Jazz Pioneers, House of Dance and Feathers and the Ghost Next to You

On today’s musical journey of New Orleans, we celebrate the birth anniversaries of two Jazz pioneers and we visit the House of Dance and Feathers to hear the voice of the museum curator and recent COVID-19 victim Ronald Lewis talk about his passion for preserving his community’s culture. We’ll also hear from Helen Gillet and Shawn Williams whose music evoke a passion in very different ways. Go ahead and start the show and I’ll tell you about the ghost . . .eventually.

After Danny Barker gets the show rolling with “Rose of Picardy,” I kick up a set featuring two songs with Sidney Bechet and James “Zutty” Singleton — early jazz pioneers who followed the Great Migration out of New Orleans to larger venues. Singleton would participate in Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five recordings and Bechet, would find his comfort zone in Europe where he would innovate with clarinet and saxophone. They were born near the end of the 19th Century but their music lives on.

Helen Gillet

Helen Gillet joins the show around the 15 minute mark. One of her last performances before a real audience was in Olympia at Octapas Cafe. She will introduce a song from her latest Helkiase followed by two from her Bangkok Silver record. She references two organizations that are working hard to support the community during the COVID closures in New Orleans – Letters from the Porch and Krewe of Red Beans . She’s doing shows on Mondays starting at 5 p.m. Olympia time on her Facebook page.

At about the 40-minute mark, Shawn Williams comes on to talk about serenading her neighborhood and expressing her hope to be able to tour the Northwest soon. I’m hoping it happens and you will too when you hear her sing two songs from her Motel Livin’ record.

My visit with Ronald Lewis, founder of House of Dance and Feathers. Photo by Kim Vu-Dinh.

I wasn’t happy with my recording of Ronald Lewis when I had the pleasure of meeting him in his lower Ninth Ward backyard museum, House of Dance and Feathers, a few years back. The hammering of nearby construction made me reluctant to use it. But with the short voice clip I share (for the first time) you’ll identify the enthusiasm in this special man’s voice. He was one of the Nine Lives by Dan Baum — a wonderful book that introduces you to some of the many facets of the New Orleans social diamond. The fact it was made into a musical by many New Orleans musicians is an indication of how spot on it was. Sadly, Lewis died in March, possibly from complications of COVID-19. I play two songs by Shamarr Allen, Lewis’ uber-talented nephew, that depict the role of his uncle as curator of his neighborhood’s unique culture. If you want to skip to that, it all starts around the 57 minute mark. As lagniappe, here’s a video of Mr. Allen performing in his uncle’s museum for the NPR Tiny Desk contest. It’s a winner particularly when Shamarr shows us his footwork near the end.

Now about that ghost, its been weird shopping at the Olympia Food Coop. I love that store (I’m an Eastside customer) and I love my regular shopping routine. But, like every other grocery, its different now. We put on gloves and masks and we move haltingly through the aisles sometimes making eye contact and recognizing (maybe) the driver of the next shopping cart. When I heard this opening lyric “I saw your ghost at the grocery,” I had to include the Hurray for the Riff Raff’s song “Is That You?” I’ll say no more except that the last hour is basically two long sets of great New Orleans music including a new window-pane rattling number by Cowboy Mouth.

Subscribe and you’ll get an email every time I post. Oh boy!

Your 2016 New Orleans Music Buying Guide – Part One

Here’s this year’s survey of New Orleans music releases that deserve your attention. This is music I played on my radio show Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa.  (By the way, so many release, here’s Part Two )

Eric LindellWhen I listen to Matters of the Heart, I imagine an artist on a serious Zoloft high. When I first started playing this CD on KAOS, it seemed liked every track bubbled over with happy feelings and love. But there’s deep stuff as well on this release that harken back to Lindell’s blues days. This is a strong release that just makes me wish even more he would break out of his habit of only touring sunny places and get his happy butt up to the Northwest.

Honey Island Swamp Band When Hurricane Katrina stirred a serious dose of New Orleans talent into our national musical melting pot, four New Orleans musicians found themselves in San Francisco and formed this band. Demolition Day is its second full-length album and the first recorded in New Orleans — under the direction of North Mississippi All-Stars Luther Dickinson, who also co-produced Lindell’s release.  The CD captures the essence of the band’s jam band live personae while delivering tight singular songs that define the band’s self-described genre “Bayou Americana.”

John-Papa-Gros.jpg
John “Papa” Gros

John “Papa” Gros –  After  over a dozen years fronting Papa Grows Funk, which anchored the Monday slot at the famed Maple Leaf Bar, this standout keyboardist has produced a solo release that reflects the wide range of his talent and interests. River’s on Fire has it all: rock, funk, reggae, a love song, and a serious nod to mentor and New Orleans saint, Allen Toussaint. I hope new releases become an annual Papa ritual.

