A history of new orleans music in 100 tracks (part two)
Edited by Ted Gioia
Below is the second and final part of jazz.com's history of New Orleans music in 100 tracks. (Click here for part one.) In this installment we cover the modern era, starting with Shirley & Lee's 1956 R&B hit "Let the Good Times Roll," and then highlight the key New Orleans recordings of the next half-century, before concluding with several tracks from the post-Katrina era.
Jazz Beat (artwork by Debra Hurd)
Along the way, we encounter the Neville Brothers, Louis Armstrong, Irma Thomas, Wynton Marsalis, Pete Fountain, Dr. John, James Booker, Al Hirt, Professor Longhair, Harry Connick, Jr., Allen Toussaint, and dozens of other luminaries from the Crescent City. You'll find jazz and blues, rock and R&B, and plenty of Mardi Gras music in this celebration of the finest sounds of New Orleans.
Each title below links to a complete review, with full personnel, recording info, a rating from 0 to 100, and a source for a (legal) download. You can also click on the names of the key musicians to find additional information on these artists from jazz.com's archive of track reviews, interviews, features and encyclopedia entries.
I'd like to thank the contributors to jazz.com whose work is included in this two-part survey: 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.
A History of New Orleans Music in 100 Tracks
Part Two: The Modern Era (1956 to Today)
Shirley & Lee:
Let the Good Times Roll (1956) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
So many famous artists have performed this song—the Rolling Stones, Barbara Streisand, the Righteous Brothers, Roy Orbison—but it has New Orleans stamped on every measure, and can be traced back to the local R&B duo Shirley and Lee. They had enjoyed earlier hits; "I'm Gone" climbed to number two on the R&B chart in 1952, but this 1956 single made it all the way to the top spot and even crossed over on to the airwaves of mainstream America. Despite a marketing campaign which proclaimed them as "Sweethearts of the Blues," Shirley Goodman and Leonard Lee were just friends. By the early 1960s they had split up, each pursuing a solo career that never matched the success of the early work as pretend lovers. (Although Shirley had one more taste of fame with her lead vocal on the disco hit "Shame, Shame, Shame.") On "Let the Good Times Roll," boy meets girl and invites her to a "roll" of vague description. Just another Spring day in New Orleans. The vocals are convincing, but Earl Palmer's drumming is a major contributor to this song's success. He rocks and rolls as the need arises and briefly switches into stop time, but—best of all—engages in a circus-type march beat over the main theme that is both strange and effective. The history of New Orleans music is partly the tale of how the march beat was liberated, taken from the soldiers and given to the lovers and assorted party-goers....
Huey 'Piano' Smith:
Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie-Woogie Flu (1957) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
That piano lick has been stolen more times than second base at Fenway Park, but it still sounds sweet and funky today. New Orleans native Huey "Piano" Smith parlayed it into a 1957 hit with "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu." The song didn't achieve much crossover success at the time—supposedly because white deejays were reluctant to play it—but it reached the top five of the R&B chart. And the song had an even bigger impact when Johnny Rivers covered it in 1972: everybody heard it the second time around, and it earned a gold record for the singer. But you are advised to travel upstream and check out River's source....
Henry "Red" Allen:
Ain't She Sweet (1957) Reviewed by Alan Kurtz
Henry "Red" Allen spent his life in Louis Armstrong's shadow, usually figuratively but sometimes literally. Like his slightly older and far more famous predecessor, Red was born in New Orleans, journeyed jazzily upstream during the 1920s aboard Fate Marable's Mississippi riverboat band, landed with King Oliver in Chicago, and later joined Fletcher Henderson in New York. Red finally caught up with Louis in the late 1930s, becoming Armstrong's sideman for three years. (Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.) From 1940 onward, Red led his own bands, becoming in the mid-'50s a regular attraction at New York's Metropole Café, which daringly lined its musicians up in a single row on a narrow runway behind the bar. The music was always great, but probably at least a few patrons came to see whether or not some tipsy trombonist might topple with his slide in the 7th position and skewer a bartender en route to the sawdust....
Java (1958) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
In 1964, Allen Toussaint was in the Army and walking through the barracks one day when he heard Al Hirt's version of "Java" on the radio. Toussaint told one of the soldiers to turn up the volume, because he had written this song. "Aww, of course you wrote it," was the skeptical response. Hirt's record reached number four on the Billboard chart, while Toussaint had trouble even collecting royalties. At one point he found that money was going to a mysterious "Joe Friday" who was credited as co-composer. Of course, Toussaint was a mystery man of his own back then, having recorded this song for RCA under the name of "Al Tousan." But his piano style is immediately recognizable and blows his cover within the first few bars....
