Elder Statesmen

This has been an excellent month of music for me, performance-wise (thanks Bowery Electric (Christina LaRocca), No Malice Palace (Kipp Elbaum)) and show-wise. I saw three different performances, Hugh Masakela, Wynton Marsalis and his band performing Duke Ellington, and Iggy Pop and the Stooges. What, if anything, do these different types of music and performances have in common? A lot.

Hugh Masakela is a 74 year old trumpeter from South Africa. He was playing with an arrangement of electric guitar, bass, percussion, drums, and piano. The show was at the historic Tarrytown Music Hall. A real theatre space, the sound was great. He is an excellent showman, he genuinely wanted to communicate with the entire audience whether through a story he told of his upbringing or through his dancing or singing or playing. The things he did with his voice were as effective as sounds found in nature, his trills and high pitched wails were very moving. He roused the audience calling upon our basic humanity, to look to ourselves, the nature of modern life, what were we ever hiding from? It’s hard to articulate how he did this… he was not preachy, he was telling his story. He had a great time up there and wanted us to do the same. We did.

Wynton Marsalis guided us through various Duke Ellington tunes with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra sometimes with personal accompanying stories, sometimes with the facts of the recordings. I love Ellington but had never heard these songs performed live. It was wild. Very loud at times, like a rock show…..but with brass. The arrangement was piano, drums, clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, guitar, banjo, and slide trombones. Wynton was humble, always deferring to the material and its composer. He let the flow of solos and tempo of the whole evening unfold organically.

Iggy and The Stooges played a free show at Le Poisson Rouge yesterday at 5PM, NPR streamed the show live. Electric anticipation in the room before they hit the stage. Guitar, bass, drums, saxophone and 64 year old Iggy. He shimmied shirtless and shaked like a man possessed. He had some go-to gestures and dance moves, this was theatre of his own devising fine-tuned throughout 40 years or so. He played to every corner of the room. At times he’d make a face or stick his tongue out despite the heavy material, a reminder that we’re in it for kicks. During one talking moment he likened our times to the Vietnam era. He handed his microphone off a couple of times to audience members encouraging them to partake of the performance, say whatever! Yell your name! And he was always supportive. He had as many as could fit up onstage with him for the last song. Whether folks are staid or depressed or too cool nowadays to shake it I don’t know but in the face of this mans antics everybody moved.

Two of the the most important common things I came away with from these shows is that setting the historical context for what you’re sharing is crucial to the telling of your story also if the performer commits totally to what he or she is doing and enjoys it, we will too. All three of these performances were transcendent for me in that they were rich, expressive, accepting, questioning, challenging and ultimately cathartic. On top of it all, totally professional which some may scoff at as just a technicality but we couldn’t get to the meat unless it had some bones supporting it.

Go see live music, support your scene and have a great week humans!! -p

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