) member of the band. He played an excellent bass line the entire night. On one number, Sadao let him loose for an extremely long and detailed lead (the others accompanied him, so it wasn’t a solo). He was amazing.

Kichiro Komobuchi

Kichiro Komobuchi

Masaharu Ishikawa on drums. Very solid. One long solo, and another highlight with the percussionist.

Masaharu Ishikawa

Masaharu Ishikawa

N’diasse Niang on percussion. I’ve seen a number of percussionists over the past few years, but never one who plays quite like this. Most play entirely with their bare hands. N’diasse has some kind of ball taped to his index and middle fingers on each hand, so that he can achieve more impact (and therefore also various tones) if he strikes the bongos (I’m sure they are fancier than that) with those fingers, other fingers, palms, etc. He electrified the crowd the entire night.

Apologies for the horrible quality on this photo. N’diasse was sitting perpendicular to the rest of the group (facing Sadao), at the corner of the stage, so the lights weren’t on him at all, and the stage is relatively dark to begin with.

N'diasse Niang

N'diasse Niang

Just to repeat, in addition to being superb musicians in their own right, the six of them were tight and fantastic as a group all night long. They played for 85 minutes. The crowd roared after every lead, and literally worshipped Sadao himself.

We got to the club at 6:06pm. While we were happy with out seats, it was somewhat surprising that in the six minutes that the doors were open, many better seats were already taken. Yet, there was no line outside when we got there, so a bunch of people were seated within the first five minutes, or they opened the doors a bit early (not so likely).

Jazz draws quite diverse crowds in our experiene. That includes Japanese people, no matter who the artist is. That said, last night was one of the more unique experiences we’ve had in the US. The club was jammed, but there were perhaps 10% (20% max) non-Japanese. The overwhelming majority of patrons were Japanese. I mentioned above that they worshiped Sadao. It had to be an even bigger treat for them that the rest of the band all came over from Japan.

I said “non-Japanese” rather than US residents. That’s because it turned out there were a number of Europeans, and two women who came from Brazil just to see this show! They introduced themselves to Sadao before the show, and he dedicated a song to them right near the end of the show. Pretty cool.

I had my usual (at least my recent usual) marinated skirt steak. It was excellent, but seemed to be twice as large as usual. I didn’t have any trouble finishing it, but it was one of the longer dining experiences I’ve had in a while (I eat way too fast, always).

Sadao, thanks for making this very special one-night-stand in NYC (it felt like he could sell out the Blue Note for an entire week!), and more importantly, for arranging to share your truly amazing band with us! 🙂

Earl Klugh at Blue Note

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Last night we saw Earl Klugh perform at the Blue Note in NYC. There is a good back-story to this, but in deference to Lois’ tastes, I’ll leave it for the end. I encourage you to read all the way through, especially if you know us personally. 😉

A few weeks back we went to the Blue Note to see Chuck Mangione with Laura and Chris. We sat right up against the stage, dead center, and we really liked the seats. I wanted to get the same seats last night, and we did.

I’ve been a huge fan for very long (I’ll prove it in the back-story) but haven’t seen Earl in concert for quite a while. Suffice it to say I was very excited.

For the majority of the evening, there were five other people on the stage with Earl. Left-to-right, they were:

(apologies for the quality of all of the photos, and for the complete lack of a photo of Ron Otis. The Blue Note is very dark, and they don’t permit flash photography during the show…)

Al Duncan on keyboards. Sorry, I can’t find a good link directly to him… He’s been with Earl for a long time (over 10 years) and plays solidly. He was featured on two numbers early on, and played beautifully.

Al Duncan

Al Duncan

Lenny Price on Sax, Clarinet (or something that looked like a square clarinet!) and Wind Synthesizer (a great sound, from an instrument I’ve never seen before). He was amazing all night long. At the end of the evening, he played both the Sax and Clarinet at the same time. The audience went wild!

Lenny Price

Lenny Price

Lenny Price Playing Two Instruments

Lenny Price Playing Two Instruments

Earl Klugh was in the middle. I’ll come back to him after I say a few words about the rest of the band.

Earl Klugh

Earl Klugh

Al Turner played bass (both electric and a funky upright bass on a few tunes as well). He is an incredible musician. Lois and I had the double pleasure of sitting directly in front of him (1-2 feet away!) so we really got to see him cook. One of the songs they played last night, was the title cut from his new CD Movin‘. It features Al playing a smoking bass throughout the song. Excellent!

