Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Mambo King Cachao Passes Away, March 22

The inventor of the Mambo, Israel "Cachao" Lopez, who performed at the Blue Note numerous times in the past five years died on March 22 at the age of 89 as a result of kidney failure. If you have ever seen Cacaho, he looked like a kid on stage, and it seemed impossible that someone of his age could play with the energy he displayed. He will be missed.

Israel "Cachao" Lopez - 1918 - 2008

Delirium Blues Project

CD Release on March 25 - more info at this website:


Published: March 8, 2008

The jazz singer Diane Schuur has a stage personality that brings to mind the kind of garrulous partygoer whose slightly hysterical laughter can be heard pealing above the din. She is a blowzy next-door neighbor in frayed housedress gulping coffee while dispensing back-fence gossip with a cheery gusto. When she gets excited during a song, she flutters her hands and snaps her fingers. On Thursday evening at the Blue Note, where she began a four-night engagement, she referred to people in the audience as “dear” and “sweetheart.”

Vocally, this translates into an approach that comes at you like an assault of purposeful bonhomie. When some people say “good morning,” wearing a big broad grin, you feel pressured to respond in the same tone, no matter your mood.

Although Ms. Schuur is a considerably less flamboyant stylist than she used to be, her performances are still more about flexing her instrument than anything else. Her voice is impressive in its size, range and brightness. A song can suddenly fly up an octave into little-girl squeals, then make a swan dive into the murky depths. She uses her twirling vibrato as rhythmic punctuation. After drawing out a note, she dispenses that vibrato like the cherry on a sundae.

On Thursday Ms. Schuur, accompanied by Randy Porter on piano, Scott Steed on bass, Dan Balmer on guitar and Reggie Jackson on drums, sang 12 songs, seven of them from her newest album, “Some Other Time” (Concord). They included two Berlins, two Gershwins and a Porter.
For all her knowledge of songs, Ms. Schuur isn’t much interested in lyrics. How phrases are divided and words are emphasized is determined by her rhythmic concept of a song, not by any message she wants to impart. The word “the” can be the most dramatically stated moment in an interpretation. Singing “Turn up the quiet” in “Love Dance,” she turned up the volume.

“It Don’t Mean a Thing (if It Ain’t Got That Swing),” the show’s strongest performance, found Ms. Schuur at the piano. For the first time in the set, her mannerisms synchronized with her band as she scatted percussively, sang in unison with the guitar and bass, then traded call-and-response riffs with the players. Mr. Jackson’s extended drum solo grounded this Ellington standard in pure rhythm. It swung hard.

Diane Schuur is appearing through Sunday at the Blue Note, 131 West Third Street, Greenwich Village; (212) 475-8592,

BLAST FROM THE PAST: Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross

In honor of Jon Hendricks' return to the Blue Note with James Moody next week, this week's Blast From The Past is a clip from the songbook of Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Down in Front


Michael McDonald: Mystery White Boy

Live at the irony apocalypse

by Rob Harvilla

March 11th, 2008 12:00 AM

Michael McDonald was the Akon of the '80s. Ubiquitous, inescapable. The consummate guest star, backing vocalist, and duet partner, trading lines with everyone from James Ingram to Patti LaBelle to Kenny Loggins to his own sister. Like top-shelf vodka, his bubbly, mush-mouthed yodel (wherein murdered consonants ascend to heaven and are awarded 72 virgin vowels) enhanced and intoxicated whatever you mixed it with. Consider Steely Dan's "Peg," his note-perfect bleats finely chopped like pristine lines of cocaine, a sublimely OCD mingling of the perfectionist and the populist, the alien and the instantly familiar. Only one fate can befall a voice so memorable, so distinct: Nowadays, he's a bit of a joke.

A joke Mike's in on, though, at least to an extent. In 2008, he has evolved into a slightly less athletic Chuck Norris. A kitschy pop-culture punchline masterfully wielded by The 40-Year-Old Virgin ("Ya mo burn this place to the ground"), The Family Guy ("Faaaaart!"), the brilliant Internet serial Yacht Rock ("California vagina sailors"), and even power-pop stars the New Pornographers, who held a YouTube contest in which fans submitted videos of themselves singing NP tunes in the inimitable Michael McDonald style. (Some guy with an atrocious beard won for warbling "It's Only Divine Right.") The Family Guy joke is most instructive: Mike is hired to sing backup vocals to everything anyone says, because it all just sounds better—sweeter, smoother, more soulful—when issued from his lips. Not a bad rep. It wouldn't be quite so bothersome, though, if these days he didn't mostly sing old Motown songs.

We're live last Wednesday night at the Blue Note for the sold-out Michael McDonald show. That is not a typo. Aside from the sax guy briefly evoking A Love Supreme during the intro vamp to "I Keep Forgettin' " (that'll probably cost you a few virgins, pal), this is no hackneyed jazz crossover plea—before a euphoric crowd, Mike instead grinds through 90 minutes unifying the two halves of his estimable career: the cheerily smooth r&b on which he built his fortune ("What a Fool Believes" triggers mass hysteria), and the cheerily smooth renditions of classic, often not traditionally smooth r&b songs that've dominated his last several albums (a superfluous take on "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" triggers significantly less hysteria).

His new Soul Speak, third in a trilogy that includes the instructively titled Motown and Motown Two, tosses in a couple of flaccid originals and a few bewildering tributes from farther afield: Mike's take on "Hallelujah" can't match the profundity of that American Idol dude's version, let alone Jeff Buckley's. His backing band tonight hails from the to-save-the-song-we-must-destroy-it Vietnam school, unnecessarily bombastic solos and all. For protection and companionship, I have brought along three martini-swilling associates, and we struggle mightily as to the degree of irony with which we are enjoying ourselves, or not. Nearby Blue Note patrons are visibly alarmed by our (relative) youth; that not every last person in the joint is bone-white befuddles us in turn.

