A history of new orleans music in 100 tracks (part one)
Edited by Ted Gioia
New Orleans does not rank in the top 50 cities in the US, when measured by population. It has fewer inhabitants than Tucson or Anaheim. In area it is roughly five percent of the size of Kern County out in California. The city's economic importance in the US reached its peak back in the nineteenth century, and never really recovered from the railroad replacing the steamboat as a preferred method of transporting people and freight.
New Orleans Second Line (artwork by Bob Graham)
Yet if one could measure the influence of its music on the global soundscapes, New Orleans's importance would be off the charts. Its significance as the likely birthplace of jazz is well known, but New Orleans also has a rich history of R&B, funk, pop, blues, rock and roll, and even classical music. From Gottschalk to Galactic, the city has produced fresh exciting sounds that have captured the hearts and souls of the rest of us. And we're not even including the Cajun and zydeco sounds from elsewhere in the state of Louisiana that have often made themselves felt in its environs and beyond. The history of New Orleans music is, in truth, a vibrant microcosm of American music as a whole.
Hurricane Katrina, which arrived in New Orleans almost exactly four years ago as I write this, made many realize just how much history is centered in this compact space, and how fragile it can be in the face of hostile elements. But fortunately much of that history can also be experienced from afar by means of recordings. Below is the first installment of a two-part article that highlights 100 memorable moments in this musical history of this city.
I'd like to thank the contributors to jazz.com whose work is included in this article: Scott Albin, Dean Alger, Rob Bamberger, Thomas Cunniffe, Peter Gerler, Ethan Iverson, Alan Kurtz, Ed Leimbacher, Jared Pauley, Cliff Preiss, Thierry Quénum and David Sager.
Below are the first fifty tracks which cover more than a century of music-making from 1848 to 1956. Each title links to the full review, with complete personnel and recording info, as well as a source for a (legal) download.
Click here for part two—which continues the story of New Orleans music to the present day.
A History of New Orleans Music in 100 Tracks
Part One: The Tradition (1848 to 1956)
Louis Moreau Gottschalk:
Bamboula, Opus 2 (Danse des négres) (1848) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
A letter from 1786, written by a visiting Spanish bishop, denounces the slave dances in New Orleans, lamenting "the wicked custom of the negroes, who, at the hour of Vespers, assemble in a green expanse called Place Congo to dance the bamboula and perform hideous gyrations." But by 1849, a Paris newspaper proclaimed that "everyone in Europe knows Bamboula," thanks to Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the New Orleans pianist-composer, who has "brought a host of curious chants from the Creoles and the Negroes; he has made from them the themes of his most delicious compositions." Chalk up a loss for the New Orleans would-be saints—and a victory for the sinners in Place Congo.
Los Campanillas (late 19th century) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
"Los Campanillas" is the only unpublished piece by the black New Orleans composer Basile Barès (1845-1902) to survive in manuscript—and what an intriguing work it is. Even those few scholars who have written about Barès don't seem to comprehend the significance of this score. The habanera rhythm employed here is the same that Scott Joplin would later rely on for "Solace," Jelly Roll Morton for "The Crave," and W.C. Handy for "St. Louis Blues." Indeed, the dark and brooding second theme of this composition is strongly reminiscent of the minor key section in Handy's path-breaking song published 12 years after Barès's death. "Los Campanillas" is all the more surprising given the fact that Barès's published works steer clear of minor tonalities, and reveal a marked preference for grandiloquent and derivative waltzes in a style reminiscent of Johann Strauss. This composition, in contrast, reflects a deeper, more personal, more futuristic musical conception that leaves the listener wishing for more. I also wish we knew more about the personal history of this composer, who was apparently born into slavery in 1845. A piece of sheet music published in New Orleans in 1860 is credited to a "Basile"—no last name. If, as is commonly assumed, the composer was Basile Barès, it is remarkable both as a work created by a slave and published while he was still a slave, but equally for the fact that the copyright is assigned to the composer....
