If you search the internet for ‘best blues harmonica players,’ you will always find James Cotton’s name near the top of the list. James is celebrated both for the power and precision of his playing. Bringing that reputation to New York City’s Jazz Standard, James led his group of talented players in an outstanding and energized performance that had the audience singing and clapping along. Celebrating his 80th birthday with a series of concerts, James Cotton showed that age is not a barrier to making great music, and displayed renewed energy in this outstanding performance.
The set started with the trio of Junior Pontell on drums, Noel Neal on bass and Mike Williams on guitar warming up the audience. James Cotton, the ultimate showman, had the audience on its feet when he blew his first notes before coming through the curtain and joining the group on stage. Cotton increased the level of excitement with his masterful harp playing. Darrell Nolisch completed the ensemble with his vocals, and complemented the playing of Mr. Cotton perfectly.
The group played a stirring rendition of “Got My Mojo Working,” one of the highlights of the 1961 Newport Jazz Festival. Of equal historical significance, they played “Rocket 88,” a rhythm and blues song first recorded in Memphis, Tennessee in 1951 and credited as the first rock ’n’ roll song ever written.
James Cotton is in his 71st year in the entertainment business. His playing tonight showed the breadth of his experience as well as the depth of his soul.