Sunday, August 28, 2011
The Royal Scam: Sam Yahel Opens for Steely Dan
"Where's 'Kid Charlemagne'?" a heckler shouted Thursday evening at Starlight Theater. "C'mon!"
I was pleased when I first learned that Steely Dan had tapped Sam Yahel's organ trio to serve as its opening act for a portion of its current tour. I was eager to see if fans of a jazz-influenced classic rock band would be receptive to a genuine jazz artist. Alas, the answer is a resounding no.
"Organ?" a guy near me grumbled. "It's like being at church."
Rarely have I been so discouraged. I'd long hoped that Steely Dan's aging audience would come to embrace jazz. I'd counted on that demographic- relatively affluent 40-to-60 year-olds with a taste for sophisticated pop music- to eventually acquire an active interest in jazz. The behavior of Thursday's audience indicated that my hope was little more than a naive pipe dream.
Yahel and his colleagues- Adam Small on bass and Joe Strasser on drums- displayed an interesting array of concepts during their 30-minute set. Their smart and funky approach was closer in spirit to the music associated with Larry Young than Jimmy Smith. It didn't matter. The constant chatter of at least two-thirds of the early arriving audience of over 5,000 occasionally drowned out the trio. Revelers took selfies, socialized and shouted greetings to friends sitting several rows away. To be fair, very few of the concertgoers had heard of Yahel, nor did they expect an opening act of any kind.
Unfortunately, the boorish behavior continued when Steely Dan opened its set with Duke Ellington's "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo." Steely Dan's ongoing homage to jazz didn't end there. It played "Parker's Band", a 1974 tribute to Bird and Kansas City. Jazz-based solos were featured on most songs. During these segments, the majority of the audience- at least the majority in the back third where I was seated- were clearly disinterested in everything but singing along to the choruses of the band's biggest hits. If a 45-second solo by Walt Weiskopf on a track from the multi-platinum album Aja bored them, there's not much of a chance of them willingly attending a Joshua Redman concert. (Elgin Smith and Tim Finn reviewed Thursday's show.)
Asking a respected jazz act serve as an opener was an incredibly commendable move on Steely Dan's part. The noble experiment failed. My ongoing ambition of finding new ways to develop the audience for jazz took another hit. I suppose that any major dude could have told me.
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)