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.

2019 Mardi Gras show makes the music still feel fresh

Today’s show finds that magic balance between delivering the classic Mardi Gras feel while still being fresh. Get it started and you’ll see what I mean. (you can click the arrow in the box below and still read on)

Even if you are tired of hearing Professor Longhair’s “Go to the Mardi Gras” you can’t help but appreciate how much rhythm and action he packs into less than three minutes. The version that starts the show is the 1959 New Orleans recording featuring Mac Rebennack (before his Dr. John days) on guitar.

The first full set features Los Hombres Calientes (Irvin Mayfield and Bill Summers group) doing “Mardi Gras Bayou” followed by Kermit Ruffin’s “Do the Fat Tuesday” and Chuck Carbo’s rarely played “Hey Mardi Gras (Here I Am).”

Krewe of Muses Parade

The musical Nine Lives has a scathing critique of the Rex Parade crowd with the song “King of Mardi Gras” which opens the next set followed by Louie Ludwig’s “The Things You’ve Done On Mardi Gras Day” — just released this carnival season. The set finishes with Lena Prima’s original song “Muses Shoeses” inspired by the Krewe of Muses parade.

Al Hirt provides some fast paced transition to Mardi Gras Indian songs, starting with the “in the streets” recording of Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles followed by some fancied up numbers by Bo Dollis (with some help on the last number by Galactic).

We take a trip out to the swamps for some cajun style Mardi Gras before returning to New Orleans and pulling from Lil Queenie’s new album which features a spoken word opening to her classic “My Darlin’ New Orleans.”

Some dance numbers, a few more Mardi Gras tunes and we finish with a different version of Professor Longhair performing “Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”

Thanks for tuning in. Stay listening by subscribing to this blog. Cheers.

L’il Liza Jane rises to whatever the occasion demands

‘Fore I die, I’d like to meet (Little Liza Jane)
Gal who made us shake our feet (Little Liza Jane)

Okay I made that part of the song up but therein lies the beauty of the song, L’il Liza Jane. It so engaging and adaptable. Meeting her is definitely on my bucket list. Wouldn’t you like to meet the woman has inspired so many people over the years to sing, chant, dance and make up lyrics on the fly?

First printed in 1916, L'il Liza Jane's history likely dates back to minstrel shows.
First printed in 1916, L’il Liza Jane’s history likely dates back to minstrel shows.

According to the Preservation Hall Foundation, the song  L’il Liza Jane “has been established as a New Orleans jazz standard since as far back as the 1910s.” Without doubt, the song was making the rounds before Sherman, Clay & Co. of San Francisco printed it up in 1916, describing it as a “Southern Dialect Song.”

But who was she? One theory is that Liza (and sometimes Eliza) Jane was a common character name in minstrel shows. If so, then its no surprise that her moniker got attached to a simple song that could be easily adapted to whatever dramatic or comedic situation was required.

The simple structure of each line of a couplet set off by a choral response of “L’il Liza Jane” makes it a communal experience where others on stage and audience members can participate.

In true folk tradition, the song has been played in many musical styles from big brass bands to bluegrass pickers, with lyrics added and amended based on the occasion. There is something about the couplet structure of the lyrics that invites embellishments.

The call and response part is easy to follow. No need to rehearse ahead of time, just figure it out as the song proceeds.

Most of the time, the song is about the attraction and joy of having Liza Jane as your life partner. “I got a gal that I adore”  (this is where you sing “L’il Liza Jane”) “Way Down South in Baltimore. “I don’t care how far we roam (Little Liza Jane) Where she’s at is home sweet home.

Huey Smith, an early New Orleans rocker, recorded a version of L'il Liza Jane in 1956.
Huey Smith, an early New Orleans rocker, recorded a version of L’il Liza Jane in 1956.

Huey Piano Smith, an early R&B and rock and roll performer inspired by Professor Longhair, cut a version of the song with his own set of lyrics but stayed true to the song’s theme.

Hey pretty baby can we go strollin’?
(Little Liza Jane)
Yes, you got me rockin’ When I ought to be rollin’
(Little Liza Jane)

The Black Indians of Mardi Gras use the song with lyrics appropriate to their unique practices but the response part is still the same –“L’il Liza Jane.”

Another Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa is coming up on Thursday so imagine that song playing in your head right now (cause I’ll definitely be playing then). I’ll call; you respond.

Got some sweet songs you should hear (L’il Liza Jane)
Bout a Lady I hold dear (L’il Liza Jane)

Tune in Thursday, KAOS radio (L’il Liza Jane)
Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa Show (L’il Liza Jane)

Or you can listen to the recording of the show on Mixcloud now!