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The Entertainers

This issue is a thematic meld of sorts. It includes our annual Personal Farewells special section, where the peers and disciples of recently departed jazz greats play writer, and an ode to iconic female vocalists. But what this book really celebrates is performance-artists who live to connect with an audience, players and singers who are also proud to be entertainers, musicians who place a high premium on accessibility (yet not necessarily commerciality). Let’s hear it for the hams.

In Farewells we lead off with the late guitarist and inventor Les Paul, whose fleet-fingered picking was countered by a natural onstage ability as comic and storyteller-a skill that never left him, whether he was trading quips with Mary Ford in 1950 or Nicki Parrott in 2004. As Frank Vignola articulates in his piece, Paul was a certified pop star, and his studio innovations and namesake instrument revolutionized all sorts of popular music. The irony of a top jazz and vocal-pop artist inventing the premier hard-rock tool is often underscored, but it makes perfect sense. Aside from the functionality of the Gibson Les Paul-it is one remarkably durable, versatile slab of wood-there’s a philosophical correlation there as well. Showmanship is showmanship, and Paul’s Django-inspired runs thrill just as easily as the turbocharged blues of historic Les Paul players like ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons or Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. And it doesn’t take a musicology dissertation to draw lines from Paul’s multitracking to today’s laptop wizards.

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