By Gary Zellerbach on May 01, 2006
I was recently in New York City and of course wanted to take in some jazz. The first stop was the Iridium to see Les Paul, the 90 year old wonder who is credited with inventing the solid body electric guitar (among other things). I'd heard that he'd been ill and in the hospital, and it was great to see him recovered and back on the stage. It made me think, too, that there might not be many more chances to see him in person.
It was a lot of fun. Of course he doesn't blaze up and down the strings like he did 50 years ago, but he had a fine group around him and his presence was magical. He also displayed quite the sense of humor (replete with more than a tad of sexual innuendo!). My kids came with us and asked me afterwards if "all" jazz shows are like that. The answer is definitely not, but it was pretty awesome seeing a true legend, and I think even the kids'll appreciate it some day (they're not that young).
A few days later, the next stop was Birdland to see Gary Burton Generations featuring Julian Lage on the guitar. Back a long time ago, I was lead guitarist in a fusion jazz band in Boston managed by Ted Kurland who also managed Gary Burton at the time. (Gary and Ted have continued to have awesome careers as true leaders in their field. As for me, I got a "day job" a long time ago, though I can still play the guitar at least!) Anyway, Ted booked our band several times as opening act for Gary Burton concerts, so I had the chance to admire his incredible talent up close. I hadn't seen him since, and I can tell you he is still the master of the vibes and a true joy to watch. But I also went to see Julian. I'd heard tales of this prodigy guitarist coming out of Santa Rosa (just north of the Bay Area where I live), and when I saw he was playing with Gary Burton, I was there.
Julian is 18, a mere 72 years younger than Les (and thus the clever title of this posting). And Julian is burning. He was not over-hyped. He has phenomenal technique and an original style of jazz that seems to be his own, incorporating all sorts of influences -- classical music, older swing type playing, and more recent influences that reminded me at times of Kurt Rosenwinkel and Bill Frisell. Those comparisons are weak, though -- they don't do him justice.
Julian had a great smile while he played and just made the viewer feel happy and involved. He was also very polite when I spoke with him between sets. He said he's off to Berklee College of Music to study film scoring -- I don't think he has to worry much about learning to play the guitar any better! I'd give him an A+. Check him out when you get the chance.