Top 10 (x2) Favorite James Williams Tracks

My biggest “eureka” moment as a budding jazz musician (or, to be accurate, the moment when I decided I needed to BE a budding jazz musician and not just a dabbler) came the first time I heard “Magical Trio 2” by James Williams, like the moment in the “Wizard of Oz” where it goes from black & white to color – in a flash I heard everything I wanted music to be, all in one place. If life were just, the Soulful Mister Williams would’ve been 65 today.

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Top 10 Favorite Ted Dunbar Tracks

Every few years I dust off Ted Dunbar’s “A Nice Clean Machine for Pedro” and challenge my students at Wesleyan to learn it – such a gorgeous and deceptively challenging tune. Last year I wrote about Ted’s impact as an educator, but now it’s time to talk about his unique and powerful voice as a guitarist and composer.

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Top 10 Favorite Allen Toussaint tracks

Allen Toussaint, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who passed away this morning, is best known for his monumental work as a songwriter and producer, so it’s easy for folks to lose sight of what a powerhouse he was as a performer. I enjoy his subtle vocal style and his bandleading but it’s his piano that knocks me out, incorporating the sounds of New Orleans giants Professor Longhair and James Booker along with elements of jazz and pop, with the result being a totally distinct style.

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Top 10 Most Memorable David Letterman Musical Guest Performances

Given that Dave Letterman has just had his swan song, it only makes sense for me to reflect back on some of the ones that hit me the hardest. Note that these are not necessarily the “best,” nor have I made any attempt to go back with a curator’s mind to scan the thousands of shows I never saw. These are the ones that made a mark and that I had the dumb luck to encounter, all of them awesome in their own way.

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Top 10 Favorite B.B. King Tracks

I suppose I knew it was coming, but I can’t really imagine a world without B.B. King (1925-2015) in it. We all know he was one of the great voices on the blues guitar, but he was much more than that. As a singer, songwriter, bandleader and pioneer for enduring success with non-commercial black music he made a huge mark and his guitar playing far transcends the blues, as can be heard in the generations of R&B, blues and rock guitar players who have adapted his style. In the interest of expediency, there are fewer discographical notes and less commentary than usual, I just wanted to highlight 10 of the performances that have most impacted me.

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Top 10 Favorite Neville Brothers Tracks

Some of my most formative music-listening moments have come through the Neville Brothers. I got to see them live on two occasions as a teenager, while listening incessantly to what I’d consider their two truly groundbreaking albums, Yellow Moon (1989) and Brother’s Keeper (1990). The grooves were like nothing I’d ever heard before, the social conscience was dramatically overt yet poetic and the combination of the four lead voices (Aaron’s angelically high voice, Cyril’s gruff tenor, Art’s low-toned and often partly-spoken vocals and the unique saxophone style of Charles) meant that there was someone there to cover pretty much any job.

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