Those reasons can be summed up in just two words: Jon Batiste. The embarrassingly multi-talented musician from New Orleans tops the list of artists vying for music’s top award with an amazing eleven nominations. He shares the record with Kendrick Lamar (2016) and only has one less than Michael Jackson (1984) and Babyface (1997).
Remarkably, he’s in a range of different Grammy categories. Batiste is up for Album of the Year and Best R&B Album (the eclectic We Are). “Freedom” is up for Record of the Year. “I Need You” may win for Best Traditional R&B Performance.
On top of all that, Jon Batiste is also in the Jazz category for music from the motion picture Soul. “Bigger Than Us” from: Soul (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) is nominated for a Best Improvised Jazz Solo Grammy. And Jazz Selections: Music From And Inspired By Soul is up for Best Jazz Instrumental Album.
But wait — there’s more! Yet another track from We Are — Movement 11 — is up for a Grammy in the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category.
The Recording Academy nominated Batiste once in 2018 and twice in 2020 but he hasn’t won. Quite possibly that’s about to change. And since Batiste’s original score for Soul already won an Oscar, he may be halfway to a coveted EGOT.
The Grammy Awards have been rescheduled to April 3rd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. We’ll be doubling down on this guy.
The list of 2022 Grammy nominations is full of Louisiana artists not named Batiste, and we couldn’t be more proud to have had some of them as guests on Music Inside Out. In addition, our out-of-town friends Sylvan Esso and Ricky Riccardi each snagged a nom. What’s not to like? Here are some of the highlights:
Blanchard’s Absence is Present
Trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard has nominations in two jazz categories. The first, for Best Improvised Jazz Solo; the other for Best Jazz Instrumental Album (Absence). That recording also features The E Collective and The Turtle Island Quartet.
Grammy? Bring It
PJ Morton lends his considerable chops to a gorgeous cover of “Bring it on Home to Me (feat. Charlie Bereal).” That song is nommed for a Best Traditional R&B Performance Grammy. Check it out:
Numb With Gratitude
The Recording Academy gave Sylvan Esso their second nomination in the Best Dance/Electronic Music Album category for Free Love. Just off their Shaking Out the Numb Tour, vocalist Amelia Meath and electronics wizard Nick Sanborn wrote:
“…after a year where sometimes we couldn’t even tell if anyone was listening – Free Love and this tour feel like the best work we’ve ever done, and to have that reflected back by y’all on the road and now by the Academy is just overwhelming.”
Notes on Satch
Our favorite maven of all things Louis Armstrong is Ricky Riccardi, whose erudite liner notes are up for an award. The recording in the Grammy spotlight is The Complete Louis Armstrong Columbia and RCA Victor Studio Sessions 1946-1966, on Mosaic Records.
For much of those 20 years, Riccardi writes, many critics and many in the jazz community viewed Armstrong as someone whose best days were behind him. But, he says, “One person never ever bought into that line of thinking: Armstrong himself.”
The Grammy Awards were moved from L.A. to Las Vegas, because Covid. They’re now scheduled for April 3rd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen.
This was different. James Taylor has played New Orleans any number of times and on his two most recent visits presented similar shows reflecting on his life as a singer-songwriter. He is, after all, a self-described “professional autobiographer,” who not only shares music, but also allows his team to post vignettes of his daily life online for crowds of devoted and curious fans. But on Saturday night, October 16, Taylor seemed to turn his focus more firmly outward — and onto a nearly capacity audience at the Smoothie King Center that had waited two long years to see him. His romping performance suggested that he’d been waiting also — somewhat impatiently — and was relieved to reunite with fans. Always easy going and courtly onstage, Taylor seemed friskier than before, determined to make every minute tingle.
“For the longest time I didn’t believe we were going to get back here,” he told the audience early on.
The Covid-19 pandemic had twice delayed the concert, featuring Jackson Browne as the opening act. And had Hurricane Ida arrived in Louisiana any later than it did, Saturday’s date might not have been possible. After all, there are still people in the state who don’t have electricity and much of the New Orleans metro area is shrouded in blue tarps over damaged homes and other buildings. The timing was not lost on either performer. Taylor and Browne donated all proceeds from the concert to South Louisiana Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana to benefit those affected by the storm.
