Seán Collins a veteran radio producer and web content manager. He served as the Senior Producer of NPR's All Things Considered for many years. He is Music Inside Out's web producer and manages social media for the program. He lives in Saint Louis.
"When we think of him, he is without a hat, standing in the wind and the weather. He was impatient of topcoats and hats, preferring to be exposed, and he was young enough and tough enough to confront and to enjoy the cold and the wind of these times, whether the winds of nature or the winds of political circumstance and national danger. He died of exposure, but in a way that he would have settled for -- in the line of duty, and with his friends and enemies all around, supporting him and shooting at him. It can be said of him, as of few men in a like position, that he did not fear the weather, and did not trim his sails, but instead challenged the wind itself, to improve its direction and to cause it to blow more softly and more kindly over the world and its people."
published in the 30 November 1963 issue of The New Yorker magazine.
In November of 1961, cellist Pablo Casals played at the White House at the invitation of President and Mrs. Kennedy. His encore that night was his composition "El Cant del Ocells" (The Song of the Birds.)
El Cant del Ocells
Louis Armstrong, 1965
In 1967, Marine Lance Corporal Villec, stationed in Vietnam, wrote a fan letter to Louis Armstrong. What's reproduced here is the jazz great's amazing reposnse to that piece of fan mail — at once intimate, heartfelt, and wonderful. You see in its pages (it's five handwritten pages) a breezy familiarity with a man, we can only assume, Armstrong had never met in person, and a willingness to be frank and thoughtful about his own life's work and its challenges.
Armstrong's unique punctuation, with unexpected capitalizations, underlinings and quotation marks, is preserved here.
Corona New York'
Dear L/Cpl, Villec"
I'd like to 'step in here for a 'Minute or 'so' to ''tell you how much—I 'feel to know that 'you are a 'Jazz fan, and 'Dig' 'that 'Jive—the 'same as 'we 'do, "yeah." "Man—I carry an 'Album, 'loaded with 'Records—'Long playing 'that is. And when I am 'Shaving or 'Sitting on the 'Throne with 'Swiss Kriss' in me—That Music 'sure 'brings out those 'Riffs' 'Right Along with 'Swiss Kriss, which I 'take 'every night or when I go to bed. 'Yeah. I give myself a 'Concert with those 'records. 'Music is 'life it'self. What would this 'world be without 'good music? No matter 'what kind it is.
It 'all came from the Old 'Sanctified 'Churches. I can remember—'way back in the 'old days in 'New Orleans, La—'My home town. And I was a little Boy around 'ten years old. My Mother used to take me to 'Church with her, and the Reverend ('Preacher that is') used to 'lead off one' of those 'good ol good 'Hymns. And before you realized it—the 'whole 'Congregation would be "Wailing—'Singing like 'mad and 'sound so 'beautiful. 'I 'being a little boy that would "Dig" 'Everything and 'everybody, I'd have myself a 'Ball in 'Church, especially when those 'Sisters 'would get 'So 'Carried away while "Rev" (the preacher) would be 'right in the 'Middle of his 'Sermon. 'Man those 'Church 'Sisters would 'begin 'Shouting 'So—until their 'petticoats would 'fall off. Of course 'one of the 'Deacons would 'rush over and 'grab her—'hold her in his 'Arms and 'fan her until 'she'd 'Come 'to.
Then there were those "Baptisms—that's when someone wants to be converted by Joining the 'Church and get 'religion. So they have to be 'Baptized. 'Dig this—I remember 'one Sunday the 'Church had a 'great big Guy they had to 'Baptize. So these 'Deacons all 'Standing in this 'River—in 'Water up to their waist in their 'white 'Robes. They had 'Baptized 'several 'women and a few 'Men—'saved their 'Souls. When in 'Walks' a 'Great 'big' 'burly 'Sinner' who came down the line. So—'these 'Deacons whom were 'very 'strong 'themselves, they grabbed 'hold of this 'Cat and said to him as they 'ducked him down into the water, as they let him they asked him—"Brother 'do you 'Believe?" The Guy didn't say 'anything—Just looked at them. So they 'Ducked him down into that 'River again, 'only they 'held him down there a 'few minutes 'Longer. So when the 'Deacons looked in the guy's eye and said to him—"Do you 'Believe?" This Guy finally 'answered—he said "Yes—I Believe you 'Son of Bitches trying to 'drown me."