El Pronunciatiamento: Marche espagnole (1886) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Edmond Dédé, born in New Orleans in 1827, was one of small group of "free black" composers from the Crescent City who managed to earn a livelihood from concert hall music during the 19th century—although mostly overseas. Dédé's 1852 song Mon pauvre coeur is the oldest surviving published piece of music by a Creole of color from New Orleans. Yet at that time, the composer needed to supplement his income with work as a cigar maker. In 1857 he left for Paris, where he studied music, composed, conducted and, in 1864, married a French woman, Sylvie Leflat. Most of his career was spent in Bordeaux, where he wrote around 150 dances, 6 string quartets, and almost 100 songs—virtually all of this music forgotten after Dédé's death in 1901. He only made on trip back to New Orleans, in 1893, where he performed as a violinist and was accompanied by William J. Nickerson—who was later a teacher to Jelly Roll Morton. . . . But even more than personal ties, Dédé's compositions also anticipate Morton—who spoke of the importance of the Spanish tinge in his pianism—and other later currents in New Orleans music. One of the key achievements of the New Orleans musicians was their ability to transform the march beat into something less rigid and military, tapping into a more liberating current hidden inside the rhythm. Hints of that same spirit can be heard in this March espagnole....
Original Dixieland Jazz Band:
Tiger Rag (1917) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
This band has received plenty of attention from jazz writers, but only occasionally for its music. White musicians making the first jazz record? . . . the very fact seems to invite pointed commentary. Even the name of the band comes across nowadays as an affront, and the feisty attitude of the Nick LaRocca, who made no apologies for his position of precedence, has not helped to endear him to later generations of jazz fans....
Ory's Creole Trombone (1922) Reviewed by David Sager
This pioneering recording of the first African-American New Orleans jazz band on record both stands on its own merit and confirms the authenticity of Ory's 1940s recordings. Much is the same: the joyous, uncluttered ensemble work and Ory's familiar swagger (notice his delightful anticipatory attacks, often a full beat ahead) are present. Carey's impassioned sweet-hot lead is also heard, just as it would be 23 years later....
Dippermouth Blues (1923) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Early New Orleans jazz was about the quality of sound rather than the quantity of notes, and Oliver was the great master of getting the cornet to speak with a vocal tone. His range is limited here, and his phrases are built on only two or three notes of the scale. But his down-and-dirty sound captures the ethos of jazz as it emerged at the dawn of the American century....
New Orleans Rhythm Kings (with Jelly Roll Morton):
Mr. Jelly Lord (Take 4) (1923) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Jelly Roll Morton was quick to boast of his achievements. He was a crack shot with a gun; had a winning stroke with a pull cue; he was the first to use brushes (fly-swatters in this instance) on the drums; he was the first master of ceremonies with witty sayings; and, of course, he claimed to have invented jazz. If you give half of Morton's claims some credence, he was a whole Tonight Show—host, band, and guest put together—on his own. I'd even let him do the commercials, given his skills at peddling his own stuff. But Morton never bragged about participating in this first racially integrated jazz recording session—which left us this track, and a handful of others from a 1923 date in Richmond, Indiana. Yet this is a milestone event, much more important than anything you can do with a fly-swatter....
Wild Cat Blues (1923) Reviewed by Dean Alger
This was Sidney Bechet's first recording. Beyond the start of a tremendously important recording career, this track was historic because Bechet was the featured player, rather than simply serving as part of the ensemble in classic New Orleans style, and this recording was made more than two years before the first of the Louis Armstrong Hot Five tracks that are usually credited with the landmark step of featuring a solo artist...
New Orleans Rhythm Kings:
Weary Blues (1923) Reviewed by Alan Kurtz
Whereas the Original Dixieland Jazz Band scrolls across history's stock ticker as a nondescript ODJB, their contemporaries New Orleans Rhythm Kings suffer the maladroit acronym NORK, suggesting a merger of nerds and dorks. This band deserves better. . . .
Frankie and Johnny (1924) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Fate Marable (1890-1947) is a magical name in the annals of New Orleans music—he was the most famous of the riverboat bandleaders who spread the sound of jazz up and down the Mississippi. Marable was also an early employer of Louis Armstrong and other New Orleans jazz pioneers, and mostly remembered by them as a stern taskmaster. Marable's fans were legion, and even Teddy Roosevelt was seen dancing to his band's performance of "Turkey in the Straw." Yet few alive today have heard Marable's music, and even fans who recognize his name may be unaware that the pianist left behind two tracks from a 1924 session. . . .
Jelly Roll Morton:
Grandpa's Spells (1924) Reviewed by Ethan Iverson
"Grandpa's Spells" is nearly a rag in feeling, except with a swing beat and a generally rougher feel. A lot of the time Morton plays overtones in the left hand (usually the fifth note up from the bottom) that imply drums while the brilliant graces on top imply New Orleans-style clarinetists. The F-major trio features a left-hand smash, a dark cluster tossed off casually like a whiskey bottle kicked under the piano. . . .
