When it comes to the preservation of live music, the GRAMMY Foundation® has been at the forefront of the fight. Nowhere was that more evident than at the foundation’s 14th annual music preservation project last week. Dubbed “One Night Only: A Celebration of the Live Music Experience,” the pre-GRAMMY event shined a spotlight on the history and evolution of live concert performances and celebrated the various and invaluable contributions of those events, the key players behind them, and their influence on the American cultural landscape.
Most importantly, as Recording Academy Neil Portnow pointed out at the beginning of the concert, this particular GRAMMY Week celebration promotes the Foundation's mission of recognizing and preserving America’s musical past so that future generations can continue to benefit from an appreciation and understanding of those contributions. It serves to reintroduce works from these major contributors to the public and educates them about the GRAMMY Foundation's role in preserving our rich cultural heritage.
The venue for this affair was perfect: the recently restored Saban Theatre. Formerly the Wilshire Theatre (at La Cienega and Wilshire in Beverly Hills), it was able, through the magic of lighting and night club names projected on a huge screen, to evoke the ambience of many of those venues that played a key role in the history and evolution of live concert performances.
The Colburn Orchestra jammed its way through back-up duties, as the group—plus seven back-up singers—played their way through the various genres of live music made famous at popular night clubs way back in the day. With television personality Sharon Osbourne as the evening’s host, clubs like Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom came alive with the likes of New Orleans’ favorite son Trombone Shorty and GRAMMY-nominated Dave Koz.
With Shorty on trumpet and vocals and Koz on tenor sax, the duo had a fun time on “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” (Interestingly, from a historical perspective, it’s widely believed that, unlike the ‘whites-only’ policy of the Cotton Club, the Savoy Ballroom was integrated: black and white folks could perform together.)
One of the highlights of the evening came minutes later, as the crowd went crazy when Shorty showed off his lung strength by holding one note for almost five minutes!
Next up was GRAMMY-nominated Ledisi, who did her Ledisi thing on Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache,” and represented The Apollo Theatre of the 1940s and ‘50s.
Also “at the Apollo” was Mavis Staples, herself a GRAMMY recipient, who presented a stellar new and infinitely funkier version of “God Bless the Child” that dovetailed right in to a Staples Singers staple: “I Take You There.” She was sounding so good that Trombone Shorty felt compelled to come out and jam with her. Not wanting to be left out, out came Dave Koz. And close behind him was Ledisi. And there you had the highlight of the concert—clear confirmation of the power of live music—and the reason live music and the venues that support it must be protected at all costs.
Next GRAMMY-winning master blues guitarist Robert Cray, strumming his pain through his fingers on “Smoking Gun” and country singer George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by way of B.B. King’s House of Blues.
Other night clubs represented in this special tribute were Caffe Lena, which is the oldest continuously operating folk coffeehouse in the country and the Paramount Club, represented by A Fine Frenzy, who sang a dirgelike rendition of the usually upbeat “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Other noteworthy performers included GRAMMY award-winning blues, gospel and rock guitarist Jonny Lang who dueted with “The Voice” finalist singer/guitarist Beverly McClellan on Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness.”