Legendary guitarist’s concert offers an “integrated tapestry” of music
Last June, guitar virtuoso Stanley Jordan brought his Jimi Hendrix tribute show to the Hilo Palace Theater, complete with full-throttle fretwork, ear-piercing notes, and wild attire to match the ‘60s icon’s striking look. However, at Friday’s Honokaa People’s Theatre (HPT) concert, we got to experience a completely different side of Jordan – the graceful solo artist.
Jordan’s song selections for the performance varied from Mozart’s Piano Concert #21 to “Hava Nagila.” From Duke Ellington to Sting. There was even an Arlo Guthrie tune tossed in at the end.
“I try to weave it all together,” noted Jordan in our interview. “Music is like one big space, and the different styles of music are windows into that room. You’ll see a different view depending on what window you view it from. I look for places in the music where the connection is easy, and then I can move in and out between the different styles and weave them together in what I hope people will hear as an integrated tapestry.”
Jordan’s two-handed tapping technique dates back to his 1985 debut album, Magic Touch. The radio-friendly record was a crossover hit on both jazz and rock stations. Critics applauded its experimental approach to classics like The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and Miles Davis’ “Freddie the Freeloader.” Since then, Jordan has received four Grammy nominations and continues to tour internationally.
Last Friday, Jordan entered the stage wearing a floral-patterned sarong, black yoga pants, and a pair of Birkenstocks and greeted the crowd of about 200 people. There would’ve been more, however, the theatre has every other row roped off with yellow caution tape to enforce social distancing.
The first section of his show was a 35-minute selection of beautiful soft instrumentals, and then he moved over to an oddly placed keyboard at the rear end of stage right, with brooms and a mop directly behind him. Not directly facing the audience, Jordan played lead with his right hand on the keyboard and his left hand tapped out a rhythm on the Vigier guitar’s fretboard.
While singing is not his strong suit, he attempted to cover Dinah Washington’s “Invitation” and later a bizarre rendition of Sting’s “Fragile” with an unexpected scream in the middle.
Jordan returned center stage and launched into a disjointed untitled instrumental. “Sometimes you have to break all the rules, but not for the sake of breaking them,” said Jordan in his introduction. “The rules suck, we get stuck, and sometimes you have to open it up.” The piece varied from nightmarish melodies, squealing and moaning, to wrestling the guitar as if it were a flailing fish.
The music portion of the show concluded with a sing-along to Arlo Guthrie’s country folk song “City of New Orleans” – hopelessly mismatched with the rest of the experimental set.
With his “Intimate Evening” solo shows, Jordan ends with 30 minutes of Q&A with the audience. He said in pre-Covid times, this would be called the meet-n-greet, but now he fields questions from the crowd.
It started with softball queries like, “When did you start tapping the guitar?” and “What type of guitar do you play?” And then someone in the back wanted to know, “What’s your favorite sound from nature?” At this point, Jordan put on his physics professor’s cap and delved into a seven-minute explanation of string theory, where everything in our Universe is made up of tiny vibrating strings, and sonification.
“I made this app where you can take ionization energies and turn them into music, and that’s one way of hearing it at the atom level,” explained Jordan. “Let’s say this note (playing his guitar) represents the revolution of Neptune going around the sun, and this note was the earth; that’s some serious resonance! I’m developing this character called Jazzman Galactica, a deep space tour guide, so I’m learning about all this stuff. I have this other app where you can surf the filaments and sheets of galaxies. I can play a region of deep space when I’m home and have all this equipment hooked up to my keyboard.” I’m not sure the original question was answered.
Jordan then bowed and thanked everyone for coming. The crowd cheered while he quietly left the stage guitar in hand.
Listen to an exclusive pre-show interview with Stanley Jordan.
About the author: Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos: ©2022 Steve Roby. Images are available for licensing.
Performance date: 23/September/2022
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