Riverside Blues (1923) Reviewed by Peter Gerler
A work of joy and salvation, this stirring piece sets the stage with four funereal minor-key measures, then emerges into a triumphant relative major, where it stays for the duration. . . Armstrong takes the last testament, his cornet seeming to herald the arrival of a king. . . .
Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five:
Heebie Jeebies (1926) Reviewed by David Sager
"Heebie Jeebies" is a typically rambling Hot Five performance with pedantic ensemble, some wrong notes and chord problems. So why is it a must for any introductory course on jazz and why the high ranking here? The answer is: Armstrong's pioneering scat singing during his second vocal chorus, of course. But Armstrong's first chorus is equally striking -- he sings with such naturalness that this alone would ensure the disk's reputation as a timeless performance....
Jelly Roll Morton:
Black Bottom Stomp (1926) Reviewed by Rob Bamberger
This recording was added to the Library of Congress National Sound Registry in 2006, and it sums up in three minutes the essence of New Orleans jazz—and what differentiates it from "Dixieland." New Orleans style had, at its center, a reliance on ensemble polyphony. The instruments in the front line—trumpet, clarinet and trombone—have different but complementary functions that, in the hands of musicians skilled in the tradition, allow all three instruments to play simultaneously without creating a musical hash....
Stock Yards Strut (1926) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
The most famous Freddie Keppard recording session is the one he didn't make. In early 1916, the Victor Talking Machine Company tried to convince the New Orleans cornetist to record for their label—this would have been the first jazz session anywhere if Keppard had agreed. Instead he responded nothin' doin' because (according to the most famous account) he feared other players would "steal his stuff". . . . Less attention is paid to the music that Keppard actually recorded—albeit more than a decade later. But in "Stock Yards Strut" he plays with vigor and swing, and one can understand the claims of those who saw him as the great interregnum ruler of New Orleans cornet between the reigns of King Buddy (Bolden) and King Joe (Oliver)....
Jelly Roll Morton:
Sidewalk Blues (Take 3) (1926) Reviewed by Dean Alger
Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers sides of 1926 are among the greatest early jazz recordings. This track, in my judgment, is one of the three best. It opens with vaudeville-style sound effects and a silly-fun spoken dialogue (between Morton and Johnny St. Cyr), then a piano phrase, some fine trombone and clarinet work lead into a beaut of a clarinet solo (probably by Bigard). Thereafter the band romps through this marvelous number....
Perdido Street Blues (1926) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
In the hierarchy of New Orleans jazz, the trumpet / cornet players are at the very top of the heap. They were often given nicknames like King (Joe Oliver, Buddy Bolden, Freddie Keppard) or Pops (Armstrong) or Papa (Mutt Carey) to emphasize their role as pater familias. In contrast, the most famous New Orleans drummer was known as "Baby" and the leading trombonist was called "Kid." And the clarinetist in the band? He certainly wasn't called King—or even Earl or Squire. Every traditional jazz band worth its sassafras needed one, but they usually got no nickname at all...
Jelly Roll Morton:
Dead Man Blues (Take 1) (1926) Reviewed by Dean Alger
"Dead Man Blues" opens with a vaudeville-style, stagy humorous spoken exchange between Jelly Roll Morton and Johnny St. Cyr—"Somebody must be daid; must be a fuunral, I b'lieve ah hear that trambone-phone"—which is followed by a rendition of the classic New Orleans music played for the marching procession going to the cemetery. A pure tailgate trombone slide transitions into the main body of the song.... "Dead Man Blues" is a gem of classic New Orleans-style ensemble jazz, with superb solo breaks....
Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven:
Potato Head Blues (1927) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
"Hello Dolly" and "What a Wonderful World" may get the airplay. "West End Blues" might receive more praise in the jazz history books. But, frankly, "Potato Head Blues" encapsulates Louis Armstrong's artistry as well as any recording he made during his half-century long career. The authority of his phrasing and the grandeur of his tone dominate the soundspace, and his stop-time chorus stands out as the most impressive solo of its time. I dare say no other horn player in the Spring of 1927 could have matched this achievement, and one merely need compare Armstrong's performance here with Oliver, Keppard and his other predecessors to see how far he pushed the art form ahead at this critical juncture....
