Going to see Dick Hyman at A Place for Jazz last Friday as a civilian — a paying customer with no deadline, notebook or laptop — was great fun; especially watching piano players sit behind him, to watch his hands, over his shoulders.
Now 85, Hyman played old songs in old ways: classic tunes by Willie the Lion Smith, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and the Gershwins. Hyman delivered these elegant numbers in suave, contained ease; never going out on a limb but instead playing what he knew he could manage gracefully, within his (wide!) comfort zone; and he only rarely miscalculated what he could play well.
When he called for requests, I realized he should have used the trick I saw David Crosby employ at the Palace. The Cros reminded his fans that if everyone yelled out at once, “it will arrive up here sounding like ‘Zerack Fonobono Tizwangle.’ ” OK, so The Cros doesn’t have any song titles that long, but you get the idea. While Hyman sometimes had trouble sorting out songs to play from massed, jumbled shout-outs, he had no trouble at all playing them.
I don’t think anybody requested anything written after about 1950, and Hyman was just the pianist to remember and revive these old tunes.
Other musical veterans follow Hyman’s lead this week, back into the past; and not just in Proctors Golden Oldies Spectacular on Saturday.
WATT AT VALENTINE’S
Bassist-singer-songwriter and post-punk troubadour Mike Watt is just 54, but he starts off this parade of veteran performers simply by hitting town first — tonight at Valentine’s — and boasting a busier resume than some performers far older than he is. (For more on Watt, click here to read Brian McElhiney’s story.)
Watt and friends formed the Reactionaries in the mid-1970s and a few years later they became the Minutemen, one of California’s most influential and best punk bands. Their 1984 two-disc “Double Nickels on the Dime” is a classic of force and ingenuity.
After Minuteman D. Boon’s car-crash death in 1985, Watt wandered through several bands (including, briefly, Sonic Youth) before forming fIREHOSE the next year, then wandered some more, through too many bands to name here (including, off and on, the Stooges).
Now he leads the Missingmen: guitarist Tom Watson and drummer Raul Morales. And the trio rocks Valentine’s (17 New Scotland Ave., Albany) tonight at 8 p.m. The Last Conspirators open and, since we’re recounting rock ’n’ roll pedigrees here, let’s note that Last Conspirators singer Tim Livingston played with the Morons, one of Albany’s top 1980s punk bands. Admission is $13.65. Phone 432-6572 or visit www.valentinesalbany.com.
HICKS, KEB MO AT THE EGG
Now 71, Dan Hicks has been playing guitar since 1959 and first grabbed the national spotlight with the Charlatans in 1965, forming his own crew, the first of several early editions of his retro-string band the Hot Licks, a few years later. They released their first album in 1969: the year of Woodstock, of “Tommy,” “Abbey Road,” AND “The Beatles” (the “White Album”), and “Led Zeppelin II.” Hicks and company were gloriously out of step, reaching back to the 1930s and 1940s for their syncopated, harmonized inspirations.
Hicks is still doing that, after breaking up the original Hot Licks in 1973, leading the Acoustic Warriors since 2000 and recruiting a crackerjack combo of younger retro-minded players and singers to resume touring and recording — as well as if they’d never stopped. On the other hand, Hicks wrote “How Can I Miss You (If You Won’t Go Away),” and fans did miss the Hot Licks’ sound.
The music is jazz because it swings and because, as Hicks joked at the Van Dyck with the Acoustic Warriors some years back, he can reach for the jazz knob on his guitar at any moment. But it’s equally folk because the words matter and portray a vivid vision of a former America. And it’s also kind of rock because the grooves do that, too.
Hicks leads these new Hot Licks into The Egg on Friday, toting tunes that make you wonder: Was that on the Hit Parade before I was born, or did Hicks just write it last week?
Show time is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $29.50. Phone 473-1845 or visit www.theegg.org.
Keb Mo is a decade younger, but some of his music sounds even older than Hicks’. In 1980, he released his first album “Rainmaker” as Kevin Moore, his original name. It was funky R&B, but he has relied ever since on the durable strength of old-school blues.
His approach is so authentic, so deeply rooted, that he portrayed the immortal Robert Johnson in a documentary and an obscure bluesman in John Sayles’ film “Honeydripper;” and he was featured in “Martin Scorcese Presents the Blues” on PBS and “Memphis Beat” on TNT. He has won three Grammys for his 13 albums and shows no sign of slowing down, recently recording “See Love” as the theme to “Mike & Molly,” plus a new album, “The Reflection.” Keb Mo brings his band into The Egg on Saturday for an 8 p.m. show. Tickets are $44.50 and $34.50.
Need a Keb Mo double-header? Catch him tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center (14 Castle St., Great Barrington, Mass.). Tickets are $75 and $55. Phone 413-528-0100 or visit www.mahaiwe.org.
Veteran performers make up this old-style rock ’n’ roll revue, hitting Proctors (432 State St., Schenectady) on Saturday.
It’s a big package, bursting with hits.
The falsetto voice of Jerome “Little Anthony” Gourdine, now 70, leads the Imperials, who formed in 1957 in New York City as the Chesters and who harmonized hit after hit after Gourdine joined and they became Little Anthony and the Imperials. (For more on Gourdine, click here to read Brian McElhiney’s profile.)
The Duprees formed a few years later in Jersey City, white kids as obsessed with doo-wop as Little Anthony and the Imperials. The Duprees hit big with “You Belong to Me,” and “Have You Heard” in the early 1960s.
The Brooklyn Bridge grew out of Johnny Maestro and the Crests, one of the first interracial groups in doo-wop. Maestro died in 2010, but the Brooklyn Bridge still sing both such 1950s Crests’ classics as “16 Candles” and the huge 1968 Brooklyn Bridge hit “The Worst That Could Happen.”
At 79, Canadian David Somerville is the elder statesman of this veteran lineup. While best known for “Little Darlin’,” a huge 1957 hit by his group the Diamonds, Somerville has had a long career as songwriter, producer and performer since then.
LaLa Brooks, now 65, was just 13 when she joined the Crystals in 1961 and sang on a string of majestic Phil Spector-produced hits: “Then He Kissed Me,” “Da Doo Ron Ron” “He’s a Rebel” and more. She also appeared in the 1970 film “Cotton Comes to Harlem.”
PBS has given many of these oldies acts a second life, and the audiences at those televised shows may be the happiest crowds you’ll see on screen these days.
The Golden Oldies Spectacular brings these vintage performers to the Proctors Main Stage on Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $51.75, $44.75 and $36.75. Phone 346-6204 or visit www.proctors.org.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at email@example.com.