Here’s a glimpse into New Orleans country music scene

Two June CD releases are burnishing the city’s country music reputation and you’ll hear tracks from both in today’s show. Start it rolling and then learn more about Shawn Williams and Gal Holiday.

shawn williamsShawn Williams’ second album Motel Livin’ is a gripping compendium of lyrical songs that leave me a bit unnerved but fully entertained.  Her voice haunts and I’m going to enjoy digging deeper into this new release.  I play “Best of Me” and later “Buried Alive.”

More upbeat and more battle worn is Gal Holiday and her Honky Tonk Revue with the new release Lost & Found. Almost a decade before The Deslondes formed, Gal Holiday (aka Vanessa Niemann) broke ground on the new wave of country in New Orleans. And true to her band’s name, you can dance to her music. I play “Found Myself Instead” and “Desert Disco.”

While Luke Winslow-King’s music has been difficult to describe, I’ve never thought of it as country until his latest release Blue Mesa. You can listen to his “After the Rain” and decide for yourself.

To keep the roots vibe rolling, I follow these sets up with The Big Dixie Swingers with “I Haven’t Got a Pot,” Eric Lindell with a live version of “Bayou Country” and The Radiators doing “Straight Eight.”  Also, an encore performance of Albanie Falletta who charmed the smart attendees of her concert at Traditions Cafe in Olympia Sunday night.

Jazz sets follow and if you’re patient enough I finish with Dash Rip Rock’s “Let’s Go Smoke Some Pot” in honor of the State of Oklahoma adopting a medical cannabis initiative this week.

Oh and I almost forgot, while digging through the KAOS studio’s vinyl vault I found Danny Barker’s 1988 release Save the Bones  and I played his version of “St. James Infirmary.” Struck by his riffing on the traditional lyrics description of his funeral, I thought about Fred Johnson’s  description of how Danny Barker’s traditional funeral came about that I recorded in October of 2017 in his office in New Orleans.  You’ll get to hear the story as well on this show.

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Danny Barker saved and challenged traditional NOLA jazz

This week’s show is about how one musician and his funeral managed to reinvigorate brass band music in New Orleans, encouraging musicians to both challenge and preserve the tradition.

Danny Barker was a little young when the first generation of New Orleans jazz musicians  started performing. Born in 1909 to a family of musicians, he grew up listening to Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and the other greats.

And like they did, he moved away from New Orleans to seek his fame and fortune as a musician. Playing primarily guitar and banjo but also other instruments, Barker went to New York and then later California playing with a wide range of musicians, including Cab Calloway, Dexter Gordon, and Charlie Parker.

dannyHe partnered with his wife Blue Lu Barker and penned songs like “Don’t You Feel My Leg” and they toured and traveled the world.  But when it was time to slow down, they moved back to New Orleans where he took a post as a museum curator, He also continued to perform, often at the Palm Court Cafe immortalized by his classic “Palm Court Strut.”

But it was in fulfilling a request by his pastor and later his very own funeral that would contribute to the city’s ability to keep the jazz tradition alive.

I’ve already written about his role in reinvigorating the New Orleans brass band scene and you will hear a little bit about that and the related  music in today’s show.  But if you keep listening to the show, you will also hear how Danny Barker’s funeral helped set in motion an organization that takes great pride in the New Orleans community’s African and jazz heritage.

bmolToday’s show includes excerpts of an interview with Fred Johnson, co-founder of the Black Men of Labor telling the story about how Danny Barker’s disdain for how jazz funerals were being conducted cause him and musician Gregg Stafford to organize a proper jazz funeral for their hero.  And then how that experience then led them to create the social aid and pleasure club Black Men of Labor.

I hope you enjoy the show.

Recent NOLA trip inspired latest show

One of the great aspects of doing a show on New Orleans music is the impetus it provides me to get my butt down there regularly.  My latest trip was an epic one. Go ahead and get yesterday’s show started while I tell you a bit more.

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Me and Visa have a long-term relationship after my trip to the Louisiana Music Factory. The good news is I’ll be digging deep into these and other releases in weeks to come on Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa

I stayed the first week with members of Olympia’s Artestian Rumble Arkestra not far from the nightclubs on Frenchmen Street.  I also used the opportunity to see some high school buddies who didn’t need much encouragement to drive in from their homes in Florida and Georgia to spend some time with me in New Orleans.

But there were many other great highlights, one of which is featured in yesterday’s show – an interview with trumpters Kermit Ruffins and Irvin Mayfield about their latest release, A Beautiful World.   They were generous with their time and stories and the whole experience was enhanced by our location — the Mother-in-Law lounge which for many years was the home and business of patron saint of my show and blog, Ernie K-Doe.

