While we celebrate a secular Christmas at our house, it is bound in tradition. As Tevye says, without tradition our lives are “as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.” And tradition involves music. So welcome to the 2020 Gumbo YaYa Winter Holiday Music Show!
Smoky Greenwell kicks off the show with a rollicking instrumental version of “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. ” Other seasonal standards follow such as “Santa Baby” (Lena Prima), “Jingle Bells” (Fats Domino), “O Tannebaum” (Ellis Marsalis), “Zat You Santa Claus” (Louis Armstrong), and “Santa, Let Me Call You a Cab” . . . Wait! What?
Well, I wouldn’t want the show to get bogged down in so many sentimental touchstones that it goes down like last year’s Christmas fruitcake. So I sprinkle in some fresher nuggets of holiday cheer including a few from A Very Threadhead Holiday.
In addition to Alex McMurray’s ballad of how to extricate a drunken Santa from your home, this show includes “Pimp My Sleigh” (Theryl DeClouet the “Houseman”), “Christmas Biya Mama (Andre Bouvier’s Royal Bohemians), “Christmas Like Ya Just Don’t Care” (Panorama Jazz Band), “Santa Won the Lottery” (Frankie Ford) and, of course since its a New Orleans music show, “12 Yats of Christmas” (Benny Grunch and the Bunch).
There’s some fine vocal performances including those by Debbie Davis, Sweet Cecilia, Aaron Neville and my favorite, the Zion Harmonizers doing “White Christmas.”
And for lagniappe, Kermit Ruffins, who you’ll hear early in the show doing “Crazy Cool Christmas,” closes the show with his real Christmas wish (it’s the same every year actually) – “A Saints Christmas” – the New Orleans Saints football team in the Super Bowl. As long as they don’t play like they did against the Chiefs this weekend, they just might make it.
With two weeks left before election day, over 800,000 ballots in my state have been turned in. Turnout is even stronger where this show is broadcast with ballots turned in by nearly one out of three voters. Over 42 million have already voted nationwide. Wow!
For those who haven’t voted yet, here’s music to vote . . .or to listen to while waiting to vote.
This week’s songs, like last week’s songs, are selected to get you into a frame of mind for exercising your right to vote, starting with John Boutte’s cover of “A Change is Gonna Come” — a song inspired by a racist experience when Sam Cooke attempted to check into a Shreveport motel.
The Meters gives us “People Say” to start the first full set and Leyla McCalla puts Langston Hughes words to music with “Song for a Dark Girl.” It’s a set designed to remind us that its been a long, long journey for racial equity and justice and we’re not done yet. This set finishes with The Neville Brothers’ “Sons and Daughters (Reprise)” and Rebirth Brass Band’s “Take it to the Street.”
Allen Toussaint starts “Yes We Can Can” by singing “We are America” to a New Orleans Jazz Fest audience. His song enlivens a second half hour set of music that includes The Hot 8 Brass Band’s “Working Together,” Marcia Ball’s “World Full of Love,” Smoky Greenwell’s “Get Out and Vote,” and Tab Benoit and Dr. John doing “We Ain’t Gonna Lose No More.”
In the second half of the show, Davis Rogan’s “Joe Biden Will Do Just Fine” pairs nicely with Paula and The Pontiacs doing “Play to Win.” Eric Lindell follows up with “Revolution” as in a revolution in our heart. New Orleans Suspects offers up “Whatcha Gonna Do” and Dr. Michael White delivers “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”
The show ends with an amazing Louis Armstrong cover of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” Amazing because first it was recorded less than a year after Lennon and Yoko Ono recorded the original Second, its clearly a funk version which is unusual for Armstrong who would live only a year after the release of this song. And finally, the song comes across so well, particularly for the vibe I was going for. Let me know what you think.
Today’s show begins with an Allen Toussaint song of unity and tolerance and ends with Delfeayo Marsalis’ erudite dissection of the slogan “Make America Great Again.” Perhaps in this the 244th year of our nation, we can make real progress toward the equitable society imagined in our Declaration of Independence. Let the show begin.
President Obama was only in office a few months when Allen Toussaint took the stage at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and sang “We are America – we are some of yesterday and we are some of tomorrow. . .” as an intro to his “Yes We Can Can.”
Seven years later, trombonist and bandleader Delfeayo Marsalis released “Make America Great Again” with its title song featuring a narration by Wendell Pierce (a high school mate of Delfeayo) that indicts the phrase with “there will always be those of us who long for “the good old days,” either because we weren’t there or we’ve simply forgotten what those days were actually like.”
The show’s first full set is introduced by veteran blues musician Smoky Greenwell, speaking from New Orleans to introduce two songs from his latest album (one of my favorites of 2019) “Common Ground” and “Get Out and Vote.” Smoky celebrates a birthday on Fourth of July.
