Anyway, in the spirit of blatant pandering to the small but loyal group of readers who make the effort to follow my ramblings here from time to time, I’m going to offer a few blog entries based on lists. As always I invite comment, positive or otherwise. So here’s the first one.
Top 10 Musical Events I’ve Witnessed (in no particular order). The first five:
1. The Byrds and Santana, 1970, Muhlenberg College
With front row seats (thanks to my girlfriend/now wife Kathy’s membership in the college entertainment committee) – not that we sat down much – it was an absolute revelation to hear and watch the late, great Clarence White play spectacular solos on his Telecaster, equipped with his now-legendary String Bender. His 10 minute solo on “Eight Miles High” was indescribably brilliant. Only later did I figure out that he was the fantastic bluegrass guitarist in the White Family that I’d heard at Newport a couple years before. Santana, in their original line-up, was at the absolute peak of their power and they played with pulsating power and grace, while Roger McGuinn, Clarence White, Gene Clark and the drummer of the Byrds watched from the side, grinning like idiots, as we all were.
2. Richie Havens, 1965, Newport Folk Festival evening concert.
I don’t think even 10% of the audience had any idea who the tall, thin black man was when he strode up to the microphone. Although Dylan’s famous “going electric” moment would also happen that night, believe it or not it was Havens who stunned and captivated the audience with his raw power and naked emotion, backed by only a man sitting cross-legged playing Indian tablas and another guitarist playing lead on an acoustic guitar. Havens ended his short segment (players were only allotted about 20 minutes each during the evening concerts at Newport in those days) pounding out “Run, Shaker Life” and I don’t think anyone had ever heard a singer like Richie whose aching, rasping, joyful voice absolutely stunned the audience as he continued strumming like a man possessed as he walked off the stage. There was a moment of stunned silence and then the crowd absolutely erupted. Many years later I heard Richie interviewed on a PBS radio station and he put that performance above his historic appearance at Woodstock as being his most transcendent and life-changing moment in music.
3. Wynton Marsalis and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra, Symphony Hall, Boston, 1988
I’ve seen and heard Wynton a couple of times since but that concert was my first exposure to his incredible talent. The entire second half of the concert was a 45-minute arrangement of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” Many soloists took their turns and all were great but then came Wynton. I can’t even begin to describe what or how he played except to say that it was one of only a couple times in my life I’ve been in the presence of true musical genius. My brother John attended the concert with us. John is the truly great musician in the Bourque family, presently the asst. principal trumpet with Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. We didn’t say much as we exited the hall. Finally John said, shaking his head, “You know, he plays things that have never been played before.” It took a while for that to sink in. But then I understood.
4. Andres Segovia, Symphony Hall, Boston, 1976
Although I studied classical guitar for a while in my younger days I was never a huge fan of that music. I have come to appreciate it more in the last decade or so but back then all I knew was Segovia was a living legend. He was old and had to be helped onto the stage by an assistant who steadied him as he sat down and then handed him his guitar. I can’t remember which pieces he played but my guess is that they were not as challenging as ones he played in his youth. What was amazing however was what happened during the encores – three of them! Each time the Master would leave the stage with the help of his assistant and three times he would be helped back out. The three short pieces he played were quite wonderful, and finally after the third and final encore the Master finally looked up and smiled. The audience went wild and “bravos!” rained down. Only later when I read about his life and what he had accomplished – nothing short of making the guitar a truly legitimate instrument in the eyes of the “serious” music world – did I begin to be thankful that I had been in his presence.
5. Pat Martino, Falmouth Jazz Festival, 2009
While I realize that Pat’s post-bop, modern jazz stylings aren’t for everyone, the night he played to the sadly under-attended Falmouth Jazz Festival under a tent as the rain beat down was for me another of those moments when I knew I was in the presence of musical genius. His solos reminded me of an abstract artist with a never ending canvas stretching out before him, dipping into an endless palette of colors. The night before I had played in one of the downtown shops for the “Jazz Stroll” and afterwards went to the library to view the award winning documentary about Pat’s amazing life, “Unstrung,” which one reviewer called “the greatest documentary of a jazz musician ever made.” There were only a couple dozen people there, and at the back of the room sat Pat himself. The movie was amazing, documenting Pat’s sometime turbulent life and relationships and most of all, his recovery from a brain aneurism and operation in the late 1980s that left him with almost total amnesia including very little knowledge of or ability to play the guitar. After the movie was over, Pat agreed to speak to the small crowd. What followed was almost Zen-like and the man’s honesty, humbleness and true love of music and its effect on himself and all of us was beyond inspirational. When he was done I approached him and said, “Mr. Martino, I just want to thank you for what you said and for the joy your music has brought me.”
He smiled and took my hand and shook it gently. “No,” he said. “Thank you.”
Peace & good music,