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Les Is (Much) More -- Happy Birthday!!!

Salute To An American Icon time!!! This one, though, is still with us: Les Paul, the Godfather of the Electric Guitar. Without going too much into a big history lesson: Les Paul, aside from being one of the best electric guitarists EVER, regardless of genre, was one of the first if not THE first people to combine a love of music with that of technology. He invented (though not patented) multi-track recording and reverb, as well as designing the solid-body electric guitar. Every Monday night in New York City since 1996, Mr. Paul holds court at a regular weekly engagement at the Iridium jazz club, and this past Monday featured the Les Paul 87th Birthday Celebration.

The Iridium, located a stone’s throw from Times Square, was PACKED before the 10 PM show there was a line around the block. The club’s acoustics are excellent for small-group jazz, it’s nicely laid-out (hardly any "bad seats" to be had and the (not-cheap) food there is quite good - all ‘n’ all, an excellent setting for the eve’s festivities. Les Paul was accompanied by a trio of musicians, most of which he’s been playing with for quite awhile now: Lou Pallo, guitar and occasional vocals; Frank Vignola, guitar; and Nikki Parrott, acoustic bass. These people breezed through a set of standards for two sets usually, this might be a criticism, but when Paul "breezes through" it’s usually far superior to most musicians’ huffing ‘n’ puffing. Though slowed somewhat by age (hey, he IS 87), his shining, almost crystalline tone, ace technique and taste are stunningly impeccable. Les Paul is one of those musicians who can floor a club full of folks with just a few well-placed, well-thought-out (but never labored) notes. The rest of the band were no slouches, either: Pallo and Vignola (especially fine, in a Djanjo Reinhardt vein) stuck mostly to swinging rhythm work but got several ops to shine, but bassist Parrott outshined them all. She provided not only provided The Bottom, Parrott was a one-woman rhythm section (what they used to call the bass and drums section of the band), with a fat, supple tone and a melodist’s sensibility she got a rousing crowd response, and she deserved it. A few guests, mostly NYC-based players, joined in now ‘n’ again, and Jackie "The Jokeman" Martling provided a ribald, irreverent comic interlude that was part affectionate roast of Mr. LP ("Les Paul’s first condom was made outta bark"), a few zingers aimed at the band and a few wonderfully smutty jokes. Guitarist Russell Malone joined Les and band for a tune though Mr. Malone is a technically fine player, like many contemporary technically fine players, he over-played, blitzing the audience with, for my taste, way too many notes, while in contrast, Paul, the Master that he is, embodied the Les(s)-is-more adage with his sublime minimalist/just-right style. A harmonica player/singer whose name I didn’t catch (sorry, guy) joined for a couple of tunes, one a loose, good-time blues tribute to The Man, the other a version of Chuck Berry’s ought-to-be-anthem "Back In The USA," where, irony of ironies, Les Paul seemed more at-home with/had a genuine feeling for rock & roll than the other two younger guitar players, both of whom looked rather bored as they strummed away. Another highlight was the trumpet and vocals of Mr. Bob Lively, who was A Party Unto Himself, the last of a dying breed: the Jazz Musician as Entertainer. (Other such types: Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Jack Sheldon, Slim Gaillard, Slam Stewart and Louis something.) Mr. Lively lived up to his surname, drawing trumpet-like sounds out of a coiled hose (shades of Lester Bowie!) and generally imparting his irresistible joie de vive all over the place in honor of Les Paul. Everyone in the joint had a SWELL old time, and to put the icing on the cake, Les Paul was presented on-stage with a HUGE chocolate cake, which at the set’s end was sliced and distributed to all the club’s patrons. And upon exiting the club, patrons were presented with a black Les Paul T-shirt! Such a night...

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Les Paul Trio (Quartet)
  • Concert Date: 6/10/2002
  • Subtitle: Les Paul's 87th Birthday Celebration
  • Venue: Iridium Jazz Club
  • City State Country: New York City, NY, USA
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