When I hied myself to The Egg last Sunday for “The Cotton Club Encore,” a conversation of its makers — director Francis Ford Coppola and co-writer William Kennedy, with Paul Grondahl of the New York State Writers Institute — was even better than the brilliantly restored film.
The 138-minute (dazzling!) director’s cut restores the balance between music and mayhem — and between races — redeeming the original Coppola-Kennedy vision that Hollywood hampered. Backstage tales were fun, their implications profound. They wrote five script drafts in 48 hours that Coppola called a “death trip.” They fought the producers over “too many black people, too much tap dancing, too long,” and a fake budget that mysteriously grew even as Coppola and Kennedy cut their script. A gangster on the set personified a crossover of culture and crime; he wound up protecting the creators, though he once threatened to dump Coppola’s trailer/office (dubbed “Silverfish”) into the river “with all the other fishes” when Coppola fled the project for London.
Lawsuits continued long after he completed it. Coppola said, “most of the good lines, the good dialogue, was by Bill,” whom he contacted after admiring Kennedy’s novel “Legs.” Musician-gangster’s go-fer Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere, whose insistence he not play a gangster but a musician shaped the story) says one: “This isn’t life; it’s jazz.”
The restored/redeemed film is both.
Gere is good, but Kennedy’s cameo was cut — “I could have been a STAR!” he mock-moaned — and dancers/singers Maurice and Gregory (R.I.P.) Hines steal the picture, which highlights both show biz and the offstage joy of artists playing and dancing for themselves. It now shows more of offstage African-American life to emphasize “the great gift of black people to the culture,” as Coppola said. Kennedy has always understood this, and a line about two-tone shoes in the film reminded me of how he wrote of music in “Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes,” on my desk as I write this.
Kennedy wrote “ … Cody played alone, breathing out loud, humming in time with his own tempos — a boogie-woogie beat, a plunge into a left-handed bass solo, a rushing, double-handed domination of the entire keyboard, no phrase unfinished, every note on the money, no such thing as a wrong note from the magical hands of a maestro who hummed and he hummed and then he hummed very hard and then he slowed … ” Later, this player said, “You hear the music. You’re gonna be all right.”
Minus the humming, this also described Benny Green at A Place for Jazz last Friday (see REARVIEW).
In 2000, I overheard two guys behind me at Proctors speculating on which artists would be playing that night in the Buena Vista Social Club, the Cuban revue Ry Cooder recorded and put on the road. I turned around to share info from the news release in my hand and found myself talking with Kennedy and another fellow; clearly Somebody, I forget who.
Around that same time, maybe a bit later, I waited behind Kennedy in the checkout line at Borders on Wolf Road. Natty as ever in suit and tie, his arms were full of books on Cuba that he carried out to his Jaguar with some effort. He must have been researching “Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes.” That shop closed in 2008 and “Chango” didn’t appear until 2011; the man paces himself. He’s making notes now on the filming of a movie … in Albany.
PASSPORT TO AFRICA
Music Haven opens its Passport Series of indoor shows “between the summers” tonight at the GE Theatre at Proctors (432 State St., Schenectady) with Les Filles de Illighadad. Sisters from Niger, they blend deep traditional songs (Tende-style) with zippy Afro-beat guitar to equally exotic and engaging effect. They are Fatou Seidi Ghali and Ahmoudou Madassane, guitars; Alamnou Akrouni, percussion; and Mariama Salah Assouan, dance; all sing. 7:30 p.m. $25 each show; $75 for all four including Ljova & the Kontraband Nov. 21; Altan Feb. 27; and the Brooklyn Nomads April 3. 518-346-6204 www.proctors.org. A meet-and-greet reception follows each show, with treats.
The Martha Redbone Roots Project brings a singular artist and vision to the Massry Center at St. Rose (1002 Madison Ave., Albany) Saturday. Like Rhiannon Giddens, whom she resembles in visage and voice — an instrument of regal clarity — Redbone reaches from family (African-American father, Cherokee/Shawnee/Choctaw mother) to everywhere. Her album “The Garden of Love: Songs of William Blake” (I bought it from her at a brilliant Eighth Step show) sets Blake’s odes to Appalachian melodies. Who knew the British visionary wrote soul music? I’d be there if our daughter weren’t getting married that day. 8 p.m. $35, students $15, St. Rose students $10
HITS, THEN ‘REVOLUTION’
Paula Cole’s hits “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone” and “I Don’t Want to Wait” boxed the strong-voiced singer-songwriter into confining Grammy-sized expectations that she bursts beautifully on her new album “Revolution” and two shows Friday at Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs).