Papa Celestin's Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra
Sing On (1927) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
The band is called the "original" Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra, but there is little original about it. Papa Celestin had actually started performing at the Tuxedo Dance Hall on North Franklin Street (near Storyville) back in 1910, and the venue had closed long before the first jazz records were made. Celestin, for his part, was in his forties before he had his own chance to preserve his music on disk. A full history of this ensemble, if it could be traced with any depth, would likely serve as a primer on early New Orleans jazz. Louis Armstrong joined the Tuxedo Band back in 1921, and later described it as a "thrilling pleasure." Other band members, such as Johnny St. Cyr and Zutty Singleton, went on to play on many of the most important jazz recordings of the era. This track sounds like a throwback to an earlier period when jazz was still in an embryonic stage. The opening statement seems better suited to a procession than a nightclub, and like Jelly Roll Morton's "Dead Man Blues" from the previous year, begins by evoking a funeral march, before shifting into raw and lowdown jazz....
Sam Morgan's Jazz Band
Sing On (1927) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
If you judge by the locations of the recording sessions, you would be forgiven for thinking that New Orleans jazz took place mostly in Chicago. For all the splendor of its homegrown music scene, the Big Easy sent its star players packing—and they needed to leave home if they hoped to make their name in the jazz world. How sad to see Sam Morgan's amazing jazz ensemble left behind in obscurity because it stayed in New Orleans . None of these artists ever became a star or even moderately well-known beyond the inside circles of New Orleans music. But take my word (or better yet, listen yourself and discover): this was one of the finest jazz bands in the world, circa 1927. The ensemble sound is perfectly balanced, and the rhythm section is more advanced than any you will hear in New York or Chicago groups from this period....
Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five
Struttin' With Some Barbecue (1927) Reviewed by Alan Kurtz
If jazz had a Mount Rushmore, everybody knows who would have pride of place. Washington was Father of His County, and Louis Armstrong was Pops of Jazz. Consider as evidence this track made at the end of a two-year span in which Pops defined by example the solo as jazz's principal means of expression. Yet, as luminous as his solo is here, Pops shines brightest while leading the opening and closing ensembles....
West End Blues (1928) Reviewed by Alan Kurtz
"I felt," said trumpeter Max Kaminsky after hearing Louis Armstrong's leadoff cadenza, "as if I had stared into the sun's eye." He wasn't alone. Two weeks before, Louis's mentor Joe Oliver had waxed this tribute to a cherished venue along New Orleans' Lake Pontchartrain. Nobody was blinded. But when the King's heir apparent traded his trusty cornet—better suited to traditional ensemble jazz—for the more penetrating trumpet, 26-year-old Armstrong's clarion call set off a solar flare that dazzles to this day....
Lonnie Johnson & Eddie Lang:
Have to Change Keys to Play These Blues (1928) Reviewed by Dean Alger
By 1928, Eddie Lang, ethnic Italian from Philadelphia, and Lonnie Johnson, African-American from New Orleans, were recognized as top guitar masters. This track, one of 10 extraordinary duets they recorded in 1928-29, proceeds at a rather stately tempo, unlike some of the other duets. As Johnson said, on this track, as in the other duets, "Eddie could lay down rhythm and bass parts just like a piano." This song shows how the two guitarists took the basic music and bent notes and slurs of the blues, and added sophisticated and intricate interweavings of Lang's solid rhythm and harmonics with Johnson's lead work. Lang occasionally takes the lead, as in the fourth chorus here (sounding more heavy-handed than Johnson), but usually it is Johnson in the lead, managing to combine an often light, jazzy skipping quality with a rich tone and bluesy feel, as his inventive melodic lines soar above Lang's foundation.....
Jimmie Noone & Earl Hines:
Four or Five Times (1928) Reviewed by Alan Kurtz
During the Roaring Twenties, jazzmen didn't try to live down their profession's red-light legacy; to the contrary, they played it up. On this track, everyone has a gay old time (well, that's the co-composer's name) spreading mayonnaise (the other co-composer's name) about how heavenly it'd be, even "if I die," to do it four or five times. Mind you, this was decades before performance-enhancement drugs, so obviously numerical standards have changed. Nevertheless, with inspired playing from Noone and Hines, this classic of wishful thinking is as insouciantly promising as a wink from Mae West....
Henry 'Red' Allen:
It Should Be You (1929) Reviewed by David Sager
After a brief cadenza, Allen launches into the first chorus of this 32-bar original (no bridge) accompanied by a righteous-sounding ensemble that evokes a gospel choir. Anchored by Foster's booming bass and Barabarin's sly drumming (accenting at delightfully unexpected moments), this performance imparts a 'rolling' ensemble sound reminiscent perhaps of Louis Armstrong's recording of "Mahogany Hall Stomp." Higginbotham tackles the brisk 230 beats per minute with fire, articulating on the trombone as no other—fast and loudly without blasting. Allen presages bebop using frequent and deliberate "off-chord" tones, suggesting alternative harmonies....