P.S. I guess you think I'm 'Nuts. 'Nay 'Nay. I only 'mentioned these incidents because it all was 'built around 'Music. In fact, it's 'All Music. "You 'Dig? The 'Same as we did in my 'Home Town 'New Orleans'—those 'Funeral Marches etc. "Why 'Gate" 'Villec, we 'played those 'Marches with 'feeling from our 'hearts. 'All the way to the Cemetery—'Brass Band of course. The 'Snare drummer would put a 'handkerchief under the 'snares of his 'drum to 'deaden the 'Sound while 'playing on the way to the Cemetery—"Flee as a Bird." But as 'soon as the 'preacher 'say "Ashes to 'Ashes—'Dust to 'Dust"—the "Snare Drummer Commence 'pulling the handkerchief from his 'drum, and make a 'long roll' to 'assemble everybody, including the members of the 'dead man's 'Lodge—or 'Club. 'Then we'd 'return 'back to the 'headquarters 'playing "Didn't he 'Ramble" or "When the Saints Go Marching In." You 'See? 'StillMusic."
I said 'All of that to Keep 'Music in your 'heart the 'same as 'you're 'doing. And 'Daddy—you 'Can't 'go 'wrong. 'Myself and my 'All Stars' are 'Playing here at the 'Harrods 'Club (Reno) for 'Three weeks. My 'wife 'Lucille as 'joined me here. The 'rest will do her lots of good. She was 'operated on for a 'Tumor, about the 'Middle of 'July. She's improving 'very 'Rapidly. Her 'Doctor who 'operated on her at the 'Beth 'Israel Hospital' in New York told her—'She could go to 'Reno and 'spend some time if 'you (Lucille) + your 'husband (Satchmo) 'promised to 'behave 'yourselves and 'don't try to 'do the "Vonce" ("meaning 'Sex). I 'Said—"Doc I 'Promise—But I'll 'Just 'touch it 'lightly every 'morning—to see if it's 'still 'there. 'Ha 'Ha. 'Life's 'sweet. 'Just the 'thought that 'Lucille is 'through with her 'little 'Hindrance—and "soon "be well and 'happy—'be 'her 'lil 'ol 'cute 'self 'again—'Just "knock's' meout.
'Well 'Bre'r 'Villec, I guess I'll 'put it 'down, and get some 'shuteye." It's the 'Wee 'hours in the 'Morning. I've 'Just 'finished 'Work. I am too 'tired to 'raise an 'eye 'lid. Tee hee. So I'll leave this little message with you. "Here goes'.
When you 'Walk—through a 'Storm—
Put your 'Head—up 'high—
And 'Don't be Afraid of the 'Dark—
At the 'End of a 'Storm—
Is a 'Gol-den 'Sky—
And a Sweet Silver 'Song—
Of a 'Lark—
'Walk—'on—through the 'Wind—
'Walk—'on—through the 'Rain—
Though your 'Dreams be "Tossed and 'Blown—
With 'Hope in your heart
And 'You'll 'Nev-er 'Walk 'A-'lone—
You'll 'Nev-er 'Walk A-lone—
(one more time)
'Walk—'on—'Walk—'on—with 'Hope in your 'heart—And 'you'll
Nev-er 'Walk 'A-lone—'You'll 'Nev-er 'Walk—'A-lone—. "Savvy?
Give my regards to the fellows that's in your company. And the other fellows too. And now I'll do you 'Just like the 'Farmer did the 'Potato—I'll 'Plant you 'Now and 'Dig you 'later. I'll 'Close now. It's a real 'Pleasure 'Writing—'You.
