Big Ol’ Blog

31 posts

Karen Carpenter and Ella Fitzgerald

Karen and Ella

This morning we came across a YouTube video that literally had us in tears. Maybe it’s the stressful times we’re living in, but let’s face it — we’re suckers for what’s known as The Great American Songbook. Especially when its songs are beautifully sung. Call it nostalgia if you will, but a great voice is still a great voice. And this video has two of them — Ella Fitzgerald and Karen Carpenter.

On May 16, 1980, ABC television aired “The Carpenters: Music, Music, Music” starring the hugely successful pop duo Karen and Richard Carpenter. Ella and singer John Davidson were special guests. Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra provided the instrumental backdrop; composer and arranger George Wyle contributed “special music material.”

The video

The scene opens on a darkened set. Ella sits downstage, next to a long, narrow barrier — maybe a bar? The orchestra uncoils a smooth, smoky intro. Karen enters through curtains upstage. She is the first to sing:

Karen Carpenter and Ella Fitzgerald
Click to open on YouTube

Is it live or is it Memorex?

There seems to be a difference of opinion as to whether or not Karen is lip-syncing throughout. Some listeners believe she only pre-recorded the first song, “Masquerade,” and the rest is live. Others insist she mimed the whole thing, possibly at the behest of her perfectionist brother Richard.

Ella, everyone seems to agree, is live. The situation calls to mind Fitzgerald’s famous glass-shattering TV ad from the early 1970s: “Is it live or is it Memorex?” In fact, by the time this TV special aired, Fitzgerald was enjoying a late-career resurgence thanks to those Memorex commercials. And a gaggle of Boomer audiophiles were left arguing over whether or not audio cassettes were “good enough” for serious listening.

But we digress. Anyway — does it matter who lip-synced what? With Riddle’s gorgeous arrangements providing the perfect setting, these two professionals come so close to musical Nirvana it’s scary. At 3:27, after Karen finishes a chorus of “Someone to Watch Over Me,” you can just barely make out Ella saying “so pretty.” That’s Ella Fitzgerald, complimenting Karen Carpenter. All right then.

Go ahead; watch it again:

Karen Carpenter and Ella Fitzgerald
Click to open on YouTube

Better have a hanky close to hand.

A Tribute to Sam Moore on his 85th Birthday

We’d be remiss if we didn’t add a few words of our own in praise of R&B legend Sam Moore, who turns 85 today.

He’s the Sam of Sam & Dave, of course … the high tenor to Dave Prater’s lower tenor/baritone. Backed by Booker T. & the M.G.’s, they were one of the most electrifying live acts of the 1960s.

But don’t take our word for it. Here’s Sam & Dave in Oslo, Norway of all places, as part of the 1966 Stax/Volt Revue:

Recommended Sam Moore Listening

Besides “Hold On, I’m Coming,” the duo’s other classic sides — “You Don’t Know Like I Know,” “I Thank You,” “When Something is Wrong with My Baby,” and of course, “Soul Man” — are all widely available. But if we had to pick a desert island disc, the nod would go to The Complete Stax/Volt Singles (1959-1968).

Stax-Volt Vol. 1

Sam Moore and Dave Prater split up in 1970, with Sam leaving to pursue a solo career after a series of singles produced by Atlantic failed to do well. They reunited a year later, recorded some more, and continued to tour and perform together until Dave’s death in 1988.

Sam’s solo album Plenty Good Lovin′ finally saw the light of day in 2002, over 30 years after it was recorded. Featuring Aretha Franklin (on piano!), Donny Hathaway, King Curtis and the Sweet Inspirations, this one’s a treasure.

We’ve already mentioned our fondness for Rhythm, Country and Blues, a semi-obscure MCA compilation from 1994. The concept — pairing a country artist with a blues or R&B performer — resulted in many lovely and surprising tracks.

One of these features Sam Moore and Conway Twitty in a haunting and soulful cover of Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night in Georgia”:

Rhythm, Country and Blues
Click to see YouTube video

So — happy birthday, Mr. Moore! You can add your well-wishes to his Facebook page here. Legendary Soul Man Sam Moore, indeed.

d.b.a front door

Where Did The Live Music Go?

The pandemic has hit the world of live music harder here in New Orleans, it seems, that almost anywhere else. When a city like ours, whose identity comes in large part from a vibrant music scene, shuts its bars, restaurants, hotels and other performance spaces — well, it’s like a punch in the gut.

Fortunately, live music itself isn’t going away without a fight. It’s just going on-line.

Over at Tipitina’s, Galactic (the club’s owner and its house band) experimented with Tipitina’s TV. Season 1, which just ended, offered up six live shows featuring a spectrum of New Orleans talent: Rebirth Brass Band, Anders Osborne, Tank & The Bangas, Samantha Fish, The Radiators … and Galactic themselves.

From what we saw and heard, production values were first-rate. Tip’s partnered with the streaming platform nugs.net, which enabled those who bought a full series pass to watch any show they’d missed.

No word on the success of Tipitina’s TV, or whether there will be a Season 2

d.b.a. … Usual?

