Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Michael P. Smith JazzFest Photographer Supreme RIP

I remember years ago attending a Smithsonian Institute Folklife Festival in Washington which was devoted in part to the culture of Louisiana and New Orleans. It was chance to hear some blues like the late Boogie Bill Webb as well as it was my first exposure to the Mardi Gras Indian tradition other than the recordings of The Wild Magnolias and The Wild Tchoupitoulas, as members talked about and demonstrated the making of a costume as well as the various traditions involved. At the store where they sold items related to the Festival was a book of black and white photographs, Spirit World: Pattern in the Expressive Folk Culture of African-American New Orleans, It was essentially a catalogue of one of his exhibits documenting aspects of the cultural life and communities of New Orleans that was totally new to me, such as spiritual churches, and I slowly began to understand the interrelationship between the churches, the Indians, the music and other interrelated aspects that were the foundation for the New Orleans Rhythm and Blues Music that I loved (well I still d0). The book was republished by the Louisiana print house, Pelican, and is readily available.

I soon became aware of the importance that Smith had in documenting the music, culture and communities of New Orleans. His photos graced album covers and t-shirts (I proudly had t-shirts of his photos of James Booker and Clifton Chenier).
Subsequently I acquired his marvelous book, A Joyful Noise: A Celebration of New Orleans Music, which is out of print.

When I first attended the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, in the mid-190s, I went to his tent in the crafts section of the Festival grounds which his daughter Leslie (herself a very fine jazz singer) was manning, and eventually purchased his then recently published book on the Mardi Gras Indians as well as a poster made from the Dancing Cat Professor Longhair album cover that was signed by him. Since I framed it upon getting home, it hangs in my bedroom.

Subsequently I purchased his New Orleans Jazz Fest, A Pictorial History, which chronicled the first 20 or so years of the festival from images of Mahalia Jackson with the Eureka Brass Band; Jackson with Duke Ellington, George Wein and Cousin Joe, Rashaan Roland Kirk with Herbie Mann's Band, Como Fife and Drum Band, Sonny Stitt with Ellis Marsalis, Sweet Emma Barrett, Sister Gertrude Morgan, Stevie Wonder with the Meters, Dizzy Gillespie and Bongo Joe, Benny Spellman, Professor Longhair, Nina Simone, etc (and that's in the first 50 odd of 200 pages). This book is in black and white and was followed by an JazzFest Memories with color photography which was done in collaboration with Allison Miner who wrote about the Festival's history.

I am obviously a fan of his work and was saddened when I found out he passed away on Friday, September 26. The New Orleans Times-Picayune celebrated his marvelous life in an obituary, Cultural archivist Michael Smith dies. If that link does not work, try

An excerpt from John Pope's piece.

Michael P. Smith, a photographer who spent three decades capturing vivid, vibrant images at jazz funerals, Mardi Gras Indian ceremonies and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, died Friday at his New Orleans home of two diseases that destroyed his nervous system. He was 71.

A man of boundless energy who devoted himself to the culture he chronicled, Mr. Smith seemed to be everywhere at whatever event he was shooting. Fellow photographers joked that every good Jazzfest picture they took included the back of Mr. Smith's head.

Mr. Smith's subjects included Mahalia Jackson, Irma Thomas, James Booker, Harry Connick Jr., Professor Longhair and the Neville Brothers, as well as anonymous mourners, strutters and Indians whom Mr. Smith always managed to capture caught up in the moment.

"I don't think there's another photographer who has more sensitively documented very significant aspects of the second half of 20th century New Orleans culture," said Steven Maklansky, a former curator of photographs at the New Orleans Museum of Art."

The biography of him on his website, www.michaelpsmithphotography.com notes the many honors he earned. "In the last few years, Mike Smith has been honored with numerous awards. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities in 2002 and was named Music Photographer of the Year by Offbeat magazine. In 2004, he received a Mayor's Arts Award from the Arts Council of New Orleans and a Clarence John Laughlin Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Orleans/Gulf South chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP). In 2005, he received the Delgado Society Award (New Orleans Museum of Art), the first photographer to be so honored."

In Spring, 2007, the collection of his negatives and copyright to his work was transferred to the New Orleans Collection. The collection was over 500,000 negatives, most of which have never been printed and the New Orleans Collection intends to make more of his work available in the future. Smith's photographs are also in the permanent collections of the Bibliotheque National in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution and, locally, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the Louisiana State Museum.

