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Best. Live. Performances. Ever. Attended.

I’ll go first.

Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, Sandstone (W.Va.) High School Gymnasium. 1959. Bill was pissed because the total gate was less than $200 but he was there with musicians and once he started to play the money thing disappeared. All the great ones: “Uncle Pen,” “Footprints in the Snow,” “Little Maggie,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Molly and Tenbrooks,” “In the Pines.”

Update 1: Stop me if you’ve heard this one. I saw Charlie Mingus play one night at the Five Spot Cafe in 1963. First day of the first time I was ever in New York. Ron Carter and some of the Miles Davis crowd were on first but I couldn’t take my eyes off Mingus as he sat alone eating during the set. Elegant man in a sharp grey suit but something coiled and dark–like a loaded pistol sitting on a chair. You know it’s deadly just because it’s there.

Then he took the stage. One, two, three…Toshiko Akiyoshi starts “A Foggy Day” on piano. A few bars and Mingus stopped playing. 30 second pause. One, two, three, a few bars, same thing. Mingus put his bass down and disappeared into the kitchen, emerging a minute or two later carrying a large, butcher knife. He made a show of doing something with a string and laid the knife down on a table in front of him.

One, two, three…stop. Mingus picked up the knife and walked to a table where a guy was so busy talking to his girlfriend that he didn’t see him coming. Suddenly, he realizes there is a 10-inch knife stuck in the middle of the wooden table in front of him. Mingus glared as the couple grabbed their coats and ran for their lives. The concert continued as if nothing had happened.

So, this is the big city, I thought. Cool.

Update 2: Circa 1973. An outdoor park near Wilmington, Delaware. The last days of Porter and Dolly although Porter and the several hundred of us misplaced Appalachians gathered around the bandstand didn’t know it yet. It wouldn’t be the first, or last, time that the pretty young protege dumped an older mentor and lover to become a much bigger star. Toward the end, Dolly came out with a guitar and sang a “new” song called “I Will Always Love You.” The hair was fake, even then, but the tears were very real.

(More to come)

Comments

Comment from John Clare
Time: June 18, 2008, 10:06 am

Last fall I heard Berg Violin Concerto with Christian Tetzlaff, with the Boston Symphony and James Levine (who is 65 Monday, can you believe it?) followed by Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. It was amazing music making, perhaps the finest I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience.

Comment from Jeff Harrington
Time: June 18, 2008, 12:40 pm

I got to meet Mingus at the New Orleans Jazz Festival back in 1981. We went backstage after a solo set. Well, backstage was a tent. My friend Earl Robichaux, a Cajun avant garde composer friend, had written a bass piece specifically for Mingus. He timidly went up to him and said, ‘Uh… Mr. Mingus? I wrote this piece for you…’ Mingus looked at us for a few seconds took the score. Looked at it for a second and then said dismissively, ‘I don’t play that shit…’ We backed out of there fast! :)

One of my favorite performances was Ivan Moravec in Carnegie Hall. While playing one of the Debussy Preludes he broke a string in the piano. He walks offstage and comes back with a new one. Opens up the lid some more and replaces it with a wrench he has in his pocket. Sits down at the piano and tunes it for a bit. Lowers the lid and starts the Prelude again at the beginning.

Best performance ever… for me might be The Meters backing Stevie Wonder in 1976 (Living in the City tour) at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. We were in high school and skipped classes to make $50 a day picking up trash and setting up stage. The set started with a smoking version of Superstition with Ziggy Modeliste starting in with the drums right after that crazy funk riff so tight I almost fainted. Two years later we’d have a bake sale at our high school so they’d play at both our Junior and Senior proms. My idea! Well me and my bestfriend Barney (ex-vp of Warner Brothers records).

Another truly exciting performance for me was the world premiere of Carter’s Syringa. He had gotten all of his student’s great box seats and we were right on top of the action. Not my favorite piece – but I was still fresh in NYC and Juilliard still seemed exciting. The whole evening was magical.

Comment from Joseph Benzola
Time: June 18, 2008, 1:09 pm

Hey Harrington…you must of met the ghost of Mingus because he died in 1979! I always thought you were a spiritualist :-)

I saw Alice Coltrane/Shakti in 1978. Mclaughlin came out and played a solo version of My favorite Things! Elvin Jones at the Vanguard in 1980 with Miles Davis kneeling in front of his base drum. The Art Ensemble of Chicago. McCoy at My Fathers Place in 1976. Margaret Leng Tan playing Cage and Feldman, and of course Frank Zappa on numerous Halloweens at the old Felt Forum.

