While we celebrate a secular Christmas at our house, it is bound in tradition. As Tevye says, without tradition our lives are “as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.” And tradition involves music. So welcome to the 2020 Gumbo YaYa Winter Holiday Music Show!
Smoky Greenwell kicks off the show with a rollicking instrumental version of “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. ” Other seasonal standards follow such as “Santa Baby” (Lena Prima), “Jingle Bells” (Fats Domino), “O Tannebaum” (Ellis Marsalis), “Zat You Santa Claus” (Louis Armstrong), and “Santa, Let Me Call You a Cab” . . . Wait! What?
Well, I wouldn’t want the show to get bogged down in so many sentimental touchstones that it goes down like last year’s Christmas fruitcake. So I sprinkle in some fresher nuggets of holiday cheer including a few from A Very Threadhead Holiday.
In addition to Alex McMurray’s ballad of how to extricate a drunken Santa from your home, this show includes “Pimp My Sleigh” (Theryl DeClouet the “Houseman”), “Christmas Biya Mama (Andre Bouvier’s Royal Bohemians), “Christmas Like Ya Just Don’t Care” (Panorama Jazz Band), “Santa Won the Lottery” (Frankie Ford) and, of course since its a New Orleans music show, “12 Yats of Christmas” (Benny Grunch and the Bunch).
There’s some fine vocal performances including those by Debbie Davis, Sweet Cecilia, Aaron Neville and my favorite, the Zion Harmonizers doing “White Christmas.”
And for lagniappe, Kermit Ruffins, who you’ll hear early in the show doing “Crazy Cool Christmas,” closes the show with his real Christmas wish (it’s the same every year actually) – “A Saints Christmas” – the New Orleans Saints football team in the Super Bowl. As long as they don’t play like they did against the Chiefs this weekend, they just might make it.
New Orleanians have no trouble remembering their dead — most cemeteries in the city feature above ground crypts creating a daily reminder for those who pass by them. And the city has three centuries of dead to honor. This week’s show celebrates the Day of the Dead .
When I was a kid in New Orleans, I always had the day after Halloween off. I attended Our Lady of Lourdes on Napoleon Avenue and like all Catholic Schools at the time, Lourdes recognized All Saints Day by giving us a school holiday. At the time, I just thought the nuns wanted to give us a break after a night full of knocking on doors and jacking up on candy. Later I learned how religious holidays tend to congregate around earlier non-Christian based celebrations — in this case Samhain is often cited as the genesis for Halloween, All Saints Day and the more populist — All Souls Day. And then there is Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) which in Mexican culture is a time to remember friends and family who have died.
This show isn’t just about remembering our dead; several of the songs address preparing for death: Spencer Bohren (who died last year of cancer) sings “Ghost Train,” Tangle Eye’s “O Death,” John Scofield’s New Orleans recorded song “The Angel of Death,” and the jazz standard for mortality “St. James Infirmary” by Ingrid Lucia and James Andrews.
You’ll also hear Coco Robicheaux’s “Walking with the Spirit,” Treme Brass Band’s “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead” and an edited-for-radio version of the Dirty Bourbon River Show song “All My Friends Are Dead.” The song in this show that perhaps best represents the practice of remembering someone who has died, is Yvette Landry’s song about her father “Fishing’s Better Anyway.”
But wait, in a two-hour radio show, you get more – Zombies (Diablo’s Horns), Voodoo (several songs including Dash Rip Rock’s pre-Amazon mail order Voodoo Doll) and, of course, Morgus the Magnificent. Yes, I’ve written a whole post on him and just featured him when Sidney Noel Rideau (the actor who created and portrayed Morgus) died. But its a tradition to include him in this show and this one features a short snippet of an early skit he performed with his sidekick Chopsley.
Thanks for reading all the way to this point. Perhaps you’ll consider subscribing. I do shows every week. My best to you and your loved ones who passed on.
First memory of snow in New Orleans melds with this year’s Holiday music show.
My earliest memories of Christmas are from New Orleans. (Psst. You can start the show and still read the rest of this post.)
My Dad unsnarling lines of C-9 colored bulbs for draping on our second story porch railing on our Nashville Avenue home in uptown New Orleans. The scotch pine tree decorated in the downstairs den. Radio announcements of sightings of Santa Claus and his reindeer flying over the Falstaff Beer sign. Last minute shopping at the purple glowing Katz & Besthoff. Cruising St. Charles to see the mansions and their holiday displays and lights. And the ever present wish for snow in a climate where 50 degrees Fahrenheit seems cold.
