First, the worst: Music here lost some giants this year.
Greg Haymes made good-time music and wrote about everything of musico-cultural value as our most discerning ear, most avid booster and most comprehensive megaphone/billboard as publisher of Nippertown.com.
Caroline MotherJudge Isaachsen also made music onstage, but more regularly in her studios. Maybe most importantly in terms of her impact on the scene, she mentored the talents of others in open mics at McGeary’s — The Best Damn Open Mic Ever, on Wednesdays.
Nippertown continues in Jim Gilbert’s hands and open mics remain a vital training and proving ground here, including at McGeary’s. Appropriately, musicians paid tribute to both Greg and Caroline in area shows. They also honored others now playing in what jazz-bo deluxe Bill McCann (WCDB) calls “the great 52nd Street in the sky.”
Proving again that musicians are our most generous people, they offered help to players or fans in need. Greg’s farewell at The Egg was the heartbreak and hoe-down of the year.
Next, the best: Music here hit strong and deep.
Asked to list my top 2019 shows here for this Sunday’s Gazette, I obsessively dug through reviews, columns and notebooks among the 60-plus concerts I hit this year; not counting those in Nashville last January, but I digress. Many felt great at the time and glow in memory; more than just four, though.
Apart from some SPAC shows, I preferred smaller venues, often free or volunteer-run programs including Music Haven, A Place for Jazz, Jazz at the Spring and Albany’s Riverfront Jazz Festival. The band I saw the most this year plays monthly at the Van Dyck for tips: Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble.
New venues opened and new alliances brought cross-venue collaborations; big positives.
Here are my favorite 2019 shows
Sunday’s Gazette has my Fantastic Four and picks by fellow reviewer Kirsten Ferguson.
- Lizz Wright: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall Jan. 26. Buttery soul singing with an agile funky band
- Regina Carter: Massry Center (College of St. Rose) Feb. 2. Jazz violin supreme
- Dirty Dozen Brass Band: Proctors Feb. 20. New Orleans second line for a new century
- Terrance Simien, and Professor Louie and Crowmatix: Cohoes Music Hall March 1. Zydeco funk, and classic rock, respectively
- Sonny Landreth & Marcia Ball: The Egg March 9. Gulf Coast blues, R&B and soul
- Rodney Crowell, and Joe Robinson: Cohoes Music Hall Apr. 5. Texas troubadour and Australian guitar whiz, respectively
- Bria Skonberg: Zankel Music Center (Skidmore) May 10. Jazz trumpet and vocals, perfect!
- Yo La Tengo: Zankel, Skidmore June 6. Atmospheric live rock with a film on Buckminster Fuller
- Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Fest: SPAC June 28 and 29. Jazz, soul, funk, fun, sun (rain, too)
- Tedeschi Trucks Band: SPAC July 14. A three-act roots-rock circus
- The Turbans: Proctors (Music Haven rain site) July 17. Eurasian exotica celebrating belonging and connection
- Garifuna Collective: Music Haven July 21. Dancey Caribbean soul
- Songs of Our Native Daughters: The Egg July 26. All-women, all-stars, all-soul
- Tribute to Nick Brignola: Music Haven July 31. Heartfelt, hip but not too reverent recalling of our departed jazz giant
- Jupiter & Okwess, and Nkumu Katalay & the Lifelong Project: Niskayuna HS auditorium (Music Haven rain site) Aug. 18: Afro-pop with meaning and muscle
- Lucinda Williams: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall Sept. 18. Great southern troubadour with lean, sensitive band
- Benny Green Trio: A Place For Jazz Oct. 4. Pristine, poetic piano jazz
- Ranky Tanky: The Egg Nov. 2. Folkloric southern soul-jazz
- Kendrick Scott Oracle: Zankel at Skidmore Nov. 8. Fearless jazz
- Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives: The Egg Nov. 16. As hard and high-stepping as country gets
- Darlingside: The Egg Dec. 7. Four terrific singers who also play great, or four terrific players who also sing great
UMPTEENTH HOKEY AWARDS
- Timeless Award: At 80, Judy Collins played three shows at Caffe Lena, Aug. 17 and 18