You'll Never Walk Alone
This letter is taken from Louis Armstrong, In His Own Words: Selected Writings. For more on "Swiss Kriss," a brand of herbal laxative, see this story from NPR.
We want to take a moment to acknowledge the service of the women and men who have served the US in the military. The veterans of any war remind us that military service exacts a huge price from those who serve in uniform and those who remain at home and await their return.
We honor that service and that vigilance. And voice our earnest hope that — someday — men and women and their families will no longer be called upon to make those sacrifices.
As you examine photojournalist Lucian Read's portraits of some of the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, listen to the music of Alex McMurray — and his song "1914."
1914 Washington, DC: Portraits - Winter Soldiers - Images by Lucian Read
Posted by Seán Collins on 1 Nov 2013 Louis Armstrong in 1946, William P. Gottlieb
All Saints Day is a time when many of us consider, with gratitude, those who have gone before us. Here's the 1938 recording of "When The Saints..." made by Louis Armstrong or, as he calls himself, "the Reverend Satchmo."
When The Saints Go Marching In
Recorded May 13, 1938
Track Time 2:44
Written by “Traditional”
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Shelton Hemphill, trumpet; J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Rupert Cole, Charlie Holmes, alto saxophone; Bingie Madison, tenor saxophone; Luis Russell, piano; Lee Blair, guitar; Pops Foster, bass; Paul Barbarin, drums.
Originally released on Decca 2230
Read more about the recording
George Murphy "Pops" Foster was a master of slap bass. He was born in 1892 near Baton Rouge, and died on this day in 1969. Through the years, he played with all the greats: Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Sidney Bechet and Earl Hines among them.
Here's a recording of the Muggsy Spanier's band in 1964 -- featuring Pops on bass, with a solo that begins at 3:46.
On 29 October 1955, "All By Myself" hit the top of the R&B charts. It's found on Carry On Rockin' — Fats Domino's first album. (There had been earlier hits, mind you, but this was his first LP.)
The song was co-written with Dave Bartholomew.
Little girl, don't you understand?
I wanna be your lovin' man
All by myself, all by myself
I don't need no one to love you
Gonna love you all by myself
Well, meet me in a hurry behind the barn
Don't be afraid, I'll do you no harm
All by myself, all by myself
I don't need no one to love you
Gonna love you all by myself
Well, I got a girl who's six feet tall
Sleeps in the kitchen with her feet in the hall
All by myself, all by myself
I don't need no one to love her
Gonna love her all by myself
Well, I got a girl who lives on the hill
She won't love you but her sister will
All by herself, all by herself
I don't need no one to love you
Gonna love you all by herself
Domino, Antoine / Bartholomew, Dave
Here's a partial video recording of a live performance at Jazz Fest in 2001.
Frank Ocean is 26 today.
Born in California, his family (the Breauxs) moved to New Orleans when he was five. He says his early musical influences include the jazz CDs his mom would listen to in the car. And he saved money washing cars and walking dogs to rent studio time as a young man.
He enrolled at the University of New Orleans just before Katrina. And it was Katrina that would send him back to California.
posted by Seán Collins on 15 Sept 2013The Beatles with Frogman Henry
They stayed at the Congress Inn.
They held a press conference which was filmed.
The opening act was Frogman Henry.
Tickets cost five dollars.
And 700 teenage girls met the police at the barricades in City Park.
On September 16, 1964, The Beatles came to New Orleans.
McCartney said the concert in City Park, “was the closest we’ve come on the tour to getting worried. When I saw them coming for the stage.” He added, “I wondered, would they stay at the barricades or rush the stage and we’d be massacred?”
“It really was like a football game,” said Frogman Henry. “I mean, they were running from the policemen and the policemen were tackling them. I really enjoyed it because it was so comical. And those policemen, man, they were laughing the whole time.”
Here's a recording of Frogman Henry singing "Ain't Got No Home."
Frogman Henry - Ain't Got No Home
And the Fab Four opened in City Park with "Twist & Shout."
The Beatles - Twist And ShoutNEW ORLEANS — CITY PARK CONCERT — SET LIST
Twist and Shout
You Can’t Do That
All My Loving
She Loves You
Things We Said Today
Roll Over Beethoven
Can’t Buy Me Love
If I Fell
A Hard Day’s Night
Long Tall Sally
Interview excerpts taken from It Was 40 Years Ago Today Frogman Henry And The Beatles Came To Play by Michael Hurt in Offbeat magazine.
posted by Seán Collins on 14 Sept 2013September 15 marks a milestone in jazz.
In 1915, "The 'Jelly Roll' Blues" was published by one Ferd Morton, a guy just about everyone knows as Jelly Roll. It was the first time somebody published a piece of jazz music, and it went to prove that a music whose very soul is improvisation can survive notation.
You can publish and not perish, in other words.
Morton's piano playing was born of ragtime and he often played the melody with the thumb of his right hand, allowing him to play harmonies above the melody as well as below it, with his left.
Here are two recordings of the song. The first is a solo piano recording of Morton, and probably dates to 1915.
Jelly Roll Blues - piano
And this second recording, featuring Morton's band 'The Red Hot Peppers,' dates to 1924.
Jelly Roll Blues - Red Hot Peppers
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's guitar and fiddleposted by Seán Collins on 10 Sept 2013
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown never heard a song he couldn't sing or an instrument he wouldn't play.
Blues, rock, jazz, country, folk, cajun, R&B -- there wasn't much music that didn't move him to pick up an instrument and play. And those instruments were just as varied: guitar, drums, mandolin, viola, harmonica, and fiddle. He is regarded as perhaps the finest blues fiddler of the past century.
The Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist died on 10 September 2005, in Orange, Texas, where he went following Hurricane Katrina.
Here's his recording of "Going Back to Louisiana."
Gatemouth Brown/Going Back to Louisiana
Posted by Seán Collins on 9 Sept 2013
On 9 September 1957, Jerry Lee Lewis hit the top of the R&B and Country charts with "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On." (The song would later hit #3 on the Pop chart, too.)
Lewis had recorded the song at Sun Records, in Memphis, back in February. He said he knew it was going to be a hit, but that Sam Phillips thought it was too risqué and wouldn't be successful.
"If that's risqué," Lewis is reported to have said, "well, I'm sorry."
While Jerry Lee Lewis is responsible for the driving boogie piano line that is so much of the song as we know it today, his was not the original version of the song.
That credit may go to Big Maybelle, Mabel Louise Smith, who recorded the song back in 1955, two years before Lewis, for Okeh records with a producer named Quincy Jones.
(Roy Hall also recorded the song in 1955, for Decca Records. And for the record, his publicity photo is not half as cute as Big Maybelle's.)
Posted by Seán Collins on 6 Sept 2013
Loud. Fat. And brassy.
That's what they said his playing was like, the first man to earn the title of the "King" of jazz, the music he is credited with inventing.
Charles "Buddy" Bolden was born on 6 September 1877 at 319 Howard Street in New Orleans. And what he did with a cornet Uptown and in Storyville no one had done before.
We know this much. They danced until the sun came up, and at some point during the night, a member of Bolden's band suggested they better open a window or two.
Which leads to another first in music: the use of the word funky. Bolden's tune "Funky Butt" became a sort of theme song for his band.
Here is a recording of Jelly Roll Morton, made in 1939 or 1940, of Funky Butt/Buddy Bolden's Blues. It was Morton who said that Bolden was "the blowingest man since Gabriel."
Buddy Bolden's Blues/Jelly Roll Morton
No recordings of Buddy Bolden are known to exist.
Bolden was diagnosed with dementia praecox, what now would be called schizophrenia. He was institutionalized and died in 1931. He's buried in an unmarked grave in Holt Cemetery.
Read MoreNational Parks Service Jazz HistoryNPRRed Hot Jazz
The following is from Speakeasy on WSJ.com
More than anything, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews wanted to have enough time to work on his new album, “Say That to Say This,” which premieres today on Speakeasy. So he made time.
“On the previous two records, we were touring, and we’d go in for a day or two, go back on tour for two weeks, then go back in for a week,” Andrews told Speakeasy. “This time, we were able to do three, four weeks straight and just comfortable, get in creative mode instead of being in creative mode and performing mode.”
LISTEN TO THE NEW MUSIC ON SPEAKEASYBe listening for Trombone Shorty on Music Inside Out in the weeks ahead.
Posted by Seán Collins on 3 Sept 2013
Today's the birthday of a champion of zydeco, Terrance Simien, born 3 September 1965, in Mallet, La.
His recording, Live! Worldwide, was the first to win a Grammy award (2008) in the Best Zydeco or Cajun Music album category.
Here's a cut — "Zydeco Boogaloo" — from that album.
Zydeco Boogaloo/T. Simien
The Creole for Kidz program, which Simien founded, has raised awareness of Creole music throughout the world.
We go to the movies. Gwen is joined by NPR film critic Bob Mondello, composer Terence Blanchard, and director Benh Zeitlin for a discussion of the art and craft of matching music and film. Join us on WWNO at 7:00p Thursday or at Noon on Saturday. We'll save you some popcorn.
Posted by Seán Collins on 19 Aug 2013 Legendary Jazz Pianist DiesCedar Walton Had A Long Career As Bandleader & Composer
He was known the world-over as a 'hard bop' pianist and was recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts as a Jazz Master. Cedar Walton died Monday, at his home in Brooklyn, at the age of 79.
Born in Dallas, he studied for awhile in New Orleans. As he told the NEA:
NEA: When you went to Denver, did you go specifically intending to study music?
Cedar Walton: Yeah, I'd gone to a school even prior to that, a small school in New Orleans named Dillard University. And me and Ellis Marsalis, the father of Wynton and Bradford, we registered the same day. He wasn't even playing piano then. I mean, not as much as I was. He was, like most of the musicians I met there, amazingly playing three or four instruments. He might have been studying piano too, but he played bass on a little gig we had there, the one gig I had in New Orleans as a college student. NEA Interview
While in Denver, he met the likes of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and John Coltrane. He would be hired on as a pianist-arranger for Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.
He's being remembered today by many, including NPR's Mark Memmott and Tim Wilkins at WBGO.
We add our voice of thanks for his artistry.
Here's a recording of "Blues for Myself."
Blues For MyselfThere's more of Walton's music linked and being discussed in The Music Room.
Piano player Tom McDermott is our guest this week.
He has a sweet style when he plays the piano: every song’s a set-piece, a memory, a love. His repertoire stretches back to the 1870s and the ragtime of his hometown of Saint Louis, to the rhythms of Brazil and their influences on the music of his adopted home of New Orleans.
Tune in to WWNO 89.9 FM Thursday at 7:00p or Saturday at Noon.
photos: Gregg Goldman
video: Jason Rhein, Elephant Quilt Productions
Posted by Seán Collins on 14 Aug 2013On this week's show, Terence Blanchard tells Gwen about growing up in Pontchartrain Park, a neighborhood built around a golf course designed by Joseph Bartholomew. It turns out Gwen and Terence grew up a stone's throw from one another. And they shared many experiences -- including childhoods spent under the watchful gaze of other people's mothers.
During the interview, Blanchard tells the story of his father — who worked two jobs — waking him up before leaving the house for his night job at the hospital. Father and son would watch "The Honeymooners" together.
It's just such a sweet and wonderful story. You can imagine the kid Terence, curled up on the couch in his PJs, laughing along with his dad at Norton's antics. We though you would get a kick out of this scene.
Join the discussion
Posted by Seán Collins on 12 Aug 2013
Emile Griffith died earlier this summer. He was a boxer — a welterweight and middleweight world record holder. He battled his sexuality, too. In 1962, after Benny "The Kid" Paret used a Spanish vulgarism to refer to Griffith, he beat him to death.
