Chicago-New Orleans musical link — the great migration

I took the train to Chicago a couple of weeks ago, just in time to catch the city’s blues festival.

I started by going to Buddy Guy’s Legends club and saw the six-time grammy award winning blues man sing with Shemekia Copeland. George “Buddy” Guy is from Lettsworth Louisiana and began playing professionally in Baton Rouge before making the familiar trek north to Chicago.

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Buddy Guy moved up from Louisiana to seek his fame in Chicago.

I say “familiar” because he wasn’t the first Louisiana musician to seek fortune and fame by heading up the Mississippi River.

If you’re a New Orleans jazz fan, you already know this story.  After New Orleans was forced to close its red light district during the build up to World War 1, musicians who had been making a living playing the new music in the bars and brothels of Storyville, headed north. One of the best and earliest to do so was Joe “King” Oliver, who took his coronet to Chicago and hooked up with other New Orleans expatriates and recreated and polished the jazz of New Orleans.  Things really took off when he convinced his young protege’ Louis Armstrong to come up and join him.

It was good timing. King’s smart professional move came at the beginning of what has become known as the Great Migration where for roughly a half century over 6 million African Americans relocated from the south to northern cities. An estimated 500,000 ended up in Chicago mostly in and around South Chicago.

The first migratory wave moved the unique blend of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and European horns forged in New Orleans’ Backatown into popular awareness ensuring that Jazz would become a distinctly American sound.

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Henry Gray, from Kenner Louisiana, became Howlin’ Wolf’s piano player when he moved to Chicago.

And then came blues.  Gertrude “Ma Rainey” Pridgett is noted as the first black woman to record. This Georgia-born singer recorded many of her earliest songs in Chicago.But she was followed by others, such as Muddy Waters who moved from Clarksdale, Mississippi to Chicago during World War II and later Henry Gray who  was typical of the second wave of the Great Migration. As black soldiers exited service following World War II, they looked for communities with more opportunities and less discrimination. The Louisiana-born pianist landed in Chicago in 1946, playing regularly with the likes of Bo Diddley, Billy Boy Arnold and Jimmy Rogers before hooking up with the Howlin’ Wolf Band. He has since returned to Louisiana and continues to perform on occasion.

Buddy Guy, who had started his career playing in Baton Rouge, got to Chicago in 1957. He was joined later by Lonnie Brooks who had a regional hit in Louisiana, Family Rules, before moving north.I’ll continue to explore the connections between these two fine musical cities (New Orleans and Chicago) on my show. Please join me or catch one of my edited podcasts.

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Going beyond the lyrics in Basin Street Blues

“Now Basin Street is the street where the folks all meet. In New Orleans, land of dreams.”

basin streetBasin Street Blues is another New Orleans jazz standard with a fascinating back story.

The song was composed by Spencer Williams and originally recorded by Louis Armstrong – two New Orleanians who grew up on and around Basin Street. However, when the song was recorded in 1928, the street no longer existed. City leaders, anxious to erase the area’s reputation for legal prostitution, had changed the street’s name to the innocuous “North Saratoga.”

For a time, Williams actually lived in Mahogany Hall on Basin Street with his aunt, the famous bordello’s owner and manager, Lulu White. He would later commemorate the business in a song called Mahogany Hall Stomp. Basin Street was a key arterial and border to the famed Storyville–a 16-block area that for 20 years up to the U.S. entry into World War 1 was a city-regulated zone of prostitution. The many brothels and saloons that sprung up provided a regular and contented audience for the nascent music called “Jass.”

Basin_Street_Blues_Columbia_78_1931_CharlestonWilliams version of Basin Street was a 12-bar blues tune without lyrics. In the 1928 and 1932 Armstrong recordings, Satchmo scats the song’s vocal parts. But in 1931, Jack Teagarden sang the song with a group called The Charleton Chasers with lyrics, that according to Teagarden’s recollection, were written by him with the help from Glenn Miller.

It was also at that time that the more “come hither” like opening verse was added, making the song a musical advertisement for folks to come and visit New Orleans. (What were they thinking?) Teagarden, by the way, wasn’t from New Orleans. However, the famous trombonist died of a heart attack in a New Orleans hotel after a 1964 performance.

Because of the song’s popularity, the city changed the name back to Basin Street. But by that point, the Storyville legacy was long gone and the street really wasn’t a place for tourists to visit.

As often happens with great songs, the lyrics are malleable. I don’t think I’ve heard a version with the same set of lyrics. Armstrong and Teagarden routinely played the song in front of audiences as well as recording it several times.  Teagarden was usually faithful to the lyrics he wrote. Armstrong some times skipped the opening stanza of “Won’t you come along with me to the Mississippi,” preferring to start with the line that I quote at the beginning of this post.