Browne, with a full band, including two enchanting back up singers, performed an intense and well-received set, featuring some of his best-known chart hits and three songs from his latest album, “Downhill From Everywhere.” Taylor, leading an even fuller band of eleven performers, also delivered many of his usual crowd-pleasers.
But the set included unexpected treats from his repertoire, as well. “Line ‘Em Up,” he said, was inspired by former President Richard Nixon’s final walk to Marine One. The cartoon charmer “As Easy As Rolling Off a Log,” he called the least-known composition on his 2020 Grammy award-winning album “American Standard.” “That’s Why I’m Here,” the title song from Taylor’s 1985 album, he wrote after the drug overdose and death of his friend and former running partner John Belushi. And the blues song “You Make it Easy” first appeared on the 1975 “Gorilla” album, describing a married man on the brink of making an unwise decision. These selections nudged the audience out of its habit of singing along to the chestnuts at a Taylor concert and reminded them anew of the elegance and power of his songwriting.
It would be difficult to imagine a more besotted response at the arena, where standing ovations and shoutouts abounded. Taylor’s eagerness to keep his band on tour makes him a recurring presence in his fans’ lives — the friend who’s been passing through for more than half a century. And when he’s not physically with his fans, he’s a delightful presence on the Internet, sharing goodwill in the form of guitar lessons, carving pumpkins, choosing a Christmas tree, giving himself a manicure, singing, and patiently talking to his dog, Ting. He and his worldwide listening tribe of friendly strangers have grown together in sincere regard, sharing their lives via his secular hymnal of songs.
“I used to rock her to sleep listening to James Taylor,” Bob Ward of Bristol, VA, said Saturday, motioning to his daughter Julie Ward, who’s now a twenty-something New Orleans resident. “Every night, she used to say, ‘Daddy, I wanna hear ‘Steamroller!’ It got tiring sometimes. If there are 365 days in a year, we must have played that entire (1991 James Taylor In Concert) videotape more than 365 times.” But when the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival cancelled this year’s event due to Covid concerns, ending Ward’s hopes of seeing Jimmy Buffet, he and Julie made a merry pair singing Taylor’s songs from the balcony seating. She’d insisted they come.
To gain entry to the Smoothie King Center, audience members provided proof of a Covid vaccine or a recent negative test for the virus. But it was unsettling to see so many people singing with such gusto and not wearing masks in the packed house. The tableau underscored the uncertainties ahead for live performance in New Orleans and elsewhere.
Images of an autumnal evening in the outdoors, projected on a screen behind the band, added a warmth and calm to the music but also underscored the illusory nature of Saturday’s reunion. The faux leaves falling from a faux large tree onscreen were a reminder of time passing, and the fragile line between what many in attendance might hope for the future and the unknown realities that await.
And yet, it was enlivening to see Taylor — older, shaggy-haired and a bit scattered in his storytelling — sing himself hoarse just to be of use to his followers. His final encore, “You Can Close You Eyes” performed as a duet with his son Henry (a taller, softer, near doppelgänger version of his earlier self), brought the feeling home:
Oh, the sun is surely sinking down But the moon is slowly rising So this old world must still be spinning around And I still love you
The song, released almost exactly 50 years ago, has become a covenant of sorts — that there will be more evenings such as this, too long forestalled, perhaps, and too quick to pass.
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. Ricky Riccardi, Cogswell’s friend and protégé, posted a tribute to Cogswell on Facebook:
“Everyone who loves Louis Armstrong owes him a tremendous debt of gratitude for his vision to open the Armstrong House, Armstrong Archives, and to raise the money for the upcoming Armstrong Center.”
Jazz station WBGO has an excellent obituary on its website, detailing Cogswell’s career. A jazz archivist and historian, in 1991 he undertook the job of turning Louis Armstrong’s New York home into a museum.
Along with the house, Cogswell inherited “Armstrong’s vast collection of home-recorded tapes, scrapbooks, photographs, manuscripts, and memorabilia,” according to the LAHM Facebook page.