Meanwhile, on Frenchmen Street, the proprietor of d.b.a. is working on his own streaming solution to bring back live music. Tom Thayer says “d.b.a. Live” will be a partnership with the live-streaming platform StageIt.com.

The first show streamed Wednesday night and featured d.b.a. stalwart Walter “Wolfman” Washington. As you might imagine, the music was smooth and bluesy. The technical quality, though, was a bit glitchy … not nearly as seamless as the offerings on Tip’s TV. It’s possible there was just so much interest in the Wolfman that the StageIt stream ran out of bandwidth.

Speaking of offerings, one nice feature of StageIt is the opportunity to tip the musicians. Thayer says they get to keep 100% of those tips, plus a share of the “virtual ticket sales.”

Unfortunately, if you miss a d.b.a. live stream there’s apparently no way to watch a rerun. Kinda like life: once it’s gone it’s gone. But the good news: the Wolfman will be playing each Wednesday night … just like he did before the pandemic.

You can read more about d.b.a.’s comeback at NOLA.com.

Charlie Parker, Tommy Potter, Miles Davis, Duke Jordan, Max Roach

Charlie Parker’s 100th Birthday — Memories of a Great Artist

He’s been called “the American Mozart.” And the comparison is notable. Both Charlie Parker and his Austrian counterpart died in their 30s, both were remarkable improvisors and gifted musicians, and both lived (shall we say) extreme lives.

And you can argue that Charlie “Yardbird” Parker (born August 29, 1920) was as influential a figure in 20th century music as Mozart was in the 18th. Parker inspired writers, filmmakers, poets, artists and of course countless musicians. This list is a long one.

One of Parker’s earliest literary champions was the Beat writer Jack Kerouac.

Jack Kerouac reads from Mexico City Blues, with Steve Allen at the piano.
Click to open in YouTube
Charley Parker Looked like Buddha
Charley Parker, who recently died
Laughing at a juggler on the TV
after weeks of strain and sickness,
was called the Perfect Musician.
And his expression on his face
Was as calm, beautiful, and profound
As the image of the Buddha
Represented in the East, the lidded eyes,
The expression that says “All is Well”
—This was what Charley Parker
Said when he played, All is Well.
You had the feeling of early-in-the-morning
Like a hermit’s joy, or like
the perfect cry
Of some wild gang at a jam session
“Wail, Wop”—Charley burst
His lungs to reach the speed
Of what the speedsters wanted
Was his Eternal Slowdown.
A great musician and a great
creator of forms
That ultimately find expression
In mores and what have you.

— from Mexico City Blues, Jack Kerouac

What Charlie Parker recordings should we be listening to today? Well, one of our favorites has always been the Complete Live Performances on Savoy: Sept. 29, 1947-Oct. 25, 1950.

Charlie Parker Savoy Originals

Orrin Keepnews produced this four-CD set, so you know it’s done right. Great liner notes by Loren Schoenberg. With a list of suggested books for further reading. And state-of-the-art (for 1998) digital transfers.

But really, you can’t go wrong with any of the classics: Charlie Parker with Strings, Jazz at Massey Hall, or Bird and Diz.

For those who want to dig deep, there’s The Complete Savoy & Dial Master Takes, covering everything Bird recorded for those two labels from 1945 through 1948.

And (if you can find it) the 1948 recordings made at the Royal Roost in New York, released on ESP-Disk’ in 1973 are a treat. With live announcements by the one and only “Symphony Sid” Torin.

Yes, that’s a real album cover.

It’s all just music. Real gone music.

Charlie Parker
Rooftop Dancing stills

Sylvan Esso Goes Rooftop Dancing and Shares True Love

Our favorite electro-pop duo, Sylvan Esso, has a new single … and a video to go with it. As usual, “Rooftop Dancing” features Amelia Meath’s limpid vocals combined with Nick Sanborn’s electronic wizardry. Shot in our other favorite city, “Rooftop Dancing” radiates positivity … something we could all use right now.

Rooftop Dancing
Click to open video in YouTube

Sylvan Esso has this to say about their latest:

“Rooftop Dancing” is about the excitement of being part of a collective humming whole — a city that contains multitudes — with your small story shining softly amidst it. Cheryl Dunn was a natural first choice to make the video since she has been so brilliantly capturing the spirit of NYC for years. We are so grateful to her for collaborating with us and giving us a beautiful slice of what the city feels like today.

We hope you like it. Thank you for listening.

Our favorite excerpt from Amelia’s lyrics:

Sunlight beaming out over the bridge
We’re all running, outrunning death
Summertime breaking but we’re chasing it
Forever rooftop dancing

This song comes from the new album Free Love, which is due out September 25th. And if you do a bit of online detective work, you might be able to find another single and video from that same album: “Ferris Wheel.”

Or we can make it easy for you.

Louis Armstrong mural in New Orleans

Louis Armstrong’s Birthday

Throughout his life Louis Armstrong said his birthday was the 4th of July, 1900. It seemed fitting, somehow, for America’s greatest jazz patriarch to share a birthday with his native country. Few questioned this date until many years after Armstrong’s death in 1971. Until Tad Jones came along.