The Boswell Sisters:
Shout, Sister, Shout (1931) Reviewed by Alan Kurtz
In his book Jazz Singing (1990), Will Friedwald calls The Boswell Sisters "the greatest of all jazz vocal groups." Preternaturally attuned, they could start singing independently in separate rooms, gravitate towards one another, and find upon meeting that they were not only at the same spot in the same song, in tempo and in key, but in perfect harmony! This spooky synchronicity is well displayed in "Shout, Sister, Shout"—part jazz, part gospel, with shifting meters dramatizing its morally prophylactic message: One thing the Devil can't stand is a hallelujah song....
Chinatown, My Chinatown (1931) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Louis Armstrong's path-breaking recordings from the 1920s get most of the attention from jazz experts. But the trumpeter's recordings from the early 1930s include many of the finest performances of his career, and deserve to be far better known. Satchmo starts off this track with some lighthearted banter, and he won't let you forget that he is an entertainer as well as a jazzman. But there is no shortage of artistry here for those who listen. He dishes out one of his finest vocals, relaxed and off-the-cuff, but also full of swing. Then he follows up with a bravura solo, spiced with plenty of high notes. He had just turned 30 a few weeks before this date, and was at the top of the jazz world, unchallenged by any serious rival....
Sidney Bechet (with Tommy Ladnier):
I've Found a New Baby (1932) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Bechet's band, at this celebrated session, was called the "New Orleans Feetwarmers"—but it's clear from the opening chorus that no one in this ensemble has cold feet. They plunge into "I've Found a New Baby" with gusto, and it would be hard to find a more driving example of New Orleans jazz. This style of music, with its interweaving counterpoint lines, was already old-fashioned by the time of this 1932 session, but Bechet and company were not ready to become museum pieces....
Way Down Yonder in New Orleans (1938) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Although Lester Young will forever be associated with Kansas City jazz, he came from a Louisiana family and spent much of his childhood in New Orleans, a city he celebrates in this classic track from 1938. It is fascinating to speculate on how much hot music Young might have heard in the Crescent City, back in those days before the first jazz recordings. Some commentators have suggested that Young was inspired by Keppard, Oliver, Armstrong and a host of other jazz pioneers at this time. Yet, based on what we know of Prez's childhood and personality, it is hard to imagine him hanging out at Funky Butt Hall soaking up the sounds of early jazz. The future tenor star was put to work by his family at age five, and took on a host of menial jobs—polishing shoes, selling newspapers and distributing flyers—when he wasn't trying to run away from home (which he did "ten or twelve times" whenever his dad "would raise a belt to him," according to his brother Lee). By the early 1920s, Young had moved on as a member of the family band, but years later he would revisit his New Orleans roots as a sideman in King Oliver's ensemble of the early 1930s. Can we detect the lingering influence of New Orleans style in Young's later sound? The clarinet, not the tenor saxophone, was the king of the reed instruments in early jazz, and here Young plays both—and in a manner which emphasizes the similarities rather than the differences between the two horns. I love Prez's clarinet work, which reminds us of his New Orleans origins, and wish more of it were available on record, but this is one of his finest tenor solos....
Jelly Roll Morton:
The Crave (1939) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
"If you can't manage to put tinges of Spanish in your tunes," Jelly Roll Morton famously asserted, "you will never be able to get the right seasoning, I call it, for jazz." Here Jelly Roll demonstrates what he means at the keyboard with his sultry and simmering habanera classic "The Crave." Latin jazz was still in its infancy, but on the basis of this performance alone you could have predicted a promising future for this mode of trans-genre cross-dressing. The composition is a gem, one of Morton's finest efforts, and I wonder why it isn't played more often. You could serve it up as a stylish encore at a classical piano recital or let it rip at a juke joint—it works either way....
Summertime (1939) Reviewed by Thomas Cunniffe
Sidney Bechet's version of "Summertime" is one of the great recordings in jazz history. Bechet takes the Gershwin song's 16-bar form and simple harmonic structure and treats it like an extension of the 12-bar blues. With Teddy Bunn providing single-string commentary on his guitar behind Bechet's soprano, it is as if Bechet and Bunn were playing the parts of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong from a classic blues recording. Bechet solos throughout the 4-minute recording (certainly one of the longest jazz solos recorded to that time), utilizing much of his unique musical vocabulary, including rasps, growls and various speeds of vibrato. . . .