- Mixed Media Award: Yo La Tengo played live with Jim Green’s film “The Love Song of Buckminster Fuller” at Skidmore’s Zankel Music Center June 6
- CSN&Y Harmony Award: Darlingside at The Egg Dec. 7; runner-up: Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, also at The Egg Nov. 16
- Clifton Chenier Memorial Accordion Award: Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience at Cohoes Music Hall March 1. Bonus: Professor Louie of openers the Crowmatix also played accordion
- Jimi Hendrix Memorial Guitar Award: A tie – Sonny Landreth at The Egg March 9, and Derek Trucks at Saratoga Performing Arts Center July 14
- Fabulous Rhinestones Opening Act Award: Blackberry Smoke with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, as above
- The Festival Discovery Award (Cool Stuff, New to Me): Cha Wa and Youn Sun Nah at Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival
- The James Brown Memorial Get-On-The-Good-Foot Award: Jupiter & Okwess, and Nkumu Katalay & the Lifelong Project at Niskayuna High School (Music Haven rain site) Aug. 18
- The Greg Haymes Memorial Super-Scene Award: The Eddies Regional Music Awards at Proctors April 14, and The Egg’s touching, soulful and rocking farewell to Greg May 19
SHOWS I WISH I’D HIT
The Jayhawks at The Egg, Johnny A at the Van Dyck, Galactic at Jupiter Hall, Dr. Dog at Upstate, Nellie McKay at Caffe Lena, Rickie Lee Jones at The Egg, Elton John at the Times Union Center, Maria Schneider Orchestra at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Hozier at the Palace, Weezer and the Pixies at the TU Center, Gogol Bordello at Upstate, Pat Metheny at The Egg, Los Straitjackets at the Hangar, Aaron Neville at the Massry Center (College of St. Rose), Robyn Hitchcock at Caffe Lena, Moshulu at the Van Dyck, the Bottle Rockets at the Hangar, Albert Lee at the Strand Theatre, Lettuce at Alive at Five, Chuck Cleaver at the Low Beat, Los Lobos at the Skyloft, Built to Spill at Upstate, Wynonna and the Big Noise at Cohoes Music Hall, Lake Street Dive at the Palace, Bonerama at the Parish Public House, Martha Redbone at the Massry Center, Billy Cobham at The Egg, Vernon Reid’s Band of Gypsies at The Egg, Turkuaz at Putnam Place … I could go on, and I think I have, as Leo Kottke says. There’s SO much to see and hear here. Go, get started.
Hyper-eloquent jazz pianist Fred Hersch plays two shows Sunday at Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs), a co-presentation with Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Hersch’s trio ranks among today’s most eloquent and elegant, alongside those of Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau, Aaron Parks, Benny Green or John Medeski. Solo, Hersch commands the keyboard with compelling power. If Sinatra owns “The Wee Small Hours of the Morning” — the wounded warrior of love showing his scars — Hersch’s version on “Alone at the Vanguard” matches Old Blue Eyes for proud pathos. 3 and 7 p.m. $35 advance, $40 door, $20 students and children. 518-583-0022 caffelena.org
The Eighth Step presents “Sing Solstice!” its seasonal highlight Saturday in Proctors cozy The Addy theatre (3rdfloor, 432 State St., Schenectady). The regular cast of local duos Kim & Reggie Harris (seen recently on WMHT-TV in “Pete Seeger Tribute Concert: Woody’s Children 50thAnniversary”) and Magpie bring on board guest African-percussionist Ade Knowles, plus the lively Pokingbrook Morris Dancers, in a holiday revue. 7:30 p.m. $25 advance, $28 door, $40 front and center. 518-434-1703 8thstep.org
Tonight, the Silos and the Coal Palace Kings rock the Hangar (675 River St., Troy). The Silos are a post-punk, super-durable, national indie/country-rock band led by Walter Salas-Humara; openers the CPKs are Howe Glassman’s compatibly rootsy crew. 8 p.m. $15. 518-272-9740 www.thehangaronthehudson.com
“A Nashville Christmas” Saturday at The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany) presents country artists in a holiday hoe-down. Nine players and singers (some named Major, Luther, Dallas, Jackson, Tex, Buck and Jim Ed…) team up to celebrate the season. 7:30 p.m. $39.50, $29.50. 518-473-1845 theegg.org