New York City’s premier jazz venue got the blues last April when Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton performed together in Rose Theater at Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center for two sold-out shows dedicated to vintage blues. The extraordinary collaboration, billed as Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton Play the Blues, paired these musical virtuosos with members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as they brought to life a repertoire of songs selected by Clapton and arranged by Marsalis.

Track Listing

Ice Cream 7:39 Play
Forty-Four 7:13 Play
Joe Turner’s Blues 7:48 Play
The Last Time 4:18 Play
Careless Love 7:43 Play
Kidman Blues 4:21 Play
Layla 9:09 Play
Joliet Bound 3:50 Play
Just a Closer Walk with Thee – feat. Taj Mahal 12:20 Play
Corrine, Corrina – feat. Taj Mahal 10:22 Play

Liner Notes

When Louis Armstrong was asked about different forms of popular music in the mid-1960′s, he responded, “…all these different kinds of fantastic music you hear today – course it’s all guitars now – I used to hear that way back in the old sanctified churches where the sisters used to shout till their petticoats fell down.” He was not attempting to navigate the generation gap. Pops was acknowledging the foundational experiences that inform all ‘rhythm section’ music. He was contextualizing a heritage that includes the Irish jig, West African musical traditions, the English Hymn, and the Negro spirituals synthesized and focused into one transcendent form: the blues.

When Eric Clapton and I first met, we began a friendship based in a love of music, nurtured in the mutual heritage we share, and ultimately expressed in the way we play with each other. From our first interactions, I recognized his intensity and seriousness about music. It is the result of countless hours of solitary practice throughout teenhood, of working and reworking the results of that practice on stage, night after night, all over the world. It is lightened by the joy of inventing new things to play, and humanized through the willful creation of community, regardless of personal situation. The lifelong pursuit of music evidences a deep love, but requires even deeper commitment from the extremely successful, because nothing extinguishes creativity with more fanfare than fame. Eric’s no-nonsense approach to playing and encyclopedic knowledge of blues styles testify to a passionate and evolving relationship with music, something we both pursue with single-minded focus.

In that spirit, we wanted these concerts to sound like people playing music they know and love, not like a project. We agreed to let the music show how the blues continues to speak with clarity and immediacy across all lines of segregation. We combined the sound of an early blues jump-band with the sound of New Orleans jazz to accommodate the integration of guitar/trumpet lead and to give us the latitude to play different grooves from the Delta to the Caribbean and beyond. New Orleans is a mythic birthplace of jazz, the blues, gospel, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll. It is the perfect place to find our common heritage. We decided to use the instrumentation of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band plus two (electric guitar and piano), because they transformed the world of music with a set of 1923 recordings and, with performances like ‘Dipper Mouth Blues’, forever established the blues as a centerpiece of jazz.

Extract from the DVD.

Eric selected all of the songs on this concert (except ‘Layla’ which was requested by our bassist, Carlos Henriquez, and arranged as a Crescent City dirge/swing). From the 4-on-the-floor swing of ‘Ice Cream’ and the southern slow-drag of ‘Joe Turner’s Blues’ to the traveling blues of ‘Joliet Bound’ and the boogie-woogie jump of ‘Kidman Blues’, from the humorous refrain of an oft-disrespected lover in ‘The Last Time’ to the spiritual solemnity of ‘Just A Closer Walk with Thee’, he chose a diversity of songs from different regions with diverse and specific functions, grooves, and meanings. The set list alone is a testament to the sophistication of his taste.

Though raised in American music, I have learned much about various blues styles from the comprehensive and expertly curated playlist Eric periodically sends after a conversation. And, for me, it’s important to acknowledge at all times the supremacy of knowledge. This is especially true in a time when an image, someone’s race, or a colorful non-musical life-experience is used to create either a ‘blindness’ to cultural history, or the illusion of ‘realness’ whilst actual music is left unattended (and the knowledge of it is reduced to pretension).

This collaboration was a pure joy because Eric is about music. We didn’t have any pettiness or stupidity about anything small. It takes great courage to come to New York and learn 12 new arrangements in three days, front a band that you’ve never played with in a form of music you don’t normally play, play three concerts, and sing almost all of the material. Eric did this flawlessly, and after all of that he told me, “I’d rather play the rhythm parts than play any solos.” That’s why I love and respect him.

- Wynton Marsalis

Sidemen

Wynton Marsalis (trumpet), Eric Clapton (guitar, vocal), Dan Nimmer (piano), Carlos Henriquez (bass), Ali Jackson (drums), Marcus Printup (trumpet), Victor Goines (clarinet), Chris Crenshaw (trombone, vocals), Don Vappie (banjo), Chris Stainton (keyboard).