This year’s Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival is billed as a celebration of the 100th birthdays of Frank Sinatra, Les Paul and Muddy Waters. All were born in 1915 or, in the case of Waters, either 1913 or 1915 (accounts vary).
Blues singer-songwriter and master harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite says he admires all three, and knew Waters quite well.
“When I lived in Chicago, he lived there,” says Musselwhite, a Mississippi native who now lives in California. “When he wasn’t on the road, his home club was a place called Pepper’s Lounge, which was right around the corner from his house. And he played there all the time.
“I spent many, many, many nights there, hanging out with Muddy, sitting at his table with him or sitting in on the stage with him. And I saw him around the country, too, when our paths would cross. So we were good friends.”
Musselwhite will perform last at the free, annual festival at Morristown Green, taking the stage at 8 p.m. Other performers will include Roomful of Blues, Bria Skonberg, Bucky Pizzarelli’s Guitar Summit and Swingadelic. For the schedule, see the bottom of this post.
Musselwhite says he loves playing at festivals such as this one, partly because it’s a good opportunity to bring genuine blues music to people who might not have heard it before.
“Blues means a lot to me,” he says. “It happens often to me that people will come up to me after a show and say, ‘I never heard blues before. I never knew it was this much fun. I thought it was supposed to be somethin’ sad.’ And they become fans; They want to hear more blues, and learn more about it. So it’s pleasing to me that I know I turned them on to it.”
Musselwhite’s most recent album — I Ain’t Lyin’, released in May — was recorded live at a California festival, though Musselwhite didn’t know he was making an album at the time.
“It seems like more and more these days, the people who are doing the sound have the ability to record,” he says. “Things have gotten so sophisticated now that you can do really good recording without having to go into an expensive studio. If they have the ability, I’ll tell ’em, ‘Yeah, just turn it on. Let’s see what happens.’ So in this particular case, we got a recording, and we listened back to it, and we thought it was really good.”
Well, most of it, anyway. It turned out his harmonica parts couldn’t be heard clearly.
“Somehow they didn’t mic the amp right or something, and you couldn’t hear the harmonica very well. And that’s kind of the main point! So we were mixing it in Clarksdale, Miss., and luckily it was only the harmonica that had a problem, but I was there (in the studio), so I just replayed all the harmonica parts.”
Coming up in the future is a follow-up to Get Up!, his Grammy-winning 2013 collaboration with Ben Harper. “It’ll be at least a year before it comes out, maybe even two years,” Musselwhite says. “We’re both really busy, but we do have more than half an album recorded already.
“It’s a blues album, but it’s not traditional: It’s all fresh and real new and real modern. I think it’s even better than the one we did before. We spent a couple of years on the road touring together, when that first album came out, so as a band we just got better and better.”
Here is the schedule for the Morristown Jazz and Blues Festival:
Noon-1:45 p.m.: Swingadelic
2-3:45 p.m.: Bucky Pizzarelli’s Guitar Summit, with Frank Vignola, Vinny Raniolo and Ed Laub
4-5:45 p.m.: Bria Skonberg
6-7:45 p.m.: Roomful of Blues
8-10 p.m.: The Charlie Musselwhite Band
Lawn chairs or blankets are recommended. For information, visit morristownjazzandblues.com.