Professor Longhair: Longhair's Blues-Rhumba

Track

Longhair's Blues-Rhumba

Artist

CD

New Orleans Piano (Atlantic 7225)

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Musicians:

Professor Longhair (piano),

tenor sax unknown, but possibly Charles Burbeck, Al Miller or John Woodrow (drums)

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Composed by Professor Longhair

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Recorded: New Orleans, November 1949

Albumcoverprofessorlonghairneworleanspiano

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

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. Here he plays a blues-rhumba, which is his own personal take on American vernacular keyboard music. It's not quite boogie, and it's not quite jazz. You could call it R&B, but it doesn't sound like what any of the other jive pianists were playing at the time. And what about that killin' B natural in the second chorus melody line? Just like so much else from New Orleans, Longhair's music makes up its own rules as it goes along. Yes, there is a band participating, but they are as unnecessary as an overcoat on a Gulf Coast summer day. The sideman were just trying to keep up with the Professor. Strange? Certainly. But make no mistake—this is classic Crescent City piano straight from the source.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

If you liked this track, also check out

Professor Longhair: Go to the Mardi Gras
Dr. John: 'Fess Up
Henry Butler: Bourbon Street Blues


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