Tad Jones

Tad Jones was a New Orleans music historian, broadcaster, educator and co-founder of New Orleans’s beloved music venue, Tipitina’s. In 1988 he got a call from New York City. It was the prolific jazz writer Gary Giddens, who was working on a book about Armstrong and also directing an Armstrong documentary for PBS. Giddens and the show’s producer asked Jones if he would do some research for them.

“It was supposed to be the definitive book on Armstrong, but he didn’t have time to come here and do the work himself,” Jones told the Times-Piycaune in 1994. “One thing they were interested in was Louie’s birthday. They didn’t believe in Louie’s story that he was born on July 4 and I told them, ‘Yeah, I’ve never believed it myself and nobody else I know believes it.’ “

Discovering Horn of Plenty

Jones managed to track down an obscure Armstrong biography by a Frenchman named Robert Goffin. In it, Armstrong is quoted as saying “When I was born my grandmother took me to Sacred Heart Church to be baptized.”

Jones admitted much of the dialogue in Goffin’s book is “totally fictionalized” and “nobody took Goffin seriously.”

But still, Jones thought, it had to be worth going to the church for a look.

Sacred Heart Church
(photo courtesy of New Orleans Public Library)

“I went in the rectory, told the lady I was looking for a baptismal certificate. She looks it up, pulls out a card that says Louis Armstrong, and asks if his mother was Mary Albert and his father William Armstrong? I said yes.

“She gives me a copy, I give her three bucks, and it has taken all of 15 minutes to find a record that’s been sitting for 88 years in the Sacred Heart rectory on South Lopez Street, that gives Louis Armstrong’s correct birthday as Aug. 4, 1901.”

Giddens’s “definitive” Armstrong biography was published later in 1988. Jones observed ruefully that one piece of its scholarship stood out for most of the reviewers:

“Oh, Gary Giddens found Louis Armstrong’s real birthday.”

Aftermath

Tad Jones wasn’t as upset by his lack of credit as he was by the fact that Armstrong’s life clearly needed more research. One thing he noticed was the name Catherine Walker, listed on the certificate as Armstrong’s baptismal sponsor. Who was she? Jones wanted to know.

After some more digging, it turned out Walker was Louis Armstrong’s great-grandmother. This started a quest for more information about Armstrong’s background, one that Jones was still pursuing when he died in 2007.

Reference

Staff writer, BILL GRADY. “MUSIC WRITER RELISHES ROOTS, RHYTHM OF N.O..” Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA), November 6, 1994: B1. NewsBank: America’s News – Historical and Current.

Satchmo Secondline, photo by Zack Smith Photography

Satchmo Summerfest

This time of year here in New Orleans we look forward to Satchmo Summerfest — a seven-day celebration of all things Louis Armstrong. It’s the event’s 20th anniversary, and normally we’d be heading down to the New Orleans Jazz Museum at the old U.S. Mint for music, food and enlightening conversation.

The keyword is “normally.” Of course these aren’t normal times. So like everyone else, the good folks at French Quarter Festivals, Inc. (who put on the event) have gone virtual.

There’s still music, courtesy of our local jazz and heritage radio station, WWOZ, as well as concerts streaming live on-line. For a complete schedule, visit the Satchmo Summerfest web site.

We’re looking forward to hearing our friends Meschiya Lake, Wendell Brunious, Herlin Riley, John Boutté, and Nicholas Payton, to name a few.

And even if we can’t walk up to a food vendor and grab a luscious po-boy to munch on while wandering outside the Mint listening to great music, there’s still a food component to this year’s Satchmo Summerfest.

Of course, it’s on-line as well:

More great cooking demos are lined up on the French Quarter Festival’s YouTube channel. We’re getting hungry just thinking about it.

Which leaves us with only one question: Will Ricky Riccardi be giving one of his great Louis Armstrong presentations this year? And the answer is “yeah, man.” Check him out on Saturday, August 1st at 4:00 pm, Central. Ricky will be hipping us to “The Big Band Years of Armstrong.” And the following day it’s “Hang at Home with Louis.” Same time, same Satch channel.

On-line, of course.

Stanton Moore

Stanton Moore: 5 Surprising Facts

In honor of his birthday, we thought we’d share a few interesting facts about Stanton Moore — one of our favorite New Orleans groove-masters.

1. He’s a respected instructor

Many of us know Stanton Moore as the pulsating heart of Galactic … and if you don’t know Galactic, now’s the time to catch up on their music.

But how many of us also know that Moore is passionate about teaching a new generation of drummers? He writes for drumming magazines, gives master classes and has dozens of instructional books and videos. In 2011 Moore’s Groove Alchemy topped the Modern Drummer Readers Poll for best Educational Book and Educational DVD.

Stanton Moore’s Drum Academy continues this passion, with online instruction and one-on-one training.

Stanton Moore Drum Academy

2. He’s part owner of Tipitina’s

We’ve been playing at Tipitina’s for a quarter of a century now. I started going there when I was 16 years old, literally 30 years ago. Tipitina’s is our favorite place in New Orleans, we’ve all been on record many times over the years saying that it’s one of our favorite venues to play in the whole world. In the last 20 years, Galactic’s played there for Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, New Year’s Eve, Halloween and many other events on an annual basis. We’ve even been nicknamed ‘The House Band’ at Tipitina’s; our name is outside in the sidewalk in the Walk of Fame.