Jelly Roll Morton:
King Porter Stomp (1939) Reviewed by Rob Bamberger
It's difficult to imagine Jelly Roll Morton and the City of New York sitting down together over a glass of beer. Their respective musical outlooks never charted the same course. Yet, in late 1939, his optimism renewed, Morton made one last assault on the burg he once described as "that cruel city." Morton made a fresh recording of his "King Porter Stomp" that has a free and unfettered joie de vivre. Named for Porter King, a pianist Morton met in his travels, Jelly Roll dated its origin to 1906. The composition had been a hit for Benny Goodman and served as a major anthem in the launch of the Swing Era four years earlier....
Champion Jack Dupree:
Junker's Blues (1941) Reviewed by Ed Leimbacher
A New Orleans favorite since never-recorded pianist "Drive 'Em Down" (Willie Hall) played it in the streets in the Twenties, "Junker's Blues" was finally put on disc in 1941 by Hall's protege, Champion Jack Dupree. Jack's rough barrelhouse style fit the down-and-dirty drug-user lyrics to a T, and NOLA musicians such as Fats Domino ("The Fat Man"), Lloyd Price ("Lawdy Miss Clawdy"), and Professor Longhair ("Tipitina") have been casually borrowing lines from it ever since Dupree's original 78 RPM record was released....
Jammin' in Four (1941) Reviewed by Cliff Preiss
Hall was one of the great New Orleans clarinetists, but he was a fixture of the New York jazz club scene at the time of this recording. Don't be fooled by the instrumentation of this drummer-less ensemble: this isn't quiet chamber music, but a swinging romp driven by Crosby's bass and Christian's acoustic rhythm guitar. They back the unique sweet and sour sonic combination of Meade Lux Lewis pounding out boogie-woogie on celeste with Hall's hard-edged clarinet blues....
You Are My Sunshine (1944) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Bunk Johnson should be remembered for his music, but instead he will forever be a figure of contention and controversy. When he was rediscovered in the early 1940s, his fans tried to enshrine him as the real deal, the exponent of how jazz once sounded in New Orleans before jazz got corrupted by lindy hoppers, arrangers and—heaven forbid!—the saxophone....
Blue Horizon (1944) Reviewed by Dean Alger
This is the ultimate mellow Sidney Bechet blues track. He gives us the richest, most sumptuous clarinet tone of his recording career, especially in the earlier going and at the end. In later parts of the song, his range of tone and timbre also adds wonderful nuance and texture. He offers one chorus after another of beautifully rendered and shaped lines, creatively developing one thematic variation after another....
La Marseillaise (1945) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
People often talk about the "Spanish tinge" in New Orleans music, but what about the "French tinge"? After all this city—named for Philippe II, Duke of Orleans—was founded by the French and remained under their control far longer than than it was a Spanish territory. George Lewis (1900-1968) rectifies matters with his rendition of "La Marseillaise," a sweet and swinging trio performance from the New Orleans revival of the mid-1940s. Lewis was a forgotten figure, a dock worker whose musical talents were virtually unknown outside of his home town. But the attention given to his friend Bunk Johnson, the darling of the revival movement, got Lewis a sideman gig and then his own record date. Lewis was unhappy with the results of a session with a larger band, and volunteered to record again—without pay—with this clarinet-banjo-bass trio. The resulting session is one of my most cherished moments from the New Orleans revival....
Papa Mutt Carey:
Ostrich Walk (1947) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
With two Papas (Papa Mutt Carey and Pops Foster) and a Baby (Dodds) on hand—each of them a New Orleans pioneer of the music—you will either get plenty of family feeling or a nasty paternity suit. Fortunately no DNA testing is required here. Carey runs the band with a light touch, and gives ample solo space and plenty of breaks to his colleagues. Clarinetist Albert Nicholas is especially impressive, both for his lovely tone and his coherent improvisation. Carey thrives on the New Orleans counterpoint, although you can also hear the influence of the Swing Era aesthetic on this track. But make no mistake: unlike other trad jazz wannabes of the era, these fellows were there at the start. Carey was working with Kid Ory long before the first jazz recordings were made, and was a participant at the first session to feature African-Americans playing jazz music. But you don't need a history book in hand to enjoy this track...
The Fat Man (1949) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Those who contend that rock 'n' roll was invented in New Orleans will present this track as Exhibit 1A for the prosecution. This spirited single hit the Billboard chart on April Fools Day in 1950, and three years later "The Fat Man" had racked up enough sales to earn Mr. Domino a gold record. Certainly there weren't many songs from the Truman administration so raw or uninhibited. Perhaps that other Fats (Waller) had created piano music that sounded like an invitation to a party, but this new Fats (Domino) was opening up the doors to a downright bacchanalia....
