I did a short set about a week ago at the Dressing Room in Westport, CT, followed by a long jam with the house band and assorted guests. The guests included a couple of guys in their mid-20s, one of whom played guitar, one of whom played piano, and both of whom sang.
What these guys wanted to play, all night long, was the music I was playing with bands when I was in my late teens and early 20s, about forty years ago: early Rolling Stones, Allman Brothers, late-60s Bob Dylan, and so on. It was eerie for me to think that this, rather than the music of their own era, was their preferred repertoire.
It’s not like I wasn’t an archivist too when I was their age. In the early 1970s I studied Swing and pre-Swing era soloists–Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Charlie Christian, and so on–all of whom preceded me by close to forty years, the same time span that separates the guys I jammed with from the first appearence of their preferred music. But I was also immersed in the music of my own era–the music that I guess rock musicians now think of as “roots” music–and in the blues, whose prime exponents were still alive and very much active, though their most influential work, the work that formed the roots for my contemporary heroes, had been done decades earlier.
It’s strange to think that the contemporary music that I grew up with is the stuff these guys think of as their roots. (One of them told me that my harp work, coming through the RP355’s Leslie effect, reminded him of Garth Hudson with the Band. No more recent reference point?) It’s a little weird, too, to think that the best stuff in the rock genre was apparently the first. But maybe that’s the way it’s always been. Did anyone do bebop better than Charlie Parker? John Popper once said that Arnie Lawrence, the saxophonist who was one of his first teachers, told him that the first cry from a baby’s mouth was the blues, and after that it was all showbiz. So maybe the draw that this music has for the young men I played with last week is that it’s the first cry, and the last before showbiz took over completely. Which, as American Idol, X Factor, and The Voice demonstrate, it has. Whatever else those shows are about, they are not about new and daring repertoire.