Full disclosure: In covering the show at the Honokaa People’s Theatre, Stanley Jordan Plays Jimi, this reviewer comes to the table having written three books on Jimi Hendrix, and has had connections to the Hendrix family’s fanzine, as well as publishing my own Hendrix fanzine Straight Ahead for many years. So, I was eager to see guitarist Stanley Jordan’s performance, knowing the accolades for his work with such jazz luminaries as Quincy Jones and Stanley Clarke, and his four Grammy nominations over his 38-year career. What sets him apart from his jazz guitarist colleagues is an innovative two-handed tapping technique that allows him to play multiple parts using both hands in more of a pianistic style.
Jordan has been touring with a show called Stanley Plays Jimi for six months now, with bass guitarist Gary Kelly and drummer/keyboardist Kenwood Dennard. In a recent interview, Jordan told me this is his fantasy Hendrix concert about how he imagined the immortal guitar god might sound and look if he were still alive. When Jordan was 11, he was so emotionally struck hearing of Hendrix’s passing, that he pivoted from piano to guitar as his favorite instrument.
Jordan’s concert tribute to his childhood guitar hero takes some creative poetic license with song arrangements, but seemed to miss that gutsy playing that Hendrix fans are passionate about. For example, on “Voodoo Chile,” that raw, powerful blues number that closes side one of Electric Ladyland, Jordan’s version was played at a faster pace and lost the punch that an electric blues song should have. Part of the problem is the guitar Jordan uses, a Vigier Arpege, which just doesn’t have the tone a Strat does. If you ever saw Hendrix live or on film, he had an armory of Marshall amps behind him, often using them for melodic feedback at high decibels, or ramming them if they didn’t give him the proper sound he desired. At Jordan’s Honokaa People’s Theatre show, he settled for one three-foot-high monitor that was on loan from the sound technician.
Jordan takes some theatrical liberties with his show too. Normally his waist-length hair is braided, but for the Hendrix tribute, it’s all tucked under a medium-sized afro wig and wrapped with a red scarf. Jordan wore a ruffled purple shirt with random images of Jimi. In a Mana’o Radio interview, Jordan mentioned that a fan gave it to him, and was told that Hendrix once wore it, although there’s no photographic evidence of that.
Jordan’s tribute show was filled with Hendrix’s familiar stage gimmicks – playing guitar behind the head, picking it with his teeth, and occasionally holding up a power fist or the peace sign. A new one for me was seeing Jordan’s “Jimi” jump up onto and down from a speaker cabinet. While he was standing on it, he cast a dramatic silhouette against the theatre’s movie screen. Hendrix grew tired of the stage schtick by 1969, and did less of it in 1970, also growing weary of constant audience requests to play “Hey Joe,” but several fans still shouted out for it at Saturday’s HPT concert, and Jordan acquiesced in the encore.
What worked best was when Stanley played Stanley and used that amazing piano-style tapping. It doesn’t work for every solo, but I like how he extended the dreamy ending to “Angel.” There were also some fine moments found in his performance of Jimi’s psychedelic epic “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be).” Hendrix never played it live, and I’ve only seen Hendrix tribute guitarist Randy Hansen attempt it in concert. “Red House” was also included on Jordan’s handwritten set list, but he decided to scrap it.
Oddly missing, too, was coverage of songs from Jimi’s power-funk trio, the Band of Gypsys. It would’ve been nice to see what Jordan could accomplish with “Machine Gun” or “Who Knows.” While the Gypsys were short-lived, they were an important link to Hendrix’s early soul and R&B roots. Sadly, Hendrix’s music was widely ignored on black radio stations at the time. If Jimi had less of a profit-focused manager, insisting on his return to the successful Experience trio model, we might have heard more experimentations into funk and jazz fusion. Jordan played it safe and stuck mostly to fan favorites.
Criticisms aside, the positive takeaways included seeing hundreds of Hendrix fans singing along as well as several who found an open spot in the VIP section to dance. In the ‘80s, I spoke with Jimi’s bass player Billy Cox, who remarked how timeless Hendrix music is, and that 50 years after his death, people probably would still be playing it. Cox was right, and I imagine that interest will continue for another 50 years or more.
Jordan made little in-between songs banter with the audience, but he ended with a short speech about Jimi’s positive vibe message and its relevance today. “Hendrix was at the center of a spiritual awakening and consciousness revolution,” recalled Jordan. “We had this sense that it was going to spread to the whole world, but the energy got cut and we spiraled in another direction. We hold the power to bring it back and let that be the example that the world can follow.”
It was nice to see the Seth Freeman Trio open for Jordan, with great audience response. They recently did a series of Big Island club venue shows, and a few days ago the promoter added them to this bill. Freeman’s guitar tone and bluesy vocals are superb, and he deserved to play one of our larger venues with good stage lighting. Hope he makes his way back here again.
Stanley Jordan’s Set List
Lover Man | Foxy Lady | EXP/Up From The Skies | Voodoo Chile | Angel | Star Spangled Banner/Purple Haze | Villanova Junction Blues | Manic Depression | 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be) | All Along The Watchtower |
Hey Joe |
Steven Roby is the author of three books on Jimi Hendrix including the bestseller Hendrix on Hendrix. He has been a guest lecturer speaking about Hendrix at universities in the U.S. and taught a college course on the guitarist’s life and music. From 1979-1996, Roby produced annual Hendrix radio tributes including a documentary on NBC’s Source Network.
Photos: Steve Roby