I’ll have more to share in the weeks to come including interviews with Bonerama band leaders Mark Mullins and Craig Klein, co-founder of Roots of Music and Rebirth Drummer Derrick Tabb and co-founder of the Black Men of Labor Fred Johnson with Treme Brass Band leader Benny Jones.

Artesian Rumble Lands on Frenchmen Street

Thank you Anch for covering my show yesterday.  I’ve been in New Orleans with some of the members of the Artesian Rumble Arkestra. This activist Olympia band is a regular participant in HonkFests and I’ve had the honor of being allowed to tag along with them as they journey into the birthplace of jazz.  Two band members in attendance are also air show hosts on KAOS – Juli Kelen and David Moseley.

One of the highlights of the trip here is to experience the Black Men of Labor parade this Sunday and this afternoon we will meet with two of the founders – Fred Johnson and Benny Jones.  Some brass instruments were brought down to donate to the youth music programs, Roots of Music but before handing the instruments over, some of the band members took the instruments on a test run outside where we are staying which just happens to be on Frenchmen Street. Other band members accompanied them with instruments they brought from home or improvised with trash can lids and a bicycle bell.

The last few nights, we’ve been going to the Frenchmen Street clubs to catch music both in the clubs and on the street.  Well, today, about 10 blocks from that scene but still on Frenchmen Street, the Artesian Rumble Arkestra made its New Orleans debut.

New Orleans jazz funerals mediate the relationship between the living and the dead

The New Orleans jazz funeral embodies a rich heritage that serves as another reminder of the significance of brass band music and its ability to draw people together in a collective experience. (Podcast of the show that goes with post.)

As I prepare for my All Souls Day show this Monday, I’m naturally drawn to thinking about this tradition. While I’ve never had the occasion to witness a jazz funeral, my sense is my life is richer by its very existence.

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Danny Barker on guitar performing with his wife Lu.

I’ve told the story about Danny Barker and how he taught the brass band tradition to a new generation of musicians who would later found and inspire a renaissance in New Orleans music with brass bands like the Dirty Dozen, Rebirth, Soul Rebels and Hot 8.  A deeper story is how Danny Barker’s death created a resolve to preserve jazz traditions, ensuring a creative tension between the old and new that lives on today.

By the end of his life, Barker had become unhappy with the conduct of some of the younger brass bands. With a musical career that dated back to playing on the streets of New Orleans in the 1920s, Barker felt the jazz funeral in particular had strayed from its origins with improperly dressed musicians, inappropriately timed songs and undignified behavior. He had made it clear to his wife that he did not want a jazz funeral.

Gregg Stafford understood his former mentor’s concerns and as an experienced trumpeter and band leader, he believed he could ensure that Barker’s jazz funeral could be done right. With the help of Fred Johnson, who had been a spy boy with the Yellow Pocahontas Mardi Gras Indian tribe, and the blessing of Barker’s family, he set out to do it.

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Olympia Brass Band with Grand Marshall performing at Adolphe Alexander Jr. funeral – Photo from Hogan Jazz Archive.

On March 17, 1993,  the members of the band assembled three blocks from St. Raymond’s Catholic Church on Paris Avenue. Every band member was dressed in black shoes, an ironed white shirt, black tie, black coat and matching cap. As they approached the church playing “Just a Little While to Stay Here,” Stafford knew that the minister and congregation in the church could hear them approach.

The band lined up outside the church waiting for Barker to be taken out with a Grand Marshall in the lead, stepping proudly and precisely to the beat.  The band played “In the Sweet Bye and Bye.” As called for by tradition, the band played dirges all the way to St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. Fred Johnson and other members of the Tambourine and Fan marching club walked deliberately behind the hearse, creating the right tone and atmosphere.  No buck jumping was seen at this stage in the funeral

Once the body was interred, the band left the cemetery with the drummer switching from the somber tom tom to the snappier snare drum.  And then the livelier part of the parade began.

Matt Skakeeny, author of Roll with It – Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans describes the relevance of brass bands and funerals in this way:

The music organizes the collective suffering of those at the funeral and the collective pleasure that they anticipate in the shift to up-tempo music.  .  . The instruments of the brass band do not only communicate with the dead; they mediate the relationship between the living and the dead. (Page 167)

bmol_article2The response to this return to tradition was felt so strongly by Gregg Stafford and Fred Johnson that they formed the social and activist club Black Men of Labor to “pay tribute to the contributions of African American men in the work place while promoting and preserving Traditional Jazz Music.”

Please join me Monday (the recording is here) where I’ll feature traditional music from jazz funerals on Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa.

I pulled the description of the Barker funeral from an interview of Gregg Stafford and Fred Johnson contained in the book Talk that Music Talk- Passing on Brass Band Music in New Orleans the Traditional Way.   Thank you Becky for the loan of this amazing book.