Comment from Jeff Harrington
Time: June 18, 2008, 1:13 pm

Wo must have been in 1976 then while I was at LSU with Earl. I saw Miles in 73 in New Orleans. Allman Bros at the Warehouse in 1972! :) Still in high school – got permission to stay up all night for this once concert. I think the bill was Gentle Giant – then Yes – then The Allmann Brothers. Weird.

Comment from paul bailey
Time: June 18, 2008, 1:32 pm

i can’t say i ever saw mingus play when he was alive, but my favorite live jazz show was hanging with luis bonilla (nyc trombonist/los angeles native) at a mingus big band gig when they played at the fez. because it was iaje week there so many amazing musicians who sat in during the night. (i realized i was having drinks next to ray anderson). after this gig we went to an after hours club that luis was hosting a latin jam. the place was so packed that to take a solo they passed you a horn to play a few choruses of giant steps.

another favorite performances were the free summer concerts that the count basie big band gave playing to the lawn of the nelson art gallery in kansas city. (82-86). i think the 20,000+ crowd was an incredible communal experience.

Comment from Alex Shapiro
Time: June 18, 2008, 2:25 pm

Three great memories spring to mind, two of whom have been mentioned above.

Toshiko Akiyoshi: I think I just about fell out of my chair when I heard her and Lew Tabackin perform while in residence at the Aspen Music Festival about 30, count ‘em, 30 years ago. I was a 16 year old composition student, and everything about Akiyoshi and the music she was so completely in charge of just resonated unrelentingly, and changed the way I hear.

Mstislav Rostropovich: also almost 30 years ago (apparently great music memories are deeply embedded): I will never forget watching him conduct his late friend Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 5″ at Carnegie Hall, tears streaming uncontrollably down my face. It felt so damn good to become that unglued.

Stevie Wonder: just a couple of years ago. It turned out that he was close friends with a widely beloved man I knew for a long time in Los Angeles who had passed away. After the funeral service, a subset of us were invited to a garden reception across town, where several of the departed’s great jazzer pals took turns spontaneously playing in tribute. Very low key, all of it. As the after-party wound down at the end of the day, I saw Stevie enter with a friend and quietly take a seat at the table behind me. Shortly afterward, he made his way up to the piano, sat down, and with no fuss, no ego, and certainly no pre-planning, mesmerized us with the most astoundingly gorgeous and heart-felt solo playing and vocals, sharing many of his best known tunes. There were maybe just thirty of us there by that time; it was very intimate. The emotion of Stevie’s love for his late friend, and the absolute, other-worldly pitch-perfect perfection of his soaring tenor voice, are indelibly beautiful.

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: June 18, 2008, 4:14 pm

Jeff wrote: I think the bill was Gentle Giant – then Yes – then The Allmann Brothers. Weird.

Equally strange, I saw Yes in Aug ’72 in Portland (they played all of Close to the Edge a month before we could buy the album), and the two bands opening were the then-new Eagles and Edgar Winter.

Comment from Joseph Benzola
Time: June 18, 2008, 4:44 pm

Hey Paul:

Funny that you mentioned Ray Anderson as I am listening to Brahma (Anderson/Mark Helias/Barry Altschul) as I type this! Ray is a monster.

Comment from Jeffrey Tucker
Time: June 18, 2008, 4:50 pm

Juilliard organist Paul Jacobs playing the complete Messiaen organ works at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta about 4 years ago. I understand that organ music, and Messiaen’s in particular, is not exactly everyone’s cup of tea, but this was an astonishing performance, a feat not only of remarkable stamina but of astonishing musicianship. A whole kaleidoscopic worldview in one long afternoon.

Comment from zeno
Time: June 18, 2008, 5:35 pm

… “(apparently great music memories are deeply embedded)” …

— Alex Shapiro

*

Berg Violin Concerto with Leonid Kogan and the Philadelphia in 1968; Mahler Symphony #9 with George Szell and the Cleveland in 1970; Messiaen La transfiguration de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ with Antal Dorati and the National Symphony and Chorus in 1972; Birtwistle’s Fields of Sorrow, Verses for Ensemble, and Chronometer under the composer in 1974; Britten’s Peter Grimes with Jon Vickers and Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten with Karl Bohm and Walter Berry, Leonie Rysanek, and Birgit Nilsson (?), both in San Francisco in the Fall of 1976 [along with Imbrie’s Angle of Respose] …

Comment from Dennis Bathory-Kitsz
Time: June 18, 2008, 6:02 pm

It’s so hard to choose. A couple of years ago in my blog I’d talked about live performances as well as a couple of recordings with the same magical effect.