Longhair's Blues-Rhumba (1949) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Professor Longhair, born as Henry Roeland Byrd in 1918, influenced a host of New Orleans piano players who sold more records than he ever did. The rap against the Prof is that his music was too strange for the general public. His love songs seemed constructed to inspire celibacy (an example of his lyrics: "Lookie there / She ain't got no hair"), and his piano playing would have resulted in jail time if the keyboard could file charges for battering and physical abuse. In fact, 'Fess's whole career looks like a joke CV of oddities and eccentricities. He started his professional music-making helping to pitch a patent medicine, then he turned to tap dancing, then guitar, then drums, and finally—almost as an afterthought—he settled on the piano. For a while he was working as Little Lovin' Henry. And when he finally got a recording contract, 'Fess decided to call his band . . . the Shuffling Hungarians? Don't try to make sense of it, just enjoy it....
Eureka Brass Band:
Just a Closer Walk With Thee (1951) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
With the possible exception of Mardi Gras, no New Orleans tradition is more revered than the time-honored brass band funeral and parade. The longevity and flexibility of this institution are striking: in more recent days, hip-hop or funk oriented brass bands bring this ritual into the modern age (see example here), and often still include "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" in the mix. Looking backward, this ritual can be traced to African and early diaspora traditions, and if Samuel Floyd is correct, the famous second line of the funeral procession is merely a "straightening out" of the old ring shout. Many outsiders still scratch their heads in puzzlement at the festive tone of these processions, but one need only recall that what some see as a burial others view as a resurrection. This is fitting music indeed for passage into that proverbial "better place"....
Royal Garden Blues (1952) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
The celebrated maestro Arturo Toscanini, according to legend, once invited Sharkey Bonano to a rehearsal of the New York Philharmonic, asked him to play for the orchestra, and afterwards berated his trumpeters because they couldn't get as big and beautiful sound from their horns as the lowly jazz musician. I'm not sure if this ever happened, but Bonano certainly had a full-bodied tone, perfectly suited for New Orleans lead playing, which requires the trumpeter to cut through the layers of counterpoint, both working the melody line and swinging the band at the same time. Fans sometimes dismissed his musicianship because of his on-stage antics and skills as an entertainer. On this live recording, he is clapping and exhorting and setting the festive tone from the bandstand. But he works over "Royal Garden Blues" but good....
My Ding-a-Ling (1952) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Dave Bartholomew ranks among the most important individuals in the history of New Orleans music, but his name never became widely known among the general public, and most of his influence was exerted behind the scenes. He was a songwriter, talent scout, arranger and general man-about-town, whose greatest successes came via his partnership with Fats Domino, which resulted in some 40 hit songs. Yet Bartholomew also recorded his own material, as he demonstrates on this 1952 track. "My Ding-a-Ling" became a huge hit, but for another rock legend—Chuck Berry, in this instance, who brought it to the top of the charts in 1972. In fact, this was the only number one hit in Berry's career. Bartholomew might have grumbled that he deserved the big success, but he would only be foolin' himself. In 1972, many deejays refused to play Berry's version because of its thinly-disguised double meaning, and there are still lots of oldies stations that won't touch it even today....
Swanee River Hop (1953) Reviewed by Ed Leimbacher
Singer/pianoman Fats Domino and arranger/bandleader Dave Bartholomew took the polished loping rhythm of Professor Longhair into the studio, added some pop standards patina, and emerged with scores of regional and national hits, from "The Fat Man" to "Let the Four Winds Blow." Some of Domino's best early Fifties recordings were collected on his second album, not-quite-aptly titled Rock and Rollin'. Tunes like "Second Line Jump" and "Fats' Frenzy" are great piano-sax instrumentals—perfect New Orleans r&b exemplars—and "Swanee River Hop" is a blistering, killin'-the-keys classic. Roll over, Stephen Foster, and tell young Antoine the news!...
The Hawketts (featuring Art Neville):
Mardi Gras Mambo (1954) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
This classic carnival tune was originally recorded by country artist Jodie Levens in 1953, but his incongruous steel-guitar backed version fell flat. Enter the Hawketts the following year with their light R&B version, enhanced with a bit of Caribbean flavor, and a Mardi Gras classic was born. It's hard to believe that Art Neville was only sixteen when he delivered this confident vocal—he sounds like a full-grown man with many Fat Tuesdays under his belt. But though he may not have been old enough to buy alcohol, his paean to Mardi Gras has inspired lots of drinkin', partyin' and fraternizin' with the opposite sex over the years. There is no bass on this track—drummer Boudreux chalks that up to the Hawketts' inexperience: "We didn't know that a band was supposed to have a bass player." But the horns, piano and drums lock together so perfectly that you may not even notice its absence....