In addition to Smoky’s birthday, I celebrate four other birth anniversaries. Lee Allen, the tenor sax that brought us New Orleans rock n’ roll, would have turned 94 on July 2. You’ll hear three of his songs and a good argument for why Lee Circle, currently named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee should be renamed after the Lee Allen song “Walkin’ with Mr. Lee.”
New Orleans favorite son Pete Fountain would have turned 90 on July 3. Fountain’s clarinet was the soundtrack of my childhood, a favorite of my clarinet playing father who taught at Tulane in the 60’s. You’ll hear a couple of his songs with his good buddy Al Hirt.
Reggie Houston lives in Portland now but is New Orleans through and through. Bless him for making a major move late in life that seems to have been good for him and Portland — as attested by his work with the annual Waterfront Blues Festival. His “Before I Grow Too Old” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” just seemed perfect for the show. Reggie turns 73 this week.
I suspect Matt Perrine is well known in the music industry as one of the world’s finest sousaphone players but its not like that distinction scores you the cover of Esquire Magazine — though it might get you a cameo in The Simpsons. He turns 51 and while I could do a whole show of his performance given his prolific studio work — I limited him to two of his own songs. He turns 51.
Lots of other music to enjoy in today’s show including Leigh Harris with “Make a Better World,” Walter “Wolfman” Washington with “Trials and Tribulations,” and Cowboy Mouth’s new “Oh Toulouse.” Thanks for tuning in. Stay safe this weekend.
This year’s top 10 selections run a range of New Orleans music with jazz, brass band, blues, R&B, Latin rhythms and African beats. And for lagniappe, you’ll meet my sons who extended their Christmas visit home to include hanging out with me in the studio when we aired this show on Boxing Day. (Just click the sideways arrow below to get started.)
Today’s show features selections from the 10 records I enjoyed playing the most this year. But the real treat for me was being in the studio with my son’s Riley and Devlin. As always, I edited this version of the program by removing KAOS announcements. So some of the freewheeling conversation is lost but I did manage to keep some of our chatter in. The show also airs in Bellingham on community radio station KMRE on Friday nights.
The show starts with “World Without Music by the To Be Continued Brass Band. Below are brief descriptions of my favorite records for this year.
To Be Continued Brass Band – TBC II – This band has a history that IS New Orleans. And they seem to be making it on their own terms. No label. No Website. No liner notes or anything but a logo on their CD. Lots of friends help out though including J’Wan Boudreaux (Cha Wa), Glen David Andrews, DJ Action Jackson and Erion Williams (Soul Rebels).
Kid Eggplant And the Melatauns – Big Trouble in Little Chalmette – Can you say “Party Record!” Listen to your vegetables, they’re good for you. I can’t believe my luck in stumbling across this record. It’s a creative mix of R&B, doo-wop, blues slide (with frog sounds), and retro 80’s rocks (“snip snip”).
Ecirb Muller’s Twisted Dixie – What Had Happened Was. . . – Dr. Brice Miller, of Mahogany Brass Band fame, has created a time machine and a mythical savant to transport the hipness of Louis Armstrong and New Orleans’ early jazz days into the funkified vibe of today. Each song is introduced with a story using the opener “What Had Happened Was. .” I’m so delighted to introduce you to one of the greatest . . .
Smoking Time Jazz Club – Contrapuntal Stomp– The band lives up to its name with 16 tracks of traditional jazz numbers that can heat up the dance floor. This journeymen band of talented musicians do more than revive; they reinvigorate. If the only thing this record did was introduce me to Earl “Snakehips” Tucker, it would still be on my top 10. (if you go to the link, be sure to catch at least half of the two-minute video of this amazing dancer.)
Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival – Released by Smithsonian Folkways in honor of the festival’s 50th year, this five CD set offers a historic sampling of the diverse music styles that have graced the many Jazz Fest stages over the years – focusing on the local artists who have made his festival so exceptional. A lot of care was taken to showcase the sweep of talent that has graced the dozen or more stages of the festival during the last half century.
Leyla McCalla – The Capitalist -Her third release, proficient in Haitian creole, French, banjo, guitar and cello, she continues the city’s tradition of creatively blending and bending musical genres while continuing to creatively community her message of social and economic justice. Plus she’s got a wonderful voice.
Bonerama – Bonerama Plays Zeppelin – Zeppelin with New Orleans funk and rhythms. It’s a reverent yet original adaptation of the band’s hits except with trombones as the lead voice and Matt Perrine’s magical sousaphone handling the bass line. Be sure to catch “Heartbreaker” where Perrine defies gravity with his instrument.
Alexey Marti – Mundo – This Havana-born and New Orleans-based percussionist second release showcases his 15 original songs which include samba, bossa nova, ballad, and salsa — demonstrating new depths to this highly respected and in-demand musician. His record features musicians from New York, Spain and Cuba and flows smoothly through your ears like a morning cup of cafecito.
