Friday, December 24, 2010

Hot Tuna Rocks TLV

Last Wednesday, December 22, on the day before Jorma Kaukonen's 70th birthday, Hot Tuna played at Reading 3, a club at the north end of the Tel Aviv Port. Standing in front of the stage, I was very happy to know that Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady still rock and we are still not worthy.

I'm from the 60's and one of the greatest bands of that era was the Jefferson Airplane. Of all the guitar heroes ever to play The Music, you can count on one hand the ones who can play with Jorma (and that's without additional fingers from drug-induced retention of vision). The man hardly moves while his fingers create cascades of complex riffs, teasing dozens of notes out of a single position on the guitar neck with those luxurious bends.

Jorma's life long friend and bassist, Jack Casady, is a show unto himself. I learned over 40 years ago that you have to get up close to the stage at an Airplane or Hot Tuna concert so you can watch Jack's bouncing eyebrows and facial expressions, accompanied by his talking or singing, Just when you think he's lost in his trance, Jack strides to the edge of the stage, making eye contact with the audience and letting us all in on the cosmic joke.

The magic underlying The Duke Ellington Orchestra was that he kept the same players together for 25 or 30 years at a time. Musicians who play together for long stretches just know, without looking or speaking, what their band mates are going to improvise in the next instant. Improvised riffs played by masters who still really love what they're playing sound spontaneous and fresh even though you may have heard pieces of them before. (Hey, even Beethoven would recycle themes and phrases.) Whether Ellington wanted to experiment with his avant-garde sacred music or just play Take the A Train, the orchestra was right there with him.

Jorma and Jack were in a high school band together 52 years ago. After their years in the Airplane, they formed Hot Tuna to throttle back a bit and play the music they really like - a mix of blues, folk and rock. Which is also music I really like. They still clearly love what they're doing. And I still clearly love to watch them do it. At a few points in the set they'd just look at each other, play something that sometimes sounded like an old Airplane riff, and smile. There is nothing so satisfying as watching people do the only thing they ever wanted to do and doing it as well as it can be done.

Photo Credits: All photographs are by Danny Chamovitz and used with permission.


Danny said...

Picture credits?

David Stolow said...

My sincere apology. In the world of IP and science one must always give credit for another's work. Particularly when the work was graciously provided for the occasion. So, the photographs were taken by Daniel A. Chamovitz, Ph.D.,
Director, Manna Center for Plant Biosciences,
Department of Molecular Biology and Ecology of Plants,Tel Aviv University, a/k/a my cousin, Danny.

Anonymous said...

Nice blog!
Glad you got to see Tuna.

By the way, Jack CASADY has had his name misspelled more than any musician I know of...

David Stolow said...

Thank you for the kind words and the spelling lesson. What's amazing is not that I can't spell Jack's last name but I seem to have gotten Jorma's correct. I will correct the blog.