One notable change is that the early versions of the song by Armstrong and Teagarden contain this line “Basin Street is the street where the dark and light folks meet.” But I haven’t had much luck finding it sung that way in versions after the 1940’s. Given that Storyville was a place where white customers could listen to music played by African Americans and have sex with African Americans and Creoles, the song’s line is perhaps the most genuine part of the song.

Won’t you listen along with me as I play a few versions of Basin Street Blues on my show this Thursday. Here’s the podcast of that show!

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Light-footed Treme actor on Gumbo YaYa

James DuMont may have one of those mugs that looks familiar but it was his feet, not his face, that first caught my attention.

Antoine Diel and the Misfit Power had started in on a salsa number when DuMont broke off his conversation with the doorman, burst into the night club, grabbed the hand of an unsuspecting but willing woman and started dancing in the narrow open space between the band and the patrons of The Spotted Cat.

Diel and his band were hot that night. But so was DuMont. And that’s when I put my finger on why he looked familiar. For all four seasons of Treme, DuMont played the character of Captain Richard Lafouchette, the honest sheriff department officer who routinely complied with Toni Bernette’s request for public records.

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James DuMont

Not a major role but one essential to moving the plot forward, similar to the hundreds of other characters he’s played in movies and television over the last four decades. And yet later as we stood talking outside the Frenchmen Street nightclub, he modestly didn’t believe I had recognized him. “Who told you?”

Off camera DuMont is a helluva lot hipper than his Treme character who he depicts in one scene orgasmically wolfing down a piece of fried chicken at Lil’ Dizzy’s Cafe. I found it hard to imagine him playing the red-baiting corrupt congressman J. Parnell Thomas in Trumbo or the breast-growing empathetic husband of a pregnant woman in the television show House. Later, when I checked out his IMDB profile, the role I thought best fit his personality was his first one, an uncredited appearance in The Blues Brothers as “kid dancing in the street.”

Born and raised in Chicago and New York City, DuMont now lives full time with his family in New Orleans.  (this last sentence was changed from my original post when we had to reschedule his interview) He joined me on my radio show on June 2 to talk about New Orleans, its music and just how tasty Lil’ Dizzy’s fried chicken really is. (Listen Full show or just listen to the interview.)

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New Orleans guidebook writer to be on Gumbo YaYa

It was a typical New Orleans experience meeting Michael Murphy.

My sister, brother-in-law and I were standing on the sidewalk along Chartres Street looking around, pointing and arguing.  An invitation for just about any social-by-nature New Orleans denizen to politely butt in. In this case, we were in the hands of a professional.

Guidebook writer and tour guide extraordinaire Michael Murphy had just stepped out of a nearby bookstore when he untangled our conversation. My sister had thought that Morning Call Coffee Stand , which had abandoned the French Quarter in the 70’s in favor of a strip mall in Metairie, had returned to the area. Nope, Murphy explained. It opened up a great new location at City Park–a satisfying compromise of continuing a century long legacy of serving cafe au lait and beignets to locals while still taking full advantage of the city’s daily onslaught of sightseers.

Michael_Murpy_FEAR_Da_web-300x260As will happen in New Orleans, a good deed of offering directions turns into a 15-minute conversation where we each share how we ended up in a city we all loved.

In Murphy’s case, it was love at first sight, having visited the city in the 80’s on a business trip.  He moved down about seven years ago and has made it his calling to acquaint others with the charms of the city. In addition to being a hotel concierge and conducting private tours, he’s the author of four unique guidebooks.

“Eat Dat” is not your typical restaurant guide. While the book provides “best of” lists, it  really shines when Murphy focuses on the stories and personalities behind the cuisine. “Hear Dat,” to be released in mid-April, introduces readers to the wide range of New Orleans music and night clubs and the talented professionals who make it happen. It’s a tough assignment. But he does a good job of covering the broad range of live music you will find in New Orleans from Jazz and R&B to Hip Hop and Alternative Rock. .

Having bravely written about food and music in a city that takes both personally and seriously, Murphy throws caution to the wind with another release, “Fear Dat” about New Orleans voodoo and stories of “assorted butchery & mayhem.” He also has written a very practical guidebook called  “111 things Not to Miss in New Orleans.”

Murphy and I will rekindle our relationship on the air on Thursday when I hope I can get him to share a few ideas on how visitors to New Orleans can make the most of this year’s festival season.

