A friend posted the embedded clip on Face Book. If you’re not familiar with Pavarotti’s later work, it included a series of annual charity concerts at which he sang with a vast array of artists encompassing diverse disciplines and musical genres, whose juxtaposition frequently generated surprising results. (See bio here).
As a white country kid from the Midwest, I still recall the first time I saw James Brown. Not known for his lyrics, his performance is what brought material to life. And he could perform like few before him. Although I looked different, sounded different, was different than James Brown, I instantly “got” him. His music was like none I listened to at the time. His black and white image, grinding, grunting and shrieking on our family TV, the signature pompadour, inimitable (at least for me) dancing were arresting, to say the least. He demanded attention. But how is this remotely related to a Pavarotti?
I don’t speak or understand Italian. As a result, as a youth my tolerance of Opera was slight. Once I learned more about music, to appreciate symphonic scores, technical prowess, technique, even though I didn’t know the story or understand its dialog, I enjoyed Opera. My mom was a huge Mario Lanza fan. I have many of her old LPs. I listened to them but never felt connected–perhaps because the recording quality is poor or due to my musical immaturity. By the time I first heard Pavarotti, I “got” him, too. Never would I have put James Brown and Luciano Pavarotti together or imagine them performing a duet, yet here it is.
As I listen, it suddenly occurred to me why this is such a great match-up. First, as I mentioned, one doesn’t listen to JB for lyrical content. We listen for grooves, feeling, passion and his unique technique. So comparing these two, not understanding Italian but not distracted by it, I can compare their approaches and it surprises me how much common ground they share.
In this performance, both singers appear in top form. Both gone now, James Brown and Luciano Pavarotti perform a crystal-perfect rendition of Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World”.