It’s the most iconic music venue in New Orleans. [Former owner Roland] Von Kurnatowski wanted to sell it to us because he knew we would carry on its legacy. He has owned it since 1997. That’s 20 years of history; we’re honored to know he trusted us to do it justice.

Stanton Moore in 2018
Galactic in front of Tipitina's
Galactic in front of Tipitina’s
Photo: courtesy Stanton Moore

3. Stanton Moore uses double bass pedals

Stanton Moore drum kit
SM’s kit
Photo: Stanton Moore/Facebook

4. Stanton Moore plays around

To date Stanton Moore has appeared on ten albums with Galactic … but what about all his other gigs? Did you know he’s also recorded with his own band, Garage A Trois (my vote for best band name)? Or that he’s played with the likes of Joe Jackson, Walter Wolfman Washington, Eric Lindell, Irma Thomas, Trombone Shorty, Anders Osborne, Bonearama, Johnny Sansone and many others?

5. With You In Mind

In 2017 Stanton Moore turned an album project with his trio into a tribute to the late Allen Toussaint. Co-produced by David Torkanowsky, With You In Mind features a galaxy of New Orleans talent.

Tom McDermott reviewed the album for OffBeat magazine.

For now, Toussaint is New Orleans’ Great American Songbook and Beatles combined; let’s hope the cover trend continues, and as creatively as it’s done here.

Tom McDermott, OffBeat

This album is one of our favorites. Check it out on Stanton Moore’s website (scroll down on the home page). And don’t miss Wendell Pierce with a unique reading on “Southern Nights,” along with a fine Nicholas Payton solo.

Wish I could

Stop this world from fighting

Allen Toussaint, “Southern Nights”
Rickie Lee Jones with guitar

Rickie Lee Jones

Our friend and neighbor Rickie Lee Jones has a lot going on, according to an article in the paper.

Don’t have the time? No problem. We’ve got the TLDR version, right here.

First of all, Jones says she’s going a little stir-crazy these days. (Aren’t we all…) So, she’s streaming a live Facebook concert tomorrow (Sunday, June 27, 2020) at 12 noon, Central. Needless to say we’re eager to hear that.

Rickie Lee Jones livestream "From My Living Room"

She’ll be accompanied by percussionist Mike Dillon and according to the article she’ll “showcase songs from throughout her career, with an emphasis on her … 1979 debut.” Which is one of our favorite albums, not the least because it lets us use the word “eponymous.” As in Rickie Lee Jones’s eponymous album, featuring Dr. John on piano:

Rickie Lee Jones album. Original release date: October 25, 1990

And now, after more than 40 years, Jones has recovered the rights to it. Which means she’ll be issuing a brand-new, remastered version later this year. Maybe even in vinyl (we hope).

Speaking of Dr. John, Rickie Lee Jones recorded with the late Doctor on a number of unreleased tracks. She says “Mac sounded a little weak, but what a unique voice he had. I always loved him. The more you hear him, the more you recognize, ‘What an important American figure.’”

Oh, and did we mention there’s an autobiography in the works? There is; it’s apparently being edited and typeset as we speak. She says, “I hope it reads well. It’s kind of like Forrest Gump as told by Charles Dickens.” Should be published early next year.

And a new album is coming, too — a follow-up to Kicks, which came out in 2019.

Heck, it may be time for another interview.

The New Orleans Groovemasters at the Ellis Marsalis Center

The New Orleans Groovemasters Say Get Back

Our friends The New Orleans Groovemasters featuring Herlin Riley, Shannon Powell, and Jason Marsalis have a timely new jam. It’s called “Get Back” and it’s not a cover of the 1969 Beatles song. Check it out here.

Messrs. Riley, Powell and Marsalis have been gigging as the New Orleans Groovemasters (a/k/a Groove Masters) for about four years, as far as we can tell. Of course these days there’s not much gigging to be done … except on-line.

Tonight (June 24, 2020) at 7:00 PM CDT, the Groovemasters are streaming live on Facebook. Details below.

From time to time the Groovemasters lineup includes Roderick Paulin, sax, David Torkanowsky, piano and bassist Jason Weaver. When the pandemic finally burns itself out we can’t wait to see them all live.

What The World Needs Now

Sometimes these blog posts just write themselves … thanks to Tarriona Tank Ball and a few of her friends. So here’s “What The World Needs Now” with a fresh update that couldn’t be timelier.

Click to watch on YouTube

In January, Yahoo gave us the opportunity to call some of our artist friends in New Orleans to help us record ”What The World Needs Now” and it was one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever experienced in a room full of artists. It was so New Orleans. The voices of the children, the poets, the different tones and textures of all the artists was truly transforming. I believe that everyone can testify how high the emotions ran this particular day. It’s my hope that people will become moved, active, and use love in their weaponry in fighting for what they believe is right.