Podcast of the show, including the interview with Michael Murphy. I apologize for the distortion in the interview. New recorder and not used to using it on live interviews.

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New Orleans festival season offers more than JazzFest

The New Orleans festival season is fast approaching. While the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is the crown jewel of the season, there are reasons for the music tourist to consider visiting the city at any time during the long festival season other than JazzFest. Here’s a few.

The Crowds.  New Orleans is a tourist town year round but it can be overwhelming during Mardi Gras and JazzFest. During those peak times, restaurants and nightclubs are a harder to get into and lodging is more expensive. Go before or after JazzFest and the city feels more relaxed and accessible.

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Glen David Andrews performing at Jazz in the Park (Louis Armstrong Park) in 2013.

Free Outdoor Concerts – New Orleans offers some wonderful outdoor concerts showcasing local musicians in a festival atmosphere. There are two exceptional, easy to get to concert series that run through the spring. This year, “Wednesday at the Square” features Marcia Ball, Amanda Shaw, Tab Benoit, Flow Tribe, Honey Island Swamp Band, Kermit Ruffins, Anders Osborne and Soul Rebels. This downtown show held in Lafayette Square usually features an opening act, runs from 5 to 8 p.m. and is surrounded by ways to purchase food and booze. On Thursday evenings, Louis Armstrong Park comes alive with Jazz in the Park. This event attracts more locals with chairs and picnic baskets but you’ll still find sustenance and drink in this park just across historic Rampart Street from the French Quarter.

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Local dance group performing at Freret Street Festival

Neighhorhood Festivals –  Only in a New Orleans neighborhood festival would you find youth dance groups and more established artists like Bonerama, Mississippi Rail Company, Tank and the Bangas, and New Breed Brass Band. That was just a sampling of the three stages last year that defined the boundaries of the Freret Street Festival, one of the early season neighborhood festivals in New Orleans. Neighborhood festivals run throughout the year, except for JazzFest. Check the festival schedule and sample a few online such as the Bayou Boogaloo –- definitely on my bucket list for a future visit. You’ll find most New Orleanians are incredibly social—almost to a fault. Go to a neighborhood event or establishment and if you are reasonably gregarious, you will meet locals who will happily share their opinions on bands, restaurants and the best route to take to your next event.

IMG_1454French Quarter Festival – This four-day event attracts more audience than the more well-known seven-day JazzFest. The difference is that the stages are scattered about the French Quarter and they are free, making it easy for the casual daily tourist to get sucked into the music. Whereas JazzFest adds a healthy dose of world and national music acts to their line up of local performers, French Quarter Festival is almost exclusively local musicians. Held two weeks before JazzFest, it’s the first major festival of the season. If you’re already staying in or around downtown, you won’t need to taxi or bus to the fairgrounds as you would with JazzFest. Last year French Quarter Festival headlined with Allen Toussaint, who later joined in a delightful conversation with Deacon John about Cosimo Matassa at the festival’s interview stage. I can’t tell you how fortunate I felt to be in the audience for both of those events.

freret-street-festival-2Lagniappe. Regardless of when you go, relax. You won’t be able to do it all. Things will get in your way, like torrential rain storms. Last year, I had set my mind on catching Irma Thomas at the big stage by the river at French Quarter Festival but when I saw a mass of dark clouds headed my way, I reluctantly ducked into the House of Blues courtyard. What a break. Not only did I stay dry but I became acquainted with the talent of Sarah McCoy and Colin Lake –two performers who were able to keep playing despite a very heavy rain. The Irma Thomas show was cancelled. Slow down, take care of yourself and enjoy the moment because you’re in New Orleans, baby!

P.S. JazzFest is a hoot and you should do it, particularly if you haven’t and have always wanted to. Here’s my five things you should know about JazzFest.

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Jon Cleary to funk it up at Jazz Alley Monday

Jon Cleary brings a unique version of the New Orleans sound to the Northwest, steeped in tradition and yet wholly fresh, when he performs at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley in Seattle this Monday, February 8.

cleary.jpgCleary’s latest album, GoGo Juice, has been nominated for this year’s Best Regional Roots Grammy. A native of England, he’s lived all of his adult life in New Orleans — a city he chose after falling in love with New Orleans R&B and funk at a tender age. Now, at 53,  he has firmly rooted himself as a New Orleans piano “professor,” a true practitioner of the New Orleans sound who has broken fresh ground with new compositions and arrangements.

He’ll be backed by the Absolute Monster Gentlemen which includes Jeffery “Jellybean” Alexander on drums, Derwin”Big D” Perkins on guitar and Cornell Williams on bass. If you followed the HBO series Treme, you’ll recognize Cornell Williams who helps a band mate break his drug addiction by putting him on his uncle’s shrimp boat.