The Lord's Prayer (1958) Reviewed by Alan Kurtz
According to British scholar Martin Halliwell's American Culture in the 1950s, most reports identified gospel singer Mahalia Jackson as the star of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. In particular, Professor Halliwell cites "The Lord's Prayer," with which she closes Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), Bert Stern's documentary of the '58 NJF. "Jackson's contralto voice and religious devotion," Halliwell contends, "is a powerful spiritual counterpoint to the secular coolness of the Festival's jazz rhythms." Miss Jackson, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the same year as The Jackson Five (perhaps voters thought she was related?), seems to have been all things to all people....
St. James Infirmary (1958) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
The blues were never quite so blue when Snooks Eaglin sang them, and even the minor key lament "St. James Infirmary" will put a bounce in your step when this Crescent City master adds his spin to it. Eaglin was born in New Orleans (1936) and died in New Orleans (2009), and though his his range of artistic expression was dauntingly he wide—he claimed to know 2,500 songs, and his recordings cover every style from R&B to folk music—the stamp of his hometown was always present in his work. A sense of freedom and exuberance permeated his performances, both his guitar playing and his Ray Charles-ish vocals. Here he takes an antiquated song that will forever be associated with New Orleans (albeit one drawn originally from the English folk ballad "The Unfortunate Rake") and wears it like a second-hand suit that somehow becomes a bespoke garment in a hip new style....
Go to the Mardi Gras (1959) Reviewed by Ed Leimbacher
At the end of Lent, in the stretch up to Fat Tuesday, New Orleans busts loose— even now after Katrina's destruction of the Big Easy—and the one song that brings on the resurrection every year is "Go to the Mardi Gras," by the singular and only Professor Longhair, gran' papa of NOLA's rhumba-rhythm piano sound. Fifty years after it was recorded, 'Fess's hot-saucy soupcon of joy is still the perennial hit. Granted, the good professor learned a few tricks from some earlier cats, but he's the man who perfected all, and influenced every Louisiana piano tickler that came after. His protégé Dr. John was there back in '59 to arrange the goodtiming go-to while 'Fess coached the crack local players into the right rhythm and mood. Then the tapes rolled—'Fess's piano rippled out a clarion wake-up call trailed by fast, bustling drums—and history answered....
Al 'Carnival Time' Johnson:
Carnival Time (1959) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Fifty years after it was recorded, this song still shows up on the airwaves at Mardi Gras time in New Orleans. It was such a defining hit for Al Johnson that the song became his nickname. "Everybody's having fun," the song proclaims—except for Mr. 'Carnival Time' himself. This classic New Orleans single was long a sore spot for Johnson, who was unable to secure rights to the royalty stream until 1999. Instead, he earned a living as a cab driver while others celebrated with his song playing in the background. Gaining control over his composition hardly signaled a turnaround in Johnson's life, and he lost his house in Hurricane Katrina, was forced to relocate to Houston, and only recently got a Habitat for Humanity home back in his home town (in Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis's "Musicians' Village"). What a contrast between the man and his music. This is a quintessential good time, partyin' tune with a big back beat and an extroverted vocal that is the closest thing to an invitation to a saturnalia allowed on the radio, circa 1960....
Don't Ever Love (1960) Reviewed by Dean Alger
This is the first track on the first album made after Lonnie Johnson was "rediscovered" by Chris Albertson in Philadelphia in 1959 (making it Johnson's second "comeback"). Most striking is Johnson's vocal artistry; the man who was one of the ultimate guitar virtuosos sings with such power, nuance, dynamics, expressiveness, timing and phrasing to show that he could be not just a very good singer, but a great one. Johnson's guitar work was so exceptional that it tends to distract attention from his later vocal mastery. One good listen to this extraordinary performance will set that straight....
When It's Sleepy Time Down South (1962) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Every artistic tradition of any scope has its serious practitioners and its popularizers. But with New Orleans jazz it is sometimes hard to tell them apart. A jazz purist will tell you that Louis Armstrong was the real artist, while Al Hirt was the watered-down version for the members of the public who didn't know any better. Yet the truth is somewhat more complicated. This track is truer to the jazz tradition than many recordings that Satchmo made around the same time, and if you know the trumpet you won't need a Toledo scale to figure out that Al Hirt is no lightweight. Here he takes a song associated with Armstrong, and plays it with a big New Orleans tone, confident phrasing and sure technique....
