The first and only time I got to frequent New York City’s City Winery, it turned out to be one of the last performances of the late, great Bobby Womack.
I can’t speak for those at any of the other sets, but on that particular night, the level was turned up a notch when he picked up his guitar. That was the moment when it came together: Bobby Womack was a GREAT musician and artist. Listening to a particular solo that infused a noted jazz composition, I racked my brain trying to come up with the title. I found out later that night the song’s title and also its history.
The reason the song came so natural to Womack was because it was a composition of his, originally recorded by a colleague, Gabor Szabo, a Hungarian jazz guitarist, but taken to somewhat historic heights by George Benson. “Breezin” is the song’s title.
This recollection brings to mind a crazy misconception held about brothers and the guitar. For some reason, we’ve been conditioned to think of loud headbangers, rocking out. Because a lot of the popular music outlets play music that’s drum and bass heavy, the notion has continued, thus further distancing younger generations from the beauty of the instrument.
The modern landscape gives us names such as Prince, Ernie Isley, Jimi Hendrix, Lenny Kravitz and Gary Clark Jr., but like most things, if a history check is run, we’d find that a lot of the trendsetters, innovators and greats were African-Americans. B.B. King, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley easily come to mind, but I was reminded of the likes of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Brittany Howard, Rhiannon Giddens, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Taj Mahal and Ben Harper.
These names came courtesy of Rebecca Weller, founder and producer of an event called the Guitar Mash Benefit Jam. With more than 20 years experience creating festivals and events engaging music, food and world culture, Weller is excited to extend her passion for interactive, cross-cultural and meaningful experiences through the medium of the guitar.
Why the guitar? Well, she states, “Guitar crosses lots of boundaries and through its very democratic nature, you’ll find it in nearly every culture around the world. Because of its portability—and the fact that it plays rhythm, melody and harmony—it’s the perfect ‘one man band.’ And of course, it’s what one plays around the campfire, joining everyone together in song. We like the idea of lighting virtual campfires—getting everyone singing and playing together.” That, in a nutshell, is what the event is about. Guitar Mash is a nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for guitarists and music lovers to connect and create while supporting music education and communal learning projects.
A prideful Weller shares, “The annual Guitar Mash Benefit is a place where just about anyone feels welcome and comfortable and happy. Doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or more accomplished, doesn’t matter what language you speak, our musical director welcomes everyone in and has everyone in the room playing or singing by the end of the afternoon. By the end of the day, it’s like a big family. Jon Batiste, world renowned musician and the music director and bandleader for ‘The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,’ likened a Guitar Mash to a church service. Actually, he called it ‘spiritual.’”
She adds, “The experience of playing and singing with each new guitar ‘star’ that’s at Guitar Mash is always unique and special! Take for instance, Brandon Niederauer. We are beyond excited to be presenting this wunderkind at the event on Sunday—only 12 years old and you’ll find him guesting with folks like Gary Clark Jr. on stage. He opens in ‘School of Rock’ on Broadway, in previews the day after our event, November 9. And he was part of our Teen Acoustic Guitar Project, too! Above and beyond this, we will have a group of girls from the Lower Eastside Girls Club singing together with Guitar Mash Teens on stage leading the audience in a couple of songs.”
Bringing things full circle, the Fourth annual Guitar Mash Benefit Jam, scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 8, from noon until 3:30 p.m., takes place at City Winery, 155 Varick St., Manhattan.
Over and Out. Holla next week. Till then, enjoy the nightlife.