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Steve Miller and Jimmie Vaughan at Jazz at Lincoln Center


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No matter what the style where African-American influences and developments upon the modern music scene have been pervasive—work songs, ragtime, jazz, stride, and boogie-woogie, the most important contribution has been the Blues. The country Blues as heard by pioneers such as Robert Johnson, The City Blues epitomized by Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, Rhythm n' Blues as iterated by players like Robert Cray continue to provide the major foundation for jazz and the other aforementioned musics. Muddy Waters, B.B. King and other Blues legends continue to inspire Eric Clapton and rock cohorts such as Steve Miller and Jimmie Vaughan.

Although the hit rock records that Miller and Vaughan have produced over the last decades contained various electric mixes and other sonic injections, the basic 12 bar Blues developed centuries ago by early African-Americans remains the bedrock structure of their oeuvre. And in a Lincoln Center concert on April 6 performed without the pyrotechnics of their recordings the form was laid bare. Selection after selection often with wearying repetition, the duo performed music which was long ago delivered with an expertise that modernists have not challenged. Blues standards such as Ma Rainey's "Prove it On Me Blues" and "C.C. Rider," Clarence Gatemouth Brown's "Dirty Work at the Crossroads" and Roy Milton's "R.M. Blues" were resurrected in dutiful performances. Highlights included Craig Handy's spirited solo work on several selections and solid backup work by altoist Patrick Bartley and B3 keyboardist Mike Flanigin.

I am reminded of Eric Clapton's commentary when a boxed set of Robert Johnson's music was issued over a decade ago. Clapton was insistent that the essence of the Blues could only be heard by a Delta purist such as Johnson who performed without any commercial intention whatsoever. The bare bones Blues sounds in the Miller-Vaughan showcase underscored the prescience of Clapton's observations.

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