It was a monumental job. Under Cogswell’s tenure, 72 shipping cartons of Armstrong material evolved into an invaluable research archive.
All that said, we have a Michael Cogswell memory of our own to share.
In 2005, NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday aired recorded messages offering words of encouragement and support to victims of Hurricane Katrina. 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.”
Singer, songwriter and friend of Music Inside Out, Rickie Lee Jones, has a new book out. Last Chance Texaco: Tales of an American Troubadour hits the book world April 6th. To celebrate this event, we just rebroadcast our interview with Ms. Jones.
Here in New Orleans, the iconic Preservation Hall is hosting “An Evening with Rickie Lee Jones” in its courtyard. The event takes place at 6:00 pm on the book’s pub date — Tuesday, April 6th. Tickets include a signed copy of the book.
The evening will feature a ”lively and in-depth conversation with Jones and (local radio host) Jamie Dell’Apa. They will discuss Jones’s remarkable life and career and share excerpts from the memoir,” according to the press release.
Not in New Orleans? Not to worry — out-of-town virtual tickets are also available! These virtual ducats include tele-access to the discussion (including an opportunity to ask questions) as well as one signed copy of Last Chance Texaco. Out-of-town ticket-holders will get their copies via Media Mail shipping within the United States.
But you don’t need to leave this page to hear a sample of Last Chance Texaco. Last week, we lugged our recording equipment to Rickie Lee Jones‘s living room, where she graciously agreed to read an excerpt from the book. It’s called “Chicken in the Pot” — which, it turns out, is more than just a refrain from her song “Danny’s All-Star Joint”:
It’s worth noting that Rickie Lee Jones also narrated the entire book at her home. Recording the unabridged audiobook took ”a few weeks,” she tells us. You can find it wherever fine audiobooks are sold … or streamed.
We don’t know if the audiobook version also includes music from West Side Story, but we’re eager to find out.
Shades of 1970! Our MIO friends Scott Aiges and Susan Cowsill just released a remarkable new version of the Carpenters classic, “(They Long to Be) Close to You.” It’s a mashup of Jamaican reggae and carefully-crafted Bacharach-David pop. We love it.
Aiges is the co-producer and also plays rhythm guitar with Jamaican Me Breakfast Club. JMBC is way too good to be called a cover band but that’s exactly what they do. They turn mainstream pop into rocksteady romps. Think a slowed-down, Rastafarian version of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.
Here are the credits for “(They Long to Be) Close to You”:
Performed by Jamaican Me Breakfast Club featuring Susan Cowsill Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David Released Feb. 14, 2021 Produced by Scott Aiges, Steve Chyzyk and Steve Himelfarb Recorded and mixed by Steve Chyzyk and Steve Himelfarb at SonicCanvas Studios, New Orleans Lead vocals: Susan Cowsill Lead guitar: Steve Chyzyk Rhythm guitar: Scott Aiges Drums: Russ Broussard Bass: Rob Savoy Trumpet: Ashlin Parker Saxophone: Derek Douget Piano: Brian Coogan Background vocals: Tracci Lee Artwork and painting: John Bukaty Video editing: John Sanchez ℗ Jamaican Me Breakfast Club 2021
What’s Susan Up To?
Look carefully at that personnel listing and you’ll see Cowsill’s husband Russ Broussard is behind the drum set. Like many artists during this pandemic, Cowsill and Broussard are performing virtually. Here’s a recorded show from December, 2020, across from the Tree of Life in Audubon Park:
It’s great to hear Susan Cowsill singing just about anything and it’s a revelation to hear her take on a song like “Close to You” that’s associated in the popular mind with another vocalist. Make that vocalists — Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick and even Richard Chamberlain all had a go at it.
And we get the irony of the song’s title. These days, we long to be close to just about anyone.
That said, we’re still trying to figure out what Piet Mondrian has to do with Burt Bacharach. Maybe we’re just not square enough.
Thanks to our brilliant MIO producer, Margaret Howze, we know what’s going on with the whole Mondrian-painting timelapse in the “Close to You” video. Apparently Margaret remembers the Seventies a lot better than we do.