Bamboula 2000 – Cuba to Congo Square – For a quarter century, this band has been keeping the spirit of Congo Square alive. If you’re searching for the connection between New Orleans jazz rhythms and Africa, this latest release will help you find it it with rhythm’s from djembe, congas, talking drums, bata, atumpan, shekere, dun dun, and fontonfrom.
Smoky Greenwell – Blues and the Power of Peace – Holding down the blues end of this year’s list is journeymen New Orleans musician Smoky Greenwell. This is the perfect apology gift for going ballistic on your Trump-voting relative during the holidays. The latest record by this New Orleans blues harmonica (and saxophone) player strikes enough of a conciliatory note without surrendering a single political point. Get out and vote, baby!
How can there be a war on Christmas when anyone who wants to enjoy this popular event is able to? Not only is this holiday community property, its a wonderful way to examine our culture. In this show, you get a look at Christmas through the lens of New Orleans music (with some help from cajun and zydeco musicians_
What better way start the Gumbo Ya Ya show than with Art Neville’s “Gumbo Christmas”. Snow is pretty rare in New Orleans and a “white” Christmas is almost unfathomable so I start the next set with Allen Toussaint’s delightful “The Day It Snows on Christmas.”
The set ends with Louis Armstrong’s version of “Christmas Night in Harlem” which was a bigger hit than the original 1934 recording by Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra. As sung by Jack Teagarden and Johnny Mercer in the Whiteman version, the song has minstrel elements that seem to play off the same attraction held by the popular radio show of the time, Amos N’ Andy. Armstrong wised removed those elements, streamlined the song, focused on the swinging parts and made the song a bigger hit.
You get a soulful, blues reading of the “Night Before Christmas” by the man who either inspired the name of the Little Richard hit or got his nickname from it: Ready Teddy McQuisten. And if you’re not familiar with the song “Ready Teddy,” don’t worry. I play it right after the reading.
Kelcy Mae’s original and poignant song about separating from her partner during the holidays as they each head to their respective families plays off a pun of “Merry Me” as it recognizes and honors the achievement of legalizing same sex marriages. Here’s her video of that song.
Wayne Toups sings “Louisiana Santa” and Smoky Greenwell drives home a very cool version of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” For those who love horns, New Birth Brass Band belts out “Second Line Santa”
Shamarr Allen sings his original “Santa Passed My House By” with the assistance of what like is his own child. There’s more to this show so please enjoy. Consider subscribing, it’s free. If you celebrate this holiday, Merry Christmas. Otherwise, enjoy the season and some time off with your loved ones.
“I don’t know, boss. . but I won’t do it again,” is allegedly how Louis Armstrong responded to a pointed question from the president of Okeh records when he asked him who was playing trumpet on a song recorded by a competing label. The song was “Drop that Sack” and you’ll hear it on today’s show.
Helen Gillet’s memorable “De mémoire de Rose opens the show followed by Satchmo’s 1926 recording and a live recording of Big Sam’s Funky Nation at the 2010 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival doing almost 12 minutes of funk with some familiar touchstones throughout, including “Eliza Jane.”
I do a set of jazz, swing numbers followed by a Latin-inflected number by Charmaine Neville and her band appropriately titled “Dance.” I break into the new release by Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue and offer up some New Orleans Suspects, Seth Walker, Professor Longhair and Lena Prima.
Near the end of the show catch a great number sung by Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes with the Smoky Greenwell Band followed by Rosie Ledet’s “It Might Be You” from her latest release. If you stay with me long enough, you’ll catch another Helen Gillet number.
So much great music, I couldn’t put it all in one post so here’s part two. (Check out 2016 Part 1) As you will quickly notice, there is no order to my lists. The only rule is I only list music from New Orleans (and nearby locales) I play on my show. Like the following:
Corey Henry – I’ve been waiting for Lapeitah, Henry’s debut solo album, ever since I heard “Boe Money” the song that carries his nickname on Galactic’s 2010 Ya Ka May release. Henry’s powerful trombone and songwriting mix of funk, R&B, soul and hip hop creates the experience I associate with the music I hear at New Orleans nightclubs. It’s no coincidence that Henry and his Treme Funket was the undisputed heir apparent of Kermit Ruffins legendary Thursday spot at Vaughn’s. Lapeitah does an excellent job of putting you in that Ninth Ward club with him.
The New Orleans Suspects – Just as you would not want to ever miss a live performance of the New Orleans Suspects, you should not go without possessing their fourth album–and second one with original songs. Kaleidoscoped delivers eight original numbers that makes me miss New Orleans and the original grooves that these journeymen musicians produce.