Tarriona Tank Ball

The “friends” in question include: Alexis Marceaux, Alfred Banks, Anjelika Joseph, Daniel Abraham Jr., Danny Abel, David Shaw, Etienne Stoufflet, Franklin Davis II, Harmony Ball, Jonathan Johnson, Joshua Kagler, Maggie Koerner, PJ Morton, Rahim Glaspy, Samuel Crafts, Sasha Masakowski, Sha’condria Sibley, Sunni Patterson, Tia Henderson, Tracci Lee and Micah Johnson. So much talent in one room!

Speaking of rooms, a shout-out to our good friend Paul McDonald, who recorded the audio at Marigny Studios where we’ve spent many a pleasant day.

Thank You GiveNOLA Day Donors

Thank You

It really is a very odd business that all of us, to varying degrees, have music in our heads.

Oliver Sacks

Thank goodness. And thanks to everyone who supported Music Inside Out on GiveNOLA Day. We’ve come a long way together, guided by the musicians who share their stories and life’s work. What a pleasure! 

Three Cheers,
Gwen

GiveNOLA Day

Give NOLA Day
The frog clings for dear life…

Until chimps get credit cards, you’re the ONLY primate who can help Music Inside Out on GiveNOLA Day, Tuesday, June 2. We’re the frog pictured above, of course, clinging for dear life. But the good thing about frogs is they’re a sign of environmental health. When we’re on the air, we’re lifting spirits everywhere.

Music Inside Out makes it possible for artists like Ellis Marsalis, Galactic, Germaine Bazzle, Maggie Koerner, Rickie Lee Jones, Meschiya Lake, Terence Blanchard, and country music historian Bill Malone to tell their stories in unprecedented ways. And we help listeners appreciate Louisiana music and musicians differently. Music Inside Out may not survive 2020, but like the frog, we’re gonna hold on until we can’t anymore.

Take good care, and from 12:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2, please go to the GiveNOLA Day website:  

https://www.givenola.org/music-inside-out-with-gwen-thompkins

… and be the best Primate you can be.

About Us

Music Inside Out with Gwen Thompkins is a weekly, one-hour radio broadcast featuring the people of Louisiana who’ve devoted their lives to America’s music. Host Gwen Thompkins and her guests talk extensively about the fire and sweat of the creative process. In addition, these guests examine songs that have influenced Louisiana’s unusually varied musical landscape … music that reaches far beyond the state’s borders.

The standard-bearers of Louisiana music include national icons. The list includes Jelly Roll Morton to Big Freedia … Fats Domino to Tim McGraw … Jerry Lee Lewis to Clifton Chenier … Mahalia Jackson to Trombone Shorty. What makes their music so varied and satisfying is the influence of other cultures. It’s an ongoing dialogue with the rest of the United States and the world.

Each week, Music Inside Out showcases unexpected points of cultural connection. For example, Louis Armstrong loved Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana — and played an aria from that opera every day — just as contemporary Louisiana artists live with their ears wide open.

About Gwen

Gwen Thompkins is a veteran correspondent and editor for National Public Radio. She was East Africa Bureau Chief for National Public Radio, based in Nairobi, Kenya. She was also senior editor of NPR’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon.

Thompkins was born and raised in New Orleans. Early on she worked as a reporter and editor at the New Orleans Times-Picayune. in addition, she was a fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University from 2010-2011.

Throughout her career, Thompkins has used music to shape her stories. She’s reported on secret wedding night dances in Sudan as well as musical testimonials to crimes against humanity in Northern Uganda, and East Africa’s fascination with Dolly Parton.

Her acclaimed NPR series on hurricane Katrina was rich with New Orleans music.

Thompkins remains a correspondent for NPR and files musical stories and essays from New Orleans. She says she’s never quite evolved from making mix tapes, playlists — and connections with a wide variety of artists. As a result, her interviews brim with humor, curiosity, and creativity.

Jason Marsalis Trad Band

Jason Marsalis Streaming Live

Drummer and vibraphonist Jason Marsalis has a couple of virtual gigs we thought you should know about. Like many musicians these days, Marsalis is streaming live on Facebook.

Tonight at 6:00 pm EDT (5:00 pm Central), Jason Marsalis is going solo as part of Blue Note New York‘s At Home series. “I’m working on the presentation as we speak so I’ll try to deliver a top quality solo show from home. Looking forward to it.” If we know Marsalis, there’s sure to be a nice mix of old standards and new improvisations. We’re looking forward to it as well.

And just a few days later (Thursday, May 28, 7:00 pm CDT) you can hear the The 21st Century Trad Band: Benny Goodman Edition. According to Marsalis: “The group pays homage to the classic 1930’s Benny Goodman Quartet while bringing the music into the 21st century by covering music written after 1930.”

It’s “a fresh take on a classic ensemble … with Jason Marsalis on vibraphone, Joe Goldberg on clarinet, Kris Tokarski on piano, and Gerald T. Watkins on drums.” The show will be streaming on the Jason Marsalis Facebook page.

There’s so much live music streaming these days it’s hard to keep up. We looked ahead at the Blue Note schedule and saw a couple of New Orleans musicians represented: Nicholas Payton, also performing this Thursday, May 28; and Jon Cleary on May 30.

