Back in 1986 the City Parks Foundation created Summerstage in the spirt of Central Park’s original purpose – to serve as a free, public resource to help culturally enrich the lives of New Yorkers. The first season of the program had some relatively humble beginnings, as it’s first shows were at the Naumberg Bandshell in Central Park, but with the artists such as the Sun Ra Arkestra and legendary South African act Ladysmith Black Mambazo, among others performing in the first couple of seasons of Summerstage, Summerstage started and has continued a reputation for presenting a diverse array of artists across different cultures and genres. And the great thing about it, is that most, if not all of the shows are free to the public. Naturally, I’ve been to a number of Summerstage shows across Manhattan and it’s a great way to spend a summer afternoon/summer night.
Coming up this Thursday at the Highline Ballroom, the folks at Summerstage, along with Santa Monica Pier Curators are hosting a preview showcase of some of the artists who will be performing during the summer. And Thursday night should be a great night of diverse music, as the bill includes some of the following folks:
Born in Los Angeles, CA, Shuggie Otis is the son of rhythm and blues pioneer, bandleader, musician and impresario Johnny Otis. The younger Otis learned how to play the guitar at 2 years old, and began playing professionally with his father’s band when he was 12, often disguising himself with sunglasses and a fake mustache so that he could play in after-hours nightclubs. Although Shuggie Otis could play several other instruments and sing, he was primarily known as a guitarist, and although he was inspired by the musicians in his father’s circle, as he was growing up he gravitated towards the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and others.
At 16, Al Kooper invited Otis to play guitar on the second installation of Kooper’s Super Sessions which had previously included Stephen Stills – yes, that Stephen Stills. But by the early 1970s, Otis was finally performing as a solo artist with his own compositions. His debut effort was widely praised – B.B. King once called him one of his favorite new guitarists. As a solo artist he’s known for writing “Strawberry Letter 23,” which hit the Billboard 200 in 1974, and was later covered by Quincy Jones-produced act the Brothers Johnson in 1977. Interestingly, the Brothers Johnson cover was a smash hit, at one point hitting #5 on the Billboard 100. (In some way, the original track has sadly been forgotten thanks to the success of the Brothers Johnson’s cover.)
After the release of his third and last album from Epic Records, Inspiration Information Otis became a recluse, disappearing from public attention but despite that, his work has managed to quietly reverberate among contemporary artists. “Strawberry Letter 23” has been sampled on a number of occasions including DJ Quik and Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson.” Prince and Lenny Kravitz have publicly talked about how Inspiration Information has inspired them and their work, and in the 90s the album was reissued. Check out the original version – it’s actually an incredible song that will remind you quite a bit of early Lenny Kravitz: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pgokn6gppvA
Otis is a musician’s musician and this year, he’ll be headlining a national tour to support a re-release of his third album through Sony Records. This time, Otis personally supervised the remastering of the album, and it’s now a two disc set – I imagine there’ll be B sides and demos.
People Get Ready
Since forming in 2009, Brooklyn-based band People Get Ready have developed a reputation for combining both dance music and performance art; in fact, several of the band’s members have been dancers at some point. Several of my fellow music journalists have described their live shows to be an audio/visual experience. In any case, the best way that I can describe their sound is harmony-based dance pop –if you’re familiar with Cut Copy‘s Zonoscope, Yeasayer, the Dirty Projectors and others, you’ll know what I’m getting at. People Get Ready’s full-length debut last year, and they’ll be touring to support it. So be on the lookout for them.
The mysterious London, UK-based producer Ofei recently released his first single “London” to critical acclaim across the blogosphere. And based on “London,” I wouldn’t be surprised that you’ll hear more from from him – the track mixes elements of soul and trip hop in a very eerie way.
Also on the bill
Joshua Nelson – Nelson is the creator of a genre of music dubbed “kosher gospel.” He’s played in front of Presidents and other world leaders, congregations and at music festivals. if there’s one thing that I could say about him is that his music is uplifting.
Closing out the night’s activities is the father of hip hop himself, DJ Kool Herc. My relationship with hip hop has been strained over the years but without Herc, the genre that has become the lingua franca for everyone below 50, wouldn’t exist. So as you can imagine, personally I think i’d look forward to Kool Herc the most.
Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 day of. It should be a great night of music. You can get more information and even buy a ticket here: