When two musical icons like Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis join forces for a concert you know you’re in for something special and this DVD delivers exactly that. Filmed over two nights in January 12 & 13, 2007 at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center this magical show sees Willie and Wynton combine their unique talents in a bland of jazz blues and country music which takes in WIllie Nelson originals, tradition songs and standards by the likes of Hoagy Carmichael, Jimmy Reed and Duke Ellington.
The performances (also available on CD, LP and digital) are complemented by interviews with Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis which give fascinating insights into the choice of songs they performed and the intoxicating mix of musical styles that resulted.
|Rainy Day Blues|
|Georgia On My Mind|
|Willie Talks About Mickey Raphael|
|Bright Light Big City|
|Basin Street Blues|
|Willie & Wynton styles|
|It’s All About The Blues|
|My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It|
|Ain’t Nobody’s Business|
|Don’t Get Around Much Anymore|
|Sweet Georgia Brown|
|More Than A Star|
|Down By The Riverside|
Let’s start by plugging some more buzz to the surprise and joy that has greeted the wonderful “crossing over” of Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis. Let’s add to the mix the name of the 2007 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music… Ornate Coleman.
Ornate Coleman, the genius of Free Jazz and his own sweet way of wonderful folk musician, is not seen or heard in the DVD; and, other than “just saying no’ had nothing to do with Willie’s and Wynton’s performance.
Over six years ago, Wytnton Marsalis was brainstorming on how to concertise with Coleman at Jazz at Lincoln Center. The idea was hit upon that the common ground between Ornette and Wynton was The Blues: they could do a concert of just Blues. It was a wonderful idea and, who knows, might yet prove to be a divine follow-up to the meeting of Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis, but Ornette Coleman decided to pass.
That The Blues could provide fertile ground for Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center to collaborate with music’s masters – even talent not considered Jazz – developed from the residue of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s disappointment in not putting Ornette Coleman and Wynton Marsalis and The Blues together and at the Apollo.
Jazz at Lincoln Center come to stage a Blues concert at the legendary Apollo on June 2, 2003. And Wynton Marsalis did find common ground with, among others, B.B. King and Ray Charles.
Wynton even performed Ornette Coleman’s “Ramblin”. Host Laurence Fishburne, completely unaware of Ornette’s connection to the evening’s conception, informed the audience that even Coleman’s “most demanding compositions are anchored in The Blues”.
Arguably the biggest superstar on the bill was Eric Clapton, Clapton’s “Yes”, as opposed to Ornette’s “No”, was the lynchpin to the gala event going forward. Eric Clapton was the most enthusiastic and industrious of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s guests in preparing for the performance, even working out of rendition with Wynton of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five number “I’m Not Rough”.
Also the bill was Willie Nelson.
Willie Nelson basically approached the gig the same way that Eric Clapton had, using guitar and singing, he teamed with Wynton Marsalis on a couple of tunes appropriate to the concert’s theme. Understated, Willie added a few short words about The Blues going back a long, long way, even before Nelson heard Country Music pioneer, Bob Wills, wail on The Blues.
Pace Eric Clapton and your legions of fans. Unstated or understated Willie Nelson walked to the center of the Apollo stage on June 2, 2003 and seemed to surpass Mr. Clapton at his own game.
Wynton heard it right then and there on the legendary stage of the Apollo. Marsalis did not stop talking about it for a long time thereafter. He was profoundly moved and musically impressed.
Ornate Coleman may be, oddly enough, the root of Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson performing The Blues at The Apollo Theatre five years ago, but Wynton hearing the soulful genius of Mr. Nelson that night is the genesis to their getting together again and performing the January 12 & 13, 2007 concerts you will attend through this DVD.
How Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis came to give the concerts of January 2007 is, of course, prelude and foreground to the main course that is served up on this DVD. The cross-over excitement is, also, secondary. Genius is far more important than category: you’re getting two instead of none.
The astonishing acclaim that has followed this collaboration does come, in part, with the surprise that they even came together. But combining an icon of Country with the leader of Jazz in the 21st century could be viewed as a collision of worlds. That Willie and Wynton teamed, therefore, is a two edged sword. One might say, as Teddy Wilson (the famed pianist with Benny Goodman and Billie Holiday) did, that keeping disparate types of music separate is the way to go.
Following that lesson might cause one to think that it would be unwise to put the Singing Brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers, together with the progenitor of Jazz, Louis Armstrong; or to have Charlie Parker sitting-in with Bob Wills. But those things did happen and that they could happen – successfully – involves that same common ground that almost put Ornette Coleman and Wynton Marsalis together on the stage of the Apollo: The Blues.
The Blues uses a songform that is twelve bars long, following a specific chord progression. The words and melody to a 12 bar Blues most often follow an A-A-B formula. It is properly viewed as the African American folk music. That allows, however, that it is American. The Blues is one of the musics descended fro the meeting of Africa and Western Europe in the New World.
Our sorry racial history is a sordid tale, centuries long. Our colonial heritage is still present, but not all of its impact and residue is unjust. There is a Celtic Music tradition and, it too, came to the New World where – and it is rarely acknowledged – it became a part of the Afro-Western hybrid. Celtic Music played its part in the emergence of the Blues. And yes, of Jazz, too.
That same Celtic Music tradition is more widely accepted as a root of Country Music. In Country, the Celtic music influence is more obvious, but the melting pot gumbo that is the USA is present everywhere. There are many omni-Americans.
That The Blues and Country and Jazz share roots is why the collaboration of Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis is not so big a crossover. Nor is the blending of divergent musics so extreme that it might raise the late Teddy Wilson’s eyebrow. When Jimmie Rodgers and Louis Armstrong got together on July 16, 1930, they recorded Blues. When Charlie Parker sat in with Bob Wills, they played The Blues. The Blues is the lingua franca of music in the United States.
At the Allen Room – did the gorgeous city panorama – in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s palace of the art form, Frederick P. Rose Hall on January 12 & 13, 2007, Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis performed The Blues and made music history. Willie sang his “Night Life”, that he sold almost a half-century ago for $150, and the bonafide Blues, “Milk Cow Blues”, the two tunes he had done at the Apollo. Net to be stepping on any more toes, not all the repertoire is true to the Blues songform. “Bright Lights”, “Big City”, “Caldonia”, and Willie’s “Rainy Day Blues” are.
“My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It” is close, but is really a simple folk song, not The Blus in short chorus form. “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do” and “That’s All” are also not, technically, The Blues, but – in the parlance – they’re close enough for Jazz…and Country too.
Wynton Marsalis, who asserts that Jazz should be a great part of Black Pride, nevertheless believes that all people have the same soul. By partnering with Willie Nelson, Wynton makes music with as great a champion for that creed as he could have found. Their collaboration is delightful as well as significant.
Curator, Jazz at Lincoln Center
Recorded live on January 12 and 13 , 2007 in “The Allen Room”, Fredrick P. Rose Hall, Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York, NY.
Mark Rothbaum, Geoff Kempin, Terry Shand
A film by: Danny Clinch
All photography © Danny Clinch
© Willie Nelson. Released under exclusive license of Eagle Rock Entertainment Ltd.
An Eagle Media release. Eagle Media is a division of Eagle Rock Entertainment Ltd.
Saxophone – Walter Blanding
Vocals, Guitar – Willie Nelson
Vocals, Trumpet – Wynton Marsalis
Bass – Carlos Henriquez
Drums – Ali Jackson
Harmonica – Mickey Raphael
Piano – Dan Nimmer