Al Turner

Al Turner

David Lee on keyboards. David was great all night as well. Al Duncan (above) was featured in the early numbers, and David was featured on the later ones. In the fantastic Earl Klugh and Bob James number, Kari, David played the part of Bob James.

David Lee

David Lee

Ron Otis on drums (tucked away in the far right corner of the stage). I couldn’t find a good link for him either, but on this page, there is a good photo of Ron and Al Turner as well, about 3/4’s of the way down. Just search for Otis and/or Turner. Ron is a great drummer who kept us all tapping, swaying, bobbing and grooving all night. He kept the band tight and clean the entire show.

I really didn’t want to include this next photo, since it’s so out of focus, but Lois insisted that I put at least one in with both Earl and me, and I relented, only so that you could see how close we were:

Hadar and Earl Klugh

Hadar and Earl Klugh

All of the above have played on so many albums, with so many greats, you should take the time to read each of their discographies, etc.

Now the great man himself, Earl Klugh. To begin with, I’ve been a fan forever. I just checked my iTunes/iPod and I have 17 of his CDs on there (yes, including the latest, The Spice of Life). I also have Cool by Bob James and Earl Klugh on there. I know that I own both of the other Bob James and Earl Klugh CDs, One on One and Two of a Kind, so now I realize I need to rip them this weekend when I’m back at the house. I might even have some additional vinyl albums of Earl’s, or some CDs that are hidden in the house and never got ripped. Suffice it to say, I’ve been in love with his music forever.

He’s a fantastic guitarist by any measure. But, he’s also a fantastic songwriter. His music is so soulful (like much of Acoustic Alchemy). As I’ve said to Lois (and even Laura) many times, even though they’re mostly instrumental (with a few exceptions), I hear words in my head when I listen to his music. His melodies and leads are so evocative emotionally, that ideas and thoughts spring into your head when you listen closely (which I always do).

He was great last night, but I do have a tiny complaint. The volume on his guitar was just a tad too soft. In fact, thankfully, they/he raised it a drop after the first song, when it was barely audible. That said, I sat between 2-3 feet away from him, with the neck of his guitar pointing in my direction. I also know every note of his songs by heart (I had never heard Movin’ before, because it’s an Al Turner song). So, even on the first number, Slow Boat to Rio (on the Sudden Burst of Energy CD), I could follow his fingers with the melody in my head, even though I could barely hear the guitar.

He was awesome nonetheless. It made me want to see him live again, as soon as possible. 🙂

I can’t describe how many Earl Klugh songs I count as favorites. It’s silly to even use the word favorite, when there are so many. So, seeing him live is also an adventure in finding out which of my favorites he will play. In addition to Movin’ (by Al Turner) and two songs from the new CD, he played a very tasty selection, including Living Inside Your Love, Dr. Macumba, Vonetta, Twinkle (where Al Turner rocked the house as well!), etc. A fanstastic set list. So fantastic, that we (and others!) swiped a Set List from the stage when they were done. Another advantage of sitting up against the stage. 😉

OK, finally, the back-story I’ve teased you about…

Lois and I met on the job in October 1981. I took an instant shine to her. She, not-as-much to me. At the time, Earl Klugh was my favorite musician. I listened to his records (yes, vinyl only at the time), non-stop. Even though I was as poor as dirt then, I bought two tickets to see Earl perform that November at Carnegie Hall. It was a birthday present from me, to me.

Lois and I lived 10 blocks apart, and we were hanging out some after work (mostly at her apartment). Again, to reiterate this very important point, she had little interest in me other than as a friend. Got it? Good!

But, I decided to take a shot anyway. My first attempt to formally ask Lois out was to invite her to join me for the Earl Klugh concert. She indeed said “No”. She told me that she was attending a wedding of her friends in Rochester, NY. I only found out later that this was a little white lie. Her friends (now my very good friends as well) were indeed getting married in Rochester that weekend, but Lois wasn’t going. She just wasn’t interested in dating me, and the fact that this was a big thing for me (birthday, expensive for me, etc.) freaked her out a bit as well.

In other words, she didn’t want to give me the wrong message, but she didn’t want to be explicit either. 😉

So, I took an ex-girlfriend instead, and had a great time. Speaking of ex-girlfriends, one last digression to explain how I discovered Earl Klugh to begin with.

