Saturday, September 27, 2008

My Man Herbie Part 2

A couple of months ago, The Leopard wrote about how much I admire the brilliant jazz musician Herbie Hancock. Recently, I actually got the opportunity catch him at the famous Apollo theater. He was a guest on an upcoming episode of a new TV series taped in Harlem for the Sundance channel called "Spectacle: Elvis Costello with.."

It was kind of a strange evening.  As I waited outside on the ticket line, people seemed giddy with excitement about the show.  I chatted with several folks who were fans of either Herbie or Elvis and anticipating a great night.  But we were all a little unsure about what to expect.

The Apollo theater itself is much smaller than it looks on TV.  I was a several seats from the stage and I still felt like I could see Elvis' nose hairs a little too clearly.  He came out looking a little haggard and worse for wear in a rumpled fedora and his omnipresent horn rims.  He explained the simple concept of the show:  a program where he would interview his favorite musicians and discuss their careers. In the process, they would perform a song or two. Earlier in the week, he had completed a show with Sir Elton John.

Herbie came out with the superb bass player Christian McBride and a young drummer in tow. He was looking great, nowhere near his 69 years. 

Costello proceeded to interview him about his long career, reading his questions from an overhead teleprompter. Elvis' interview style was, in a word, unorthodox.  He tended to meander with his own ruminations and was rather longwinded. In fact, he spoke much more than Herbie ever did. Some of their conversation drifted into pure musician-speak, shoptalk which tended to alienate and bore the general audience.

Herbie only performed three full tunes during the nearly three hour taping. First, an ambiguous kind of solo piano noodling, meant to show his classical influences, then, a fun little musical interlude where he played his hit tune "Watermelon Man" first acoustically with his band, and then switching to synths, doing the Headhunters version. 
The last performance featured Elvis himself singing on a tune, Mike Douglas style, from the Grammy winning album River: The Joni Letters,  called "Edith and the Kingpin."  Accompanied by Herbie, he sang in that limited, reedy voice of his with little emotion or resonance.

By this time, almost half the audience had left, annoyed with the lack of actual music. Personally, I had a great time listening to Herbie tell (when he was allowed to) anecdotes & stories and discuss specific albums, songs and performances from his amazing career. He came off jovial and happy, and didn't seem to give a fig that some the audience wasn't as interested as his host, who, to his credit, seemed to be genuinely in awe of him.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Verrazano Bridge Blues

As the Leopard was riding the Staten Island Ferry to Manhattan a couple of weekends ago, I began to reminisce growing up in the NYC area as a youth.   One of my earliest memories is of my dad occasionally gathering my family when the mood struck him, and as a "treat", we'd pile in our wood-lined station wagon and we'd drive across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge around dawn Friday or Saturday Summer evenings.  He'd look up at the lights and say emotively, "Look--Beautiful"!

As tacky as it sounds, I enjoyed this, because my Dad was seldom around during the week, working two jobs and taking classes. I think it was a a not-so-subtle attempt to bond with my sister, brother and me in some way.