Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Give the Gift of Music

B.B. King’s book of treasures, Wynton Marsalis, Dr. John, Patti Smith, others.

One of our favorite books this holiday season is “The B.B. King Treasures: Photos, Mementos and Music from B.B. King’s Collection” (Bullfinch Press, $40).

It’s an oversized book with plenty of illustrations from B.B.’s illustrious past, easy to read and fun to look through, with every page offering fascinating glimpses of a gifted musician who made it to the top with his talent and winning personality.

“The B.B. King Treasures” has just received an award from Blues Foundation of Memphis, which administers the Handy Awards. Compiled by the king of the blues with the help of photographer Dick Waterman, the book contains 116 full-color and black-and-white photographs, along with several posters and other mementos from King’s collection, as well as a CD on which the 80-year-old artist recalls his long career. The CD also has two previously unreleased songs.

The CD features two Arkansas-related vignettes. B.B. talks about that fire in a juke joint in Twist, Ark., where two men had started a fight over a woman and knocked over a kerosene heater, sending everyone outside, but B.B. ran back inside and saved his guitar from the inferno.

The name of the woman the men had fought over, he later found out, was named Lucille, so he named his guitar after her.

King also talks about Louis Jordan, a Brinkley native who influenced B.B.’s music about as much as anyone else. B.B. plays one or two of Jordan’s hits — “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman,” “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town,” “Caldonia” — at almost every show.

At $40, this book is a bargain and would make a great gift for anyone who has any interest in the blues at all. It’s beautifully produced on quality paper with posters and cards tucked into wax paper, all of them suitable for framing.

How can the publisher do it so cheaply? “The B.B. King Treasures” was printed in China.

The book traces King’s life from near Itta Bena, Miss., to a proclamation at the state Capitol in Jackson marking B.B. King Day in Mississippi and ends with photos of President Clinton and Pope John Paul II. The Delta sharecropper has come a long way indeed.

Give music as holiday presents and you can also help hurricane victims. Wynton Marsalis and Elton John are featured on two new Blue Note CDs whose proceeds will support relief efforts in Louisiana.

Shirles Caeser starts off “Higher Ground: Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert,” which was recorded Sept. 17 at New York’s Lincoln Center, with “This Joy,” a rousing gospel number. In addition to Marsalis, the all-star CD features such top-notch artists as Terence Blanchard, Aaron and Art Neville, Diane Krall, James Taylor, Dianne Reeves, Marcus Roberts Trio, Norah Jones, Buckwheat Zydeco, Bette Midler, Irvin Mayfield, Jordan Family, Joe Lovano, Cassandra Wilson, Mark O’Connor and the Lincoln Jazz Orchestra, which Marsalis has directed for many years.

Not all the artists on the program are from New Orleans — in fact, few of them are from the Big Easy — but they evoke the spirit of New Orleans with their music that traces its roots to the crescent city. It’s a great gumbo of sound, from jazz to blues to pop to gospel, with all the participants pouring their hearts out for the victims, many of whom are still scattered as far north as Arkansas and beyond.

Marsalis, a native of New Orleans who helped revive jazz more than 25 years ago as a very young trumpet player, deserves credit for making this extraordinary concert happen and for keeping the music of New Orleans alive.

Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John, and the Lower 911 band, also do their thing for their home town with music that is all water-themed: Numbers include “Clean Water,” “Wade: Hurricane Suite,” singing achingly for a community that has disappeared but one that is determined to come back.

Columbia Legacy celebrates the 30th anniversary of Patti Smith’s seminal “Horses” LP with a gorgeously remastered double CD featuring Robert Map-plethorpe’s black-and-white photographs that helped solidify Smith’s image as an original artist — as original as the photographer but who is still creating: Smith sounds better than ever on the second CD, which was recorded earlier this year in London. Her music isn’t so much punk rock as art rock: An original voice who continues to entertain and amaze.


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