Hello Dolly (1963) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
A bystander at the recording session notes that Louis Armstrong shook his head in dismay when looking over the music to "Hello Dolly," an unknown song (at the time) that the trumpeter was simply performing to please long-time manager Joe Glaser. Glaser must have been repaying a favor to someone—certainly this repetitive tune with the simple-minded lyric from a Broadway show that still hadn't opened was no gift to Armstrong. Yet Louis was a consummate showman and seasoned veteran of many sessions, and delivered the tune with so much enthusiasm that one might have concluded that he was the one who had concocted the whole idea. Even the old-timey banjo, overdubbed by a producer looking to add a little more "period charm" to the song, can't detract from the charisma of New Orleans' most famous musical ambassador. A few weeks later the song was a hit, and by May a 62-year-old trumpeter had pushed the Beatles out of the top spot on the Billboard chart....
Time is on My Side (1964) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Give the Rolling Stones some credit. No one saw this song as a potential hit until the British rockers put it on the charts in the Fall of 1964. A few months earlier, Irma Thomas's record label had buried her rendition of "Time is on My Side" on the B-side of the single "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is." The song had been recorded previously by Kai Winding (check out the strangeness here), but the Stones relied instead on Thomas's version with its expanded lyrics. The New Orleans R&B diva got no satisfaction from seeing the young rockers' success—and was so upset that, for a time, she only performed it in response to determined requests from the audience....
Sweet Emma and Her Preservation Hall Jazz Band:
Panama (1964) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
I wouldn't want to suggest for one minute that the venerated Preservation Hall Jazz Band, put together by Sweet Emma Barrett's around the time of this recording, was a marketing-driven concept targeted at tourists and other people who know nothing about the real history of New Orleans jazz. I will merely point out that, the year before this record was made, Sweet Emma was performing at Disneyland. Hell, you know it has to be authentic if Walt and his Anaheim brain trust approved of it. Then there is the building, the famous Preservation Hall, which was 214 years old when this music was made (in Minneapolis; shhh, don't tell anyone)—an edifice that had no connection with this jazz ensemble for 211 of those years. But if those walls could only speak...they would at least demand a cut of the action....
Muskrat Ramble (1965) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
What sort of people were spending their evenings out, back in the middle of the turbulent '60s, listening to Pete Fountain's dixieland band? Judging by this recording, they were a happy-go-lucky sort you wouldn't mind having for a next door neighbor. The Stones might be looking for "Satisfaction" back in '65, but these fans were just looking for a good time. And that war off in Southeast Asia? Who in French Quarter Inn crowd would have predicted that, just a few months later, Country Joe McDonald would borrow this same Kid Ory tune for his famous antiwar chant, which became so associated with the protest movement that some people simply called it the "Vietnam Song"....
What a Wonderful World (1967) Reviewed by Alan Kurtz
Aside from Satchmo singing throughout, this track has nothing to do with jazz. But that's like saying, "Aside from the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor has no towering monuments." The single exception is a tad conspicuous. And certainly jazz has no monument more towering than Louis Armstrong. Here he transforms a platitudinous ditty that, done by any other singer, would make us cringe, and instead makes us rapturous. What other voice so embodied dignity, heartache, humor, compassion and downright love of life?...
Big Road Blues / Careless Love (1968) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
"I ain't the best in the world," Babe Stovall modestly proclaimed at performances, "but I'll do until the best git here." For years, Stovall entertained passersby on the streets of New Orleans, and little did they know how deep ran the blues roots of this spirited showman of the pavement. Here he delivers a moving version of "Big Road Blues," a song that was handed down from guitarist to guitarist in the early decades of the twentieth century, and ismost closely associated with the legendary 1920s-era bluesman Tommy Johnson. This piece is more syncopated than your typical early blues and the guitar part is a timeless bit of Americana, worthy of its own corner in the Smithsonian. The Mississippi Sheiks later adopted the essentials of this song for their "Stop and Listen Blues"—a borrowing which led to that anomaly in the blues field: copyright litigation from Johnson's record label. Stovall's version sounds strikingly like Johnson's, and well it should—he learned this song directly from him, and even knows some additional lyrics that Johnson never recorded. This is the real stuff in the blues world, as authentic as moonshine straight from the still....
