A belated happy birthday to Les Paul, who at 90 is still doing what he loves and doing it better than people half his age. Three Septembers ago, serendipity and an Iridium Jazz Club employee who took pity on a very tired, very hungry woman with a desire to catch the 10 p.m. show combined for an evening that couldn’t have been planned if I tried. I wound up literally at the legendary gutar player’s feet — at a table just below the stage, close enough to watch his still-deft fingers at work and to marvel at the results. Close enough, too, to get teased a little as I ate dinner and sipped my first-ever Lemon Drop Martini. Guest after guest improvised with Paul and his trio. An amazing jazz saxophonist in a bright zoot suit stunned the packed room as he and Paul dueled with sound. Les Paul still plays two shows every Monday night, each — like the one I experienced — a singular event. What a privilege.
His birthday party at Carnegie Hall last Sunday night illustrates the range of his influence with tribute performers including the Steve Miller Band, Edgar Winter and Peter Frampton (who I saw in a nightclub in Boston at a cable party that summer with Dennis Quaid as an opening act). And, of course, Paul held court.
Coda: I didn’t know that night in 2002 that Les Paul was responsible for the iPod of my teen years — insert wry smile — the 8-track tape. I had a semi-portable unit in my dorm room at the University of Georgia and a library bolstered by a downtown Athens store where I could buy used 8-tracks until I finally graduated to cassettes.