Monday, May 2, 2011

JT @ Carnegie

Perspectives: James Taylor
April 12, 20 and May 6, 9, 2011
Carnegie Hall, 7th Avenue & 57th Street

Carnegie Hall has been music’s premiere venue since Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky conducted the Hall’s first concert on May 5, 1891. Along with thousands of classical artists, many rock, pop and folk musicians have “made it” at Carnegie Hall, including the Beatles, who played there in 1964 (on the day I was born, if you care).

So it makes sense that this season, James Taylor would curate his own Perspectives, four Carnegie concerts in which the legendary singer-songwriter traces his own musical antecedents and celebrates his more than 40-year hit-making career.

Taylor’s Perspectives began on April 12 with a gala concert commemorating the Hall’s 120th year, and the musician was joined onstage by an impressive array of star performers, from Bette Midler and Broadway legend Barbara Cook to Steve Martin and Sting.

The concert following that on April 20 was the most intriguing of the entire series. James Taylor: Roots saw the affable Taylor introduce the music he grew up listening to and was influenced by and guest stars that performed during the two-hour show. In addition to playing his classics like “Fire and Rain,” “Your Smiling Face” and “Never Die Young,” Taylor played lesser-known tunes off his eponymously-titled debut album (“Night Owl,” “Rainy Day Man”) and songs from his early, teen bar band days (“Old Blue”).

Ever the generous collaborator, Taylor ceded center stage to a terrific lineup of collaborators, like guitarist Jerry Douglas, who played “Hey Joe,” and Danny Kortchmar, an old friend who sang his own “Machine Gun Kelly.” Robert Cray put down killer blues licks on “Sittin’ on Top of the World” and “Goin’ to New York,” while the woman Taylor introduced by calling her the world’s best singer, Allison Krauss, lived up to that billing on “Never Never Land” from Peter Pan and in two lovely duets with Taylor: “Why Baby Why” and “How’s the World Treating You.”

Although the previously-announced Vince Gill and Amy Grant were no-shows due to a family emergency, no one minded when Taylor announced their replacement: the one and only Tony Bennett, who duetted with the gracious host on the first encore, “Put on a Happy Face” from Bye Bye Birdie. Once Taylor finished the show with Oklahoma’s signature song, “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” it had become quite a beautiful evening for the sated crowd.

Two Perspectives concerts remain. On May 6, in the more intimate Zankel Hall, Guitar Conversations finds Taylor discussing and playing his choice instrument alongside fellow musicians Jerry Douglas and Michael Landau. And on May 9, in the main Stern Auditorium, will be what JT fans have been waiting for: Quintessential James Taylor and His Band, a performance of four decades’ worth of greatest hits by one of America’s signature singer-songwriters.

(photo by James O'Mara)

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