L’il Liza Jane rises to whatever the occasion demands

‘Fore I die, I’d like to meet (Little Liza Jane)
Gal who made us shake our feet (Little Liza Jane)

Okay I made that part of the song up but therein lies the beauty of the song, L’il Liza Jane. It so engaging and adaptable. Meeting her is definitely on my bucket list. Wouldn’t you like to meet the woman has inspired so many people over the years to sing, chant, dance and make up lyrics on the fly?

First printed in 1916, L'il Liza Jane's history likely dates back to minstrel shows.

First printed in 1916, L’il Liza Jane’s history likely dates back to minstrel shows.

According to the Preservation Hall Foundation, the song  L’il Liza Jane “has been established as a New Orleans jazz standard since as far back as the 1910s.” Without doubt, the song was making the rounds before Sherman, Clay & Co. of San Francisco printed it up in 1916, describing it as a “Southern Dialect Song.”

But who was she? One theory is that Liza (and sometimes Eliza) Jane was a common character name in minstrel shows. If so, then its no surprise that her moniker got attached to a simple song that could be easily adapted to whatever dramatic or comedic situation was required.

The simple structure of each line of a couplet set off by a choral response of “L’il Liza Jane” makes it a communal experience where others on stage and audience members can participate.

In true folk tradition, the song has been played in many musical styles from big brass bands to bluegrass pickers, with lyrics added and amended based on the occasion. There is something about the couplet structure of the lyrics that invites embellishments.

The call and response part is easy to follow. No need to rehearse ahead of time, just figure it out as the song proceeds.

Most of the time, the song is about the attraction and joy of having Liza Jane as your life partner. “I got a gal that I adore”  (this is where you sing “L’il Liza Jane”) “Way Down South in Baltimore. “I don’t care how far we roam (Little Liza Jane) Where she’s at is home sweet home.

Huey Smith, an early New Orleans rocker, recorded a version of L'il Liza Jane in 1956.

Huey Smith, an early New Orleans rocker, recorded a version of L’il Liza Jane in 1956.

Huey Piano Smith, an early R&B and rock and roll performer inspired by Professor Longhair, cut a version of the song with his own set of lyrics but stayed true to the song’s theme.

Hey pretty baby can we go strollin’?
(Little Liza Jane)
Yes, you got me rockin’ When I ought to be rollin’
(Little Liza Jane)

The Black Indians of Mardi Gras use the song with lyrics appropriate to their unique practices but the response part is still the same –“L’il Liza Jane.”

Another Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa is coming up on Monday so imagine that song playing in your head right now (cause I’ll definitely be playing then). I’ll call; you respond.

Got some sweet songs you should hear (L’il Liza Jane)
Bout a Lady I hold dear (L’il Liza Jane)

Tune in Monday, KAOS radio (L’il Liza Jane)
Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa Show (L’il Liza Jane)

Or you can listen to the recording of the show on Mixcloud now!

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About Tim Sweeney

Volunteer deejay for community radio station KAOS 89.3 FM Olympia, Washington -- www.kaosradio.org. Host of Sweeney's Gumbo YaYa - a two-hour radio show featuring the music of New Orleans -- every Thursday starting at 10 a.m. (PST)
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2 Responses to L’il Liza Jane rises to whatever the occasion demands

  1. Great back story on that tune (L’il Liza Jane)
    That Huey Smith and others crooned (L’il Liza Jane)
    The Gumbo YaYa show is fine (L’il Liza Jane)
    With Blues and Soul and Second Line (L’il Liza Jane)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: 2015 created great opportunities to explore NOLA music | Sweeney's Gumbo YaYa

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