Nostalgia is as much a part of my Christmas as mistletoe and Amazon boxes. I suppose its a longing for that period of innocence when I believed possible a boisterous, jovial superhero could disperse presents to all the good children in the world.
This year’s holiday show includes a wistful set on snow in New Orleans, starting with the Radiators, particularly their keyboardist and songwriter Ed Volker, singing about their first experience with this rare occurrence in the subtropics. “Who can forget that feeling. . . the snow gently falling.” If you have lived in New Orleans when it snowed, it is not something you tend to forget.
For me, my first snow meant a rare sighting of my Dad during the daytime. My father grew up in New York City and Newark, got his doctorate in Cambridge at M.I.T. But he had lived in the south most of his professional life. As a Tulane administrator in the 60’s, my Dad was doing the Don Draper thing, working long hours in an office setting where smoking and drinking were the norm. But that afternoon when the snow fell, he came screaming home in our Rambler station wagon, the thin accumulated snow muffling the crunch of the oyster shells on our backyard driveway.
He brusquely told me to grab gloves and get in the car while he collected a few items including a shovel, carrot and old fishing hat. He drove us to Audubon Park — home of Monkey Hill referenced in Allen Toussaint’s song “The Day It Snows on Christmas.” There we attempted to create a snow man. It was a pitiful sculpture, melting pretty much as we were making it. He apologized for the quality of the snow. But you’ll have to excuse me if I get just a bit choked up thinking about my father standing with melted snow wicking up his nice trousers, full of good intentions, most likely carrying his own early snow memories and having just exerted himself more than he had since he hung those damn porch lights during the holidays. Writing this reminds me that part of why I do this show is because of him.
I wasn’t living in New Orleans when I started building Christmas memories like the one Aaron Neville sings about in “Such a Night.” Those involve my partner of over 40 years, who I share the life-changing adventure of moving, right after graduation, from the South to the Northwest and making our home cozy using cinder block shelves, reclaimed furniture and homemade tree ornaments. Yes, we reversed my Dad’s life direction moving to where the winter nights are long and cold, and snuggling feels so good.
John Boutte’s “Holding You This Christmas” and Marva Wright’s “Stocking Full of Love” drive that loving feeling home for me. That set finishes with the very special song by Kelcy Mae, written in the year that same sex marriages became the law of our country. However, her song is universal for any couple who has had to split their holiday time with extended family. Watching this song’s music video that includes crowd sourced marriage pictures from that year is a new holiday tradition for me.
Today’s show has a few traditional holiday songs done in classic New Orleans fashion and, as you might expect, some not-so traditional songs done in contemporary New Orleans fashion. I hope it holds your interest and perhaps triggers a memory or two. My best to you during this season of long winter nights. Hold someone you love close and keep the radio turned on. Cheers.
How can there be a war on Christmas when anyone who wants to enjoy this popular event is able to? Not only is this holiday community property, its a wonderful way to examine our culture. In this show, you get a look at Christmas through the lens of New Orleans music (with some help from cajun and zydeco musicians_
What better way start the Gumbo Ya Ya show than with Art Neville’s “Gumbo Christmas”. Snow is pretty rare in New Orleans and a “white” Christmas is almost unfathomable so I start the next set with Allen Toussaint’s delightful “The Day It Snows on Christmas.”
The set ends with Louis Armstrong’s version of “Christmas Night in Harlem” which was a bigger hit than the original 1934 recording by Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra. As sung by Jack Teagarden and Johnny Mercer in the Whiteman version, the song has minstrel elements that seem to play off the same attraction held by the popular radio show of the time, Amos N’ Andy. Armstrong wised removed those elements, streamlined the song, focused on the swinging parts and made the song a bigger hit.
You get a soulful, blues reading of the “Night Before Christmas” by the man who either inspired the name of the Little Richard hit or got his nickname from it: Ready Teddy McQuisten. And if you’re not familiar with the song “Ready Teddy,” don’t worry. I play it right after the reading.
Kelcy Mae’s original and poignant song about separating from her partner during the holidays as they each head to their respective families plays off a pun of “Merry Me” as it recognizes and honors the achievement of legalizing same sex marriages. Here’s her video of that song.
Wayne Toups sings “Louisiana Santa” and Smoky Greenwell drives home a very cool version of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” For those who love horns, New Birth Brass Band belts out “Second Line Santa”
Shamarr Allen sings his original “Santa Passed My House By” with the assistance of what like is his own child. There’s more to this show so please enjoy. Consider subscribing, it’s free. If you celebrate this holiday, Merry Christmas. Otherwise, enjoy the season and some time off with your loved ones.