In his performance, Cleary will draw from his library of eight albums, including a well-regarded tribute to Allen Toussaint called “Occapella.” Even when he’s not doing Toussaint, he and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen seem totally capable of cleverly funking it up with great lyrics and an awesome groove.  Here’s a taste. 

Other Upcoming Northwest Performances of New Orleans Artists

 

  • Galactic – at the Showbox in Seattle, February 26 and Crystal Ballroom in Portland, February 27.
  • The Revivalists – at Neumos in Seattle, March 9 and Aladdin Theater in Portland, March 10.
  • Trombone Shorty – at the Moore Theater in Seattle, April 14 and Keller Auditorium, Portland, April 15.
  • Walter Wolfman Washington – opening for Bettye LaVette at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, May 12 – 15.
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It’s looking a lot like Mardi Gras

A walk around Uptown and Central City New Orleans today left no doubt that Mardi Gras season is upon us.

IMG_2016Officially, the carnival season begins the 12th night after Christmas (the Epiphany), creating a seamless flow from Winter Holiday to Mardi Gras parties.

The season starts cautiously but gradually works up to the crescendo that is Mardi Gras Day or what some call Fat Tuesday–the last day before the faithful must endure the rigors of Lent.

We’re at the penultimate weekend of Mardi Gras when over a dozen parades will roll down St. Charles Avenue as well as through the French Quarter.

Women (Krewe of Cleopatra), wine-lovers (Krewe of Cork), alien fans (Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus) and those who prefer shoe-box sized parade floats (‘tit Rex) are just a few of the rolling shows happening this weekend.

But the Mardi Gras spirit is not limited to the parades. Doors are festooned with wreaths of purple, green and gold, along with banners, masks, signs, and, of course, braids and braids of beads. IMG_2008

And after school lets out, you can easily hear the drum beat of student musicians sharpening their band performance and building endurance for the marathon of parades to come.

I’m going to celebrate Mardi Gras in Olympia.  (Wouldn’t want to miss Artesian Rumble Arkestra’s annual pub crawl)  and I’ll be back in time for the world debut of Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa – Thursday edition. It will, of course, be a show featuring Mardi Gras music. Until then, let the good times roll.

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KIPP Central City Academy rehearsing for Mardi Gras.

 

 

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KAOS to start serving Gumbo YaYa on Thursdays

Ruby Ru and Anch will guest host the LAST Monday edition of Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa on January 25. But starting February, KAOS is shaking up the world.

Olympia’s community radio station is scrambling its morning line up of world music starting February 1. On that Monday, the mellifluous voice of Anch will kick off the week with her Vitamin D-infused, southern hemisphere focused program, Sundrenched, during my old 10 a.m. to noon slot.

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Scott Steven’s Spin the Globe program is the only world music show not moving anywhere. It’s going to stay on Fridays.

DJ Kalambre’s Sonidoz de la Tierra has been delivering the hottest music in the alternative Latin world and a helluva lot more on Tuesday evenings. But now, he’s going to get us dancing at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays in the world music slot previously handled by Anch.

Veteran KAOS hosts  David and Juli, who are also members of Olympia’s  brass band Artesian Rumble Arkestra, will take over the Wednesday slot with their long-standing program Xenophilia.

And sliding into the Thursday shift previously held by Xenophilia will be yours truly, host of Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa .  Just as I’ve been doing on Mondays, I’ll be spinning the music of New Orleans. I’m not just talking Dixieland, here. I play the whole muffuletta — brass bands, blues, funk, R&B, Mardi Gras Indian, hip hop, swing, country, cajun, zydeco and everything in between.

The new Thursday edition of Gumbo YaYa will premiere February 4th with a special focus on Carnival and Mardi Gras. In fact,  I’m headed to NOLA right now to get some first hand experience.  (Such sacrifices I make for this show!)

Until then, you can catch many of the past shows edited for replay at Mixcloud.

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Rebirth headed back to the Tractor and Dante’s

Good news.  A loyal following of Rebirth Brass Band fans in the Northwest is ensuring that the New Orleans band plays the Wet Coast more than once a year.

Last year, they came to Seattle and Portland twice and the venerable brass band returns to the Tractor Tavern in Seattle this Friday, January 22, and Dante’s in Portland on Saturday, January 23.

As with the last engagement, the Tractor will host two evening shows at $25 a pop or $40 for the whole night. Spring for both, its worth it. Unless you’d rather catch them at their home base in New Orleans at the Maple Leaf and pay only $20 for the evening.