The key is the 50-year-old TV sitcom, The Partridge Family. The show centered around the wacky misadventures of a musical family — single mom Shirley Partridge (Shirley Jones) and her five children.
That show took its inspiration from The Cowsills — “six siblings noted for performing professionally and singing harmonies at an early age, later with their mother” (Wikipedia). Some of the Cowsills may even have been considered to play their TV alter egos but this never happened.
What we do know is, once the Partridges score a Top 40 hit in the pilot episode, “Shirley agrees that the family can go on tour. They acquire an old school bus, a 1957 Chevrolet Series 6800 Superior … paint it with Mondrian-inspired patterns, and head to Las Vegas, Nevada, for their first live gig at Caesars Palace.” op. cit.
For more on the Mondrian-Partridge-Cowsill connection than you’d ever want to know, we release you from this blog and send you over to our colleagues at Unremembered History.
The Grammy people postponed their ceremony until March due to Covid. Despite the delay they’ve already announced a number of awards. These include 29 songs and albums inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame (shout-outs to Dr. John and Irma Thomas).
There’s much to like on this list, but one recording in particular stands out: “Au Clair de la Lune,” a “single” by Édouard-Léon Scott De Martinville.
Unlike the others, this tune never made it to jukeboxes, radio, TV or music stores. And that may be because it’s over 160 years old.
Also it’s only 21 seconds long.
So why is it in the Grammy Hall of Fame?
The web site First Sounds claims “Au Clair de la Lune” is the earliest clearly recognizable record of the human voice they’ve found. But it was never intended to be heard at all. In fact it took a team of scientists to bring it to our ears.
Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville (1817 – 1879) was a typesetter by trade. In 1853 he was working at a scientific publishing house in Paris. While proofreading some anatomy engravings he came across one that showed the inner workings of the ear.
The idea of somehow turning speech into type had always fascinated Scott. For a time he tried to discover some form of stenography that could record a whole conversation without errors. Scott became something of an expert on shorthand and wrote several papers on the subject. But shorthand was not instantaneous and mistakes could still creep in.
As he studied the anatomy drawings he wondered, Could spoken words be captured by a device modeled on the ear the same way a camera was based on the eye? Inspired, Scott began to design such a device.
“I cover a plate of glass with an exceedingly thin stratum of lampblack. Above I fix an acoustic trumpet with a membrane the diameter of a five franc coin at its small end—the physiological tympanum (eardrum). At its center I affix a stylus—a boar’s bristle a centimeter or more in length, fine but suitably rigid. I carefully adjust the trumpet so the stylus barely grazes the lampblack. Then, as the glass plate slides horizontally in a well formed groove at a speed of one meter per second, one speaks in the vicinity of the trumpet’s opening, causing the membranes to vibrate and the stylus to trace figures.”
By the Light of the Moon
On April 9, 1860, Scott recorded a French folk song on his new invention — “Au Clair de la Lune.” That recording predates Thomas Edison’s “Mary had a little lamb” by 17 years.
Scott called his invention the phonautograph, and those squiggles on smoked glass (later on paper) a phonautogram. His machine created only visual images of the sound and wasn’t able to play back its recordings.
But that didn’t matter to Scott. His intention was for people to read the phonautograms the way you’d read text. A kind of machine-generated shorthand. As it turned out this wasn’t feasible, although he did sell several phonautographs to speech research labs. The sooty, squiggle-covered paper strips went to the French Institute, where they lay undisturbed for 150 years.
The rediscovery of Scott’s phonautographs in 2007 and the process involved in getting them to produce sound is a fascinating and well-documented story.
Since this video was made, researchers discovered that the recording was being played back too fast. So, instead of a woman, it’s thought Édouard-Léon Scott De Martinville himself is singing.
Scott never really profited from his invention. Within a few years Edison’s own sound recording and playback device overshadowed the Frenchman’s achievement. Scott ended his days as a librarian and bookseller at 9 Rue Vivienne in Paris.
But now he has a Grammy Hall of Fame award, and the satisfaction of an answer to a visionary question:
“Can one hope,” Scott wrote, “that the day is near when the musical phrase escaping from the lips of the singer will come to write itself . . . on an obedient page and leave an imperishable trace of those fugitive melodies that the memory no longer recalls by the time it searches for them?”