A friend of mine set me up on a blind date (either in 1979 or 1980, I can’t recall). We double-dated once, then I took her out perhaps three or four times after that. On our first alone date, she suggested we go to a bar in midtown, where they had live jazz. It ended up costing me a bit more than I could afford, but we had a nice time. When I took her back to her apartment, she put on Heart String (that link is to the LP, obviously, the CD is available as well).

I was instantly mesmerized, and the next day went out and bought everything of his that I could find, and I’ve kept up with every new album ever since. So, even though the relationship didn’t work out, she gave me a great gift nonetheless!

So, it was not without a little nervousness, that I asked Lois whether she would go with me to see Earl Klugh this time around. Thankfully, this time, she said “Yes”. 😉

I got tied up with something in the middle of the afternoon, and we left a little later than we had hoped. It worked out fine as we still got the exact two seats we were shooting for. But, instead of taking the bus, I knew we would need to take a cab.

I flagged down a cab that had the off-duty sign (but still available). He pulled over to the curb 30 feet away from us, so I wasn’t sure he was responding to my hail. After a minute of staring at him, he waved for me to come over. I had to tell him through the passenger window where we were going. He didn’t know where it was (including not really being sure where Washington Square Park was). Uh oh.

He then said “If you can tell me how to get there, I’ll take you”. Deal! 😉

So, we hopped in. It turns out that this was his very first day driving a cab in NYC. Wow. Amazing that he passed the test, given that he doesn’t know where anything is. At least he followed my directions well, and got us there in reasonable time (of course, he wasn’t aggressive like most cab drivers, which was likely a good thing…).

In a full-circle, small-world happening, we drove right in front of the apartment of the ex-girlfriend who introduced me to Earl Klugh way back when. I found it at least a tad ironic…

I had the same dinner that I had when we were there a few weeks ago for Chuck Mangione. A perfectly cooked Marinated Skirt Steak. Yummy.

Anyway, a great night all around. If you aren’t familiar with Earl Klugh, and you like Smooth Jazz, you must buy some of his stuff. If you visit EarlKlugh.com, it will instantly start streaming some of his hits, so you can get a sense right away, or click on his MySpace page to hear some others.

Chuck Mangione at Tarrytown Music Hall

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The minute this concert was announced, many months ago, I bought two tickets. Tarrytown Music Hall is a great place to see concerts (as I’ve reported a number of times before), it’s only four miles from our house, and I have loved Chuck Mangione’s music for decades.

This was the third time that I saw him live. The first time was eons ago at Radio City Music Hall. It was a spectacular show. The second time was two years ago ago at the Blue Note Jazz Club in NYC (briefly mentioned in this very long music catch-up post). It too was terrific, and very intimate, as we sat a few feet from the stage.

Last night we were in the 10th row, dead center. The acoustics were perfect. Chuck was great. His band was/were perfect. With over 40 years of material under his belt, Chuck could play anything he wants to. Unlike some other acts that have survived this long, he tends to give the crowd what they want, rather than cater to his own personal mood.

He played pretty much all mega-hits last night. In no particular order (meaning this isn’t the order he played them in!), he played:

  • Counsuelo’s Love Theme
  • Give It All You’ve Got
  • Bellavia
  • Main Squeeze
  • Children Of Sanchez
  • Land Of Make Believe
  • Dizzy Miles
  • Feels So Good (this was the big encore!)
  • Fun And Games
  • a number of others 🙂

Here they all are together on stage:

Feels So Good Band

In addition to playing the Flugelhorn and keyboards himself, Chuck is very generous with highlighting the talents of his band members (as are many Jazz artists), which was particularly appreciated last night, as each member of the band was simply wonderful.

One of the longest members of Chuck’s band (with a long break in-between) is Gerry Niewood. Last night he played Sax, Flute, Clarinet and Piccolo. He was flawless and fantastic. The crowd gave him rousing applause every time he was featured. He played with Chuck at the Blue Note when we last saw him, and we sat two feet from him, so we’re well aware of his extraordinary talent.

Here he is on three of the four instruments he played last night:

Gerry Niewood ClarinetGerry Niewood PiccoloGerry Niewood Saxophone

Continuing left to right (stage-wise) was the keyboards player. Corey Allen (sorry, couldn’t find a good link to him directly, though he gets good credits on other people’s albums) plays beautifully.

