Monday, July 19, 2004

Smeck Night Review

Joe Holmes wrote us with his review of the Roy Smeck tribute night last week:
Alan Edelstein showed his half-hour Oscar nominated documentary (Best Documentary, Short Subjects, 1986) titled "Wizard of the Strings." The tiny room at the back of Barbes was filled to capacity with about 35 people, a few packing ukes.

The film was delightful, with clips of Smeck performing on film in the 1920s and interviewed in 1983. It was a treat to see Smeck paying in his early 80s, accompanied on guitar by Mel Bay (!). Gene Autry appeared to explain what a big influence Smeck was on cowboy stars of the era.

Edelstein explained to the Barbes audience that he'd been a fan of blues and other niche music in college and was surprised to discover a recording by Smeck, whom he'd never heard of. He found Smeck in the phone book, living in Manhattan, and was delighted to discover that Smeck had preserved a trove of old films -- at that point Edelstein knew he had a documentary. At the same time, Edelstein and his partner found Smeck frustrating as a documentary subject -- like many old-time and vaudeville performers, Smeck repeated favorite anectdotes and was not very reflective for the camera. Smeck died in 1994, but Edelstein stayed in touch with his widow, Kay until her death.

After the film, guitarist Elliott Sharp performed some of his compositions -- there was little connection to Smeck, but Sharp was as amazing as always.

Thanks, Joe!

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