One of the pleasures of the holiday season is seeing honors for music legends and going over best of the year lists that open doors to new music and tribute albums. Here’s a brief survey.
HBO’s wonderful tribute to Stephen Sondheim, Six By Sondheim, directed by James Lapine, combines the best of traditional documentary interviews and music clips to take us from “West Side Story” through “Sundays in the Park with George.” The kinescopes from Broadway stage shows contained come vintage performances, like Mandy Patinkin as Georges Seurat.
The interviews with Sondheim showcased his take on the creative process and his reverence for those who influenced him including personal mentor Oscar Hammerstein II, Jerome Kern and Hal Prince. It seemed unusual that such a giant (eight Tonys, eight Grammys, a Pulitzer, an Academy Award) could be so reflective and articulate about music and writing.
At the Kennedy Center (where I first heard “Send in the Clowns”) the musical honors also included some wonderful documentary footage as well as some lushly produced performances by stars paying tribute to legends. On hand to salute Herbie Hancock (“the hippest guy in the room”) was Snoop Dog and his diamond studded mic holder along with combos led by Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter. Harry Belafonte and Buddy Guy were there for Carlos Santana. Tony Bennett set up the biography of Billy Joel and then some big guns weighed in on his classics, including Don Henley, Garth Brooks and Rufus Wainwright. They performed in front of a stage-to-ceiling keyboard and closed the show with “Piano Man” before a standing, singing audience. It’s hard to find a comparable case where a signature song that became a classic anthem also mirrored the life of its creator.
Finally Anthony DeCurtis of Rolling Stone and Bob Edwards of XM radio tipped me to two tribute albums worth purchasing. The first is Sing Me The Songs: Celebrating the Work of Kate McGarrigle. Performing the songs of the late Canadian artist (“Heart Like A Wheel”) are her children, Martha and Rufus Wainwright, her sister, Anna, Emmy Lou Harris and Norah Jones.
Jones is also one half of the duo in a cover album of songs by the Everly Brothers with Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong. Those sibling harmonies that hooked us all as teenagers and influenced a generation of rockers get a much-deserved spotlight on For Everly. It is nice to know Phil got to hear it before he passed away this week.