Benny Turner – With his fourth release, this veteran bluesman takes us back with a set of previously recorded but hard to find funky, blues numbers, including a  duet with Marva Wright, the powerhouse New Orleans blues and gospel singer who died in 2010. Turner played bass and managed Ms. Wright’s band for 20 years. What a treat it is to hear her voice again on “Pity on this Lovesick Fool.”  The CD’s title track “When She’s Gone” is about another important woman in Turner’s life, his mother

Dee-1 – As a card-carrying AARP member, I’m not qualified to review rap. But David Augustine Jr., who performs under the name Dee-1, doesn’t care because this inclusive artist erects a big enough tent for us all to be in and listen to his stories. Originally attracted by the humor he expresses in paying off his student loan (Sallie Mae Back) and his love for his aging but paid for car (NO Car Note), I find myself drawn to the many other fine tracks on his 2016 mixtape Slingshot David– released on the heels of the Alton Sterling shooting in Baton Rouge this summer.

Leyla McCallaSinging in Haitian Creole, French and English and accompanied by her own haunting cello playing, Leyla McCalla digs deep into the roots tying Haiti and New Orleans together. A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey is an exploration of the oppressed and the oppressor and an excellent follow up to her previous release where she put music to the words of Langston Hughes.

ROAMIN-JASMINE-BACKYARD-PHOTO.jpg
The Roamin’ Jasmine

The Roamin’ JasminTaylor Smith, leader and bass player of The Roamin’ Jasmine, once again demonstrates with his band’s second release his genius at fresh, upbeat arrangements of obscure blues, jazz, rockabilly and R&B tunes. An amazing achievement for this young New Orleans transplant. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that his five original numbers, including the title track Blues Shuffle Heart,  are quite good.

Lena Prima –  Blessed with a strong voice and famous pedigree, Lena Prima and the Lena Prima Band demonstrate that hard work doesn’t hurt either. This tight group has provided countless evenings entertaining Carousel Room patrons at the Monteleone Hotel. And that experience pours out in the nearly solid hour of hip-swinging numbers on Live at the Dew Drop Jazz & Social Hall. Play this release, close your eyes and transport yourself.

Meschiya LakeShe is such a kick. In fact, you and your partner will be kicking up your heels on the living room rug every time you play Bad Kids Club, released December of last year but close enough to count in this year’s summary. Looking for the slow number, no problem. Her songs are listed by beats per second. This release showcases a singer and band arriving at peak performance.

chawa.jpg
Cha Wa

Cha Wa  -. With vocals by Creole Wild West Spyboy Honey Banister and J’Wan Boudreaux,  grandson of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Funk ‘n’ Feathers is helping to expand the audience for the music of the Mardi Gras Indian — a truly original cultural tradition in New Orleans. The release got a lot of play not only on my show but also other KAOS world music programs in our shared weekday time block.  If you’re familiar with Mardi Gras Indian songs, you’ve heard it all before.  But not quite this way.

Roddie Romero & the Hub-City All-StarsI have not been totally faithful to New Orleans on my radio show this year and this group is one reason why I’ve been reaching upriver to Lafayette for additional tunes. The product of boyhood friends Roddie Romero and keyboardist/songwriter Eric Adcock, Gulfstream makes rural Louisiana come so alive you can smell the salt tang of the bayou just by listening to it. (Breaking NewsGulfstream is a 2017 Grammy nominee for Best Regional Roots Music Album. Here’s more about the album.

Darcy Malone and the Tangle –  Still Life has a retro Alt Band feel with some fun twists . Clearly, the Tangle is not your typical Frenchmen Street band. But it could only happen in New Orleans. Darcy is the daughter of The Radiator’s guitarist Dave Malone, and the saxophone and keyboards that keep things interesting are by LSU music grad Jagon Eldridge. Here’s your proof that the NOLA music scene continues to grow.

Cowboy Mouth: Speaking of which, this band has been challenging the New Orleans music stereotype for 25 years. The Name of the Band Is… provides new recordings of nine of the band’s regular live show songs and three fresh tracks.The band’s strength continues to be drummer Fred LeBlanc’s sharp and clear vocals that showcases the lyrics, which you want to hear, while still allowing you to rock out.cowboy.jpg

I’ll be back next week with more releases from 2016. Until then, catch my show. Oh, and here’s the podcast of one of the 2016 Review shows.