Among the live ones, the most compelling was the hair-raising amateur performance of Schoenberg’s “A Survivor from Warsaw” in New Jersey in (I think) 1965. Probably the second would have been “December ’91” by Margriet Hoenderdos at De IJsbreker; it was maddening in its presence and marvelous in its memory. One I left out of my older list was the premiere of Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” at Town Hall in 1976, an incredibly joyful night.

Dennis

The blog entry was
http://maltedmedia.com/people/bathory/waam-20060713.html

Comment from J L Zaimont
Time: June 18, 2008, 6:58 pm

For me: Hearing Sviatoslav Richter live at his summer festival (France) at the Grange de Meslay in July 1972. It was an all-Skriabin program, and this converted barn was freezing; most of the audience wore gloves.

The program concluded with the Fifth Sonata — good, but not great. ( He must have been freezing up there.) When he came out to acknowledge the applause, he stopped, put up one hand, shook his head No — then sat down and played the Sonata again!
— Incandescently wonderful.

Comment from david toub
Time: June 18, 2008, 7:20 pm

Hands down: the Emerson String Quartet playing the entire Bartok quartets in a single 3-hour evening at Alice Tully Hall in the ?late 70s or ?early 80s (I can’t remember exactly when). At the time, the Bartok quartets were still considered at least slightly ”out there,“ and the entire audience as far as I know stayed for the entire thing, and were clearly in love with the music.

Another: Lazar Berman’s debut orchestral performance in NYC, which was rudely interrupted not once, but twice by JDL protesters with noise blasters. Berman didn’t miss a note in the Prokofiev 1st and 3rd piano concerti. That’s amazing concentration.

In terms of new music, it probably was a concert around 1980 or so in a rock club in Chicago by the Philip Glass Ensemble. It was the first time I heard them live, and they did some of MITP (part 8 as I recall), as well as Dance 5.

Surprised no one has mentioned the S21 concert two years ago. That had to have been one of my favorites. Of all time.

Comment from lawrencedillon
Time: June 18, 2008, 8:04 pm

Most. Memorable. Performance. Ever.

Mid-70s at a small music camp in Vermont. A quartet of cellists: David Finckel, later of the Emerson Quartet, his cousins Michael and Chris Finckel, both later to become big in NYC new music circles, and Michael and Chris’s father, who I just knew as Mr. Finckel. The piece was by Michael, for four cellos and narrator. The narration was written for an elderly man we were told was once a fine baritone, but he had a stroke that left his speech almost indecipherably garbled. I believe he told an old Native American legend, but I may be wrong about that – it was difficult to understand what he was saying. The sound of the English language tortured almost beyond recognition by a man who was doing his damnedest to be as clear as possible was terrifying, beautiful, truly stunning. The cellos imitated his monstrous wailing with overlapping glissandos and bent tones. At the end, all four cellists played their open C strings, gradually turning the tuning pegs down – a slowly blurring tone cluster, descending into inaudibility.

As children, we quickly realize that music speaks to us like nothing else can.

Then, every once in a while, you hear a piece that speaks to you as no other music can.

Comment from David Salvage
Time: June 18, 2008, 9:51 pm

Dawn Upshaw, Geoff Lytall in Peter Sellars’s staged production of Gyorgy Kurtag’s “Kafka Fragmente.” Zankel Hall, couple of years ago. Un. Be. Liev. Able.

Comment from David D. McIntire
Time: June 18, 2008, 10:19 pm

Let’s see…

Frank Zappa at the Buffalo War Memorial in 1978. Adrian Belew and Terry Bozzio were in the group. I cried after one of Frank’s solos.

John Cale in 1981. Among the most intense rock performances I’ve ever seen and I was six feet from the stage.

Cecil Taylor in a church sanctuary in Rochester in 1986 or so.

Steve Reich and Musicians around the same time. They played two sections of Drumming, which was among the loudest things I’d ever heard.

Vermeer Quartet playing Kurtag and the Beethoven Op. 131.

Art Ensemble of Chicago, Leroy Jenkins solo, Robert Fripp and the League of Gentlemen, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman on the Song X tour, Leon Fleischer.

Comment from J.C. Combs
Time: June 18, 2008, 10:27 pm

Though I’m not a huge fan of Springsteen, he is great live. Saw him back in the late 80s or early 90s during his “Tunnel of Love.” He had a rockabilly set, I believe “Adam Raised a Kane” thru “She’s the One.” The drums hit you in the chest, it was so loud. He has a lot of energy.

Then there is Beethoven. Caught is act over in the U-District at this medium-sized hall (can’t stand the huge concert halls and their perfect CD-quality recordings). They were performing the 5th. Of course, I would have prefered the 9th. But to hear it in person sitting halfway back and in the middle of the row (right behind the recording mechanisms), I was surprised what power that number punched in person in this modest hall. My hands were balled up into fists most of the way through and my heart rate was rising with the volume of the symphony. Very memorable.