Kenny Neal – Bloodline hooks you from the opening number “Ain’t Gon Let the Blues Die.” And the rest of the album holds true to the promise. Nominated for best contemporary blues album grammy, this 2016 release is a full nod toward the amazing support this successful blues artist has received from his family members, who back him up on vocals and instruments throughout the album.
Bobby Rush – Porcupine Meat just scored Rush’s fourth grammy nomination– this time for best traditional blues album. Though he lives in Mississippi by way of Chicago and his birthplace Homer, La., this release is actually the first one that the 83-year-old blues veteran has recorded in New Orleans and some cool folks stop by to help out, such as Cornell Williams (bass), Kirk Joseph (sousaphone), Shane Theriot (guitar), and David Torkanowsky (keyboards). Be sure to cue up and listen to “Funk O De Funk.”
Miss Sophie Lee – Nightclub owner Sophie Lee returns to the recording studio with Traverse the Universe. She has a sweet voice and her band does a nice turn with the handful of standards on the album but its her original songs, particularly her title track, that had me reaching for it to play regularly on my show.
Jeff Chaz – Chaz and his trio are hardworking blues musicians who can be seen regularly playing on Frenchmen Street and the French Quarter. He put out two releases this year: Sounds Like the Blues to Me and The Silence is Killing Me. Both are solid blues albums with numbers like “Fried Chicken Store” and “Savin’ Everything for You.” The latter release offers a holiday tune as well – “Merry Christmas to You.”
Herlin Riley – A regular with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Riley can be a straight up jazz drummer but there’s no question where his roots lie. As he says: “As a boy growing up in New Orleans, way before you heard that big bass drum in the street parades, you could feel it coming from four or five blocks away, and it would literally beckon you to come on down to the street, check out this music, and participate in it. ” Riley jazzes it up on New Directions but by the time you get to his hip version of Tutti Ma, you will like the direction he’s headed.
Dr. John – Recorded in 2014 in the historic Saenger Theater on Canal Street in New Orleans, The Musical Mojo of Dr. John offers two discs of many of New Orleans elite such as Irma Thomas, Cyril and Aaron Neville, Anders Osborne, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Zigaboo Modeliste and Dave Malone, paired with familiar outsiders like Bruce Springsteen, John Fogerty, Chuck Leavell, and Mavis Staples. With the venerable Mac Rebennak (Dr. John) in the middle, how can you not be satisfied wit dat package!
Smoky Greenwell – Another visiting musician who came to the city for a gig and stayed a lifetime, Greenwell has been cranking out the blues in New Orleans for 35 years and his last two releases are arguably his best. I particularly like it when he puts down his harmonica and reaches for his saxophone on South Louisiana Blues.
Gina Forsyth– This New Orleans-based musician is wickedly good on fiddle and guitar. Yea, you don’t expect this type of music in New Orleans. So what. Copper Rooster and Other Tunes and Tales provides a dozen and a half smile inducing old timey numbers that will have you reaching for the play again button.
Mark and the Pentones – This blues trio, fronted by guitarist Mark Penton, may be one of the best reasons to stumble down Bourbon Street. Currently anchoring the swing shift at Funky Pirate Blues Club on Fridays and Saturdays, the Pentones released its debut album, Don’t Leave Nothin Behind, late last year with some subtle surprises among the 11 tracks. I particularly like “Jodie,” “Too Many Second Lines” and “I B Cing You.”
Keith Stone – The Prodigal Returns is the aptly named debut album of a native New Orleanian who sowed some wild oats in the 90’s as an area blues guitarist, settled down to be a minister in Kentucky and then came back home after Hurricane Katrina. The album features playful piano, strong guitar licks, and a solid horn arrangements. If you’re a dislocated NOLA homeboy feeling the tug of that big magnet at the end of the Mississippi River, this album will talk to you.
Louisiana Soul Revival Featuring Doug Duffey – Okay, I’ve wandered all the way up to Monroe, La. to grab this one. But all’s fair if the music is great. From the distinctive bass line opening of “Funky Bidneh” to the inviting saxophone on its last track “Love Into My Life”, this band’s debut release has a full sound that puts you front and center of your own Soul Revival.
Anders Osborne – This prolific musician, songwriter, and producer released two albums this year. Spacedust and Ocean Views and Flower Box. My station didn’t get Flower Box (that happens but don’t let it happen to your album) and I almost missed Spacedust because the music director justifiably placed it in our Folk, Country and Bluegrass shelf. I love his voice and his songs and I don’t care what shelf I have to check, I’ll be regularly reaching for his music to play on my show.
Allen Toussaint – This one breaks my heart. A year after his death, I still grieve. American Tunes is his last studio album, released this year posthumously. There’s little between you and Toussaint other than his piano, a drummer and bass. He doesn’t even sing except on a Paul Simon cover– though others do. As I listento him run through Big Chief , he’s in the room with me, playing the piano, with his leather sandal and sock clad feet working the pedals.