Bandleader inspired by early New Orleans Rhythm & Blues

No one needs to convince Taylor Smith of the ability of radio to perpetuate musical traditions and nurture new ones.

roamin-jasmine-backyard-photoAs the bandleader and composer for The Roamin’ Jasmine, Smith has become well acquainted, as do most successful New Orleans musicians, with the city’s traditional jazz standards.  But its been his ability to apply a New Orleans style rhythm and blues spin on classic blues numbers that sets his music apart.

For example, check out his take on Blind Lemon Jefferson’s Wartime Blue (from the band’s second album). With the band’s latest release “Live at Horace’s,” Jefferson’s Hangman Blues gets updated with a New Orleans mambo groove.

“When we started, the guys I recruited to play in the band all played traditional jazz standards, and we all knew a lot of that repertoire so we started playing a lot of that stuff.  But soon after coming to New Orleans, I got interested in the classic 1950’s Rhythm and blues tunes and started arranging versions of those tunes for the group.”

“I got to give credit to the great New Orleans radio station WWOZ cause that’s where I’ve heard so much of that music.”

WWOZ, like KAOS, is a community radio station, supported by listeners and underwrites with volunteer deejays.  Smith singled out “50’s R&B with Neil Pellegrin” (Tuesdays starting at 5 p.m. West Coast Time) and R & B Oldies with Rare On The Air (Wednesdays at the same hour).  From my personal experience, I’ll also add Blues and R&B with Gentilly Jr. same time slot on Mondays.

It was WWOZ’s playing of “That’s a Pretty Good Love” a b-side song to Big Maybelle’s hit Candy that inspired Smith to cover it on his live release.

Smith is a Boston native who graduated from the University of Miami jazz school but fell in love with New Orleans during a college break excursion.  His band’s first release was in 2014. They’ve toured England twice and will be performing in Australia this fall as part of a collaboration with Lachlan Bryan (and the Wildes).

Here’s the full interview from my show starting with a spin of “That’s A Pretty Good Love.”

New Orleans and the piano – A good team.

As part of my ongoing education on New Orleans music, I’ve been reading about the use of the piano in New Orleans music. (Please note: I’m not a real musician but I operate a CD player at home)

While the piano wasn’t invented in New Orleans, several styles of piano playing are derived from the city’s musicians.  So much so that “one can easily claim the piano as the prime choice of innovators in New Orleans music,” according to an article by Tom McDermott who innovates on the piano on a daily basis in New Orleans.

This versatile instrument combines melody and rhythm and makes it possible for every parlor or living room to become a concert hall.

As Jon Cleary, another fine keyboard purveyor of New Orleans music, said, the piano is “a hip little tool because it allows you to reproduce all the elements of what a band would do.”

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It was on a piano in the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans during a recording break that Little Richard connected with his mojo, banging out Tutti Frutti.

What Jelly Roll Morton and others that followed did was translate the sounds of the New Orleans street bands to a piano, delivering their own interpretation to the customers of night clubs and sporting clubs and ultimately to a global audience.

The piano is so important to New Orleans music that a premiere annual event is Piano Night held around the time of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  The host of this event, WWOZ, has created a compendium of videos that explore that New Orleans piano tradition.

Here’s Jon Cleary providing a quick run down of the various piano playing styles. 

My goal is to focus on New Orleans piano players from time to time. Next week’s article will feature the amazing, but often overlooked, James Booker. (I have since added:  Professor LonghairAllen Toussaint, Jon Cleary, and Isidore Tuts Washington).  For my next show though, I’ll offer a wide range of New Orleans piano players.

Community Stations like KAOS; WWOZ make a difference

Picture yourself at Tipitina’s in the early 80’s preparing to catch some funk by Zigaboo Modeliste and George Porter, Jr., and just as the band is about to begin, a microphone descends from the ceiling.

In the early years of WWOZ, Tipitina’s was the home of the station.

You would have been witnessing an early, glorious moment in community radio. Located in the beer storage room above the uptown New Orleans night club was the nascent community radio station, WWOZ. With that simple, low-tech approach, the station was able to broadcast a live performance–launching a 30-year tradition of supporting local music.

WWOZ has come a long way from that beer closet and now is readily recognized as the “Guardian of the Groove” in New Orleans.

While serving a smaller market, KAOS has a similar reputation for supporting the often overshadowed music scene in Olympia.

With the KAOS Fall Member Drive and the WWOZ Fall Member Drive, I thought it timely to talk about my two favorite radio stations and why financial support is essential to both.

Like many, I listen to more than one station. But I only pledge to KAOS and WWOZ.  I pledge to KAOS because its my default station that I listen to the most, providing a wide range of music and programming. I pledge to WWOZ because I love New Orleans and its music. Listening to the station connects me, albeit remotely, to the city I was born in. Without WWOZ, I would not have had the confidence to launch Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa – a show that wouldn’t exist without KAOS.

Here are the features I like about these stations.  They both are non-commercial, community radio stations. They both invite and train members of the community to volunteer as on-air hosts (deejays). While being “volunteer powered” means they’re not as slick as some commercial radio stations, the hosts convey an authentic, honest voice, portraying Olympia and New Orleans in a way that gives me a deeper understanding. These deejays work in the same community, walk the same sidewalks,  drink at the same bars (you get the idea.).

Both stations are cheerleaders for local music, regularly announcing live music events, hosting studio performances and interviewing musicians and other performers. This boosterism can matter.  In 1987, KAOS hosted the the first radio broadcast of Nirvana and this summer, Seattle’s Vaudeville Etiquette was written up by the music tracker CMJ because of airplay it received on KAOS.

Just last week, local musician Greg Black stopped by the KAOS table at Arts Walk and offered the station his new CD, recorded two blocks away at Dub Narcotic Studio. You’ll hear it, along with other local music, on KAOS.

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Ernie K-Doe, New Orleans singer and lounge owner, was a deejay with New Orleans community radio station WWOZ.

And like WWOZ whose shows have been hosted by musicians like James Booker, David Torkanowsky and Ernie K-Doe (this blog’s patron saint), many of the KAOS on-air hosts are musicians themselves.

Both stations offer more than music. WWOZ , owned by the same folks who bring us Jazz Fest, focuses on programs that delve into the music and culture of New Orleans. KAOS has a broader mission, providing alternative perspectives such as National Native News, Counter Spin and Workers Independent News. as well as locally produced public affairs programs like Parallel University, Speaking of Wellness and the one I contribute to, Community Connections Report.

Strong listener support for these stations are crucial. The additional funding helps enrich the quality of the programming. But it also demonstrates to underwriters and funders that the station is a valued resource worthy of their support. Please take the time to pledge to KAOS and pledge to WWOZ this week or whenever you read this.