Barney Bigard & Art Hodes:
Bucket's Got A Hole In It (1968) Reviewed by Dean Alger
"Bucket's Got A Whole In It" is a traditional tune that was widely heard in New Orleans in jazz's early years. The song gets a zesty, beautifully played revival in the hands of Bigard and Hodes, with trombone legend George Brunies and Nap Trottier on trumpet making superb lead-line additions. Hodes opens things on piano with wonderful verve and dynamics, leading to the full band playing the finest updated-and- refreshed classic ol' New Orleans-style ensemble jazz, each instrument contributing to the marvelous mosaic. Bigard sings the pure fun/let's party lyrics like one who knows where this song originally came from and feels it. And after the first singing run, Bigard treats us to a beaut of a clarinet solo with flair, using all his unparalleled rich tone, inventive lines, and stylistic techniques....
Iko Iko (1972) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
You don't really need to know what "Iko Iko" means to enjoy it, but a grad student could spend a month deciphering the Creole patois and this song's various significations. The tune was originally recorded under the name "Jock-A-Mo"—which means jester. A "spy dog" is a lookout. Marraine is a godmother, etc. But even the composer claims he was just imitating phrases he had picked up from Mardi Gras Indians, and didn't really know what they meant....
The Wild Magnolias:
Smoke My Peace Pipe (Smoke It Right) (1973) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
My source documents are strangely silent about the so-called "peace pipe" mentioned in this song. Are the Wild Magnolias referring to some time-honored Native American tradition? A powerful medicine? A shamanistic ritual of cosmic proportions? They are sticklers for ritual purity—admonishing the listener to "smoke it right"; but how do they get around all those local anti-smoking restrictions? You can't even light up a cigar in a smoke shop these days without a squad car arriving to take you away in 'cuffs. Of course, the music presents its own puzzle. Could this really be a traditional Native American song? Did they have electric bass back then? The uninitiated might be tempted to describe this track as watered-down 1970s soul music, but that shows how little they know.....
Junco Partner #2 (1973) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
They call them the "lost Paramount tapes." The 16 track master tapes disappeared a long time ago, and they are still hiding out somewhere. But in 1992, almost a decade after Booker's death from kidney failure—tragically left waiting for treatment at New Orleans Charity Hospital's emergency room—Daniel Moore found tapes of the mix he made made on the night of the last session. This allowed the CD release of this posthumous masterpiece. Dr. John reportedly plays a cassette of this music for musicians in his band so they can hear how New Orleans music is supposed to be played. But, honestly, there can't be many bands in the Big Easy, or anywhere else, that operate consistently at this level....
Right Place Wrong Time (1973) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
For once, it was a case of the right place at the right time. Most of the New Orleans piano legends never had a top ten hit, and Dr. John could have gone through his entire career without an AM airplay sensation and still be assured of his iconic status. But the stars were in alignment for Mac Rebennack when he recorded this quirky, likeable tune, which became his biggest selling song. There were other stars on hand—in the studio that day, and they deserve some credit too. When will the Meters get their due? This fantastic band, New Orleans's answer to the Wrecking Crew and Funk Brothers, always delivered the goods, and could produce a hit for other parties (they did it again with "Lady Marmalade" the following year). Their own recordings are textbook studies in the proper care and nurturing of a dance groove, and ought to be enshrined in some suitable hall of funky fame....
Fire on the Bayou (1975) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
If the Motown label had moved to New Orleans at the end of the Vietnam era, this is the kind of music they might have launched on to the charts and spread to the jukeboxes of America. Dream on! . . . most people probably can't handle this much Cajun spice in their musical fare. "Fire on the Bayou" is a simple tune—almost maddeningly banal—and the words will never be featured in a poetry anthology. But this is one of hottest rhythm sections you will hear on record, and the funk comes at you gumbo thick....
Put Out the Light (1976) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
As the story goes, 18-year-old James Booker was invited to play piano for the great concert hall virtuoso Arthur Rubinstein, who told the teenager afterward: "I could never play that." In all honesty, who—outside a small coterie of seasoned New Orleans players—would dare? The rolling, syncopated style of pianism that goes by the name of "New Orleans style" is hard to pin down. Sometimes it is reminiscent of boogie-woogie or stride, but never falls into the predictable rhythmic patterns of those idioms. The sound is less rock and more roll, an ebbing and flowing that always seems to move around the beat rather than sit on top of it. Booker is the master of this two-handed approach, and crafted one of the most persuasive keyboard styles of the late 20th century....
