A Tale of Two Guitars
I found myself in cramped seating at the Blue Note Jazz Club (West 3rd Street NYC) on December 10, 2016. Great sight line to the stage. The occasion was Chick Corea’s 75th Birthday Celebration. A pal had an extra ticket. This night, Corea celebrated his 75th and presided over John McLaughlin, a fusion powerhouse and guitar picker. McLaughlin, 74, has over 5 decades of musicianship and influence. He is called the ‘Best Guitarist Alive’ by Jeff Beck and Pat Metheny. He played with Miles Davis on no less than 5 studio albums. John in 1969 jammed with Jimi Hendrix and was captured on a recording from the Record Plant NYC. A storied career, an early pioneer in playing Indian music to Indians and bringing a wide range of musical styles to the world (thank you Wikipedia).
As I settled back in my uncomfortable chair, musical memories started clicking À la recherché du temps perdu – In search for lost time. Next to the sense of smell, music triggers the brains memory banks and is the closest to a time machine we have.
McLaughlin settled in playing a duet with Corea, some T. Monk, a few Miles songs, and their own compositions. I overheard the Israeli’s seated at the next table (the proximity of the chairs made eavesdropping inevitable) that McLaughlin’s style influenced so many artists, especially instrumental in bringing jazz fusion to popularity with Miles Davis. They also praised McLaughlin’s exotic scales and unusual time signatures and technical precision and his playing incorporated aggressive speed. I don’t know much about the other comments but the comment on aggressive speed was evident this evening and triggered my memory of another ‘speedster’ on the neck of a guitar.
The time was 28th February 1969 and the place: The Fillmore East @ 2nd Avenue NYC – a landmark plaque is the only evidence this concert hall existed. Ten Years after that night, I had tickets for the 8pm show and snuck in the backstage door for the midnight show – I was a silly teenager with a Nehru collar shirt, long hair and a fairly stupid look across my face (my friends tell me nothing much has changed after 40 years). Alvin Lee played guitar, or rather accelerated his fingers across the guitar neck like a loud boisterous rocket.
As I got lost in Corea’s jazzy chords and McLaughlin’s fast finger playing, Alvin Lee’s rock and blues chords and fret work filled my head. It was if Lee and McLaughlin were in a battle, dueling back and forth much like he was with Corea – a riff of notes answered by another riff.
The Corea set ended and in the slow push out the door I found myself uplifted, euphoric in the moment. The musical notes and rhythms linger and swarm your feelings. I can’t know for sure but that evening on a cold NYC night, two guitarists known for speedy fingers collapsed in my mind and I was the better for it.