New Orleans radio station WWOZ is offering one way to keep tabs on all the virtual music performances by our homebound local musicians: the WWOZ On-Line Wire. This massive endeavor has one particularly handy feature: click on any performer’s name and go to the location of the livestream. Saves a great deal of searching on Google.

Check it out and enjoy some live, virtual music.

Miles Davis on Frenchmen Street

Frenchmen Street Musicians

The musicians left Frenchmen Street right before St. Patrick’s Day. Ironically that’s when New Orleans began its lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Bars, restaurants and entertainment venues were closed. That included the dozen or so music clubs scattered along Frenchmen, located just downriver from the Quarter.

Doors and windows boarded up, this once vibrant arts and entertainment district became a plywood-paneled ghost town overnight. Deprived of their usual music venues, some musicians went on-line, playing virtual gigs on Facebook.

But while the entertainment part of Frenchmen Street fell silent, art continued to thrive. Muralist Josh Wingerter used the boarded-up windows as his canvas, creating quarantine-inspired artworks of familiar musicians and other pop figures. Several of them became Internet memes, including a portrait of Louis Armstrong with pandemic-appropriate PPE:

Louis Armstrong on Frenchmen Street
Louis Armstrong

We weren’t able to photograph Wingerter’s art until after some other “artists” had tagged the empty spaces surrounding his images. Fortunately, these graffitists had mostly kept their spray cans away from his work.

Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson
Dr. John
Dr. John
Professor Longhair
Professor Longhair
James Booker
James Booker

For now it’s heartening to see these musicians still entertaining Frenchmen Street passers-by. With restrictions easing, some clubs and restaurants may soon re-open … making us wonder: what’s going to happen to all those artworks?

Little Richard 1932-2020

COSIMO MATASSA, Record producer In his studio in 1958 Photo taken 6/11/1958

News of Little Richard’s death at the age of 87 is especially sad news for us here in New Orleans. Although a Georgia native, Richard Penniman recorded many of his most famous hits right here at Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Recording studio.

Songs like “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Lucille,” “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Keep A Knockin” blew the lid off the Fifties, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Little Richard was one of the Hall’s first inductees in 1986.

Rock critic Dave Marsh wrote that Richard’s shouting and singing “paid tribute to the gospel women from whom he snitches at least as many licks as the Beatles ever stole from him.” In 1989 Marsh ranked “Tutti Frutti” number nine on his list of the 1001 greatest singles ever made.

Those early hits are classics to be sure, but for some reason we often return to a duet he did with country singer Tanya Tucker on an obscure MCA compilation from 1994, Rhythm, Country & Blues. Here’s a live performance of that song, Eddie Cochran’s “Somethin’ Else,” at the 1994 CMA Awards:

It’s also worth tracking down this album for its fine version of Allen Toussaint‘s “Southern Nights,” with the maestro himself on piano and vocals, and a buttery smooth Chet Atkins on guitar.

Oh, and did we mention Aaron Neville and Trisha Yearwood singing “I Fall To Pieces” on that same album? Check it!

It’s funny how Little Richard sent us free associating once again. But he did have that effect of taking us out of ourselves. Woooo!

Terence Blanchard

Terence Blanchard Hosts “Up From the Streets”

Mark your calendar: New Orleans composer and trumpeter Terence Blanchard will be coming to your home in just a few days. No need to clean up the place, however. Blanchard is hosting the award-winning New Orleans documentary, “Up From the Streets.” This “virtual cinema release” will begin streaming on May 14.

Here’s how it works: Tickets to watch the film are $12 each. They’re available from over 75 participating movie theaters in the U.S. Your ticket will be good for seven days, and you’ll have 72 hours to finish the film once you’ve started watching. A list of participating theaters (and virtual tickets) is available online.

The idea, of course, is to support your local independent movie theater while sheltering safely in place. But a portion of the proceeds also goes to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation’s Music Relief Fund. This initiative supports Louisiana musicians who’ve lost income during the pandemic. So it’s a win-win-win.

Up from the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music (Trailer)

“Up From the Streets” is both a history and celebration of the music of New Orleans. It premiered last October at the New Orleans Film Festival. The festival jury nominated it for best feature-length Louisiana documentary. Awards at other festivals in Los Angeles, Washington, DC and Houston followed.

Terence Blanchard is on-camera host and narrator. “Up From the Streets” has interviews by Harry Connick Jr., Wynton and Bradford Marsalis, Aaron Neville, Robert Plant, Keith Richards, Sting, Allen Toussaint and Bonnie Raitt among others. Such legends as Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Dr. John, The Neville Brothers, and, of course, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band appear in archival and newly filmed performances.

Michael Murphy is the producer and director. His previous New Orleans documentary was 2005’s “Make it Funky.”

Sweet Crude

Sweet Crude’s New Album

Good news: Sweet Crude’s newest album just came out: Officiel/Artificiel.

And there’s even more good news: Sam Craft, Alexis Marceaux and Skyler Stroup of Sweet Crude have recovered from coronavirus. The group had just ended a tour through Alabama and Florida when the band members fell ill, according to NOLA.com.