Then there was the time my ex-girlfriend snuck me up into the box seats at Benaroya Hall right after intermission. She was sure no one was coming back, but I was admittedly scared. Luckily the performer really played Chopin well and looking right down to the piano quickly calmed my senses.

Comment from Sparky P.
Time: June 18, 2008, 11:58 pm

A few of my favorites:
1. Frank Zappa, Hartford, CT, 10/80: Although I remember actually so little of it (a few years later, someone saw me wearing the tour shirt, saying that he was there as well, but felt that Zappa had gone “too commercial” at the time) but (and like the above poster) the solos were fantastic and I hope to find a bootleg from that gig (for now I’ll settle for performances from other shows around that time).
2. Simon & Garfunkel, Central Park, 9/81: Lost in sea of humanity (“ten thousand people, maybe more”) and having a fun time.
3. Baltimore Symphony, ca.1988, performing “Photoptosis” by Bernd Alois Zimmermann, conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy.
4. Kronos Quartet, Stony Brook, NY, 3/90: Program included Steve Reich’s “Different Trains” and John Zorn’s “Cat o’ Nine Tails” (the wackiest string quartet I ever heard).
5. American Mavericks series, San Francisco Symphony, 1996: Steve Reich’s “City Life”.
6. Dave Brubeck, ca. 1997: I can’t remember the name of the church where he was performing (it was in Berkeley, on Durant Street) and I was passing by and could only get but a glimpse when I peeked in and could only faintly hear something as he was soloing from the back for only a few seconds but just seeing him and thinking about “Strange Meadow Lark” still bring tears to my eyes, thinking, “Hey, I JUST SAW BRUBECK!”
7. Flux Quartet, Morton Feldman, SQ2, LA, April 15, 2006: Finally!
8. Steve Reich & Musicians, 6/2000, San Francisco: Music for 18 Musicians.

Comment from Mark Winges
Time: June 19, 2008, 2:27 am

1. First time I heard the Rite of Spring live: College-Conservatory of Music, freshman year (I’d loved the piece all through high school, but had never heard it live)
2. Mstislav Rostropovich, cellist (thanks, Alex), London, January, 1999, premiere of a piece by Gubaidulina (new piece written for him), Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations, Saint-Saens Cello Concerto
3. Berlin Phil / Rattle in SF, 2005 (?): Haydn, Sibelius, Debussy, Dutilleux, to my surprise, the Haydn was a standout
4. Zappa, May, 1973, double bill with the original Mahavishnu Orchestra, Cincinnati
5. Esa-Pekka Salonen, guest conducting the SF Symphony, his own Insomnia and an incredible version of Bartok’s Miraculous Mandarin
6. Ligeti Grand Macabre, SF Opera
7. Schoenberg, Gurrelieder, Boston Symphony, Levine, 2006, the soprano was Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson, and I believe this was one of her last appearances

Comment from David Smooke
Time: June 19, 2008, 9:04 am

Pierre-Laurent Aimard playing Messiaen’s “Vingt Regards…” live in Chicago. From memory.

Comment from Eric Ehrmann
Time: June 19, 2008, 10:19 am

An unidentified string quartet in the Mozart-Salle in Salzburg in 1981. I can’t remember the programm. Sound bouncing off the high marble walls. Small audience. No amplification. Just like it would have sounded 300 years ago.

Comment from Jeff Harrington
Time: June 19, 2008, 12:11 pm

This is a very memorable S21 topic. Makes me proud to be a musician!

Comment from Joseph Benzola
Time: June 19, 2008, 12:13 pm

<>

No fucking way!!! What are the details Mark.

Comment from Joseph Benzola
Time: June 19, 2008, 12:29 pm

Hold on Mark…the body of the quote is missing:

4. Zappa, May, 1973, double bill with the original Mahavishnu Orchestra, Cincinnati

Comment from Bill
Time: June 19, 2008, 1:51 pm

Grateful Dead in Eugene, OR in 1994. I swear they raised Autzen Stadium off the ground a foot or two…
Zero (northern California jam band), in Petaluma, CA New Years 1994. Blew the doors off the place, I was never the same after that show (in a good way).

Comment from Seth Gordon
Time: June 19, 2008, 6:59 pm

There’s a few tied for #1:

Naked City reunion show on Zorn’s 40th Birthday.

