LES PAUL’S death in August of 2009 marked not only the passing of a legend but the end of one of the world’s longest running gigs. Paul played regular Monday nights in Manhattan for over a quarter century, the last 13 years at the Iridium Jazz Club. Iridium owner Ron Sturm is dedicated to continuing Les’ legacy by making his venue more guitarcentric. “At first we were honoring Les by having well-known guitarists play with the Les Paul Trio [bassist Nicki Parrot, guitarist Lou Pallo, and pianist John Colliani]— they are adept at handling anybody,” says Sturm.
Pallo, Paul’s right hand man for 26 years, confirms that he feels equally at home accompanying Larry Carlton or Zakk Wylde. “We just fit right in with whatever they play. If they give us charts we will read them. If not, we learn the tunes. With Zakk we did some Jimi Hendrix,” he says.
Since Jeff Beck officially christened the room’s new direction on June 8 and 9, 2010, John Scofield, Albert Lee, and Duke Robillard have graced the stage. On the night we attended, the Trio’s set was followed by a jam featuring Jimmy Herring, Colliani, drummer Lenny White, and bassist Neil Jason.
“I grew up with his guitars but I only found out later who Les Paul really was,” Herring explains. “He invented all these things we take for granted—like overdubbing. I saw him on television with the Les Paulverizer [a live overdubbing device] and it just blew me away.”
Plugging his humbucker-equipped Stratocaster into an Ibanez Tube Screamer, Fuchs head, and Mesa/Boogie bottom, Herring then blew away the Iridium audience with a vocal tone and phrasing that seamlessly mixes blues and Middle Eastern inflections.
Sturm promises many more guitar goodies in the future. “Robby Krieger and Steve Morse will be playing with their own bands on weekends and then joining the trio on Monday,” he says.
The Les Paul Foundation receives 20 percent of the Monday receipts. The organization creates study grants in electronic, mechanical, and aural areas of music, and funds medical research related to hearing impairment. It also catalogues Paul’s instruments, inventions, and memorabilia, creating exhibits for museums, schools, and other institutions.
It often seemed that Les would live forever, and even now his loveable, indomitable spirit hovers over the club. “It’s like we are channeling Les Paul here,” Sturm says. “On the nights that it’s really good I feel Les beaming down on us. And on the nights when it’s less than great I feel like he would really love to kick my ass.”
Jimmy Herring (right) gets into it with longtime Les sideman Lou Pallo.