Anil Prasad, John McLaughlin, and Barry Cleveland (left to right).
March 26, 2009—John McLaughlin and Chick Corea were in Berkeley last
weekend for a sold out Saturday performance at Zellerbach Hall with
their Five Peace Band, which also features bassist Christian McBride,
drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, and alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett.
The all-star band played two long sets of mostly recent tunes—including stunning versions of McLaughlin’s “Raju” and Corea’s epic “Hymn to Andromeda”—and closed with an encore medley of “In A Silent Way”/“It’s About That Time.” The encore was particularly significant, as 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of Miles Davis’ seminal In A Silent Way album, which introduced McLaughlin to the wider jazz world. (McLaughlin discusses recording the original with Miles in 1969, and his current tour with Corea, in the upcoming July issue of GP.)
The following afternoon, I had the honor and pleasure of dining with Mr. McLaughlin at Ajanta, one of the Bay Area’s finest Indian restaurants. Our freewheeling conversation encompassed everything from emerging musical and online technologies to the importance of living each day as consciously and fully as possible, with discussions of music piracy, unsung guitarists, performing with the Five Peace Band, interactions with the public, and the eclectic concert bills of the ’60s and ’70s along the way. Abstract Logix president Souvik Dutta, regular GP contributor Anil Prasad, and several members of McLaughlin’s team also contributed to the dialogue.
After lunch, we took a lengthy stroll along Solano Avenue, soaking up the sunshine and fresh air while continuing the conversation. Topics ranged from living in Monte Carlo and vacationing in the Swiss Alps to Max/MSP software and whammy bar technique to the teachings of Eckhart Tolle. We also talked about McLaughlin’s frequent support for charitable organizations, including performing pro bono at a 2007 human rights event with the Dalai Lama in Hamburg, and the successful Guitars for Africa project.
Like many others, I have been in awe of John McLaughlin for decades, and spending a little time with him only increased my appreciation. In addition to being one of the world's most accomplished guitarists, he is a warm, gracious, and unpretentious man, who despite being in his mid 60s, somehow miraculously manages to maintain his youthful spirit and devilishly handsome looks. Should we all fare so well! —Barry Cleveland