His work has not only entertained my eyes but enriched my understanding and love of the music of New Orleans. I know that I am not alone with this sentiment.

A brief sample of his images can be downloaded from the website of The Historic New Orleans Collection. One can download issues of the newsletter, THNOC Quarterly at http://www.hnoc.org/publications/publications-quarterly.php#. It is the Spring 2008 issue.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Duke Elllington Jazz Festival Is Coming

Starting this Wednesday, October 1 and running until October 7 at various venues in Washington, DC, the favorite son in the Nation's Capital is celebrated with the annual Duke Ellington Jazz Festival. One can catch free jazz at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage or at daytime concerts near the Washington Monument, or catch the annual NEA Jazz Masters Concert at the Lincoln Theatre. That event will have the Duke Ellington Orchestra performing along with the DC Bass Choir with special guest Christian McBride at the Lincoln Theater, Saturday Night October 3, as well as the free Jazz on the National Mall at the Sylvan Theater near the Washington monument, Sunday October 4 with a line-up including Afro Blue, Taj Mahal, Christian Mcbride Quartet, Conrad Herwig Latin Side Project, Mccoy Tyner Quartet, and Dee Dee Bridgewater. DC's jazz clubs like Bohemian Gardens, Blues Alley and Twins will be presenting other jazz giants like Sonny Fortune and Monty Alexander. Here is the link to the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival.

Here are some clips of some of the performers to whet your taste. 1st up is Taj Mahal.

2nd is Christian McBride

Next up is McCoy Tyner

Sonny Fortune is at Twins Friday and Saturday

Finally, Dee Dee Bridgewater

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Memphis Gold Loves that Big Legged Woman

From youtube

I should mention that the new issue of Blues and Rhythm, No. 233, October 2008, has Terence McArdle's story on Memphis Gold and one of my photos of him is the predominant one on the cover. There are a few more of mine inside illustrating the story, taken from gigs in the 1990s at JV's in Annadale VA (not in Washington) and Fleetwood's in Alexandria VA. Its really nice to see the story and the exposure as he is such a good person as well as a performer. He still is recuperating from his fall earlier this year an gets better every time I see him. Bluebeat Music carries Blues & Rhythm, and while I suspect they do not have it yet in stock, you might check in a week or two after the date of this post. Btw the harmonica player on this performance is Charlie Sayles (Hollywood Charlie Sayles as Memphis calls him). Below is Part 2 of this performance.

Evan Christopher and Django à la Créole

From the London CD release party for Evan Christopher's
Django à la Créole (Lejazzetal & Classic Jazz), a tribute to the great Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, performing "I Know That You Know," which Django recorded, but Christopher prefaces the performance by referring to the great Jimmy Noone. This is a marvelous CD, with other songs performed including Django's marvelous "Nuages,"as well as the love closing medley of Tears and Djangology. The empathy of the band and the music comes through in this video which should hopefully lead a few of you to sample more of the music on this recording.

I only have had the good fortune to see Evan perform live a few years back at Donna's on the edge of the French Quarter in a group with Tom McDermott, and have the marvelous duet album that they recorded, Danza (STR Digital). I have been enthralled by his wonderfully warm, fluid playing. He has a marvelous live album,
Live At The Meridien (Jazz Club), where does a remarkable medley of Ornette Coleman's Ramblin and Lonely Woman, as well as Scott Joplin's, The Entertainer, and Duke Ellington's Prelude to a Kiss. Nat Hentoff wrote quite an enthusiastic piece in Jazz Times about Delta Bound, with pianist Dick Hyman, on Arbors.

Django à la Créole
be obtained from (among other sources) the Louisiana Music Factory and cdbaby.com. The Louisiana Music Factory carries the other referenced recordings and more that Evan can be heard on.

Helen Humes with Dizzy Gillespie's Big Band

Another video, this time Helen sings her big hit "Hey Baba Leba," around 1947. Notice Dizzy is playing a straight trumpet (that is without the upward bend he was known for later). Not too shabby a band he had.

I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to see Helen at NYC's Cookery. What a wonderful performer and person.