It’s that time of year — just about every media outlet you can swipe at publishes a “Best Of” listicle. Books, movies, tv shows, songs, music videos, video games, Internet memes. Even lists of lists. You name the subject and somebody’s got a list.
Well, so do we. It’s a quirky little list, consisting of five music-related videos we enjoyed this year. Notice we said “music-related.” With one exception these aren’t really music videos, per se. And all are in some way reflections of the current pandemic. But still entertaining for all that. We hope they help lift your spirits.
So enough disclaimers already. Here’s the list:
5. Paul Simon “American Tune Til Further Notice”
We’ve already blogged about this poignant and intimate video by one of the country’s most enduring songsmiths. Simon’s “American Tune” takes us back to his 1973 album, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, when “Kodachrome” was in heavy rotation on Top 40 radio. Though it’s missing the propulsive rhythm of that single, “American Tune” is arguably the better song. It certainly resonates with us in this plague year. Here it is again, twittering birds and all:
4. Sylvan Esso “Ferris Wheel”
So here’s the actual music video we mentioned earlier. Well, sort of. Compared to some productions out there, it’s more of an anti-music video in fact.
This isn’t even the official “Ferris Wheel” video. Sylvan Esso made this one for the TBS program Full Frontal With Samantha Bee. We love the dogs (and the pig) running alongside this dilapidated pickup (fix that tail light, buddy!) jouncing along a dirt road somewhere in rural North Carolina.
It’s daft, mesmerizing and thoroughly enjoyable:
3. Rock Bottom Remainders “Don’t Stand By Me”
The Rock Bottom Remainders began as a charity fundraising act for a book fair in 1992. Amateur musicians all, the group included several literary superstars — Stephen King, Dave Barry, Amy Tan, Ridley Pearson and Scott Turow among them. They “played music as well as Metallica writes novels,” in the words of Dave Barry.
The Remainders performed off and on (mostly off) for the next two decades. Although they never produced an album, RBR marked their 1993 East Coast tour with (what else) a book: Mid-Life Confidential: The Rock Bottom Remainders Tour America with Three Chords and an Attitude. (If you can find the ultra-rare audiobook edition we produced, let us know and we’ll make a cash offer.)
In this video, the Ben E. King classic gets the full (virtual) Remainders treatment, with lyrics updated by Dave Barry for these troubled times. As always, the authors have employed a ringer to help raise the over-all musicianship. All donations go to help struggling booksellers and their staff members.
2. Boston Dynamics “Do You Love Me”
Robots. Dancing. ‘Nuff said.
1. Little Kids Rock “Touch of Grey”
We’re loving this video, an update of the Grateful Dead’s one and only hit record. The Dead’s own video was kind of a masterpiece in itself, as we recall. But this collaboration of Little Kids Rock with the Rex Foundation has taken the jam band classic to a whole new level of awesomeness. With a stellar cast of guest musicians, including New Orleans’ own Trombone Shorty … we give you the video that we enjoyed the most in 2020:
The only thing there is to say Every silver lining’s got a touch of grey
Remember going to New Year’s Eve parties? (Remember going to any parties?) Recall those glory days when we had our pick of three or even four events to attend — and carefully weighed how long to stay at each one and in which order? Ah, youth. Well, we’re not going to ask what you’ll be doing New Year’s Eve 2020 … but Tipitina’s has a suggestion. And it might be better than what many of us have in mind.
It’s “NYE in NOLA” — not one but five virtual concerts from five different New Orleans venues, all live-streaming on Tipitina’s TV. There’s a different show to usher in the new year for most of the time zones in the U.S. (sorry, Alaska and Hawaii) and Canada (sorry, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.) But we digress.
Our favorite host and former Tulane English professor, John Goodman, will oversee New Year’s Eve in New Orleans. In addition to the amazing entertainers we’ve mentioned, special guests Ani Di Franco, George Porter Jr., Kermit Ruffins, and Big Sam are also expected to drop by.
Back in the days of mid-century modern furniture and cars with tail fins, a group called the Dave Brubeck Quartet introduced many a space age bachelor (and bachelorette) to the world of jazz.