It's complicated.

Anyway, "Oh, you're gonna pay, guitar!" howls one of my martini-swilling associates as the lead guitarist's face contorts violently while searching for that perfect, sweet, climactic note. For convenience's sake, we assign every side player to a bygone TV star: Beau Bridges on guitar, Wilford Brimley on sax, etc. Mike's drummer is evidently nicknamed "Baby Girl." As for the man himself, he remains middle management incarnate, his hair and Brillo-pad goatee a resplendent shock of white; the spit starts flying by the middle of the towering opener "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," and the sweat is pouring freely just a few songs later, coating his cheeks to almost strategically suggest that Mike is crying. He pounds his electric keyboard and yodels his ass off. "I know what's good for you, baby," he violently coos, and you get to thinking that maybe he does.

You watch a guy like this close his set with a triumphant double-shot of Stevie Wonder songs, and you can't help but think it: Pat Boone. But does the elated throng here actually prefer Mike's version of, say, "Walk On By" to the original? Doubt it. Hope not. He avoids any outright debacles, though, and his mercifully solo reading of "You Don't Know Me"—the Ray Charles version—is the killer tonight, a Lifetime movie tearjerker that earns its pathos, even if it's borrowed. My martini-swilling associates are right to point out the grueling irony of covering "Ain't Nothin' Like the Real Thing," but ah, screw it. The oldies album is the official baby-boomer exit strategy. It's not his fault. And it's heartening that "Takin' It to the Streets," from Mike's original meal ticket, the mighty Doobie Brothers, inspires the most crowd rapture tonight, folks leaping to their feet and clapping awkwardly but endearingly as our hero's sweat pours forth. He's got his own canon, thank you very much.

But Michael McDonald remains a truly confusing notion in 2008, an ironic mustache of a man, alternately appalling and appealing, but bewildering throughout. Before he rips into "What's Goin' On," Mike deigns to make a political statement that I, in my vertiginous state, completely misread. He announces that we stand at the threshold of what could be a great time, and praises "the one guy" who could lead us to that promised land. The gender specificity of this statement is immediately obvious, but what follows somehow is not. "I love when politicians talk about how they can't wait to get into office and cut all that wasteful spending," Mike chortles. "We know what that means, right? It means they take all the money from us hard-working people, and they line the pockets of their friends." Huge audience whoops, including from the nice lady next to me who, as the lights had gone down, had been telling her neighbor about how "Giuliani is a great man."

I thereby read Mike's monologue as a direct endorsement of a) McCain, and b) Bush's tax cuts. My martini-swilling associates, however, insist he was backing Obama. In the cold light of reason, their take seems much more feasible; the man himself remains as unfeasible as ever. We stagger out into the East Village night, quotation marks spinning around our heads; we may be fools, but we believe nonetheless.

Monday, March 10, 2008

James Moody will be at the Blue Note with vocalese master Jon Hendricks from April 1-6. This week's blast from the past clip is to get you all in gear for that show, and to honor the master himself! Here is Moody with Dizzy Gillespie's big band in 1968...check out the last 30 seconds, if you've ever received a kiss on the cheeks from Moody, you'll enjoy it!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Michael McDonald performed a sold out show at the Blue Note last night. Here are some photos of the event!

Monday, March 3, 2008


Check it out - tomorrow morning at 9am on ABC-TV, Michael McDonald will perform on LIVE with Regis and Kelly in promotion of his new recording "Soul Speak" and his upcoming performances at the Blue Note. We'll have the video posted as soon as it's ready.

"Soul Speak" is available upstairs in the gift shop for the next two nights!

Saturday, March 1, 2008


Click on the blue/yellow button below that says "Dail-Up/Broadband" next to the image to seen George Whipple's piece on Ben E. King, playing through this weekend on NY1!

Whipple's World
R&B Singer Ben E. King Croons In Village Hotspot
February 29, 2008

After fifty years in the music business, rhythm and blues singer Ben E. King performs his greatest hits in Greenwich Village. NY1’s George Whipple filed the following report.

Ben E. King, noted singer of the rhythm and blues singing group The Drifters, became a household name with his 1961 number-one hit, “Stand By Me.” King’s fans stood by him, and made the song number-one again with its re-release in 1986.

Now, fans can stand by Ben E. King one more time, as he performs through Sunday at the The Blue Note club in Greenwich Village.

"This song has proved itself time and time again. I'm just stunned by it really," said King. "The reaction that I think I enjoy most about it is that the song now belongs to the people."

King was born Benjamin Earl Nelson on September 28th, 1938 in Henderson, North Carolina, but moved to Harlem at the age of nine. He now celebrates 50 years in the music business.

"Music to me is something that I do for someone who’s coming out to enjoy themselves,” said King. “It's not for me to do to see that I have a great limo outside or I got a private plane and a yacht. I don't think it's for that.”

“You get to that world of how important am I and what I should have from music - you're losing music, to me," continued King.

Although he didn't write it, one of King's biggest hits is "Save The Last Dance For Me".

"It's a Doc Pomus/Mort Schuman song,” said King. “The story that goes with that song is that [blues songwriter] Doc Pomus, who was in a wheel chair, he wrote the song and was out with his wife. His wife was asking to dance with a friend of his. So he said, 'That's okay - so long as you save the last dance for me.' Love it!"

Ben E. King will be saving the last dance for you at The Blue Note now through Sunday.

- George Whipple