On a Tuesday morning in the summer of 1958, Art Kane, an ambitious young art director from Esquire Magazine, managed to gather together 57 of the top working musicians in New York for a group photograph on the steps of a brownstone on 126th Street in Harlem.
They ranged from legends like Count Basie, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins to young guns like Sonny Rollins, Gerry Mulligan and Horace Silver; connections were re-established, the jazz cats were herded, the drummers all clumped together. It was 10 am, a most unlikely time to have musicians assemble, as many of them played until 4 am.
The photograph, Harlem 1958, went on to become famous. In 1994, a very fine documentary, A Great Day in Harlem, told the story, and got the stories behind the stories – look it up, it’s a rich hour of history, not just for jazz fans.
Last Sunday, a similar gathering was attempted in Phnom Penh, although the motivation was a celebratory breakfast rather than a photograph. Sevil, the owner of LF Social Club on St 308, threw an eating-and-drinking party at the sister establishment LF Garden to say thank you to the many musicians who have been contributing to the entertainment programme at her venue, both through weekend gigs and the weekly open mic jams on Wednesdays.The starting time was 11 am – our favourite photographer Steve Porte, there to document the event, lost a bet that anyone would actually turn up at such an hour. Up to three dozen of the city’s finest gathered, and happy-new-years and it’s-been-a-whiles were exchanged, and yes, the drummers clumped together (but not too much). Schedules and rehearsals were discussed, a band was named. Maybe even new projects were dreamed up between the menemen and pizza and coffee and breakfast beers.
In recent months LF Social Club has presented tributes for Amy Winehouse and John Lennon. January 8 would have been the 84th birthday of Elvis Presley, and this weekend, on Saturday January 12, they host a special tribute night for The King.
Put together especially for the occasion, the Peanutbutter and Banana Sandwich Band is led by Greg Beshers and myself, with Pavel Zargz Ramirez, Marianna Hensley, James Speck and Ernie Buck, with additional guest vocal spots by Ariane Parkes, Clay George and Frisco Tony. Note: this is not an impersonation show with recorded backing tracks. The focus is on the songs and the music, not the jumpsuits and the sideburns, although you are welcome to dress up if you please.
It promises to be a great night for fans, and for those who enjoy live music – well, who knows, you might even, like me, gain an increased appreciation of the songs.Other gigs worth taking a look at this weekend?On Friday Brothers in Arms at Bona’s Pub, which sees the now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t Philippe Javelle joining forces with Billy Page (on his annual pilgrimage to Phnom Penh), Simon Wong and Adam Lane; my all-originals band Moi Tiet makes its return to Oscar’s on the Corner, after I play the early show with The Sock Essentials at Botanico.
On Saturday newcomers Khmeng Somrae play in Cloud and the Havana Kings will be making the floor buzz at Alchemy.
Frontmen and MCs of Hypnotic Fist Technique. S. PorteAnd finally, something of a statement of intent for this on-going column – to capture some of the unfolding music and artistic scene in Phnom Penh, the stories and the stories behind the stories, of the personalities on the stages and behind the scenes, to welcome visiting performers and give them some exposure prior to their gigs. I hope to cover venues big and small, across the wide spectrum of styles.
When I first arrived in Phnom Penh in 2008 the scene was small, live music was hard to find, we built what we could. It was Khmer music in Khmer bars, barang music in barang bars, and rarely the twain did meet. As we move into 2019 it is pleasing to see how much mixing now goes on; there is still much to learn from each other.