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The Last Best Venue

Of all the tributes to Chuck Berry (two in the current NR) none that I saw reflected what I always felt about him — that for all his catholicity and energy, there was something slick and soulless about his music. The reason I think may be in his bio: He wanted to be Charlie Christian, playing jazz guitar. Instead to make a living he was Chuck Berry.

Other rock pioneers — Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard — were who they had to be. Therefore their music is better.

In this Bach was like Little Richard. The encyclopedic knowledge, the elaborate numerological games, the show-off skill — it’s all him. He must have sounded the same at home as he did playing for Frederick the Great.

I had this thought at the last best venue in town, the 92nd Street Y, at a concert by Angela Hewitt, a young Canadian pianist (young as her smile when she plays). I liked, in ascending order: 1) time-bends: when Bach sounds, for four measures, like stride piano, 2) the slow movements — a lot of sarabandes in this program — where he gets all introverted, 3) greatest of all, the wheel, when he is in the groove, and you dare not use rubato, and the whole universe just spins along. Ms. Hewitt didn’t miss a beat. Roll over Chuck, and tell Jerry Lee the news.

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