Helen Humes With Count Basie

Nice video of the late Helen Humes with a small group led by Count Basie. I think it is Wardell Grey on the tenor solo.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Joe Louis Walker Keeps a Witness For the Blues

One would be hard-pressed to name any other blues performer in the past two decades who has produced such a body of recorded work to stand-up to that of Joe Louis Walker. Rooted in the blues and soul traditions, and informed by his time in gospel groups, he has been able to rock with going heavy-metal over the top. No one covers such a range of blues at such a consistent high level as Walker who has a new disc, Witness to the Blues (Stony Plain). The disc was produced by Duke Robilliard who brought together a backing band anchored by the keyboards of Bruce Katz and includes Doug James on baritone and tenor sax as well as Scott Aruda on trumpet. Robilliard himself adds guitar to 5 of the 11 songs, which includes several new Walker originals as well as interpretations of songs that have not been overdone (no Sweet Home Chicago or Mustang Sally). An example of the latter is J.J. Malone’s It’s a Shame, that opens this set. It has a nice funky groove with stinging guitar which contrasts with Midnight Train, a rocking original with a tinge of rockabilly flavor in the backing and some guitar with echoes of Ike Turner. I am not familiar with the original of Lover’s Holiday, which is a fine soul duet with Shemekia Copeland. It is followed by Hustlin’, a slow blues whose melody echoes Little Walter’s Everything’s Gonna Be Allright, with a lyric about “hustling my life away,” and contains a fiery solo. Walker’s adaptation of the traditional Rollin’ and Tumblin’ brings life to well known blues, owing as much to Elmore James’ recording as the better known renditions, although Walker’s voice at a couple spots here sounds a little hoarse. “Highview” is a mid-tempo guitar instrumental with Katz also getting some solo time. along with Robillard trading fours with Walker, but musically seems to meander a bit. Walker plays some fine acoustic slide on I Got What You Need, a country blues by him and Robilliard, while Keep on Believin’, is a soulful ballad with a backing vocal chorus. 100% More Man, is a driving slow blues similar melodically to Elmore’s Twelve Year Old Boy, with plenty of driving slide, while Walker plays some high-note harmonica on Sugar Mama, with some nice accompaniment from the band (Katz’s piano is very solid here). This is quite an enjoyable recording as Walker sounds quite good here, although some of the performances meander a bit and some editing would have kept the performances more focused. Still, it is a very good recording, although not one of Walker’s best.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Three Wishes is a Marvelous Look at Jazz

Today, I was at Barnes & Noble, in downtown Washington DC, and browsing the jazz and blues books section when I come across a book, Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats. I pick it up skim through it and then purchased it. It is published by Abrams Image and the credits have it compiled and photographed by Pannonica de Koenigswarter with a forward by Gary Giddins and an Introduction by Nadine de Koenigswarter, granddaughter of Pannonica. Pannonica is better known as Nica, the Baronness who befriended so many jazz musicians for such a long period of time. She was the person in whose apartment Charlie Parker died. Later, when she purchased a house in New Jersey, many jazz musicians visited or stayed with her. In 1957, she helped Thelonious Monk regain his caabaret license and also campaigned for its elimination which occurred when John Lindsay was elected Mayor. Monk had encouraged her to buy a house and she did ,which was named the Cathouse, and Monk himself moved there with his family in 1973, staying there until he passed. Others moved in or stayed for a period.

What the book compiles is the answers of about 300 jazz musicians to what three wishes in life they had. The text consists of their answers. Included are countless photographs of jazz legends from Monk, Barry Harris, Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins, Art Blakey, Bud Powell, Sonny Clark John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Mary Lou Williams, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and countless others. Most of her photos were taken with a Polaroid camera, and several of the images are from worn photos, but the pictures, like their words, speak to us decades later. Some of informal, intimate images of them at the house, others sghow them perforing at the Cathouse. This is a book one can easily get lost with for days and hopefully should be available at your better book store or from the large internet retailers.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Blind Pig's latest releases are a mixed bag

Couple of new releases from Blind Pig to briefly note. One is the latest from Magic Slim & the Teardrops, Midnight Blues. It is an enjoyable release in his immediately recognizable sound with his grinding slow blues and highly danceable walking shuffles with his solid singing and stinging lead guitar. He is backed by his band of guitarist Jon McDonald; bassist Danny O’Connor and drummer David Simms, with guest appearances by James Cotton, Lil Ed Williams, Lonnie Brooks, Elvin Bishop, and a Gene Barge horn section. Its a typical mix of originals and lesser known blues from other singers. Let Me Love You, is a typical Slim shuffle with a driving beat and a solid vocal followed by a nice rendition of Muddy Waters’ You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had, with James Cotton chiming in on harp. Lil Ed joins for the frantic rendition of Hound Dog Taylor’s Give Me Back My Wig, that is a tad busy sounding. Little Milton’s Lonely Man, is slightly flat, but the take on Spider in My Stew, with Lonnie Brooks guesting, is much better as Slim and company grind out a most persuasive performance. The country flavor of Going Down The Road Feeling Bad, adds variety but its more of a novelty track here. Full Load Boogie, is a nondescript instrumental but followed by a terrific take of Muddy’s Crosseyed Cat with a groove that chugs along like an irresistible force. Elvin Bishop helps out on the slow-drag Carla, while Slim reworks Cryin’ Won’t Make You Stay, from a slow-drag number to a jaunty shuffle employing the Dust My Broom, groove. A few tracks may be relatively disappointing, as Slim seems incapable of producing a bad recording. This is not Slim’s most impressive effort, but its far from a poor effort.

