We go to a lot of parties for “U.S. 1 Crashes a Party,” and it’s usually the same formula — cocktail hour, sit-down downer, and dancing to a live band or just a lot of speeches. But once in a while an event stands out not for its glamor or the fact that gobs of people are coming but rather for the purity and simplicity of its concept. The June 13 fundraiser for CASA was held in a private room at Salt Creek Grille, where 120 very lucky attendees had the privilege of an intimate concert with one of the world’s leading guitar virtuosos, Stanley Jordan. The event raised approximately $10,000.
Sure there was the requisite nibbles and bar, but once Jordan, who flew up from Brazil the day before the event, where he had performed at the Rio das Ostras’ Jazz and Blues Festival, stepped into the room and picked up his guitar, the party buzz stopped and everyone settled in for an hour of exquisite, jaw-dropping music.
Jordan, a 1981 Princeton graduate who grew up in California’s Silicon Valley, opened his set with “All the Children,” a song from his 1985 Grammy-nominated debut album, ‘“Magic Touch,” which he said captures the same idea behind CASA’s work – supporting children, especially children in challenging situations.
The mission of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Mercer County is to speak up in family court for the best interests of the children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse and/or neglect. They are living in foster homes, group homes, or treatment facilities. CASA works through trained community volunteers to insure that needed services and assistance are made available, while helping to move the child toward a safe and permanent home.
Watching Jordan play the guitar is a privilege, kind of like watching the eighth wonder of the world. He plays primarily with both hands on the neck of the guitar, as if he were playing a piano, and indeed the sounds that come out are pianistic, but resonant with emotion that appears to come from somewhere deep inside Jordan’s very soul, as if the instrument were just a tool for transmission. He loves to improvise on classical pieces as well as jazz, and his set included his own exquisite interpretations of Mozart’s Piano Concert No. 2 and the second and third movements of Bela Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra.
He smoothly segued into an intensely lyrical rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “El Condor Pasa” and a magnificent take on the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves.”
But it was Jordan’s performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that decimated the crowd: there was not a dry eye in the house. (It’s true, some guests were very, very bad and continued to talk over by the bar during part of Jordan’s set, but an unnamed woman, who must have been a nanny in a former life, properly shushed them. You know what they say, you can dress some people up but…what can I say? Hopeless.)
Jordan has kept his ties to the Princeton area, and his manager, Vernon Hammond of Management Ark is in Plainsboro. According to the artist’s website, “the key to Jordan’s fast-track acclaim was his mastery of a special ‘tapping’ technique on the guitar’s fret board instead of conventional strumming and picking. While a handful of other virtuoso players were using similar techniques, Stanley’s fluid and melodic use of tapping captured the imagination of listeners via his inherent warmth and sensitivity. He happened upon the technique without any formal study and had been applying it to his already exemplary traditional playing 10 years prior to the album.”
His most recent CD, the 2008 “State of Nature” garnered him a Grammy nomination for best pop instrumental for the track “Steppin’ Out.” After a self-imposed exile from the rat race in the ’90s that included a retreat to the mountains of the southwest, Jordan has re-emerged with a new life direction. “Most people — if and when they find their calling — come to see themselves in some sort of service capacity,” he says. “Right now I feel a strong desire to bring my music to the people not just for entertainment, but also for inspiration and healing.”
For more information visit casamercer.og.