The Wild Tchoupitoulas:
Big Chief Got a Golden Crown (1976) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
The tradition of Mardi Gras Indians—revelers, organized into tribes, who wear elaborate costumes inspired by Native American ceremonial attire—predates the arrival of jazz and blues on the local scene. But all traditions are susceptible to updating, and this one is no exception. Today women are allowed into these previously men-only groups, and the songs borrow from contemporary stylings. This track is that odd hybrid: a New Orleans reggae tune. Makes you wonder whether these Indians come from the West Indies. A catchy call-and-response is made all the tastier by the presence of a very hot back-up band. Of course, this Big Chief (George Landry) had a distinct advantage over his rivals: his nephews are the Neville Brothers....
GCCG Blues (1980) Reviewed by Thierry Quenum
Say what you will, there's a good chance this blowing session is so warm and uninhibited because three of the musicians involved are Southerners. Aside from bassist Ray Drummond, the odd man out from Massachusetts, we have leader Idris Muhammad from Louisiana plus saxophonists Coleman from Tennessee and Sanders from Arkansas. Of course there are good musicians everywhere, but when it comes to being oneself on blues changes, as on this medium-fast Coleman composition, it's hard to wail in a more natural and a looser way than those Southern cats. So forget about supposed styles (Coleman= hard bop, Sanders=free, Muhammad= R&B) and listen to them surprise you on these familiar chords that nowadays are often dealt with as if they were a scholarly exercise....
Preservation Hall Jazz Band:
Shake It and Break It (1981) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Well, this song will at least get grandpa perking up his ears, and maybe even out of his easy chair. If Percy Humphrey's vocal were any grittier, you could sand down at least two of the exterior walls of Preservation Hall with it. And brother Willie's clarinet solo is fine and fluttery, with bird-call like figures, friendly patterns, and even a few phrases that might have been improvised. Jazz purists will have little patience for the 1960s-era institution masquerading as an authentic piece of early New Orleans history, but only a sourpuss would denounce all this lighthearted fun. And it was probably better that the tourists spent their money at Preservation Hall than down at Big Daddy's Gentlemen's Club....
Concerto in E-flat Major for Trumpet and Orchestra by Joseph Haydn (first movement) (1983) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
No, it's not jazz—duh!—but anyone who wants to come to grips with the phenomenon of Wynton Marsalis needs to hear his classical side, and there is no better place to start than his debut classical album, made when the trumpeter was 20. It would earn him a Grammy in 1983, and gain him a following among a wide audience who had never come within 500 feet of a jazz club. In particular, listen to the cadenza toward the conclusion of the first movement of the Haydn concerto. It's not just the technical control, which admittedly can blind you to everything else, but even more the freedom of his phrasing. The cadenza goes beyond the bounds of the idiom, yet also seems perfectly appropriate. I don't think anyone else on the planet could have pulled this off back then, or today for that matter....
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band:
It's All Over Now (1987) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
We all know that the Rolling Stones can "borrow" music from New Orleans. So why can't New Orleans musicians do the same in return? Here the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, joined by Dr. John, delivers a spirited rendition of "It's All Over Now," which served as the British rockers' first number one single back in '64. Of course, the Stones had picked it up from the Womack brothers, so this song has crossed the Big Pond enough times to earn frequent flyer miles and a free upgrade....
The Majesty of the Blues (The Puheeman Strut) (1988) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
This performance marks a major turning point in the career of Wynton Marsalis. Before this recording, Marsalis was a futurist, working on elaborate polyrhythmics, playing fast and hard, and moving in a post-Miles direction. Then—seemingly overnight—he becomes the grand traditionalist, and shows off a killin' pre-bop sound, built on down-and-dirty textures reminiscent of Bubber Miley and King Oliver. 'What's going on?' as Marvin Gaye might ask....
Harry Connick, Jr. (with Dr. John):
Do You Know What it Means (To Miss New Orleans) (1988) Reviewed by Ed Leimbacher
When New Orleans' native son Harry Connick, Jr. recorded his second album 20 two decades ago, the world and Southern Louisiana's portion of it were in a different place and time. No 9/11 and no Homeland Security, no Hurricane Katrina, and no feeble FEMA response. This classic song was just a lonely, lovely lament for a languid city recalled from afar....
