Howard Fishman’s big achievements grow from big ambition.
He began making music of both spiritual and earthly intent by busking in New Orleans and New York, and he’s as dedicated to exploring his Jewish heritage as Big Easy Second Line or Lower East Side folk.
He told me: “New Orleans is where I got my start, musically, and I still consider the spiritual home of my music.” There he learned, “the role of music as something that binds us together and the need to knock down any walls that separate the performer from the audience.”
He plays in museums as often as in bars, blurring high and street culture to go as public as he can. As he wrote in The Huffington Post, he makes music to achieve “the purpose of religion: to make sense of chaos, to call attention to beauty, to express humility and gratitude; to perform a service for the greater good; to provide an experience that unites us in our humanity.”
Powered by this vision, he performs his mixed-media piece “No Further Instructions” on Friday at the Arthur Zankel Music Center at Skidmore College. Combining music with words and images, it follows recent Fishman projects: a new album (his 10th), “The Howard Fishman Quartet Vol. III: Moon Country”; “The Frozen North,” his original score for Buster Keaton’s silent film; and “A Star Has Burnt My Eye” resurrecting the lost music of Connie Converse.
“No Further Instructions” chronicles Fishman’s explorations of rural Romania with New York Times travel reporter and photographer Michael Benanav.
“Fishman fronts his 11-piece folk-indie-punk orchestra,” reports Marc Woodworth at Skidmore: a funky, folky phalanx of violins, basses, tubas, trombones, drums, trumpets and Fishman’s guitar and voice, performing a song cycle he wrote about the trip and alternating with Benanav’s spoken words and projected images.
Howard Fishman and company perform “No Further Instructions” on Friday at the Arthur Zankel Music Center at Skidmore College (North Broadway, Saratoga Springs). Show time is 8 p.m. Admission is $8, $5 for Skidmore community members. Phone 580-5321 or visit www.skidmore.edu/zankel.
Jim Gaudet and the Railroad Boys can play any bluegrass festival anywhere because they pick licks that are hot. But the band has a secret weapon few hot pickers boast: Gaudet, a world-class storytelling singer-songwriter whose fluent gifts at pen and mic make his tunes flow like rivers, tractors or hawks overhead. They also have a new album “Reasons That I Run” and a gig to introduce it, on Friday at 8 p.m. in WAMC’s The Linda (339 Central Ave., Albany).
Gaudet honed his songwriting to an economical brilliance as a solo troubadour. His songs are so rich, so effortlessly deep, so down-home and right to the heart, that you almost, almost wish they hadn’t tossed in the 1950s chestnut “Peanut Butter” and Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life” for spice on the new album. How do Gaudet’s songs fit with his hot-picking Railroad Boys? Like saddle and steed, like your favorite jeans, like a cold one in your hand after hot work. Tickets are $15. Phone 465-5233 ext. 4 or visit www.thelinda.org.
WCDB reunion bash
The University at Albany radio station celebrates 35 years on the air at Valentine’s (17 New Scotland Ave., Albany).
The music starts on Friday at 7 p.m. upstairs with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Oberhofer and Blotto. Dirty Face, Barons in the Attic, If Madrid and Summer People are playing downstairs. Tickets are $18. Phone 432-6572 or visit www.valentinesalbany.com.
The festivities continue on Saturday downstairs starting at 8 p.m. with Dirty Face, John Powhida International Airport and Secret Release. Saturday’s admission is $5.
Hats off to Assemblyman Kevin Cahill for proposing to honor the late, great Levon Helm by naming Route 375 from West Hurley to Woodstock The Levon Helm Memorial Boulevard. “Levon Helm was a true inspiration to not only millions of fans but our community,” Cahill said.
At first, I thought we should name a mountain or river for Levon; something natural, big and permanent, less quotidian than a mere road, and under just his first name, too. But then a road made sense because he spent so much of his life on it.
In way sadder news, Levon’s bandmate Garth Hudson has lost many of his personal belongings, confiscated and sold for nonpayment of rent by the landlord of the Kingston loft where he stored instruments, recordings, sheet music and other papers. Friends and fans have rallied around the sale, to buy and return Garth’s goods to him.
And, we have lost an uncommon number of other musicians since we lost Levon.
Jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd died on Feb. 4 at 80. One of few established players who successfully hybridized his music with R&B and jazz and funk elements, he was a fusion artist ahead of his time.
Rick Huxley played bass in British Invasion stars the Dave Clark Five. He died Feb. 11 at 72. Clark and guitarist Lenny Davidson are the only surviving members.
British singer-songwriter-guitarist Tony Sheridan died Feb. 16 at 72. He fronted The Beatles (as the Beat Brothers) in their earliest recordings and woulda-coulda-shoulda been a huge star too.
Damon Harris of the Temptations died Feb. 18 at just 62. He replaced Eddie Kendricks and sang lead on “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and other early- to mid-1970s hits.
British psychedelic rocker Kevin Ayers also died Feb. 18, at 68. Ayers founded and fronted the Soft Machine, which toured the U.S. opening shows for Hendrix in 1968.
Mississippi-born, Chicago-based blues guitarist and singer Magic Slim died Feb. 20 at 75. One of the last Southern sharecroppers turned big-city show-biz giant, he was famed for tear-the-roof-off performances.
Cleotha Staples, the oldest daughter of Roebuck “Pops” Staples, sister of Mavis and one of the Staples Singers, died Feb. 21 at 78. She flowed with this great family band from Gospel to R&B, from hymns to calls for freedom and equality.
Former Allman Brothers guitarist “Dangerous” Dan Toler (later of the Toler Brothers, who played Alive at Five) died this week at 65. Toler and his brother Dave helped provide stability at a time of flux and uncertainty for the Allmans.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at email@example.com.