Sunday, August 3, 2008

I Can't Complain

The new issue of Offbeat magazine brought the news that New Orleans R & B singer Chuck Carbo has died at the age of 82. Carbo was perhaps yin to the yang of Johnny Adams, the other great Crescent City male R & B frontman/singer. Adams was intense and dramatic; Carbo was cool and laid back. He was perhaps best known for the great single-entendre blues "Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On."

Carbo came up in the world of R & B singles rather than albums; he only made three albums, all fairly late in his life. I was listening to the second one in the car today; my enjoyment was tempered with a little sadness that I never had the chance to hear him perform live. That got me thinking about all the great musicians and bands I never got the chance to hear. I particularly regret not hearing James Booker at Tip's or the Maple Leaf or Lu & Charlie's. My attendance at such a hypothetical show would have been unlikely; Booker died on my 25th birthday, before I ever visited New Orleans. Another regret is strictly impossible - I would have loved to hear King Oliver's band at Lincoln Gardens in 1922 or 1923, when he had Louis Armstrong on second cornet. I was born 50 or so years too late to hear what might have been the greatest jazz band of all time.

I've alway been a little jealous of my friend Ben, who heard my other choice for the greatest jazz band, the Miles Davis Quintet with Wayne Shorter, in 1968 or so. Louis Armstrong and I shared the planet for 12 years, but I never had the chance to hear him. One missed opportunity hurts, because I was so close. My first visit to New York, in 1988, was motivated largely by the desire to hear Gil Evans' band at Sweet Basil. He died a week before I got there.

But I got to thinking about all the incredible music I've experience in person. I have heard:

Ornette Coleman - with Cherry, Haden, and Blackwell!

Magic Slim and the Teardrops at the Zoo Bar in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Zoo Bar is Slim's home base and is one of the great blues bars in the country.

Sonny Rollins on a good night.

The Rebirth Brass Band on a Tuesday night at the Maple Leaf. Of course, I've heard them many times, but my first Tuesday night at the Maple Leaf (April, 1993) is etched into my memory.

Eugene Powell (Sonny Boy Nelson) in Clarksdale, MS. He was too old to tune his own guitar, but he could still play it. The great, doomed Lonnie Pitchford tuned it for him. I also heard Pitchford, Jack Owens, Little Milton, Ike Turner, Clayton Love, Big Jack Johnson, and Othar Turner and the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band perform in Clarksdale.

A whole night of Bonerama at the Maple Leaf.

Kid Shiek, Chester Zardis, Narvin Kimball, Percy & Willie Humphrey (among many others) at Preservation Hall. I heard several of these giants just before they passed or retired.

Cecil Taylor!

The Art Ensemble of Chicago - several times. I heard one performance from the side of the stage at the Atlanta Jazz Festival after my band had performed.

Count Basie and the band.

Miles Davis. On his 1982 comeback tour, he played a "My Man's Gone Now" that broke my heart.

Steve Lacy. I was lucky enough to hear this master of improvisation solo, in duet with Mal Waldron, with his trio, in quartet with Roswell Rudd, and with his sextet.

The Don Pullen/George Adams Quartet. Now three-quarters gone.

Mattawilda Dobbs in a small recital hall, peforming lieder and sprituals.

Mose Allison at 80 years old and salty as ever.

The patriarch of the Marsalis clan, Ellis, on his home turf, Snug Harbor. I've heard lots of incredible music in this room - Alvin Batiste, Tom McDermott, Evan Christopher....

Eddie Bo, quite a few times. But the performance that made the biggest impression was a happy hour gig. Eddie was playing with a guitarist and a drummer; with his left hand, you don't need a bass. The music was kind of lackluster and touristy when Herlin Riley walked in. He took over on drums, and the music just popped. The regular drummer just sat in the corner and shook his head.

Von Freeman in a little club in Chicago.

Honeyboy Edwards perform "Sweet Home Chicago" in Chicago - at Rosa's. How cool is that?

I could go on, but I'll just say that I've been lucky.

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