The Savoy King, James Cotton Blues
Ron Scott | 10/2/2012, 4:22 p.m.
Blues, like jazz, is an American art form. It came out of African-American communities in the Deep South around the end of the 19th century from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, chants and narrative ballads.
James Cotton, the noted bluesman, will bring his harmonica filled with his style of gutbucket, cornbread, down-home blues to Jazz at Lincoln Center's Allen Room on Sept. 28 and 29. The James Cotton "Super Harp" Band will perform two shows each night at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.
There probably hasn't been such a vibrant blues harp player since Little Walter played with Muddy Waters. Cotton often alternated with Walter during Waters' recording sessions during the late 1950s. The 77-year-old native of Tunica, Miss., formed the Jimmy Cotton Blues Quartet in 1965. After leaving Water's band in 1966, he toured with Janis Joplin while pursuing a solo career.
In the 1970s, Cotton recorded several albums with Buddah Records and played harmonica on Muddy Waters' Grammy Award-winning 1977 album "Hard Again." The James Cotton Blues Band received a Grammy nomination in 1984 for "Live From Chicago: Mr. Superharp Himself!" and a second for the 1987 release "Take Me Back." Cotton was finally awarded a Grammy for "Deep in the Blues" in 1996 for Best Traditional Blues Album.
Cotton battled throat cancer in the mid-1990s, and his last recorded vocal performance was on 2000's "Fire Down Under the Hill," but he continued to tour, utilizing singers or band members as vocalists.
The word "blues" is synonymous with depression and hard times, but singer-songwriter Cotton brings the blues upfront and face to face, so kick up your heels, snap your fingers, move your toes and swing a little. The crying is for later, when the music stops. It can be the blues or its roots of R&B, jazz, gospel, rock and roll. For more information, call 212-258-9800 or visit jalc.org.
The Savoy Ballroom was the most popular dancehall in America from inception in 1926 well into the 1950s--it closed July 10, 1958. Located in Harlem on Lenox Avenue between 140th and 141st streets, it was the only integrated ballroom where white and Black patrons could dance together, since the Cotton Club and other Harlem spots were segregated. The Delano Village replaced "The Home of Happy Feet" in 1958.
The Savoy featured some of the best bands in the land, including its house band, Chick Webb and His Orchestra. The history of this great dancehall is featured in the documentary "The Savoy King: Chick Webb and the Music That Changed America." It will screen at the 50th New York Film Festival on Sept. 29 at noon at the Walter Reade Theater, 165 W. 65th St., and on Oct. 2 at 3:30 p.m. at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, 144 W. 65th St.
Also on Oct. 2 at noon, there will be a panel at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (515 Malcolm X Blvd. at 135th Street) hosted by Voza Rivers of the Harlem Arts Alliance and New Heritage Theatre Group. The panel will include Dr. Richard Gale, son of Savoy Ballroom owner Moe Gale; swing dance master Norma Miller; playwright and actress Gertrude Jeannette; drummer Roy Haynes; and Jeff Kaufman, director and producer of "The Savoy King" documentary.