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.
This event is a part of Harlem Arts Advocacy Week.
On Sept. 28 at 8 p.m., a panel with a swing dance will follow with the George Gee Swing Orchestra and special guest vocalist Lainie Cooke. The panel will be hosted by Judy Pritchett and will include Gale, Miller and Kaufman. The panel and dance will take place at Dance Manhattan, 39 W. 19th St. For more information, call 212-807-0802.
The voices of the “Savoy King” is an all-star lineup that includes Sunpie Barnes as Barney Bigard, Bill Cosby as Chick Webb, Billy Crystal as Mezz Mezzrow, Tyne Daly as Helen Oakley Dance, Keith David as Charles Buchanan, Andy Garcia as Mario Bauza, Danny Glover as Count Basie, Jeff Goldblum as Artie Shaw, Janet Jackson as Ella Fitzgerald, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as Dizzy Gillespie, Ron Perlman as Gene Krupa, Voza Rivers as Sandy Williams, Eugene Robinson as Teddy McRae, and Charlie Watts as Stanley Dance.
The Savoy was known for its “Battle of the Bands.” On May 11, 1937, Benny Goodman went up against the great Webb and his orchestra. It was drummer against drummer with Webb and Gene Krupa. Of course, Webb’s orchestra won and Krupa proved to be no match.
It seems at that point Goodman should have lost his crown as “King of Swing.” After all, how could he have been anointed with such a title when Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Fletcher Henderson and Cab Calloway were on the scene? It seems they would have at least given the crown to Webb, but not being familiar with royal etiquette, I’m not sure how it works. Although it seems somewhat similar to Elvis Presley being crowned “King of Rock and Roll” with Little Richard, Bo Didley, Fats Domino and Jackie Wilson on the scene. Oh, don’t forget James Brown, about whom Amiri Baraka wrote, “If Presley is King, then James Brown must be God.”
However, this is quite another story. “The Savoy King” is well worth seeing. It is one of the most significant jazz documentaries to be made thus far. It is co-produced by Rivers and Kamal Joseph.