Bob James

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! Iโ€™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 havenโ€™t read it, I personally recommend it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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 didnโ€™t expect him to pass off the lead so quickly. Donโ€™t misunderstand, he got plenty of applause, and most of the songs were his compositions (fabulous set selection last night!), but he wasnโ€™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 smokinโ€™ 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 youโ€™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 havenโ€™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. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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”. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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.

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). ๐Ÿ˜‰ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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… ๐Ÿ™

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) ๐Ÿ˜‰

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). ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

Whew! Done at 8:10pm…