At Jazz at Lincoln Center on Dec. 2 in New York City, Steve Miller, Jimmie Vaughan, Charlie Musselwhite and an amazingly talented backup band performed a night of the blues — featuring the Blues Triangle of Memphis and the Mississippi Delta, Chicago and Texas.
I lost count of the number of great songs the group performed, but they included the blues of Bill Broonzy, Charles Brown, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Elmore James, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson, Albert King, B.B. King, Freddie King, Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.
As Jimmie Vaughn said, “sometimes I don’t know where the blues ends and rock and roll begins,” which was the point of the concert that clearly demonstrated how important the blues is in contemporary music.
The production was led by Steve Miller, now living in New York City, who is bringing his considerable skills as an entertainer to educating a new generation about the blues and why it matters. Miller played with most of the great blues artists and told story, after story, after story about them. The best way to learn is to hear funny tales about the legends from ones who knew and played with them.
Sharing the stage with Miller was Vaughn, the Texas bluesman, who with his late brother, Stevie Ray Vaughn, influenced a generation of Texas blues musicians. And there was Charlie Musselwhite, who has been touring 50 years since his days with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf in Chicago in the 1960s. I can’t think of a better blues harp player still alive and performing today.
Shelly Berg owned the Steinway piano for the night, while Mike Flanigin, the Texas Hammond B3 organist, blew the crowd (and musicians) away with his great B3 rifts. Horns, drums, an upright bass backed most songs, with each musician clearly a master of their instrument.
Steve Miller’s goal was to demonstrate how important the blues is to today’s modern jazz and rock. He succeeded brilliantly. He is so good, he should do it on a television show, like in the days when Leonard Bernstein used the airwaves to educate the public about classical music. It was perhaps the best concert I heard all year.
Here are some images of the show. All photos by Frank Beacham