Monday, February 18, 2008

Taj Mahal To Play State Theatre In Ithaca, NY

This post originally appeared in the Tompkins Weekly under the title, "Taj Mahal: A Man of Many Musical Styles"

Taj Mahal’s music is tough to describe. Broadly, it can be put under the rubric of Blues. But simply labeling his music as the Blues doesn’t do it justice. It doesn’t take into account the huge impact world, country, reggae, and gospel music has had on his sound. When asked about this he said, “I didn’t want to fall into the trap of complacency. I wanted to keep pushing the musical ideas I had about jazz, music from Africa and the Caribbean. I wanted to explore the connections between different kinds of music.”

Born in Harlem in 1942 as Henry St. Claire Fredericks, Taj grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts—picking up the guitar as an early teen. It was while in college at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst majoring in agriculture that he took on the name, “Taj Mahal.” As the legend goes—his stage name was inspired by a dream. He released his first album in 1968. Since then he has released more than 45 more, collaborating with artists such as Ry Cooder, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, The Rolling Stones, and Ali Farka Touré.

Among this diverse range of albums are two Grammy winners. Taj won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album for 1997’s Señor Blues and again for 2000’s Shoutin’ in Key. All in all he has been nominated for a Grammy nine times. Of his success Taj Mahal is pretty modest saying, “in the end, ultimately the music plays you, you don’t play the music.” While this may be the case, someone still has to pick up the guitar, woodshed, and develop the chops to play they way he does.

Perhaps, it is difficult to name one of his songs, but you have certainly heard them. For example his tune, “She Caught The Katy,” is the first song sung by John Belushi’s character at the beginning of the movie, The Blues Brothers.

Taj Mahal will be appearing at the State Theatre on February 21 for an 8:00 PM show. He will be playing with his trio. Taj is on vocals, guitar, keys, and banjo. Kester Smith playing drums and Bill Rich on the bass round out the band’s lineup.

Lastly, it must be said that we should all be paying close attention to the shows at the State Theatre this year. After many years, and numerous attempts, the State seems to finally be finding its voice. This is due in large measure to Dan Smalls coming on as Executive Director. With Dan in place—and upcoming show that include Medeski, Martin, & Wood; The New Pornographers; and Keller Williams—the State Theatre is positioning itself as the area’s most vital music venue. For a listing of additional upcoming shows or to order tickets online visit


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