Elton John was in Philadelphia Wednesday night with Billie Jean King, but he missed his own tribute at Carnegie Hall — and it was a spectacular one at that.
Elton’s collaborator Bernie Taupin was on hand, however, at Carnegie Hall for the second Music for Youth concert put upon by UJA Federation this year. The last one, held in April, saluted Bruce Springsteen, and he showed up.
Sadly, Elton didn’t get to hear a super selection of his and Bernie’s songs performed by an eclectic and very talented group of musicians including Aimee Mann, Phoebe Snow, Shawn Colvin, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, new hot R&B sensation Ryan Shaw, Jill Sobule, Howard Jones, jazz great Roy Ayers and '60s pop duo Peter & Gordon.
I don’t know if Bernie liked the show, because he wasn’t doing press and didn’t come backstage to meet the performers. Elton, sources insist, now only attends functions if a big check is drawn to his AIDS Foundation. (That’s what Billie Jean was doing with him and various tennis stars.)
I guess that’s a legitimate request if it’s a corporate function, but Music for Youth has now raised millions to help put music programs in public schools. They are collecting money, not disbursing it to other charities.
So Elton missed hearing Phoebe Snow’s phenomenal rendition of “Empty Garden,” the song he wrote after John Lennon was murdered. Phoebe was so powerful that she brought the crowd to its feet — and she was only the fourth performer.
He also didn’t get to see Howard Jones, the '80s balladeer whose own hit was “No One Is to Blame.” Jones started playing “Tiny Dancer” on an electronic keyboard. But when a cable kept causing static, he stopped, retreated to the grand piano on stage right, and played the song the old-fashioned way. It was beautiful, and he got a standing ovation, too.
I’d like to see some of today’s pop performers react with such aplomb. Of course, they’d have to know how to play a real instrument!
Some other highlights included a breathtaking version of “Levon” by Jill Sobule with the Ethel ensemble; McGuinn resurrecting “Friends,” an Elton rarity; Aimee Mann — who apparently, like this reporter, loves John’s “Tumbleweed Connection” album — on “My Father’s Gun”; and newcomer Joshua Radin on “Border Song (Holy Moses).”
We were impressed with a bunch of lesser-known acts, in fact. Raul Malo, of the Mavericks, was so good singing “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” that his beautiful baritone should be selling CDs as fast as Josh Groban. Someone get the guy a manager.
And Ryan Shaw proved once again he is the real thing in R&B, a soul man for the 2000s. He nailed “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues.”
What Elton really missed was hearing how resilient his and Taupin’s songbook is, and how the songs hold up. Many of them were from the mid-'70s, but Peter & Gordon found gold in a more recent track, “I Want Love,” which Peter Asher reworked from a dirge into an Everly Brothers-type harmonic that literally soared through Carnegie Hall. Reunited after 38 years, the singing duo really has become a cult hit.
Asher (Peter) — who produced many James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt albums and managed them for years — and (Gordon) Waller should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for many reasons, including their vocal prowess. They also are part of rock history, as they were the only group Paul McCartney wrote a hit song for — “A World Without Love” — while the Beatles were in business.
Alas, disco queen Donna Summer may get there before they do. That’s why we’re still boycotting Rolling Stone magazine!
Eric Clapton’s memoir is excerpted this month in Vanity Fair, so it only made sense that the magazine gave a little fete for him Wednesday night.
The location, of course, was Editor in Chief Graydon Carter’s Waverly Inn, where the Clapton crowd took up the whole back garden area.
Among the guests were John Mayer, record producer Russ Titelman, VF rock writer Lisa Robinson (who did a swell job on the current issue’s music features), former MTV/Viacom chief Tom Freston, charming Time Warner investor Vivo Nevo and Armani PR ambassador Wanda McDaniel, among others.
But don’t think the Waverly was all rock and no hip-hop. Beyonce was spotted in another corner with Jay-Z. And Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott dined with actress Kerry Washington and a female pal at yet another table. Washington told me she just directed her first music video — for “intellectual” rapper Common — and now has the bug to do more.
The ladies did like it when Mayer stopped by their table to say hello, while McDaniel sent an associate over to have Missy sign Clapton’s book. Talk about a mash-up!
The buzz Thursday is that Madonna will leave the moribund Warner Music Group after she releases her last album with them in the spring. Then she, like Paul McCartney, the Eagles, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Carly Simon, will abandon the conventional record business.
Madonna, according to many sources, will move all of her business including albums to Live Nation, the concert promotion group. The Wall Street Journal says it’s a $120 million, 10-year pact. Madonna will be 59 in a decade, but Live Nation doesn’t care. She’ll still be dancing up a storm. If Tina Turner can do it at 70-plus, then so will Madonna.
This week, Radiohead also left the record biz, preferring to offer their new album for direct download on the Internet.
Do the record labels not get what is happening? Their house of cards is collapsing. And at Warner Music Group, those cards are pretty much all jokers. Losing Madonna to Live Nation is a fatal blow for WMG, which already has few bestselling acts.
WMG’s inability to keep Madonna sends a signal to Wall Street that Edgar Bronfman Jr. and Lyor Cohen are not really in the music business anymore. They are now a catalog company with a few front-list releases and even fewer employees left to promote or distribute them.