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Leslie Kandell's Tanglewood notes
by Leslie Kandell

Tanglewood notes

A Daily Gazette arts blog
Leslie Kandell covers music in the Berkshires

Tanglewood's 5-day James-athon

James Taylor is giving $500,000 of the proceeds back to Tanglewood. That's in addition to the $750,000 he's already donated. He and his second wife, Caroline (long known as Kim), live nearby with their twin sons, and he has composed Berkshires-informed songs. She is a skillful publicist who used to work in the Tanglewood press office and is now a Boston Symphony trustee. The five-day "James Taylor and Friends" festival had to have been her idea.

Events -- including a percussion master class, a panel discussion, showings of a 1971 film, "Two-Lane Blacktop" and a documentary called "One-Man Band," and concerts with singer Sheryl Crow and cellist Yo-Yo Ma--began Wednesday. Traffic warnings (famous Taylor song: "Traffic Jam;" another has a loudly-applauded line about Stockbridge and the Pike, the exit is at Lee, who cares) and route guidance to Tanglewood appeared in the local news.

Every time that guy comes near here the joint starts jumping. From Thursday on, the film's 1955 Chevy was displayed at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, creating more congestion and a windfall for shops and the Red Lion--people poured into all its dining rooms with no seats left for lunch as late as 3 p.m.

Sunday's John Williams/James Taylor concert was packed like Tanglewood's glory days--and who did they bribe for that ravishing sunshine! Boston Pops conductor laureate Williams led the Pops Esplanade, which is part Boston Symphony and part Pops, plus fill-ins. His concerts usually begin and end with his most popular tunes (Sunday he started his half with the March from "Superman" and ended with the theme from "Star Wars") and in between amounts to an infomercial for his less successful tunes. Sunday's middle was stronger than usual, with themes from "Harry Potter" and "Cinema Paradiso" by Enrico Morricone, as well as his own "Elegy," performed by cellist Martha Babcock in tribute to Ted Kennedy.

The Pops backed up Taylor's second half and were joined by about 20 singers from the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, which on this occasion included Caroline. (Normally, chorus director John Oliver wouldn't let an outsider within a mile of his meticulously-trained ensemble, but if she wants to be in this, what's he going to say?)

Taylor looks trim, swigs water, sings easily -- the voice has probably lasted because his songs and style don't veer toward force or fury. He sang for over an hour, counting encores, and opened with "Sweet Baby James," my first favorite and his counterpart of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant."

I stayed through "Fire and Rain," (my other favorite) before the final song. Songs I know less allowed contemplation of arrangements, particularly those by Stanley Silverman, a sensitive musician who has worked with Paul Simon, and is obviously on the same page as Taylor when it comes to starting an accompaniment with a single instrument and building sweetly to large orchestration.

Taylor is a FEEnom, endlessly popular with good reason: he's casually goodlooking, in voice, generous with time and money. Long may he generate traffic jams.

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