It was a good thing that this show was not advertised as a solo piano performance because I might not have flipped for the $30 ticket price, in which case we would have missed one of the most unique and special musical experiences ever. As it turned out, this was a rare oppotunity to hear a true jazz master render a virtuosic recital of the history of American music on piano. Sample's musical knowlege and experience is truly encyclopedic. You can enjoy this musical history lesson yourself on Sample's latest release, Soul Shadows from which he played everything save for the title track (which is the only vocal on the record). In concert, each tune was prefaced with an explanation of its significance, including detailed descriptions of the places and times from which these compositions originated. To perform this material, Sample channels the players of the time to let you hear these songs as they would have been heard back then. All of the songs were great to hear but some were truly astounding; I thought I knew "The Entertainer," but you've never really heard Scott Joplin's signature tune until you hear Sample play it with all the soulfulness of the players who performed it back in the early part of the 20th century in the backwater towns of Louisiana.
Sample gives similarly authentic renderings of many classics from the American songbook, such as Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'," Al Jolson's "Avalon," Duke Ellington's "I Got it Bad and That Ain't Good," Jellyroll Morton's "Shreveport Stomp," and the Gershwins' "I Got Rhythm," and "Embraceable You." Other than the title track, the only other Sample original on the record is "Spellbound" which in solo piano treatment allows the listener to fully appreciate the simple beauty of the melody. It was great after the show to meet Sample, shake his hand, and thank him for all the great music over the years.
Before the show we took the member tour of the new WXPN studios and I must say that the folks who work on this station who already had the greatest jobs in the world, now must think that they've died and gone to radio heaven. This complex of offices and studios not only has beautiful design and construction but the studio equipment lends new meaning to the idea of state of the art. It's a testament to the commitment of the station's listeners and sponsors that they were able to raise the kind of money it took to build this ultimate radio station. The World Cafe Live venue, now just three weeks old, christened its new menu this night, keeping some of the fussier cuisine but adding a few more down to earth items, like the deliciously spicy hot Cuban pulled pork sandwich that I enjoyed as part of the comp dinner that the venue offered to make up for the muffed meal on opening night. Although the service was still a little bumpy, they'll likely work it all out before long. Bruce Warren said numerous times before the WXPN move that "this place will knock your socks off." I'd say that's an understatement.