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band:
Use Your Brain (1991) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
For those raised on today's urban music, it may be hard to believe that you could get such a soulful groove without bass or guitar or keyboards . . . or sampling or programming and those other "little helpers" that are so common these days. But welcome to New Orleans, where horns have been doin' the heavy lifting for more than a century. Here we don't even get a full dirty dozen in the band, but a majority of the ensemble shows up in the studio for "Use Your Brain," and that's all they need for a funk quorum. This project found the band members focusing on original compositions, with saxophonist Roger Lewis penning this winning chart. It's fascinating to listen to this music and trace the history back to those early New Orleans brass bands, yet also hear all the contemporary ingredients....
Sidney in Da Haus (1992) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
The Sidney of the title is Sidney Bechet, the Creole clarinet (and soprano sax) master of early New Orleans jazz. Usually Branford's brother is the Marsalis sibling who plays the role of jazz museum curator, but perhaps Wynton's presence as a sideman here inspired this historically-charged performance. You probably already know that Branford Marsalis can construct thematic improvisations like Rollins or unleash modal assaults like 'Trane, but what about his Bechet bag on soprano sax? His breaks on this track are pure New Orleans, delivered with a coy "gosh, look at me" attitude that is quite endearing, and Branford follows with four picture-perfect blues choruses. Then the trumpeter in the family steps to the forefront and offers his own forceful history lesson....
Existence is Punishment (1992) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
New Orleans has a long tradition of iconoclastic funeral music, with its parading brass bands and strutting second lines that sometimes strike outsiders as oddly bright and jaunty. But the sludge metal movement that came out of New Orleans in the early 1990s offered a corrective to all that. The dark, gloomy sound of bands such as Crowbar, Acid Bath and Eyehategod will quickly send the second line packing never to return. In a city known for party music, sludge metal fans created the closest thing to self-flagellation to be contained on a compact disk. "Existence is Punishment" captures this raw style in all its sludginess: lugubriously slow tempos, guitars played like welding equipment, and vocals so rough that, by comparison, Dr. John sounds ready to sing Puccini at La Scala....
'Fess Up (1992) Reviewed by Ed Leimbacher
While the good Doctor has recorded many tributes to Professor Longhair (his inspiration and early mentor) over the years, none tops his tune called "'Fess Up." To portray the Professor, Mac employs a dash of "Hadacol," a brief trace of "Tipitina," and maybe a hint of "She Walks Right In," plus a whole new spritely rising melody. Just "radiatin' the 88," says Mac, as he casually mixes Longhair's Caribbean rhumba in with a sly dose of Cow Cow Davenport, some "double note crossovers," and a smudgin' of boogie-woogie too....
In This House, On This Morning (1993) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
There are many tempting pigeonholes in which to place this 2-hour work by Mr. Marsalis. You could call it his personal variant on the old Ellington Sacred Concerts. Or you could look it as an apprentice effort pointing toward Marsalis's later Pulitzer Prize-winning composition Blood on the Fields. You might even see this as a historic moment in the institutionalization of jazz. (This was the trumpeter's first commission from Jazz at Lincoln Center.) Or you could do as I suggest, and actually listen to the music and let it speak to you on its own terms. Of course, it is much more convenient to have a readymade opinion about Wynton that exempts you from actually having to hear his music. But if you put your ears to the test you will encounter many aural moments of high distinction, from that expansive opening motif of "Devotional" (vaguely reminiscent of Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere") which will return to greet the perspicacious listener from time to time, to the glorious and free-ish trumpet speaking-in-tongues of "Call to Prayer" and the 6/8 cool jazz stylings of "Hymn." And let me call attention (to pick a few more pleasing examples) to the horns that sound like church bells in "Recessional" and Wynton's celebration of his New Orleans roots in his concluding "Pot Blessed Dinner"....
The Neville Brothers:
Shake Your Tambourine (1994) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
In 1981, the same year the Columbia discovered the Marsalis brothers, the folks at A&M signed another group of New Orleans siblings. The Neville Brothers were unlikely to become the next teenage sensation—Art (born in 1937) was older than Wynton and Branford put together—but that didn't stop them from attracting a younger audience with their fervent mixture of R&B, funk, reggae, rock and Louisiana swamp sounds. On this live track, the Nevilles bring a little bit of New Orleans on the road, and successfully translate their street party sound on to the big stage. The band is tight and the vocals blend with that appealing consonance that is a characteristic of vocal groups made up of siblings....