Dave Brubeck was born December 6, 1920 in Concord, California. His mother taught him piano from the age of four. Then the family moved to a cattle ranch. Piano lessons soon gave way to ranching, and when Brubeck entered college his goal was to be a veterinarian. But as Brubeck worked his way through school playing piano in local nightclubs the lure of jazz took hold. After graduation, and a stint in the Army, he began serious music studies at Mills College in Oakland, California. His teacher was the jazz-influenced composer Darius Milhaud.
Eight Is Enough
Before there was a quartet, there was a Dave Brubeck Octet. This 1946 group was composed of Milhaud’s music students and, along with Brubeck, included future jazz star Cal Tjader and a young sax player named Paul Desmond. The octet led to a trio, which led to the enormously popular Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951.
That popularity was largely due to the group’s many appearances on college campuses. They recorded along the way, producing a string of albums: Jazz at Oberlin (1953), Jazz at the College of the Pacific (1953), Jazz Goes to College (1954), Jazz Goes to Junior College (1957) … well, you get the idea.
“It Should Have Been You”
Dave Brubeck made the cover of Time Magazine in 1954 … only the second jazz musician to do so, after Louis Armstrong. By all accounts Brubeck found the honor embarrassing and thought another musician was more worthy. According to Brubeck’s son Darius, Duke Ellington knocked on the door of Dave’s hotel room to show him the cover … “It should have been you,” was all Brubeck could say.
It’s About Time
1959’s Time Out may be the Brubeck Quartet’s most iconic album, but at first Columbia Records wasn’t convinced it would sell.
To begin with, it didn’t contain any jazz standards. Nothing from the so-called Great American Songbook. All the tunes were original compositions — six by Brubeck and one by Paul Desmond.
Then there were those crazy time signatures. In 1958 Brubeck and his group were State Department-sponsored Jazz Ambassadors on tour in Eurasia. One morning in Istanbul, Brubeck heard street musicians playing a fast, exotic tempo — 9/8. (Nine eighth notes per measure.) And the phrasing was even more strange: not 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3 but 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2-3. Brubeck later learned it was a well-known Turkish folk melody.
Back in the States Brubeck was inspired to fill his next album with non-standard time signatures — 9/8, 6/4, 5/4. That Turkish folk song would morph into “Blue Rondo à la Turk.”
Columbia president Goddard Lieberson was dubious, but gave in … provided Brubeck would first record an album of Southern songs (“Ol’ Man River,” “Camptown Races,” “Georgia On My Mind,” etc.) The idea was at least that album would sell some copies.
As we all know by now, just the opposite happened. Despite tepid initial reviews, Time Out went on to reach number two on the Billboard pop albums chart, and it became the first million-selling jazz album. Its breakout single, Paul Desmond’s “Take Five,” also went gold — the first jazz single to reach that milestone.
“Take Five” earned a lot of money for composer Paul Desmond. For a while in those pre-Monterey Pop Sixties, it was everywhere. We even remember hearing it used back in the day as the theme song for “The Late Movie” on WGN Channel 9 in Chicago.
When Desmond died in 1977, he specified in his will that all proceeds from “Take Five” would go to the American Red Cross. Those payments, along with royalties from Desmond’s other compositions, reportedly bring in $100,000 annually.
Here’s a playlist to see you through the end of hurricane season, the flu season, holiday season and what’s sure to become an unusual carnival season:
Winter Playlist Notes
A few of the artists on this playlist may not be as familiar as others. Here are some playlist notes to save you having to go all Google-crazy.
New Orleans singer and composer Lilli Lewis was trained in opera and classical piano but her performance style defies category. Her most recent albums are The Henderson Sessions and We Belong.
Lyambiko was born Sandy Müller in Tanzania, where she formed her first band at the age of 17. At 21 she moved to Berlin and took up jazz singing. By this time she’d begun using her father’s last name as her stage name. In 2001 she formed a quintet — also named Lyambiko. “Afro Blue” comes from their 2002 debut album, Out Of This Mood.
