In the mid-’60s, Bettye LaVette had a minor hit with a song called “Let Me Down Easy,” and was invited open for James Brown at the Apollo Theatre in New York, as well as on the road for about 30 dates.
“He was working damn near every night, and he worked his ass off,” LaVette remembers. “He literally was the hardest working man in show business.
“He didn’t really need me, but my record was doing well at the time, and the people who were booking him were also booking me, and I wound up on the show.”
Brown was known as a control freak, and this extended to his opening acts.
“I was closing with my little would-be hit, ‘Let Me Down Easy,’ ” says LaVette, “and he made me move it, because it was kind of stopping the show. Instead of closing with it, I had to put it in the middle. My applause could go on over to my next song, but it couldn’t go on over into his!”
LaVette will be one of the performers at “Get On Up: A James Brown Celebration!,” taking place Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. at Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark, as part of the TD James Moody Jazz Festival.
Bassist Christian McBride — who is NJPAC’s jazz advisor, and has called Brown his “No. 1 musical hero” — put together the show after presenting a similar one at the Hollywood Bowl in 2014. James Brown Band alumni Pee Wee Ellis, Danny “The Cape Man” Ray, Robert “Mousey” Thompson and Fred Wesley will perform, as will LaVette, Sharon Jones, Lee Fields, Ryan Shaw and Terrace Martin.
LaVette, who grew up in Detroit and now lives in West Orange, says that even though she worked with Brown, she didn’t get to know him well.
“I don’t think anybody got to know him!” she says, with a laugh.
This is the fifth annual TD James Moody Jazz Festival, and most of the events will take place between Nov. 16 and 20, at NJPAC and other Newark venues. Here’s a rundown:
8 p.m.: GRP Jazz Revisited with Dave Grusin, Lee Ritenour, David Sanborn, Phil Perry and The Yellowjackets, at Prudential Hall at NJPAC.
7 p.m.: NJMEA All State Jazz Fest at Chase Room at NJPAC.
8 p.m.: Get On Up: A James Brown Celebration, with Christian McBride, Sharon Jones, Bettye LaVette, Pee Wee Ellis, Danny “The Cape Man” Ray, Robert “Mousey” Thompson, Fred Wesley at Prudential Hall at NJPAC.
11 a.m.: Day of Swing at NJPAC’s Arts Education Annex. Free, family-oriented event, with workshops, master classes, jam sessions, art projects, dance and more.
1:30 p.m.: Winard Harper and Jeli Posse at Newark Museum.
7:30 p.m.: “Sarah Vaughan Celebration,” The Christian McBride Trio with Dianne Reeves, Lisa Fischer, Sheila Jordan at Victoria Theater at NJPAC.
11 a.m.: Dorthaan’s Place Jazz Brunch: Renee Rosnes at NICO’s Kitchen + Bar at NJPAC.
3 p.m.: Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition — The Sassy Awards, at Victoria Theater at NJPAC. Finalists are Lauren Bush, Teira Lockhart Church, Deelee Dubé, Sinne Eeg and Lauren Scales. Judges will include Christian McBride, Dianne Reeves, Sheila Jordan, journalist Mark Ruffin and WBGO-FM host Sheila E. Anderson.
For information on all the events, visit NJPAC.org.
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