Anthemic in cries for equality (gender, race, everything), environmental responsibility and hope, her songs and a stunning cover of Marvin Gaye’s “The Ecology (Mercy Mercy Me)” fly straight to the heart on soulful wings of heartfelt blues, sweet-jolt reggae and fervent folk. It’s powerful in meaning and music. Onstage Friday, Cole plays piano and sings, with Ross Gallagher, bass; and Chris Bruce, guitar. Bruce and Cole produced “Revolution.” 6 and 8:30 p.m. $50 advance, $55 door, $27.50 door. 518-583-0022 www.caffelena.org
Fusion band SPECIAL EFX returns to The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany) tonight in an all-star reboot: founders Chieli Minucci, guitar, and Eric Marienthal, saxophone; with Karen Briggs, violin; Lao Tizer, keyboards; Jerry Brooks, bass; and Joel Rosenblatt, drums — playing music from the group’s 35 years and more than 30 albums. 7:30 p.m. $36. 518-473-1845 www.theegg.org
Also at The Egg, Moody Blues main writer, singer and guitarist Justin Hayward plays Tuesday on his “All the Way” tour with Mike Dawes in slimmed-down renditions of the Moodys’ often orchestral-scale British Invasion classics. 8 p.m. $69.50, $59.50, $49.50
Tonight, powerhouse organist Melvin Seals celebrates the Jerry Garcia Band (his 18-year gig) at the Cohoes Music Hall (58 Remsen St.) with John-Paul McLean, bass; Pete Lavezzoli, drums; Sunshine Becker and Lady Chi, vocals; plus Dead-associated guitarist/co-star John Kadlecik. Funky jams! 8 p.m. $37 floor and parquet, $32 balcony. 518-953-0630 www.thecohoesmusichall.org
Keyboard wizard-singer Marco Benevento played Bowie covers at Mountain Jam but returns to the Cohoes Music Hall on Saturday with originals from his new “Let It Slide” album — he calls it “hot piano rock” — in a muscular trio: Karina Rykman, bass; and Dave Butler, drums. Versatile, collaborating in all directions, Benevento brings the funk and the fire. Harpist-singer/songwriter Mikaela Davis opens. 8 p.m. $22 advance, $25 door
Once-local guitar hero Matt Smith (Interstate and others) plays Putnam Place (93 Putnam St., Saratoga Springs) tonight with area band-brothers Tony Perrino, keys; Chris Peck, bass; Pete Sweeney, drums; Brian Melick, percussion; and Charlie Tokarz, woodwinds. Outstanding for speed and power among top regional pickers, Smith lives, plays, records and teaches in Austin now, so he has big homecoming buzz. 9 p.m. $10. 518-886-9585 www.putnamplace.com
At Putnam Place on Friday, Jocelyn and Chris Arndt — sensational at Caffe Lena and Alive at Five already this year — play a twin bill with their band. Prolific, powerful and full of soul, the Arndts may mix things up with opener Little Days: Jurgen Carlsson (bass, Gov’t Mule); singer-guitarist Mini Diaz; Toss Panos, drums; guitarist Toshi Yanagi; Jeff Young, keyboards; and singer Bernie Barlow. Great as the Arndts are, this opener promises a balanced show. 8 p.m. $15 advance, $20 on Friday
FOOD & FOLK
The Cock ’N Bull (5342 Parkis Mills Road, Galway) serves supper and songs tonight when troubadours Peter Mulvey and Dietrich Strause perform after a four-course harvest dinner. Peripatetic Mulvey has played every acoustic room hereabouts and leveraged his National Youth Science Camp gigs into “Vlad ues’ed-up “Ballad of All the Sad Young Men,” as usual, or more so, “Sam’s Tune” paired drums and tuba in a down-there tag team. Then Pray wrapped the first set with the tenor duel of “Blues for P.G.” If song choices felt familiar, the band seems to groove tighter on them all, every time out.the Astrophysicist” — a spoken-word piece, a TEDx talk and an illustrated book. Prolific Strause released two albums last year alone. Bar 5 p.m., dinner seating 5:30-6:30, show 7:30 p.m. $70 dinner and show. 518-882-6962 www.thecockandbull.com
REARVIEW — 2 JAZZ
The Van Dyck filled slowly last Tuesday for Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble’s monthly blast. So the 17 musicians played hard for one another and for the songs. They kept their momentum as fans joined the fun.
They hit us with a brash trumpet ambush after simmering “Meet and Greet” innocently to lull everybody. Trumpeter Vito Sperranza scraped the sky in an ingenious hard-bop melody strut that led nicely to Pray’s own paean to the Mohawk, “The Gate.” That set up a cleverly trumpet-dominated “Giant Steps.” Ben O’Shea’s trombone bl
Benny Green likewise mixed chestnuts and originals in his A Place for Jazz trio showcase Friday. Sonny Clarke’s “Blue Minor” cruised easy before Hank Jones’ “Minor Contention” clattered into bop-land; then Walter Bishop’s cozy bossa “Coral Keys” charmed quietly. Bassist David Wong swung sharp and lithe on “50-21.” Hank Mobley’s “Hip City Blues” glittered with fun glissandos before another shift back to ballad serenity brought the first set’s sweet standout. Tackling anything by Oscar Peterson challenges any pianist, but Green made “He Has Gone” his own, playing with logic so clear that every note fell in the only place it could, but surprised us anyway.
In the second set, Green and the boys took their tunes to the gym, muscling up and rocking. “Central Park South” soared on fast scales; another original, “Bish Bash” for Green’s musical father Walter Bishop, flowed on similar exuberance before Duke Pearson’s “Lament” strolled serenely into the blues. After “Just a Tad” (for Dameron) served up jaunty swing, a cool “It Might As Well Be Spring” eased along on pure grace. In Freddy Hubbard’s “Down Under,” rocking the blues, they put pedal to the metal, quoting the “Woody Woodpecker” theme and crashing into a boisterous boogaloo that left us breathless, the band calmly steering us on a wild ride.