Corey Allen

Charles Frichtel Kevin Axt (corrected due to Dave Tull’s comment below) plays the electric bass (also couldn’t find a good direct link, but he too gets credits, including backing up Michael McDonald!). Chuck highlighted Charles Kevin a number of times, including the uber-famous and wonderful song Fun And Games, which starts off with a funky bass solo (of course, he let loose even more live, later in the song, than they do on the studio version). Most excellent.

Charles Frichtel

Dave Tull is the drummer and the only one who sings. He’s been with the band since 2000, so we must have seen him at the Blue Note, but I wasn’t blogging then, so I didn’t pay as much attention to names. 🙁

First, let’s get the trivial stuff out of the way. Dave sang lead on two songs, Dizzy Miles (wonderfully) and Children Of Sanchez (amazingly). He has a gorgeous voice. Now, on to the more important stuff.

The fist time I saw Chuck Mangione, at Radio City, his drummer was Steve Gadd. There are many people who believe that Steve Gadd is the greatest drummer ever. Many more who believe he is one of the greatest drummers ever. I’m definitely in the second camp, but I admit that when I saw him that night at Radio City, I was in the first camp, for sure! So, listening to another drummer play the same songs can be an unfair starting point for comparisons.

Dave Tull was so incredible last night (and probably every night), that I truly can’t do justice in describing how awesome he was/is. It’s likely the second best live drumming I’ve seen in recent memory, the other being Chris McHugh, covered here. The comparison between them isn’t really fair, as the style of drumming was radically different. Anyway, Dave Tull was mesmerizing last night. Speed, grace, style, voice, without ever overwhelming any other instrument. Astounding!

Dave Tull

Last, but certainly not least, Coleman Mellett on guitar. Sometimes, the Jazz guitarist in a band like this can get a little lost. Coleman does a great job of avoiding that fate and Chuck made sure to highlight him a number of times. In particular, during the very long and slow intro to Children of Sanchez, while Dave Tull is singing, the only instrument accompanying him is the guitar. Coleman is excellent, and complemented the sound the entire evening, on both lead and rhythm guitar.

Coleman Mellett

So, that covers the band. No small feat, as they are not listed on Chuck’s site (a big shame, which I’ve pointed out as a shortcoming on other artists websites as well). In fact, I had trouble finding any of their names, with the exception of Gerry Niewood, who’s been with him forever. After dozens of various Google searches, I was finally able to (accidentally) stumble on Dave Tull’s name, and with that info in hand, was able to locate this article, which gave me the remaining names. Credit where credit is due, thanks Herald Tribune!

At one point during the show, Chuck gave a moving tribute to Jim KcKay who passed away yesterday. Chuck met him during the 1980 Olympics, when he was commissioned to write the song Give It All You’ve Got for those games. Jim McKay described Chuck as the world’s foremost practitioner of the flugelhorn. After talking about Jim, Chuck and the band played a gorgeous version of Amazing Grace.

Chuck Mangione Speaking

And here’s Chuck on the keyboards:

Chuck Mangione Keyboards

When they ended the main show, Lois and I shot out of our seats in a standing ovation. Amazingly, not a single person in the nine rows in front of us (a couple of hundred people!) stood up. I didn’t look behind me, so I don’t know if we were the only two people standing in the entire place. I can assure you that the crowd was thundering in its applause during and after each song, so it had nothing to do with not liking the show, or sending Chuck a message. It was strange, to say the least.

Chuck briefly left the stage, but the others stayed on. After a minute, Chuck returned. They played Feels So Good (as noted above), and snuck in America The Beautiful woven into one part of it (Chuck asked the crowd to sing while they played, and many did!). It was awesome. When they finished, everyone shot up in a standing ovation (quite rousing). So, either we shamed them, or they don’t stand but once a night. 😉

If you’re a New Yorker, you have a number of additional opportunities to catch them this year. You can check the Tour Dates link on Chuck’s site, but specifically, they’ll be at the Blue Note for six straight nights starting July 15th, and for four straight nights at the Iridium Jazz Club on December 18th. Don’t miss this wonderful show!