Back in high school – circa ’85 give or take – Black Flag in the basement of some middle-aged chickenhawk in a nearby town who would host punk shows because, well, he liked seeing shirtless boys jump around. Somehow his makeshift “club” became a big part of the New England punk scene and a regular stop for bands who’d normally be too big to play in some dude’s basement. Probably because he was really loaded and would pay well.

The Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet. Also at Tonic. Mats Gustaffson and Ken Vandermark were tearin’ shit up like they were fighting for the gold medal in the Tearin’ Shit Up Olympics.

Slayer, opening for Motorhead. Boston, ’88 or so.

Cecil Taylor and Max Roach. ‘Nuff said. Actually, just about every time I’ve seen Cecil has been right up near the top.

Neurosis/Tribes of Neurot, “Times of Grace” tour, at some club I can’t remember the name of in Worcester, MA. There were hallucinogens involved, though, so maybe put an asterisk on that one…

Comment from Mark Winges
Time: June 19, 2008, 8:29 pm

Hi Joseph B.:

I believe I’m remembering it correctly. I know I saw Mahavishnu twice. First time was around the time Berry Oakley was killed. Mahavishnu was the warm-up band (and the one I came to hear). Allman Bros. were supposed to be the headliner, but with the death of Oakley, it was Spirit (remember Randy California & Ed Cassidy?), whom I did NOT stay to see. John M & the boys were enough for me. I’m am almost certain the 2nd time was that May concert. It was right around mother’s day (appropriate). Again, Mahavishnu was first. I recall the energy, and I think that they did some stuff off the Birds of Fire album. Don’t remember if they did Dream or any of the stuff that ended up on that live album that was released a little later.

Zappa was doing the Yellow Snow sequence and if I remember right, had both Ponty and Sal Marquez (trumpet) with him. I think George Duke. He might have already had the duo drummers going (there’s probably someplace one could look that up). A surprising thing to me was the Ian Underwood did a solo or two, and I remember being really surprised that they were really nice solos. I’d always thought of him as a weaker improvisor than some of the other guys in the band (well, like Jean-Luc for sure).

I saw Zappa several times over those years. First time was in Cincinnati Music Hall [!!!] (you know, where the Cincinnati Symphony plays) in ’70 or ’71, I think. With Flo & Eddie and Dunbar on drums (whom he flipped off a couple of times). And I saw Zappa several times after I moved out to SF. I know Mahavishnu came through Cincinnati once more, at a smaller club venue, and I missed that one.

But I remember McLaughlin and Zappa back to back as pretty incredible, even if some of the details are missing at this distance.

Getting a little off topic here, drop me a line privately if you like.

Mark W.

Comment from Mark Winges
Time: June 19, 2008, 8:32 pm

Oops forgot to add – Joseph, my email is mdwcomposer at earthlink – dot – net.

Comment from Joseph Benzola
Time: June 19, 2008, 10:34 pm

I have to concur Seth, Cecil live is simply unbelievable. I have seen Cecil countless times in all types of situations from solo to big band. His duets with Max were great but my favorite Cecil experience was probably at Sweet Basils in 1980/1981. He had a double quartet that I swear was the loudest and most intense show I have ever been at. If I remember the band consisted of Cecil, Sunny Murray and Jerome Cooper on drums, Jimmy Lyons and Henry Threadgill on reeds, Ramsey Ameen violin, Abdul Wadud Cello, and Fred Hopkins on bass. Sweet Basils was not a big club but it was the only club that Cecil would play in NYC. He had his 9′ Bosendorfer in tow and I swear it felt like you were in the band because all of the table’s were so close to the bandstand! His set was nearly 3 hours of continuous sound. Ahhh, the good old days :-)

Oh yea, then there was Sun Ra at Soundscapes!!!!

Comment from Dan
Time: June 20, 2008, 10:30 am

Can’t name top one but a few:
(1) Seeing Faith No More with my (then) girlfriend at the Rocky Point Paladium in RI. Right before they came on
she warned me there’d be a ‘big push’ then a (slam-dancing) pit would form. I did not heed the warning — got shoved forward and into
the pit. Loved it. Next few years were a daze of FNM, Helmet, Ministry and Pantera
(2) Rubalcaba at the Blue Note. Was never a big fan of jazz. He built up a simple tune amazingly — over 5, 10, 15 minutes.
Saw him a few times after that though all preformances paled in comparison to the first
(3) NY Phil with Arcadi Volodos soloing in Prokofiev 2nd. Somehow (as part of young subscribers club) got 3rd row seats.
Will never forget the moment when brass roar in the first movement right after the cadenza. Sounded like a death train
roaring through the hall. Always thought of that performance after 9/11 when I almost left NY. Decided to stay — largely due
to that performance. Hard to explain why or how they are related