Keeper of the music Leon Redbone plays it true
There are musicians whose songs come from a genuine place – a place of enjoyment, of creation, of mood, as opposed to money, fame and ratings.
From this old-school class come some of the finest musicians.
Leon Redbone sits at the front of this class. He’ll prove his position at the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Redbone’s musical repertoire hails from the early part of the 19th century, with distinct tones of ragtime, jazz and blues. Known as the “preeminent curator of the museum of 20th century music,” Redbone’s sound calls up many historical associations. On one track, listeners may hear the flapper days of the 1920s; on another, the mellow and somber big band tones that accompanied the depressed 1930s.
But don’t be fooled into classifying the sound – Redbone insists it’s unique in its diversity.
“In a world where everything has become so compartmentalized, it’s hard to explain what you do or why you do it, unless you fall into a specific A, B or C category,” said Redbone. “I like the sounds that I like, for all different reasons. It’s a sort of eclectic collection of things that have fallen off the radar screen.”
Yet these relics of music past haven’t fallen so far as to be missed by Redbone. He says his traditional, front-porch strumming style helps to inspire something greater than a song – he likens his music to an experience.
“The music is a cross between frivolity, a moment of sensibility, an upbeat tempo, all of those elements – they create the mood,” he said. “It’s different than something you might hear on the radio regularly. Different, and yet familiar.”
Familiar because it pulls from the soundtrack of the development of this country. According to Redbone, the decades making up the first half of the 19th century were times of diversity and change. And thus, so is the music from that time.
“At one time there was a great development of music in this country,” he explained. “The gradual filtering-in of people from different parts of Europe, brought a gradual development of the music scene. It all came together to form a new identity for a new country. The music then was more varied and interesting because of the development rate of the country.”
And, Redbone asserts, it is this very lack of movement and identity that has created what he calls a musical crisis in recent years.
“I think of music today in the opposite sense, it is acquired, not created,” he said. “What was once the development of music, is now the development of development. It is increasingly electronic, controlled.”
And it’s a trend that, according to Redbone, is becoming increasingly irreversible.
“In my view, we’re approaching the end of music as we know it,” he said. “Unless things go back to square one – as I suppose they could. But for now, there’s very little depth, contemplation, there’s a lack of desire to create a mood. Music is not simply being accosted by noise.”
Yet Redbone’s cynicism regarding the direction of music in today’s world is tempered by his appreciation for those true artists who remain individuals. One such artist is the choreographer who set a ballet to Redbone’s music.
“The choreographer wanted to use the music,” Redbone said. “It was for such an eclectic art form, and I guess I fall into that category by default, so it seemed like a good idea to me. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was very interesting. It was the work of one individual who wants to combine art forms, and he does it very successfully.
It was the effort of one individual, it was not contrived, it was a pure art form. I appreciate that.”
It is no surprise then that Redbone’s own show is steeped in the purity and individuality of which he so highly speaks. The Vilar Center show will feature Redbone with his lifelong companion – a guitar – accompanied by piano and coronet horn.
“If people like guitar-playing and finger-picking style, if they like good piano, and the coronet player is there, it’s just a nice show,” Redbone said. “It’s not for the masses, but it is for many who have a view of music which is not necessarily mainstream. It’s not something they are likely to hear on a regular basis on the radio. I’m not recreating the classics, I’m just interpreting their sound – jazz, ragtime, sentimental, all cross sections of plain old good music.”
Come hear the good stuff Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30. For more information, visit http://www.VilarCenter.org.