Celebrating blues legend Muddy Waters 100th birthday this year, the good folks at Jazz At Lincoln Center scheduled this performance, billed as also including the great blues singer Taj Mahal. At the start of the show it was announced the Taj had unfortunately taken ill, and was ordered by his doctor to rest. But the show must go on, and so it did with a wonderful evening of blues which included jazz guitarist John Scofield, who, though not in his usual setting, proved he can be a serious blues player.
Backed by a band of Chicago blues musicians handpicked by Taj and Scofield for this performance, an inspiring and authentic evening of blues was performed in a gorgeous auditorium with perfect acoustics, seemingly transferring the music to a small blues club in Chicago. This is easily done when the band onstage consists of Muddy Waters’ son Big Bill Morganfield on vocals and guitar, Kevin “Beedy Eyes” Smith on drums (son of Muddy’s longtime drummer, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith). Billy Branch (once a member of Willie Dixon’s band) on harmonica, Marvin Little on bass, and Sumito Ariyoshi on keyboards.
In Taj Mahal’s absence, Big Bill did an excellent job on vocals for most of the evenings performances. Billy Branch turned in a stunning harmonica and vocal performance on a tune not from Muddy but his former boss Willie Dixon, “I’m Ready.” Muddy’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” had Mr. Scofield prove he can cut it up with the blues guys with a very nice blues based guitar solo. Scofield also shined on “Got My Mojo Working,” where at one point it was just his tasty guitar licks backed by a great drum beat. Much more Muddy material was performed, as one would expect: “I Want To Be Loved,” “Don’t Go No Farther,” and the popular “Mannish Boy” were just a few.
The love for Muddy Waters was obvious throughout all the performances. Scofield spoke of how, decades ago, he used to see Muddy perform at various clubs on Bleeker Street in Greenwich Village and at the Café Au Go Go. Big Bill mentioned from the stage how his father is sorely missed every single day. At least we still have the music, for this is now where Muddy lives, still to this day.