Last night, Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York brought together trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and guitarist Eric Clapton for a first—an evening of blues performed by a jazz legend and rock superstar. Backed by eight gifted musicians who added authenticity and traditional flavor, Marsalis and Clapton worked through upward of 10 songs, most dating back to the 1920s.
The concept of pairing these two giants at Rose Hall was both a coup for Marsalis and a departure for Clapton, who is more accustomed to large arenas and stadiums. Oddly, though, the match didn't quite gel—but not due to any fault of JALC or the bold stroke of bringing them together.
Many of the numbers came off a bit halting and tedious, hindered perhaps by the newness of Marsalis' arrangements. It probably didn't help that both Marsalis and Clapton were dressed stiffly in suits and ties, and sat partially hidden behind music stands for the entire performance.
Which begs the question: when exactly is jazz going to realize that it has to be visually exciting? I fully expected Clapton to stand up and wail away. Or Marsalis to step to center stage and cut loose with every fiber in him. But such electrifying dream moments never arrived. Instead, we were treated to an ensemble that seemed frozen in time, like a sepia photograph of an early jazz band. [Pictured: Eric Clapton, during a rock concert]
I'm not sure why Clapton tabled his passion-filled blues-rock stage identity. Perhaps it was an effort to be polite in someone else's house. Or fatigue. At any rate, the result was uncharacteristically restrained and mysteriously flat.
To Marsalis' credit, his solos were among the finest of the evening, particularly on Louis Armstrong's dizzying The Last Time. And Clapton's expressive vocal on W.C Handy's Careless Love was exceptional and gut-wrenching, as was his guitarwork on Forty-Four. But both moments just weren't enough.
Marsalis should continue to invite rock legends into the jazz fold. That's pure brilliance. But one hopes that guests will be encouraged to be themselves and that once in a while something exciting will break loose. Jazz shoudn't be a still life—even in a concert hall. And Clapton should have felt free to stand, roam and feel the songs.
In addition, jazz musicians should stop treating rock as a sneaky blues thief that needs to be taught a public lesson. Performance jazz certainly could learn a few things from the excitement of rock—and the blues.
As for the opening act, Taj Mahal [pictured], he stole the show. Playing solo, Mahal worked through three songs on guitar—New Hula Blues, Stagger Lee and Spooky Blues—as well as one on piano. The richness and feel of his blues warmed the heart and moved the feet.
Ralph Carmichael. Arranger Ralph Carmichael and his wife Marvella sent along the following email...
"We just read your series with me and like it very much. I feel so honored to have been interviewed by you. JazzWax is a treasure!"
Ralph and Marvella are all class.
"My wife and I are waiting for dinner guests in the lobby of a Phnom Penh, Cambodia, hotel. I just picked up the March 24th issue of The Cambodia Daily, and when I got to the back page, guess who I found. Yup. Ol' Hal and Marc Myers' WSJ article they evidently picked up. hope he gets paid. Musicians aren't the only ones they steal from. LOL. will send it to you when I get back to Thailand."
Small world, big party.
Third Ave. El. There's no real reason for this clip about one of New York's long lost elevated subway lines that was torn down in 1955—except that the writing is first rate, as are the images...
Watch the closing doors. One more for the road. This subway clip touts the virtues of taking the express subway train to the World's Fair in 1964 and 1965. Dig the Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer-themed background music. I took this subway train as a kid, and if I recall, the exterior was turquoise and white while the interior was light blue and orange...
Mississippi—A Self-Portrait. Director Raymond De Felitta has posted installments his father Fran's documentary, Mississippi—A Self-Portrait, which was filmed for CBS in 1967. It's terrifying to think this was just 44 years ago. Go here for all three parts. Here's Part 1...
Hank O'Neal. For a week starting on April 25, Riverwalk Jazz will air a special radio program—Eddie Condon: Renaissance Man of Jazz—on XM's Real Jazz Channel 70. Author and photographer Hank O'Neal will interview Maggie Condon on her father Eddie. The title of this program was the title of Hank's book on Condon. A listing of dates and times can be found here.
Marilyn Monroe. I don't have a fetish for Marilyn Monroe, who died nearly 50 years ago. But if I did (and if you do), you'll love this site at Tumblr that is simply devoted to images of star-crossed starlet. Many of the images are rare and never before seen. I don't know where the person who hosts this photo blog finds them all. Amazing. Go here.
The Mel-Tones. After Mel Torme left the Mel-Tones and became, well, Mel Torme, the vocal group continued to have a career for a time. Here's a clip of them in the late '40s...
Count Basie. Roy Phillipe's full band arrangement of Night Train for Jimmy Forrest and Count Basie in the 1970s (which Roy wrote about at JazzWax here) is available at EJazz Lines here. Roy's other big band arrangements are available here.
Smigly. Illustrator and saxophonist Allen Mezquida sent along his latest Smigly clip—an animated promo on behalf of Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band from Telarc...
Oddball album cover of the week. This one was too good to pass up, even though jazz plays no role here. Despite the album's good intentions, the cover surely works against the self-help message. I don't smoke, but if I did the cover certainly would have the opposite effect on me. As for the song choices, it's hard to know why Autumn Leaves or Yellow Bird would make me kick the habit. I guess back in the day, smokers thought their habitual need to light up was the result of nerves rather than nicotine and that LPs were the cure. Interestingly, our smoker appears to be engaged yet out on the town, unless her apartment is designed like a bar.