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.

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Honoring Henry Butler, Smiley Lewis and Freedom

Welcome to my July 5th, 2018 edition of Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa.  There’s lot to love about this extra-long show so go ahead and get it started.

henry butler
Henry Butler performing in Port Townsend, WA in August 2017. He died July 2, 2018.

We lost Henry Butler on Monday, July 2 to colon cancer. He was born in New Orleans September 21, 1948 and grew up in the Calliope housing project. He lost his sight to glaucoma as an infant and learned how to play a variety of instruments while attending the Louisiana State School for the Blind. He was known for piano playing, smoothly handling jazz, blues, classical and improvisation and had a powerful voice. He was a teacher and entertainer. In this show, I play his “Down by the Riverside,” “Henry’s Boogie” and “Jamaica Farewell.”

Throughout the show, I touch on the theme of America and Freedom as interpreted by New Orleans musicians including songs by Shamarr Allen and Dee-1 (“Only in America”), Rebirth Brass Band (“Freedom”), and Delfeayo Marsalis (“Make America Great Again” with Wendell Pierce.)

I also celebrate Smiley Lewis’s birth anniversary (July 5, 1913) with “Shame, “Shame, Shame” and “Don’t Jive Me.”

The first song is by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band with “Dead Dog in the Road.” New songs by Shawn Williams, Tin Men, and Cyril Neville.  And much more in this extra long edition of the show.

 

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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Gumbo YaYa serving thick in jazz, spiced with Carbo

This week’s show serves up a strong doze of New Orleans style jazz and swing but also country and rhythm and blues, including a classic by Chuck Carbo.  Get it started while I tell you who else is in the show.

Albanie Falletta’s wonderful “Black Coffee Blues” kicks off the show, followed by a swinging love song by Antoine Diel, Al Hirt and his band at his best with “Yellow Dog Blues,” and the amazing Aurora Nealand performing “Touploulou.”

Dee Dee Bridgewater does a duet with Glen David Andrews on “Whoopin’ Blues.” David Egan rocks its with “Dead End Friend” and Eddie Bo does the instrumental “Just Wonder.”

carboStay with the show for Chuck Carbo’s “Meet Me with Your Black Drawers On.”  After a country set featuring new releases by Gal Holiday and Shawn Williams, jazz fans patience will be rewarded  with the Riverside Jazz Collective” “Just Gone” from their new release, Stomp Off, Let’s Go.

Also, this show includes songs by Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, Allen Toussaint, Professor Longhair, Larry Williams, James Andrews, Galactic, Dr. Michael White, the Big Dixie Swingers, Bon Bon Vivant, Big Sam’s Funky Nation and Quintron.