The fight was a slugfest, and Paret nearly ended things in the sixth round. But after six more rounds, things ended for Paret as Griffith punched him senseless against the ropes, sending him into a coma from which he never emerged. He died ten days later. Norman Mailer, who was also in attendance that night in a ringside seat, wrote, “As he took those eighteen punches something happened to everyone who was in psychic range of the event. Some part of his death reached out to us. … As he went down, the sound of Griffith’s punches echoed in the mind like a heavy axe in the distance chopping into a wet log.” Mailer summed things up with the following words: “Paret died on his feet.”
—"Death at the Garden" by Jonathan Coleman, The New Yorker
The story of Emile Griffith is the subject of the opera "Champion" by Terence Blanchard.
Jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard talks with Gwen about his career, including the early days with Lionel Hampton and Art Blakey, and the exciting work that debuted his summer: Champion, an Opera in Jazz.
posted by Seán Collins on 8 August 2013
In September, the Public Radio Program Directors (PRPD) will meet in Atlanta for their annual conference. It's like any industry get-together: except it's much more... public radio.
For Music Inside Out, it's our first opportunity to get this radio program on the radars of the men and women who do a good deal of the gate-keeping at public radio stations around the country.
Long before you ever hear a radio show on your station, a staff member of a public station has heard it, and liked it, and has bugged their program director about it. And it's that program director who makes the decision to air the program in a local market.
So, we have been debating: Which shows should we highlight for the PRPD? If we were going to press a thumb drive into the hands of a potential champion of the program, which three shows would we like them to hear? What programs should we have them audition?
Let us know what you think. Which three hours would best highlight the scope and mission of the show? Do you have a favorite or two?
And wish us well at the PRPD.
posted by Seán Collins on 6 August 2013
Dr. Michael White is Gwen's guest this week on Music Inside Out. White is a really delightful guest who is able to put his playing into the context of both New Orleans music and also the broader social fabric of New Orleans as well.
Remember, the show airs on WWNO at seven o'clock Thursday evening now, with an encore broadcast at Noon on Saturday.
Dr. Michael White, besides being a champion of traditional jazz, is also (apparently) a fan of The Turtles. Here's his version of their 1967 song "Happy Together."
Happy Togetherfrom Dr. Michael White's album "Adventures in New Orleans Jazz, Part 2"Listen to Music Inside Out on WWNO 89.9 FM
Thursday at 7:00p
Saturday at Noon
One of the goals we set for ourselves in the redesign of the website was that it be easily usable when accessed on a desktop computer or a mobile device, like a phone or tablet.
The reason for this is simple math: more and more people are using phones to get web content. And if you design a website that looks gorgeous on a big screen, but is illegible on a small one, you are shooting yourself in the metaphorical foot. With a metaphorical gun. Which is metaphorically crazy.
The buzzword for this idea in web design circles is "mobile first." In other words, the designer is encouraged to think of the mobile (small-screen) user first and build up and out from there.
To that end we've done out best to make navigation easy on a phone and to make text legible on small screens. You may have to do a bit of scrolling, but that's why God invented thumbs. We have employed the HTML5 web standard throughout the site to make our content accessible to modern browsers, both mobile and desktop versions.
posted by Seán Collins • 19 July 2013
Years ago, long before I joined the church of radio, I was a Benedictine monk living in a monastery in Missouri. I spent five years in the community. We looked after a parish church and ran a prep school, and some monks served as chaplains for nearby convents and hospitals.
Some of the monks were scholars. Some were gardeners. We had a few artists and musicians in the community, a scientist or two, and a greater than average collection of philosophers, theologians, linguists, and poets.
It was, perhaps, thanks to the poets that a piece of art was hung in the refectory, the room in the monastery where we took all our meals. (We didn’t talk during meals. One of the monks ate later and read to us during supper.)
The art on the wall contained this line of text: “These I have loved: wet roofs, beneath the lamplight; the strong crust of friendly bread; and many tasting food.”
I stared at those words month after month, year after year.