Blood on the Fields (1995) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Wynton Marsalis has built a career on high ambitions—including (for a start) assimilating the music vocabulary from Haydn to Ornette—but this may be the biggest gambit of them all. The best comparison point here is Duke Ellington's extraordinary Black, Brown & Beige, composed a half-century before Wynton presented his Blood on the Fields to the music world. Like Ellington, Marsalis also tries to pull together history, sociology and lots of dramatic music into a big, big, big composition-- more than twice as long as Ellington's work....
When the Saints Go Marching In (1995) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Contrary to what you might think, Dixieland bands hate playing this tune. Back in the 1960s, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band demanded a five dollar tip before they would even consider performing it, but would only require one buck for "Clarinet Marmalade." One solution for jaded trad players is to banish it from the repertoire—send those saints marching out—but the other approach is to follow Payton's formula. Change the chords and rhythms so that it becomes an entirely new song. Nothing remains of the original progression on this recording. You won't hear any trad band try this kind of reharmonization, and along with the eight-to-the-bar long count feel of the pulse, the result is a version of "Saints" that sounds more at home in Rio than the French Quarter....
Christopher, Jr. (1996) Reviewed by Scott Albin
On a CD that mixes jazz with hip-hop, reggae, New Orleans funk and second line, calypso, blues, the Motown sound and Brazilian samba, this track nonetheless stands out for its streamlined focus. "Christopher Jr." is Donald Harrison's pure bebop tribute to Charlie Parker. Harrison's versatility is well known, whether exploring Eric Dolphy's music many years ago with Terence Blanchard or Latin jazz currently with Eddie Palmieri, so it's no surprise that he could compose such a catchy bop tune as "Christopher Jr." and improvise on it with extreme confidence and flair. The theme borrows from several bop anthems of yore, yet is somehow fresh-sounding and memorable in its own right, as Harrison's vibrant alto plays it soulfully with a piquant tone....
Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton:
Jeepers Creepers (1996) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Trumpeter Nicholas Payton is a musician who deeply understands and has assimilated Louis Armstrong's legacy. Doc Cheatham, for his part, occasionally subbed for Louis back in the mid-1920s—more than four decades before Payton was born. Yet the duo bridge the Jazz Age and the Internet Age on this recording, which was Cheatham's last studio project before his death at age 91. Payton's solo work here is outstanding, and if he outshines Cheatham, the latter still delivers a heck of a performance for a nonagenarian. Payton's unaccompanied intro is all too brief, but packs a lot of swing into a few bars....
Crazyhorse Mongoose (1997) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
No, New Orleans can't claim to have invented funk, but its contribution to the nations GDF (= Gross Domestic Funkiness) is way out of proportion to the size of its population or square mileage. Must be in the water . . . flowing down the big river, coming in from the Gulf, seeping up out of the ground. Galactic, formed in 1994, has been keeping the local funk tradition alive and updating it for a new generation. The aesthetic here is no-nonsense jam band with a thin veneer of polish to make it suitable for contemporary jazz airplay. There is a lot to enjoy here, but Stanton Moore's drumming really is the key ingredient....
Bourbon Street Blues (1998) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
The New Orleans piano tradition is so rich that it is hard for the modern generation of keyboardists to live up to its demands, let alone earn a place alongside the legends of yesteryear. But Henry Butler has proven that he is a huge talent whose name is not out of place when mentioned in the same breath as those of the departed masters such as Professor Longhair, James Booker, or even the great Jelly Roll himself. Butler has, if anything, even greater technical command of the instrument than any of these predecessors, and there are few more enjoyable experiences in piano music today than hearing this artist attack the 88 keys. I prefer Butler unaccompanied, as on this tour de force performance of "Bourbon Street Blues." He has a deep idiomatic command of the full range of vernacular American piano styles, and you will hear bits of ragtime, stride, boogie and funk, all played with his characteristic thousand-watt touch. If his notes were any brighter, even the audience would need to wear shades....