The late Jaco Pastorius was a jazz-fusion bass player famous for his work with the band Weather Report in the 1980s. While still a member of that hugely successful group, he released Word of Mouthin 1981 … and somehow found the time to assemble and tour with a 21-piece big band of the same name. “Blackbird” features harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans.
Nowadays, Sean Collins is producing and hosting a new podcast on behalf of the Providence Institute for Human Caring, called Hear Me Now. As it turns out, he should have been behind the mic all along.
Sean can do almost anything. He’s a great news producer, teller of jokes, empath, thinker, tinkerer and all around beacon of light. In addition to producing some of NPR’s best news magazines, he’s produced several episodes of Music Inside Out and, in his spare time, created our website.
We spoke recently about which songs might make a good primer for someone interested in learning about jazz this winter — a premise that I extravagantly disavowed. As so many guests of Music Inside Out have told us, a song has to knock a listener in the head, or the heart, first. That’s the song that belongs at the beginning of a primer playlist and it’s different for everyone. From there the listener falls down a proverbial rabbit hole to find an entire world of music waiting to be explored.
There’s gonna be a great day
Years ago, Sean told me that the pianist Keith Jarrett and his extraordinary 1975 performance in Cologne, Germany — forever memorialized as The Koln Concert — helped him understand jazz for the very first time. That’s a mighty fine rabbit hole. My winter list (and, yes, I made a list because I can never resist Sean) begins with more bombast. A recent recording of the song “Great Day” by the New Orleans singer Robin Barnes, led me to the 1963 original* on an album called The Explosive Side of Sarah Vaughan.
Ms. Vaughan’s “Great Day” starts in a hurry and keeps going in such an infectious way that it makes me feel optimistic and excited about everything — even getting out of bed.
Sometime after falling in love with “Great Day,” I read an interview with the extraordinary New Orleans drummer Earl Palmer (1924-2008) — the man who helped create the backbeat of rock ’n roll with Fats Domino, the songwriting producer Dave Bartholomew and engineer Cosimo Matassa, before joining the Wrecking Crew in Southern California. When asked which of more than a thousand recordings he made stood out, he cited … The Explosive Side of Sarah Vaughan. I shoulda known. More often than not, New Orleans musicians and sensibilities hide in plain sight in the best of American popular music.
Sean will direct you to the Spotify List of many songs I’ll be listening to this winter. Of course, my list is still growing. So come back here any time for some new tunes.
*[Ed. note: As it turns out, this jazzy, up-tempo “Great Day” isn’t the first version Ms. Vaughan recorded. A much more intimate interpretation appears on 1961’s After Hours, with accompanists Mundell Lowe (guitar) and George Duvivier (double bass).]
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 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:
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.
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).
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”:
So — happy birthday, Mr. Moore! You can add your well-wishes to his Facebook page here. Legendary Soul Man Sam Moore, indeed.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
3. Stanton Moore uses double bass pedals
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
This past June the Groovemasters played “Get Back” and much more funky music live on-line. You can watch the entire streamed performance below, on Jason’s Facebook page.
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.
Groovemasters Rock the Fest
The Groovemasters played the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2017, and by all accounts it was a blast. You can catch samples of that performance (and snag a copy for yourself) here.
Groovemasters à la Carte
Each one of the Groovemasters is a groove master in his own right. Jason Marsalis regularly fronts his own groups — the 21st Century Trad Band, and the BGQ Exploration (BGQ stands for Benny Goodman Quartet.) You can hear the BGQ Exploration in the clip below.
Of course Shannon Powell, a/k/a the King of Treme, has his own Shannon Powell Quartet, as well as the Shannon Powell Traditional All-Star Jazz Band. Not to mention his collaborations with nearly everybody who’s anybody in New Orleans music.
Here he is in 2016 at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Center, in a show featuring fellow Treme native, John Boutté:
Herlin Riley’s 2019 album is titled Perpetual Optimism — and that’s a philosophy that shines through everything he does. One of our favorite New Orleans percussionists, Riley appeared in 2018 with another New Orleans groovemaster — Johnny Vidacovich. If you missed that concert at the New Orleans New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Center, thank goodness it’s on video:
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.
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.
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 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.
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.