At ninety-two years of age, Les Paul continues to play to a packed house every Monday night at the Iridium in New York City. Locals and tourists line up on Broadway to a get a glimpse of the Wizard from Waukesha. A Wisconsin native myself, I am particularly proud of his many accomplishments. His impact on the history and future of music is well-documented. A member of the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame, there is no stone that he has left unturned, blazing new ground throughout his illustrious career. Les is the subject of a recent feature length documentary. The film is titled Chasing Sound: Les Paul at 90 and will be broadcast on PBS during the month of July.
As for this early July evening at the Iridium, Les proved why he is a showman. Casually taking a seat and addressing the crowd, he quickly went into a few of the classic cuts that fans associate with him. He began with Why Do I Love You?, then All of Me and Up a Lazy River. Les and the members of his band aspire to and achieve a high standard. The fact that Les has been playing a weekly gig at the Iridium for the last twenty years is a testament to both this high standard and his groups’ remarkable level of consistency.
Having been on the stage for all these years, Les knows how to work a crowd. Although the music is important, it is more than just the music that defines Les and his group. He is the ultimate entertainer, a comedian and a leader, as well as a musician. Despite having the facility of only two of his fingers on his left hand, he could easily entertain the crowd by simply featuring his sweet guitar sounds on any number of his extensive library of tunes. However, Les is there to have fun and wants to make sure everyone is enjoying themselves.
Like any good leader, Les knows how to feature the members of his group. Starting with the virtuoso pianist, John Colianni, Les remarked how amazing it was the pianist could play so many different styles of music. While John played a tune from the silent movie era, Les, ever the comedian, described the different scenes we might see to go along with the music. Next he featured Nicki Parrott and her bluesy bass chops. She also is a very good singer. This was apparent on a number she wrote on a plane for Les she simply called Les’ song. Finally, Lou Pallo’s guitar playing and singing were on display during Embraceable You. Violinist Aaron Weinstein joined the group for several numbers, including Somebody Loves Me and In a Sentimental Mood. The group also ripped off a version of Blue Skies that went into double time during the second verse, showing that Les still has speed to burn. Tennessee Waltz and a funky version of Sweet Georgia Brown rounded out the set.
Still playing after all these years, Les Paul is living proof that jazz is good medicine. Jazz keeps us in good spirits and Les’ spirit is particularly stirring/inspirational. Join him for a Monday night at the Iridium and he will surely lift yours.