Les McCann Juke Joint 2015
Performing with Javon Jackson, Tee Dee Young Band. 7 p.m. May 9. Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 E. Third St. $5-$50. (859) 280-2218, Lexingtonlyric.com.
The events surrounding the Saturday return of Lexington jazz legend Les McCann are rooted in education.
First, there will be the daytime commencement presentation of an honorary doctorate from the University of Kentucky, a belated honor for a jazz career that reached international proportions with the 1969 album Swiss Movement, which the keyboardist and vocalist cut with saxophonist Eddie Harris, and its hit version of the activist anthem Compared to What.
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In the evening, McCann will perform at the Lyric Theatre, just a few blocks from his long-ago home on Eastern Avenue. The concert is designed to raise money and awareness for the locally established arts school that bears his name.
For McCann, the degree and benefit are reflections of his devotion to a lifetime of learning.
"We all have the power," McCann, 79, said by phone last week from his home in Los Angeles. "It's all within each one of us. It's a simple word called creativity. We all are creative. We all have something special within us. We are unique. We all have a special talent, but everybody doesn't know that. Life is learning. It's about the lessons we learn to love each other more.
"The point I'm trying to make is that each one of us, even though we might not think we have anything creative to offer, just need to sit down, relax and open up to the part most of us never do and just listen to your heart. We always want to go with the head. The head is just another tool to use in life. It's not the machine that drives the whole thing."
Now in its second academic year of operating on a seasonal class schedule (including sessions during spring, summer and winter breaks of other school systems), the Les McCann School for the Arts offers instruction in music, photography, theater and other arts-related fields at Lexington community centers and the Lyric.
"Some instructors may only have two or three students in a class," said Denise Brown, the school's artistic director. "But what's been so nice is the instructors have been able to work one-on-one with students and really mentor them and do a lot of hands-on teaching. The students get so much out of that. That's especially vital in the early stages of the school."
As with two previous performances at the Lyric in as many years, McCann will perform alongside saxophonist Javon Jackson during the Saturday benefit. The partnership was struck after McCann suffered a severe stroke onstage during a concert in Germany.
"When I got out of the hospital and came home, Javon was one of the first people to contact me," McCann recalled. "He said, 'I want you to be in my band.' Now, I couldn't even touch a piano at the time. My fingers didn't operate right. He said, 'Then come anyway and just sing.' So working with him has allowed me to get back into shape and get my touch back with the keyboard because I had lost all the feeling in my hands. The only thing I could feel was severe pain. It's been like that, but lately it's started to turn around. So Javon has been real special to me."
"When I had my stroke, they told me I wouldn't be playing no more and that was it. But I went into intense therapy. Since I never take no for an answer, I just knew that I had to work. So my message to everyone is to celebrate every day. Find something new and great about every moment of every day because there is so much there."
7:30 p.m. May 8 at Iroquois Amphitheater, 1080 Amphitheater Rd., Louisville. $40-$50. (502) 368-5865. Iroquoisamphitheater.com.
Wilco's Friday night show in Louisville comes as the fabled Chicago troupe is reconvening after an extended period of side projects for its members. Founder and frontman Jeff Tweedy, in addition to forming the band Tweedy with drummer and son Spencer (performing in Louisville in July at the Forecastle festival), serves as producer for a forthcoming album by British folk-rocker Richard Thompson. Meanwhile, Wilco drummer and UK grad Glenn Kotche revisited his alma mater last month for a 30th anniversary alumni concert by the UK Percussion Ensemble.
While Wilco has no new album to promote, the band is digging deep into Alpha Mike Foxtrot, its 2014 boxed set of rarities and live cuts, during the spring tour.
Warhorse singer Mitch Ryder, whose 1960s hits Jenny Take a Ride! and Devil with the Blue Dress On are considered staples of Motor City rock 'n' roll, performs Friday night in Frankfort at the Grand Theatre, 308 St. Clair Street, with the newest edition of his long-running band, The Detroit Wheels (7:30 p.m., $20-$40).
At age 70, Ryder continues to record new music. His most recent album is 2012's The Promise.
For tickets, go to Grandtheatrefrankfort.org.