Ain't That a Shame (1955) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Fats Domino had already started to attract national attention back in the late 1940s with his recording of "The Fat Man." But "The Fat Man" was a 98-pound-weakling compared to the buffed-up success of "Ain't That a Shame," which broke out of the segregated world of R&B and became a huge pop hit in 1955. The record was a million seller and remains a perennial favorite of those who demand that old time rock and roll. Pat Boone—the Vanilla Ice of the 1950s—had a successful cover version, borrowing his creativity from New Orleans in this instance, just as he would do again with "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally." But those who like plenty of rhythm in their rhythm-and-blues will go straight to the original source. You'll have a hard time finding a better groove on a 1950s rock-and-roll medium-tempo tune, and I'm convinced that the switch in and out of stop-time played a major role in making this tune a hit—Mr. Boone smartly appropriated this part of the arrangement along with the rest of the chart. But Fats' vocal soulful vocal is the main course here, and no imitator was capable of stealing that....
Tutti Frutti (1955) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Little Richard had entered Cosimo Matassa's recording studio on Rampart Street in New Orleans with hopes of becoming a star, but the slow blues he was performing weren't going well. Richard Penniman was setting himself up for a return ticket back to a day job and dashed dreams. But during a break, Richard sat down at the battered piano at the Dew Drop Inn and let loose with a boisterous semi-nonsense lyric he had honed at rowdy performances across the South. Producer Bumps Blackwell was dumbstruck and (according to one version of the story) enlisted the service of Dorothy Labostrie to clean up the questionable lyrics. "Good booty" was replaced with "all rooty," and a few other changes made "Tutti Frutti" suitable for America's teenagers. They loved it, and everyone wanted a scoop of "Tutti Frutti." Even Pat Boone had a hit with his cover version, but his "Tutti Frutti" is plain vanilla when compared with Little Richard's tour-de-hoarse rendition. This definitely ranks among the most uninhibited vocals in the history of rock and roll, up there with John Lennon's throat-abrading version of "Twist and Shout" and Roger Daltrey's nightmarish scream in "Won't Get Fooled Again." The future of popular music is prefigured here, but you can also hear the echoes of the past. "Tutti Frutti" belongs to that great tradition of New Orleans pseudo-gibberish party-time songs—from "Heebie Jeebies" to "Iko Iko." It just feels so fine ricocheting off the lips: Womp-bomp-a-loom-op-a-womp-bam-boom!....
Jump, Jive, an' Wail (1956) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Louis Prima's success in crossing over has led many to forget his strong jazz and Crescent City roots. If he is connected in the public's mind with a city, it is probably Las Vegas, not New Orleans, where he worked the casinos and kept the partyin' festive and the slot machines spinnin'. But the boisterous, uninhibited quality of his performance of "Jump, Jive, an' Wail" would be equally at home on Basin Street or in the heat of a Mardi Gras celebration.
When the Saints Go Marching In (1956) Reviewed by Dean Alger
From the first notes of that famous melody flowing from Satchmo and the All Stars, you just can't help but get a smile on your face, the toe starts tapping, and spirit of Ol' New Orleans begins to take hold of you. Blessedly, despite the fact that Louis Armstrong had played this essence-of-New Orleans tune two or three thousand times, and the members of the band had played it hundreds of times, they play it with verve and passion, carrying the Crescent City spirit on a wave of song to their delighted and responsive audience for this live recording. In his autobiography, the great clarinetist Barney Bigard said of Armstrong and the All Stars, "The band bridged the gap between show business and art." This tune, like that other essence-of-New Orleans song, "Basin Street Blues," was an ultimate demonstration of that'something you can clearly hear in the recording, as the audience is obviously highly entertained; but they are also hearing that supreme master of his instrument and singing, the one and only Satchmo, make musical art, with help from this great band...
Click here for part two—which continues the story of New Orleans music to the present day. You will find classic tracks from the Neville Brothers, James Booker, Wynton Marsalis, Dr. John, Professor Longhair, the Meters, the Wild Tchoupitoulas, Galactic, Louis Armstrong, Henry Butler, Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, and much, much more!