Sweet Crude – Officiel/Artificiel (Visualizer)
Sweet Crude – Officiel/Artificiel (Visualizer)

To be honest, Officiel/Artificiel has been out since April 24, but we’ve been, shall we say, a bit distracted. Meanwhile Sweet Crude has been busy, giving interviews to Billboard, OffBeat Magazine and our friends at NPR, among others.

Unfortunately, all that activity doesn’t include touring to support the album. Like musicians everywhere, Sweet Crude has had to lean on streaming technology to get the word out. Here’s Alexis and Sam performing the title track of Officiel/Artificiel … unplugged.

As Sam Craft told NPR’s Ailsa Chang, “We understand that there’s a huge community of musicians in New Orleans who are needing to totally reinvent their business. But what we see is that the fact that we’re all in the same boat has led us to supporting each other, in the digital way that we can. We’re used to disasters happening down here — usually of the hurricane variety — but we know the value of reaching out to one another and helping each other is priceless.”

Happy Birthday Duke Ellington

It’s Duke Ellington’s 121st birthday today, and what better excuse to listen to his New Orleans Suite — which, as it turns out, is 50 years old this month.

George Wein commissioned this composition, released on LP in 1970, for that year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. It won a Grammy the following year for Best Jazz Performance by a Big Band.

The suite includes “portraits” of Sidney Bechet, Mahalia Jackson and Louis Armstrong, along with a lesser known New Orleans artist: Wellman Braud. Braud played upright bass and tuba with Ellington in the 1920s and 30s. Branford Marsalis credits Braud with being one of the first “walking bass” players. And if that’s not enough cred, he’s distantly related to the Marsalis family.

The album contains the final recordings of alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, who died halfway through its completion. The gently-swinging “Blues for New Orleans” features Hodges’ last recorded solo. (It’s rumored he would have played his rarely-heard soprano saxophone on “Portrait of Sydney Bechet.”)

Three weeks before his death Hodges, along with the rest of Ellington’s orchestra, gave Blues for New Orleans” its JazzFest premiere on April 25th, 1970 at the Municipal Auditorium.

So, happy birthday Duke Ellington … and happy belated birthday to his New Orleans Suite.

Michael Cogswell

Our program on Ricky Riccardi is dedicated to Michael Cogswell, who died April 20, 2020 at the age of 66. Cogswell was the founding Executive Director of the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens.

The WBGO website has an excellent obituary detailing Cogswell’s career as jazz archivist and historian who undertook the job of turning Louis Armstrong’s New York home into a museum.

The LAHM Facebook page says that Cogswell transformed “a stack of 72 shipping cartons filled with Louis Armstrong’s vast personal collection of home-recorded tapes, scrapbooks, photographs, manuscripts, and memorabilia … into a monumental research archive, eventually holding eleven collections of Armstrong material.”

Photo courtesy of Louis Armstrong House Museum

All that said, we have a Michael Cogswell memory of our own to share.

As part of its post-Katrina coverage in 2005, NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday broadcast a collection of recorded messages offering words of encouragement and support to hurricane victims. The speakers included singer Bonnie Raitt, reporter Betsy Mullener, authors Fannie Flagg and Richard Ford … and Michael Cogswell:

At that time, Gwen was the senior editor of the program. “Michael Cogswell and I never met face to face, but in 2005 he was my first call when I came up with the idea to create this ribbon of salutations. He really came through. Only later did I hear that his brother lives not far from New Orleans, in Folsom, Louisiana. Cogswell’s message of support set the exact tone we wanted — calm, personal concern, sincerity and hope.”

Sylvan Esso – WITH

It’s been a while since we checked in with our favorite electronic pop duo, Sylvan Esso, to see what they’ve been up to.

Turns out, a lot.

Last year they decided to set out on a limited run of tour dates as a ten-piece band, featuring eight musicians and friends. We were lucky enough to catch the opening concert of the With Tour at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A. and it was wonderful:

Photo: Sylvan Esso via Facebook

If you weren’t able to attend any of the live shows (or if you’d like to re-live them), you’re in luck! A full-length concert film premieres on YouTube this Thursday, April 23rd at 9pm Eastern.

Here’s Amelia and Nick with a preview:

“We knew that in order to put on the best show we possibly could in a few short weeks we had to truly lean on and trust the friends we had asked to become part of our band. The end result – as with so many communal efforts – was much greater than the sum of its parts, in ways we could have never dreamed of. The world has completely shifted in a few months – the idea of togetherness rings in a different way. It was such a special moment that now feels like a signpost of how things were and how they could be again.”

Sylvan Esso hopes that this spirit of togetherness will inspire people to have watch parties to check out the film while maintaining social distancing. They invite anyone interested to head over to their website to sign up. They promise to send “send all the (easy!) details to you on Wednesday.”

We can’t wait!

Stay Away

We love Randy Newman here in New Orleans. Of course, the songs “Louisiana 1927” and “Dixie Flyer” come to mind immediately.

The first became something of an anthem after Hurricane Katrina. Newman’s “Dixie Flyer” is the autobiographical tale of his childhood commute from L.A. to LA and “the land of dreams.”