The other new Blind Pig disc is a live release by Albert Cummings, Feel So Good, that I would describe as a blues-tinged hard rock date as opposed to a blues. A power guitarist, just supported by bass and trio. He bellows out his vocals while hammering out some sizzling guitar pyrotechnics. The opening Party Right Here, and the succeeding Why Me, have a flavor not dissimilar from what one might see/hear on CMT or some contemporary country stations, although a bit more rocked out and certainly not sung with any great distinction, and taken at breakneck tempos. Sleep, a somewhat dreamy rock ballad is taken at a slow tempo with a more relaxed vocal and nice thoughtful guitar. A medley of Hootchie Cootchie with Dixie Chicken owes more to the Allman Brothers, Z.Z. Hill and other southern boogie rockers than Muddy Waters or B.B. King which also is evident by Barrelhouse Blues, which evokes Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile, while Your Own Way, is musically suggestive of All Along the Watchtower, with a long-extended screaming guitar solo, Cummings does a creditable hard-rock rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Rock & Roll, which indicates where the core of Cummins’ musical heart is. He bellows out that the Blues Makes Me Feel So Good, but this disc must not be the blues, because it don’t make me feel that way.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Son House Tribute falls short

The latest Rory Block album, Blues Walkin’ Like a Man (Stony Plain), is a well-intentioned tribute to Eddie 'Son' House, one of the giants of the Delta Blues, following up a Robert Johnson tribute album. I have not heard the latter and wonder why I would insofar as I have found her renditions of classic country blues too close to the originals and often sounding studied, even academic. I have found her own songs much more appealing than her covers. But doing an entire album of Son House is a brave but ultimately unsatisfying effort, as her performances cannot avoid comparison to House’s originals, and even where House had lost his dexterity, the force of his playing and vocals make these emulations that generally fall flat. And this is not to ignore Block being a skilled musician. House’s singing voice was a straight extension of his speaking voice whereas Block’s vocals are not a similar extension of her voice. A comparison might be a New York vocalist singing with so much heart in cajun French but unable to shake a tinge of a newyawk accent. John Sebastian plays harmonica on several selections, and Block overdubs a vocal chorus on a couple selections, more satisfactory on the gospel number I Want to Go Home On the Morning Train, than on the remake of House’s Paramount recordings, Dry Spell Blues, where the added vocals make the track into an aural mess. I note that Dick Waterman, who was Son House’s manager after his rediscovery, has endorsed this tribute. Perhaps some will discover Son’s music from this, and that certainly is not a bad thing. Still, the back cover quotes Blues Revue that Rory Block “can hold her own with the legends who inspired her.” Listening to this tribute, I respectfully disagree.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Guitarist Chris James and bassist Patrick Ryan have been working together for quite some time, playing the clubs in Chicago, touring with Sam Lay for several years as well. This writer saw them as part of Jody Williams backing band at the 2007 Pocono Blues Festival (seen above with James to the left and Ryan obscured by Williams guitar) and had a chance to chat with Chris finding him as knowledgeable as he was a marvelous player. Earwig has just issued a release by the duo, Stop and Think About It, which is a terrific recording of old school Chicago-styled blues.
James fronts the recording with his powerful vocals and his terrific guitar (evoking the late Robert Lockwood and Williams). He and Ryan are joined by a variety of backing musicians including harmonica player Bob Corritore with whom they have toured Europe, pianist Dave Maxwell, drummers Sam Lay and Willie Hayes and saxophonist Jonny Viau. They mix in some wonderful originals that suggest John Brim, Little Walter along with covers of songs from Elmore James (four numbers, of which only Hawaiian Boogie, may be well known), Jay McShann, Bo Diddley, and Snooky Pryor.
Whether the title track, a strong shuffle taken a relaxed tempo; a remake of Jay McShann’s Confessin’ the Blues, with a terrific tenor solo from Carla Brownlee and strong piano from Julien Brunetaud; and Mister Coffee is a easy rocker with hints of Jimmy Rogers and John Brim as James sings about being man who grinds so fine,” with Corritore adding harp. Early in the Morning, is one of the Elmore James covers here with some nice slide along with horns using the “Fannie Mae” riff. Hawaiian Boogie, is often is played with a no-holds bar manic tempo the performance here benefits from James’ restraint which does not diminish the power of this rendition. You Got to Move, is one of the songs Elmore recorded for legendary Harlem record man Bobby Robinson, and with Brownlee’s baritone helping give bottom to the performance, James lays down a first-rate vocal, and takes a terrific solo. Its so refreshing to hear someone put his own stamp on Elmore’s music yet remain true to the music’s essence. James is a tad bit out front on the vocal on Snooky Pryor’s Someone to Love Me, but it still is a solid performance. Relaxing at the Clarendon,” is a fine instrumental that displays more of James’ strong slide style taken at a walking tempo. Mix in the fine rendition of “Bo Diddley’s Mona, and one has little to find fault with Stop and Think About Me. When I saw James and Ryan backing Jody Williams I could appreciate how good they were as musicians, but this stellar release shows even more, how good they are out in front. This was an unexpected blues delicacy and highly recommended.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Kilburn Alley Blues Fresh Yet With Strong Roots

