African American Music – What I Love About New Orleans

This week’s show honors African American Music Month which is not much of a reach for a show of New Orleans music. Without the musical creations of African Americans, there would be no Gumbo YaYa program. (See this and that.) This week’s show only features musicians of African descent.

President Carter initially named June as Black Music Month in 1979. President Obama renamed the month with a proclamation that said “Songs by African-American musicians span the breadth of the human experience and resonate in every corner of our Nation — animating our bodies, stimulating our imaginations, and nourishing our souls.” He got that right.

Statue of Buddy Bolden in Louis Armstrong Park in New Orleans

While the first jazz record was by the all-white Original Dixieland Jazz Band — the bandleader and drummer were sons of Sicilian immigrants, the earliest practitioners were mostly of African-Americans. No recordings exist of Buddy Bolden and his band, but many consider him to be the closest that jazz comes to having a father. Close followers Jelly Roll Morton and King Joe Oliver perfected their craft in New Orleans before taking it to New York and Chicago. Meanwhile, Oscar “Papa” Celestin and Kid Thomas were keeping the home fires burning by continuing to perform in New Orleans. You’ll hear music from all these African-American musicians in the first full set of the show.

Becky, a listener and fan of New Orleans, provides an intro for the second full set featuring Roy Brown’s Good Rockin’ Tonight, Dave Bartholomew‘s “Country Boy” and Fats Domino‘s first recording “The Fat Man.” Also in this set are less heard songs by New Orleans singers including one by Patsy Vidalia — a performer who might be a trans woman in this era but who in the 50’s found comfort singing as a “cross dresser” in night clubs.

The third set is New Orleans blues –a genre that is exclusively embedded in the African American experience yet is copied and propagated throughout the world by musicians of all backgrounds. Lizzie Miles, Lead Belly, and Champion Jack Dupree nail down that set.

The New Orleans Spiritualettes and the Treme Brass Band provide gospel numbers in a set that then rolls into two other brass band numbers, including “Who Dat Called Da Police” by New Birth Brass Band.

A few years back while performing on television, Miley Cyrus drew attention to a dance move called “twerking” but the music and dance moves that go with it are very much African American creations and also very much from New Orleans. You’ll hear the first “Bounce” record that could be played on the radio with a set that includes The Neville Brothers, Leyla McCalla, Professor Longhair and James Booker. You might call it the miscellaneous set since I really can’t cover all the styles of African-American music in two hours. Where’s the funk, Sweeney?! (sorry)

I finish the show with songs representing Mardi Gras Indians, the Northside Skull and Bones gang and Zydeco. Thank you for tuning in.

Black Lives Matter!

Photo of the Joy Theater Marquee by Davis Rogan. Photo of Mardi Gras Day participant and his shirt by Mary Groebner.

Art dealer’s love of jazz inspires creation of Preservation Hall

Perhaps no single entity has helped keep New Orleans jazz alive into the 21st Century more than Preservation Hall and the band its spawned.

Just off Bourbon Street is a longstanding venue dedicated to keeping New Orleans jazz alive
Just off Bourbon Street is a longstanding venue dedicated to keeping New Orleans jazz vibrant

Like many great ideas, Preservation Hall started out as a simple solution to an understandable need. In 1952, Larry Borenstein opened an art gallery in an 18-century building that to this day seems to have not changed over the years. It’s location, just off Bourbon Street (726 St. Peter) and its nightclubs, meant staying open late preventing Borenstein from pursuing his other passion: listening to jazz. So he took matters into his own hands.

Borenstein hauled an old piano into his gallery, bought some beer and invited musicians to play for him and his guests and gallery customers. To avoid conflict with the musician union, the sessions were called rehearsals.

In an article written by Borenstein in the 60’s, he related how the session grew organically.

“The concerts took place regularly.  Punch Miller, back from his long years on the road, brought a band to the Gallery Tuesday nights.  Kid Thomas had a “rehearsal” every Thursday night.  Sundays Noon Johnson often stopped by with his trio.

Preservation Hall became sanctuary for jazz musicians of all backgrounds to play together and keep the spirit alive.
Preservation Hall became sanctuary for jazz musicians of all backgrounds to play together and keep the spirit alive.

“Piano “professors” Stormy Weatherly (sic – Kid Stormy Weather), John Smith (I’m guessing this John Smith) and Isadore (sic – Isidore “Tuts”) Washington often dropped in as did busking guitarists, banjoists and harmonica virtuosos.  Often impromptu sessions got underway just because Lemon Nash dropped in to say “hello” and just happened to have his ukelele with him.”

The informal venue allowed whites and African Americans to mingle at a time when the South still practiced, and enforced, apartheid. Police occasionally raided the jam sessions and hauled the musicians to jail.

“The bands frequently included white and Negro musicians and it was simpler to charge them with ‘disturbing the peace’ than with breaking down segregation barriers.”

The music experience continued to grow though. Eventually, Borenstein moved his gallery next door and in 1961 the venue was officially christened Preservation Hall–an appropriate name for a jazz lover sanctuary.

A couple years later, the Hall’s managers,  Allen and Sandra Jaffe, organized a road tour for Preservation Hall regulars. The success of the the band’s concerts provided additional income for the musicians and helped maintain fan support outside of New Orleans. The band, in various iterations over the last 50 years, has continued to tour, perform and record, building a worldwide audience.

Not a lot of room inside means that every performance is an intimate one.
Not a lot of room inside means that every performance is an intimate one.

The Jaffe’s son, Ben took over leadership of the venue and band. A tuba player like his dad, Ben Jaffe has widened the band’s horizons through collaborations with other artists such as Blind Boys of Alabama, the Del McCoury Band, Keb’ Mo’, Dr. John and Tao Seeger. The band’s latest album, “That’s It,” features all original compositions.

Over 50 years after its forming, Preservation Hall entertains locals and tourists alike from it St. Peters Street location with three 45-minute shows every night. The band is drawn from a collective of musicians, many of whom are descendants of early New Orleans jazz musicians.

You can purchase tickets in advance that ensure a front or second row seat or you can pay $15 for general admission. The performances are acoustic and the venue is small. You might need to stand in line for a while but it will be worth the wait.

Tune in to my next show (listed to a recorded edited version) and you will hear what I’m talking about.