Not much of a back-story here. We live right near the theater, and so we had our normal daily routine at the house. We had trouble finding parking (street parking is legal, it just happened to be very crowded), but finally found a spot two blocks away. We walked into the theater at 7:58pm. I wasn’t worried, as they rarely start their shows on time (I don’t like that part one bit…).

At 8:05, the band wandered out, with the house lights still on. Then the M.C. came out and talked about upcoming shows for a bit. Finally, he introduced Chuck and the show began (roughly at 8:12pm). They played for 40 minutes and took a 23 minute intermission. When they returned, they were on for just under an hour, including the encore. So, just under 100 minutes of music. Fantastic!

Rediscovering Live Music

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Sorry folks, this is likely gonna be another long one. It’s 5:30pm on a Sunday, and I’m relaxing in the hotel down near Zope, and this is what I feel like doing at the moment…

From my mid-teens until my early twenties, I was a fanatic for going to live concerts. I went to a variety of shows, but by far it was mostly rock or folk. Among my favorites back then were Dylan, David Bromberg, The Greatful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Santana, etc.

The greatest concert I ever attended was a 12 hour affair. My friends and I drove from NYC to Washington, D.C. for a concert at RFK Stadium. I was 16, and only had a learner’s permit (this will become important later in the story). 😉 At noon, the warm-up group came on, The New Riders of the Purple Sage. They played for 2 hours, and were excellent. At 2pm, The Greatful Dead came on, and played for 5 hours. At 7pm, The Allman Brothers Band came on, and played for another 5 hours.

Both the Dead and the Allman Brothers were awesome. Hard to pick between them that day, but perhaps (just perhaps), the Brothers outdid them a bit. Of course, since they got to go last, it could simply have been that their stuff was still ringing in our ears all the way home. 🙂

Anyway, when we left (hitting the parking lot at 12:30am), the driver (the only female in our group) was too tired to drive at all. So were the other two. I felt fine, but wasn’t legally allowed to drive at night, without an adult, and oh yeah, I had never driven on a highway either! 😉

Suffice it to say, it was quite an experience for me, and a drive that normally takes 4+ hours took a little more than 3.

I can still remember my last live concert (of that era) like it was yesterday. I got two tickets to see David Bromberg at Town Hall. First row in the Balcony. I was incredibly excited. I had seen Bromberg live 5 times before, and each one was better than the one before. He’s a magical live performer who really connects with the audience.

Much to my surprise (and chagrin), the audience was mostly teeny boppers. I was all of (perhaps) 23, so I was truly mature… It seemed to me that I was the only person in the audience who had ever heard of Bromberg, and came to actually see him specifically. The rest seemed to be out for the evening, hanging with their friends. They never stopped talking (loudly) even for a second. At least twice, Bromberg stopped playing in the middle of a song (I had never seen something like that ever before) and practically begged the audience to be quiet. They didn’t comply… 🙁

I decided that night to stop going to see live music…

That pretty much held true until nearly 15 years later. The Greatful Dead were playing Madison Square Garden, and I was able to get two tickets in the fifth row center as part of a charity thing. I wanted to do it both because I was crazy about the Dead, and because I wanted to share this kind of experience with Lois, who had never seen a band like the Dead play live.

We were grossly disappointed. Everyone stood the entire evening, and Lois could barely see the stage even standing on her seat (and we were 5 rows back!). The selection of music was a little strange as well, and they played the shortest concert I’ve ever seen them do, in the 5 times I’ve seen them live. Oh well, my admonition not to go to live concerts seemed safely back on…

I think the only exception to that rule was an evening at a Jazz Club in NYC (Birdland) to see Stanley Jordan. If you don’t know him, he plays an amazing style of guitar whereby he taps on the strings on the frets, rather than ever picking or strumming. He creates quite unique sounds, and is a fantastic performer. I enjoyed the evening. That night was more about an evening out with friends, including dinner, rather than the concert being a real destination.

Then it all changed (albeit a little more slowly to begin with) 😉

On January 17th, 2003, our godson (who was a junior at Duke at the time) came for a long weekend with some of his friends from school. Lois is a master planner and goes out of her way to try and pack as many interesting things to do whenever people come to visit. Our godson played the trumpet in the Duke marching band so Lois looked around to see if any famous trumpet players were in town. Indeed, Arturo Sandoval was playing at the Blue Note.

