Les Paul Trio
Live and Feisty in New York City
September 22, 1997
by Lee Abraham
The Iridium is an intimate jazz club situated directly across the street from Lincoln Center in uptown Manhattan. A flight of stairs down from the busy sidewalk leads patrons past numerous photos of jazz legends and other music memorabilia to the "underground" night club where Les Paul, inventor of the electric guitar and master of the fretboard plays a two show gig every Monday night.
The Iridium is essentially a rectangle in shape with a small but adequate stage at one corner and a large bar at another. The tables are arranged in lines like stripes on the flag, with the stage situated in the blue field of stars at the upper left corner. Most of the seats have great views, however a few are obstructed and several video monitors have been installed to give every seat in the house a good vantage point. On this night, September 22, 1997, the Autumn equinox, Manhattan was busier than usual due to President Clinton attending the opera at Lincoln Center.
Well aware of 'slick Willy's' horn forays, the capacity crowd roared with laughter as Les Paul welcomed everyone at the start of the show, joking that there might be a guest sax player sitting in. With an easy manner and warm stage presence that has been his trademark for almost 70 years of performing, Les Paul captivated the audience throughout the early show set with his humor and fantastic musicianship. At 82 years old, Les Paul plays with a liquid, fluttering style that is distinctive and remains unmatched. Featuring a somewhat unusual line up (two guitars and a bass), the trio moved effortlessly through an apx. hour and a half set of jazz standards, while mixing in a few ballads and blues numbers. Lou Pallo on rhythm guitar displayed flawless chops, working seamlessly up and down the neck of his guitar, popping difficult jazz chords in rapid fire succession and also singing lead vocal on a few tunes.
An integral part of the Les Paul show is the interaction between Les and the crowd as well with his band members. After Lou Pallo responded, "60," when Les asked his age, Les took a moment to rub his chin then said, "I could have had you for a son," and after just enough of a delay to heighten the humor of his next statement, Les continued, "but I chose not to." The crowd howled as they did to all of the jokes and antics of the guitar legend. Paul Nowinski, a 36 year old bassist rounded out the trio, laying down a solid bottom end throughout the set. Nowinski did more than just hold his own with Les Paul when the two squared off between songs as Les "busted chops" with his band members, challenging them to match his virtuoso licks. The bass player brought down the house as he matched Les Paul note for note on one particular exchange, finishing the riff by straining to lift his standup bass in the air then rocking the large instrument back and forth to bend the final note as Les had done on the guitar.
Stories about other great musicians who have come to the Iridium to check out the show, including Jeff Beck, Slash and Joe Walsh to name a few, were told throughout the set as Les engaged the crowd with his personable style. Although "up there" in years, Les Paul is a vibrant performer who exudes confidence and enthusiasm. His show has a spontaneous feel and is truly an interactive experience as Les welcomes questions and requests from the crowd, and also makes himself available for autographs after each show. This was an inspirational evening of great music which transcended age as well as style. Although the guest sax player never arrived, the show was unforgettable, but what else would you expect from the man that invented the electric guitar?