July 25, 2012
There’s no shortage of bluegrass fans who feel that the high lonesome sound is an American purebred.
“I was one of those guys,” confesses Del McCoury, a leading light in bluegrass for more than 50 years now. “I thought this music is different, that Bill Monroe did everything from scratch.”
Today, McCoury laughs at such a notion.
McCoury got his start playing guitar and singing in Monroe’s famed Bluegrass Boys in 1963. “I found out he liked jazz. He listened to jazz and was influenced by jazz,” McCoury says of Monroe, the father of bluegrass. “I grew to learn how all music is related.”
At 73, McCoury has shared the stage with, among others, jam band Phish and country rebel Steve Earle. Over the past year, McCoury has been enjoying an ongoing relationship with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
McCoury and Preservation Hall Jazz Band team up again Friday as part of the Boston Summer Arts Weekend in Copley Square. “Collaboration” is the buzz word at this new arts festival, as it lays the groundwork for artists to get involved in each others’ sets, both during the free concerts in the square and at the ticketed events at night in the Fairmont Plaza Copley hotel. What Summer Arts has in mind is akin to what happens on American Legacies, the album Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Del McCoury Band created together last year.
The partnership took root a year earlier when McCoury performed on an album benefitting the actual Preservation Hall in New Orleans and its music outreach programs.
McCoury says both camps realized there was room for further exploration.
“There is a lot of common language between New Orleans jazz and bluegrass. When we got in the recording studio we just came up with things as we went along,” McCoury says.
With gospel songs common in both jazz and bluegrass, the standard “I’ll Fly Away” is perhaps the clearest example of common ground on American Legacies, as the song seamlessly transitions from Preservation Hall Jazz Band singer Clint Maedgen to McCoury while the horns and stringed instruments pass the melody back and forth.
Jelly Roll Morton’s “Mullenburg Joys” (or “Milenberg Joy” as it is sometimes known) is another touchstone on the album, as Monroe himself recorded the song.
As McCoury tells it, Monroe was laid up in a New Orleans hospital in 1955 after a car accident and heard “Mullenburg Joys” on the radio. About 20 years later, Monroe recorded the tune from memory.
While it’s too bad McCoury’s sons and band mates won’t be on hand this weekend, it’s no surprise why they can’t make it: they are out on tour collaborating with songwriter and guitarist Keller Williams in an expanded version of their side project, The Travelin’ McCourys. Hmmm, anybody thinking about an interesting partnership to book for Summer Arts Weekend 2013?
Del McCoury and Preservation Hall Jazz Band will be getting together at 8:30 p.m. on Friday in Copley Square and then again after midnight in the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel’s Copley Club.
Scott McLennan is a music correspondent for the Boston Globe and former entertainment columnist for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. His work as taken him from the Newport Folk Festival to the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival and many musical points in between. Scott also writes about skiing for Hawthorn Publications.
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