I think there were 7 of us there for the show, and we had dinner beforehand, and totally enjoyed the show. As much as I love jazz (and I really do!), Arturo’s style isn’t necessarily my favorite, but seeing him perform live was still a wonderful experience. In December 2003, our godson returned with a nearly identical set of friends for an encore (I think there was one swap in the group). We went back to the Blue Note, and saw Jane Monheit. Wow, can this lady sing. I got in trouble on this trip because we got to the club a little later than usual, and had the worst seats in the house (which aren’t that bad!), but Lois still hasn’t forgiven me, over three years later…

From that point on, we went occasionally to the Blue Note, either by ourselves, or when someone was visiting from out of town, and once even went with local friends (if you can believe that). 🙂 Among the people we saw there (I can’t remember them all) were Bob James (writer of the theme song from the TV show Taxi), Maynard Ferguson (twice, unfortunately now deceased), Acoustic Alchemy (probably my favorite jazz group!), Chuck Mangione (was my favorite for a long time, and is still amazing live) and probably another one or two.

This was over a period of three years, which is why I said above that it built slowly at first. Last September, it hit a fevered pitch, as we broadened our venues beyond the Blue Note. I started actively searching for tour dates for some of my favorite groups, and immediately found out that David Bromberg was playing at BB King Blues Club. We had never been there. The show was awesome, and included an hour of a group called Angel Band (which is three women who sing harmonies like angels, including David’s wife Nancy Josephson).

Since then, we’ve been to BB King’s many times. We’ve seen a wide variety of shows there, including the following groups: Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby (who tour and record together now, which we didn’t know in advance. They were awesome.), Shawn Colvin, Paul Thorn (he opened for Ricky and Bruce, and was a delightful surprise), Quicksilver Messenger Service (they were boring), Jefferson Starship (used to be a favorite, but they’re over the hill, were awful, and we left early!), The Commitments (from the movie of the same name), Yama Bandit (unannounced opening group for The Commitments), Sunday Gospel Brunch (tons of fun!), perhaps one or two others…

We also discovered a fantastic small club in NYC called Joe’s Pub. The first group we saw there is one of my recent favorites, The Duhks. Then we saw Master McCarthy and Fools for April with our godchildren. Finally, we saw David Bromberg solo there. A great treat!

We saw Dave Koz at the Beacon Theater on Valentine’s Day. It was an amazing show, even though the acoustics were horrible! He had two special guests that played most of the evening with him and his band. David Benoit and Jonathan Butler. David Benoit is one of the great jazz pianists. Lois is now one of his biggest fans. I had never heard of Jonathan Butler before. He’s a South African singer and guitarist. He blew me away. Anita Baker was supposed to be a special guest, but she got snowed in and couldn’t make it. Koz got his buddy Be Be Winans to step in at the last minute. Be Be sings “The Dance” on the Koz album of the same name, and is one of our favorites. It was a special treat to see him sing that song live!

Last week we saw Chris Thile and his new band The Tensions Mountain Boys at Zankel Hall, which is part of Carnegie Hall. Chris is considered by some to be the world’s greatest mandolin player. We used to think his last name was pronounced “teal”, but it turns out it’s “theely”, who knew. After recording a few albums on his own, he was the lead person in Nickel Creek (one of my favorite groups), before forming this group. Zankel Hall is under ground at Carnegie Hall, and perhaps the best acoustical venue we’ve ever been in.

That pretty much catches you up on what we’ve done. We have two more shows coming up in the next month. On April 3rd, we were supposed to see The Allman Brothers Band together at the Beacon Theater. Two weeks ago, we were having dinner with two of our favorite people, and we realized that the guy was a big Allman Brothers fan. Lois isn’t (simply because she hasn’t listened to them much, not because she actively dislikes them), and we offered up her ticket to him. Instead, Lois and his wife are now scheduled to see Abigal Washburn and Bethany Yarrow + Rufus Cappadocia at Joe’s Pub. We found out about Abigail Washburn when we were seeing Yama Bandit at BB King, and the person next to us (who was friends with the Yama Bandit band) told us how great Abigail is.

Finally, friends of ours who got dizzy when we recounted the above to them over sushi, surprised us a few weeks back and told us that they bought four tickets to see Harry Connick Jr. at Radio City Music Hall on April 21st (inspired by us). We’re looking forward to that show as well. 🙂

Whew! Done at 8:10pm…