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Steve Miller with Jimmie Vaughan: Live at JALC

Blues, roots and "Blue Skies"

Steve Miller and company perform in his "Out of This World" program at Jazz at Lincoln Center, April 2016
Mike Rodriguez, Brianna Thomas, Steve Miller and Jimmie Vaughan (from left) perform in Miller's "Out of This World" program at Jazz at Lincoln Center, April 2016
Jimmie Vaughan performs in Miller's "Out of This World" program at Jazz at Lincoln Center, April 2016
Steve Miller, Jimmie Vaughan and friends perform in Miller's "Out of This World" program at Jazz at Lincoln Center, April 2016
Steve Miller at Jazz at Lincoln Center in April 2016, backed by the horns of Craig Handy, Patrick Bartley and Mike Rodriguez (from left)

Given its reputation as jazz’s most conservative and canonical institution, Jazz at Lincoln Center has a surprising knack for creating a certain kind of surreality in its programming. You could have seen a good example on Wednesday at JALC’s Rose Theater, where Eric Harland, an unimpeachably hip jazz drummer and protégé-collaborator to Charles Lloyd, backed guitarist and vocalist Steve Miller, whose string of unavoidable ’70s hits signify something else: baby-boomers, including a few men with ponytails, kicking back with light beer on a suburban patio or, better yet, on the deck of a beachtown rental. There are many people, this writer included, who’ve pledged devotion to the sort of music Harland usually plays because they grew up hearing too much Steve Miller Band.

But that isn’t quite fair to Miller, 72, whose interesting personal history isn’t obvious from the singles that made him one of this year’s inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As he explained onstage, he was something of a prodigal blues and rock-and-roll entertainer, who garnered licks firsthand from family friends Les Paul (his godfather) and T-Bone Walker. He later paid dues in the heady prime of the Chicago blues scene, and fused heavy blues with Summer of Love psychedelia on early LPs that are still underrated. In recent years he’s returned to recording blues, but Wednesday’s program at JALC, called “Out of This World” with the subtitle “Ma Rainey Meets Miles Davis,” might be his most resolute showcase yet for the songs that ignited his musical life. (There are two more performances tonight at Jazz at Lincoln Center.)

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