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Rebirth Brass Band performing at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle, September 2015

Founded by the Frazier brothers – Phillip on sousaphone and Keith on bass drum–Rebirth Brass Band has been blending jazz, funk, soul, and hip hop with the brass band New Orleans tradition for over 30 years. While the Dirty Dozen Brass Band is largely credited for bringing the New Orleans brass bands into contemporary times, Rebirth has been doing it almost as long and in a far more entertaining manner (my blog, my opinion).

With the co-founders now past 50, the band just recently ceased doing parades. But that long history of Second Lines have built a repertoire of street anthems like Feel Like Funkin’ It Up, Do Watcha Wanna, and Let’s Go Get ’em.

The band’s line up has evolved over the years. Co-founder Kermit Ruffins split off to do his own thing over 20 years ago. So have Glen David Andrews, Shamarr Allen,  and Corey Henry, to name a few.

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Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf Bar in Uptown New Orleans every Tuesday night except when the band tours.

The current line-up includes the hard-to-miss Derrick Tabb, an amazing snare drummer who towers over the group and is active with Roots of Music, a group he co-founded to provide after-school programs for kids at-risk.  You might recognize trombonist Stafford Agee from the television show, Treme, since he and others of the band had cameo roles. But if you’ve listened to the show, you’ve definitely heard him play since its Agee’s trombone really playing when you see actor Wendell Pierce (Antoine Batiste) put lips to mouthpiece. Also on trombone is Gregory Veals. Vincent Broussard is on saxophone and Glen Hall and Chadrick Honore’ are on trumpets.

The band has 17 recordings in its library including a 25th anniversary release and a 2012 grammy winner, Rebirth of New Orleans. The band’s most recent release was 2014’s Move Your Body.  You can count on the band to get you moving and smiling.

Upcoming Northwest Performances of New Orleans Artists

  • Rebirth Brass Band – at Tractor Tavern in Seattle, January 22 and Dantes in Portland, January 23.
  • Nigel Hall – at the Showbox in Seattle, February 4 and the Roseland in Portland, February 5.
  • Jon Cleary – at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, February 8.
  • Galactic – at the Showbox in Seattle, February 26 and Crystal Ballroom in Portland, February 27.
  • The Revivalists – at Neumos in Seattle, March 9 and Aladdin Theater in Portland, March 10.
  • Trombone Shorty – at the Moore Theater in Seattle, April 14 and Keller Auditorium, Portland, April 15.
  • Walter Wolfman Washington – opening for Bettye LaVette at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, May 12 – 15.
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Sonny Landreth, slide guitar master, to tour Northwest

Sonny Landreth is hitting the Northwest this week with his longstanding group (bassist David Ranson and drummer Brian Brignac). This is the same trio that recorded his 2015 release, Bound by the Blues which showcases Sonny’s unique mastery of the slide guitar.

Veteran slide guitarist brings his unique sound to the Northwest. Photo by Jack Spencer

Veteran slide guitarist brings his unique sound to the Northwest. Photo by Jack Spencer

Raised in Lafayette, LA, Landreth got his professional start as a teenager performing with Clifton Chenier’s Red Hot Louisiana Band and five decades later he continues to showcase a sound inflected with Zydeco. Yet his guitar is so unique, it’s easily recognizable . . .at least to his fans.

And that’s the thing. Sonny Landreth is probably one of the most talented guitarists that not enough folks know about.  His tour in the Northwest should help.

He plays Jazzbones in Tacoma on Friday, January 15. He’ll be in Victoria and Vancouver Saturday and Sunday.  Seattle’s Triple Door will feature him for two nights, (January 18 and 19). And he’ll finish his wet coast tour next Wednesday, January 20 at Portland’s Aladdin Theater.

When reached by email, he wrote: “We’ll be playing a mix of old and new that will include songs off Bound By The Blues as well as some from most of my previous albums.”

Other New Orleans acts coming to the Northwest:

  • Rebirth Brass Band – at Tractor Tavern in Seattle, January 22 and Dantes in Portland, January 23.
  • Nigel Hall – at the Showbox in Seattle, February 4 and the Roseland in Portland, February 5.
  • Jon Cleary – at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, February 8.
  • Galactic – at the Showbox in Seattle, February 26 and Crystal Ballroom in Portland, February 27.
  • The Revivalists – at Neumos in Seattle, March 9 and Aladdin Theater in Portland, March 10.
  • Trombone Shorty – at the Moore Theater in Seattle, April 14 and Keller Auditorium, Portland, April 15.
  • Walter Wolfman Washington – opening for Bettye LaVette at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, May 12 – 15.
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