Polar Prize Pickin’ Berry

Chuck Berry, along with opera director Peter Sellars announced today as winners of the Polar Music Prize.   Why?

In its citation for Mr. Berry the award committee wrote that “‘Nuff said.   Now, do you suppose the esteemed Mr. Berry will he hiring a Swedish bar band to back him up when he comes to Stockholm to accept his prize from King Carl Gustaf himself?

I do love the eclectic nature of this Swedish prize.  As the Times puts it,

Last year’s winners were Kaija Saariaho and Yossou N’Dour; in 2006, they were Valery Gergiev and Led Zeppelin; and in 2004 they were B.B. King and Gyorgy Ligeti. (In 2003, Keith Jarrett – who works in both  classical  music and jazz, became the first and so far only musician to win the prize on his own.)

Now, back to Chuck Berry:  The album pictured above is from his second LP, released in 1958, and one of my prized vinyl collections.   Sure, it’s got the hits “Sweet Little Sixteen,”  “Rock & Roll Music,” and “Reelin’ and a Rockin'”….but have you ever heard this classic before: “Rockin’ At the Philharmonic?”  I tend to agree with the All Music Guide characterization:   “Rocking at the Philharmonic” is a rippling guitar/piano workout, a compendium of the sounds that lay beneath those hit singles, and a killer showcase not only for Berry, but also for Lafayette Leake at the ivories, and also a decent showcase for Willie Dixon‘s bass playing.”

The Key(board) to the Stones



ON THE NE CORRIDOR LINE SOMEWHERE BETWEEN PHILLY AND NEWARK – While I’m wrapping up a day trip to NYC I stumble across a charming little article written by keyboardist Chuck Leavell buried in the “Business Travel” section wayyyy in the back of Tuesday’s New York Times.

I’ve always been a fan of Leavell’s, who has a pretty amazing resume: Since he joined the Allman Brothers as a teenager (check out his YouTube dissection of “ ), he’s played with Eric Clapton, Blues Traveler, George Harrison, and dozens more. He’s also a pretty fair jazz pianist, and has written books on tree farming and conservation.

But what he’s best known for (and the article is mainly about) is being the pianist and music director for the tours of the Rolling Stones. Which means he’s on the road, and in the air. A lot. Like two years for the most recent “Bigger Bang” tour of the Stones:

In an airplane you have a captive audience, which makes everything easier. I’m well versed in the huge catalog of songs the Stones have written, recorded and performed. Obviously we can’t get to all of them since there are more than 400, but I try to find a balance of the new, old, interesting and unusual. After writing up the set, I’ll consult with Mick, Keith and the others on the particulars of a concert. And a lot of work gets done while we are en route to various destinations.

Quite an image, innit? Chuck sitting down the Mick and the boys, going over a set list like a wedding caterer deciding on the menu.

For more on Chuck, check out this interview and performance from 2002 on the new NPR Music site….