For those of us old enough to have been around when Les Paul and his wife Mary Ford were making hits like the legendary “How High the Moon,” it is wonderful to see that a 90 year old guitarist with arthritic fingers and a mischievous personality could still have audiences standing on line to hear him play. And deservedly so, Les Paul may not be the player he once was on this album, but he can still get you tapping your toes and bring a smile to your face. Les Paul is a showman. Nowhere is that clearer than in Live in New York, a DVD recorded from live Monday evening shows at the Iridium Jazz Club in honor of his 90th birthday.
These are intimate performances, up close and personal, in which Paul and his trio pianist, John Colianni and either Nicki Parrott or Jay Leonhart on bass, assisted by Lou Pallo, rhythm guitarist are often joined by some pretty fine musicians from the audience. There’s a little of the patented Paul banter, a lot of fine music, and a bunch of laudatory interviews. Les Paul was not only a ground breaking instrumentalist, his pioneering development of the electric guitar and multi-track recording in a real sense created the music industry as we know it. He was a force to be reckoned with. If as Paul quips during the set, there are millions of people who think Les Paul is a guitar, this DVD will do a lot to remedy the situation. Listening to the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Steve Miller, and Bucky Pizzaarelli talk about his playing and his influence makes it clear just how important that force was.
The DVD manages to capture some really special musical moments. Steve Miller, who explains that he has known Paul and Mary Ford since he was a boy of five, sings a heartfelt version of the Nat ‘King’ Cole hit, “Nature Boy.” Jazz singer Sonya Hensley does a swinging take on “Route 66,” and Jose Feliciano chimes in with a passionate “Unchain My Heart.” Keith Richards shows up in an earlier clip, plays a little guitar and sings something called “Pork Chop Blues.” There is some sweet guitar give and take with Tommy Emmanuel on “Blue Moon,” and some fancy mandolin picking from Dave Grisman on the Django Rheinhardt classic, “LImehouse Blues.” Bassist Nicki Parrott chimes in with a sexy bluesy “Happy Birthday, Lester,” and there is even a tap dancing Andrew Nemr keeping time to Paul’s playful “Cherokee.” It is a concert of straight up jazz and blues played with style and joy.
Add to this, besides longer interviews from some of the guest performers and friends, bonus material that includes nine audio tracks for download as well as video of some of the old Les Paul and Mary Ford TV gigs. There is a sample of the little shows they did for Listerine that has them doing one of their biggest hits, “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise.” Paul also does a solo on “Dark Town Strutters’ Ball,” which is just a small indication of what he could do back in the day. There is also film of the couple’s appearance on the highbrow Sunday afternoon cultural icon Omnibus, which has Paul taking a comic turn explaining multi-tracking to host Alistair Cooke before he and Mary play “How High the Moon.” A “Soundie” of Paul and his trio playing “Dark Eyes” shows just how quick fingered Paul could be when he was young, although the picture quality leaves something to be desired.
To understand just how significant an innovator Les Paul was you just have to look at Bonnie Raitt’s face as she listens to some the old records during her interview. One look says it all.