King Porter Stomp (1999) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
This track—and this entire CD—deserve to be far better known. But Wynton has recorded prolifically, and by the time he delivered this end-of-the-millennium tribute to Jelly Roll Morton, the idea of "Marsalis does New Orleans" was old hat and few were paying close attention. Yet this music makes my short list of the best traditional jazz performances of the modern era. In 1924, Jelly Roll Morton teamed up with King Oliver for a duet performance of this same song. Can any duo today surpass the "inventors" of New Orleans jazz at "King Porter Stomp"? Ah, Marsalis and Lewis do just that. Both are absolutely true to the inner meaning and spirit of Morton's classic tune, yet also are absolutely true to themselves—not an easy combination given the tendency to treat these old New Orleans songs like venerable relics from a golden age. You hear this and you can't help concluding that the golden age is right now....
Bogalusa Strut (1999) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
How Dixieland music has changed! When played by Kermit Ruffins it comes in a swinging 4/4 time with no more of that two-beat rhythm grandpa and grandma liked so well. The back beat can even be as wide as Canal Street nowadays, imparting a certain funkiness to the proceedings that is appealing but a bit different from what Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver played for those first fans of hot music. Solos are now more important than counterpoint. And even if no one ever actually said "Modern Dixieland = White Imitators" (okay, maybe someone did mutter that from the back row), jazz fans should be happy to find a little more diversity in the front line. Ruffins, for his part, plays with enthusiasm, and knows how to put on a show. Almost anything can happen at a Ruffins' gig—he exchanged vows with his beloved during a performance, and will even cook up a killin' barbecue to serve up along with the music....
Irvin Mayfield & Ellis Marsalis:
Yesterday (2004) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Paul McCartney's melody always sounds plaintive, but especially so when you know the story behind this track. Mayfield's session came close to being destroyed in the midst of Hurricane Katrina. But he preserved the original mixes on his iPod. Yet a larger tragedy loomed: the trumpeter lost his father, Irvin Mayfield, Sr., in the floods following Katrina. This talented musician and jazz educator has channeled his grief into rebuilding efforts, including an ambitious plan to help New Orleans' devastated library system. His recording, dedicated to Mayfield Sr. and the other victims of Katrina, is a moving tribute by an artist who has done more than almost any other jazz player of his generation for his home town. And how fitting that he is accompanied by Ellis Marsalis....
Louisiana 1927 (2005) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Randy Newman would have good reason to feel some sympathy with folks from Louisiana. He spent much of his childhood in New Orleans, and a dose of that city's musical personality even rubbed off on him—and can occasionally be heard in his work. Hurricane Katrina added new poignancy to this song about a Louisiana flood during the Coolidge administration, and here Newman offers a moving rendition at a benefit concert in Avery Fisher Hall. Yes, he may love L.A., but he clearly has a soft spot for that other LA too....
Tipitina and Me (2005) Reviewed by Ed Leimbacher
It's a perfect slice of the Crescent City, past and present. In the course of less than three minutes, the engrossed listener hears Jelly Roll Morton's Spanish tinge (the Caribbean Creole habanera sound plus Louis Moreau Gottschalk) and mad 'Fess's sly key-tickling, as well as some Slavic Classic sadness mixed with bayou blues; you experience the pianist's personal grief but profound hope too, and all carried on a rolling rhumba rhythm. It's as though he were saying, "We may be down—but we're not out, not by a Congo Square jump-up, or a long chain of cheap plastic beads"....
Ghost of Congo Square (2007) Reviewed by Jared Pauley
On his opus recording A Tale of God's Will, trumpeter Terence Blanchard recalls the the spirits of old on this track, which opens up the album. I commend Mr. Blanchard for recording an album that attempts to deal with the tragedy of Katrina with music. This song opens up with a funky, shuffle beat that almost tricked me into thinking that I was listening to the Meters or Stanton Moore....
Louisiana Stew (2008) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Over the course of more than a dozen releases, Kenny Neal has established himself as one of the leading blues stars of our day. He draws on his home town roots for his "Louisiana Stew," a good-times tune with a very danceable beat. When New Orleans partyin' meets the lowdown blues, something's gotta give. The festive mood wins out here, and blue moods are put on hold for another day....
Dr. Michael White:
Will the Circle Be Unbroken? (2008) Reviewed by Ted Gioia
This song may be better known as a gospel or folk or roots tune, and its origins can be traced back to British-born Christian tunesmith Ada Ruth Habershon. But it sounds like a Crescent City original in the hands of Dr. Michael White and company. White is one of the leading exponents of the New Orleans tradition walking the planet. Don't let his doctorate fool you: there is nothing academic about his trad jazz work. The style of performance here might be one hundred years old, but it wears it well, huh?...