BOOKER T. JONES | Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Booker T. Jones made a presidential entrance to the headline performance of Saturday night at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.  Walking the breadth of the stage in impeccable suit and tie topped with a peaked cap, he paused to give a statesman’s wave to each section of the audience, all of them eagerly basking in the presence of the 72-year-old first minister of rhythm and blues.

It was barely thirty minutes into the set before we were rewarded with Booker T. & the M.G.’s 1962 cult hit ‘Green Onions’.  Jones was still at high school when he co-wrote and recorded the corner stone to his Stax records legacy, and 55 years later his driving Hammond bass pattern is no less infectious nor merciless.  What followed was an encyclopedic tour through the history of the blues, each track preceded by a coy anecdote that humbly boasted Jones’ influence over the last fifty years of popular music.  References and tributes to Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, the Isley Brothers and Bob Dylan carried the authenticity of an artist uniquely placed, Jones having performed or produced their original output.

Jones’ organ lines are restrained, but deeply melodic and razor sharp at cutting through the boisterous blues laid down by the rest of the band.  A wry smile accompanied a controlled elegance that wrestled the Hammond organ into an instrument of both gurgling depth and canorous melody.  Equally at home on organ, guitar or vocals, Booker T. Jones commanded Cheltenham’s ‘Big Top’ stage with fifty years’ experience and an untouchable roster of credentials.  A deserved standing-ovation marked a humble hero’s departure.

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