Then there’s Newman’s iconic score for “The Princess and the Frog,” the 2009 animated feature set in New Orleans.

So when we learned of a new Randy Newman video — one addressing the Covid-19 pandemic — of course we had to watch:

Proceeds from the video support the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music‘s efforts to broaden opportunities for underserved children and young musicians in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward.

We love you, Randy! But please … stay (six feet) away.

#EDayLive

For more than three decades, Friday night was Ellis Marsalis night at Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro in New Orleans.

Tonight, in a way, it still is.

In December, 2019, the 85 year old jazz patriarch announced he was stepping away from his weekly commitment, calling it “exhausting.” But Marsalis still planned to appear at the club a couple times a month as a “special guest.”

Ellis Marsalis died on April 1st, 2020 and now Snug Harbor is honoring his memory with a virtual Friday night concert series, starting tonight at 8:00 pm, CDT.

The players include saxophonist Derek Douget, bassist Jason Stewart and trumpeter Ashlin Parker, along with percussionist Jason Marsalis. They’ll all be performing from their respective homes, streaming on the Snug Harbor Facebook page.

Here’s the band to explain:

If, like some of us, you missed the opportunity to hear Ellis Marsalis at Snug … now’s your chance to make up for it by helping some local musicians honor his memory. And don’t forget the virtual tip jar.

What’s on Meschiya’s Playlist?

This week we’re reconnecting with New Orleans chanteuse Meschiya Lake after a seven year hiatus. Much has happened in that interim, to say the least. She’s a new mother. And she’s got a new album; a collaboration with Danish saxophonist Søren Siegumfeldt.

Of course, like all musicians in New Orleans and elsewhere, Meschiya Lake is idle due to the global pandemic.

So what’s she been listening to?

In my daily rotation learning on guitar is a song called, “Blackbird,” by an Irish artist named Lisa O’Neill, but also is “Dumb Blonde,” by Dolly Parton! Two complete ends of the spectrum. One is like, [sings] really beautiful and minor key and then there is Dolly talking about “you may think I’m a dumb blonde.”

Naturally we wanted to take a closer listen to these two songs. Here’s “Blackbird”:

And here’s the inimitable Dolly Parton, suffering through an intro by the forgettable Bobby Lord on his TV show in 1967:

Five Albums We Love

Tough times call for time-tested music. Here are five albums we’ve listened to over and over again throughout the years — on vinyl, compact disc, streaming … some even on cassette!

We’re not saying these are the best in whatever musical category they happen to occupy. Nor do we claim each album’s the best offering from that particular artist. “Best” is not a debate we want to get into.

What each album offers is good company. A musical sanctuary for those who just need to make the rest of the world disappear for about 40 minutes or so.

1. Dr. John, Gumbo

Five albums we love

Hard to believe this recording’s almost fifty years old! The songs on Gumbo are so different from the pop and jazz of the early 70s they might as well have landed from outer space. They had — and have — an infectious, driving, carefree yet wistful quality that’s a defining characteristic of New Orleans music. And co-produced by Harold Battiste, how could they not?

While Gumbo is available online and on CD it’s worth seeking out a vinyl copy (either the 1972 Atco original or the 1986 Alligator re-issue) in order to read Dr. John’s liner notes, strangely missing from the other formats.

2. Fats Domino, Greatest Hits: Walking To New Orleans

Five albums we love

They’re all here: “Blueberry Hill” … “I’m Walkin'” … “Blue Monday” … the songs you need to get you through these hard times. Bonus activity: put “Ain’t That A Shame” on repeat, pick up a saxophone and pretend you’re Herb Hardesty.

3. King Curtis & Champion Jack Dupree, Blues at Montreux

Five albums we love

Recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Montreux, Switzerland on June 17, 1971, but it could’ve been a decade earlier at the Drop on LaSalle. Everybody’s having so much fun here. On “Junker’s Blues” Jack plays fast and loose with the 12-bar format, dropping a measure here and adding one there as the band struggles to keep up. “When it comes to bars,” he says, “the only ones I know about are those you drink in and those in prison cells. I don’t count bars, I play by feeling.”

4. Aaron Neville, My True Story

Five albums we love

Produced by Don Was and Keith Richards, with Richards on guitar, this album of doo-wop standards may seem as far removed from New Orleans as you can get. But oh, that voice. That soul, that wellspring of controlled emotion. “These songs helped to mold me into who I am,” says Aaron Neville. “They’re all dear to my heart, and they rode with me, in my bones, through all these years.”

We could listen all day long.

5. Allen Toussaint, American Tunes

Five albums we love

I’m not sure, but I’m almost positive, that all music came from New Orleans.

Ernie K-Doe, 1979 

We referenced this on a recent blog post featuring Paul Simon’s timely video, “American Tune Til Further Notice.” Now it’s time to play the record in its entirety. While you’re listening you may want to read an insightful revue by another virtuoso New Orleans pianist, Tom McDermott. A fitting testimonial to an astonishing career. Thanks, Mr. Toussaint, for helping us get though this period of isolation and loss with your unyielding optimism and matchless grace.