Blues Music Award nominees, The Kilburn Alley Blues Band, want to Tear Chicago Down, the title of their new Blue Bella release. Produced by Nick Moss, the focus on this band is on the ensemble, and as James Walker's notes emphasize the songs here are not guitar-hero, guitar solo driven. The band is comprised of singer-guitarist Andrew Duncanson; guitarist Josh Stimmel; harp player Joe Asselin; bassist Chris Breen and drummer Ed O’Hara. Producer Moss and Gary Hundt enhance several tracks as well. The playing is terrific throughout and Duncanson is a strong vocalist. All the songs are originals with plenty of variety in tone and style. The title track is a funky burner with Abraham Johnson joining Duncanson on the vocal; Fire With Fire is a torrid shuffle with some terrific harp throughout by Asselin; while Crazier Things is a strong performance that evokes the classic Muddy Waters ensemble with Hundt’s mandolin effectively supporting and Stimmel’s slide work is styled in the fashion of Muddy’s classic sound. The longest track is the slow blues, It’s a Pity, evokes Junior Wells’ treatment of Early in the Morning as Duncanson playing brilliantly in the vein of the Buddy Guy back in the sixties and harpist Asselin adds fills behind the vocal as well as takes a tough solo. Lay It Down places new lyrics to the melody of Little Walter’s recording, Mellow Down Easy. Asselin wails on his solo and the rhythm section of Breen and O’Hara gets a tight groove rocking and never lets it go. Come Home Soon and The Weight of You are more in the soul vein with Duncanson singing capably in a Sam Cooke vein on the latter. Like producer Nick Moss’s own recordings, this album captures the sound of the classic Chicago blues of the fifties and sixties with the members own take. They play inspired and are far removed from those that slavishly copy the old masters as well as the one-dimensional guitar-rockers. Highly recommended.

Big Geoge Brock Keeps Jukin' On

Born in the delta where he sharecropped, later moving north he was a heavyweight boxer and the owner of St. Louis’ Club Caravan. In recent years he has developed a following based on his somewhat raw, downhome style. Cathead has just issued his most recent recording, Live at Seventy Five, that was captured in performance at the Ground Zero Blues Club. Backed by his regular band of Riley Coatie Sr and Bill Abel on guitar, Barry Bays on bass, and Riley Coatie jr. on drums, he belts out his folks and blasts some harp. Nothing too refined or subtle as the guitarists lay out their riffs, and Brock blasts some simple, effective harp. He has an affection for Howlin’ Wolf’s material as shown on Forty-Four Blues while M For Mississippi is a rocker with his simple harp riffs that sounds like only the drummer is accompanying him. Little Walter’s Everything Is Gonna Be Alright benefits from his passionate singing although Brock does not display a level of fluency on the harp to support the claims of some that he is heavyweight blues harpist, but on a slow blues Bring the Blues Back Home, his vocals prove to be very formidable.

Cathead has issued a DVD of Brock, Hard Times, that includes both performances by Brock as well as interview segments that is very entertaining and illuminating and I found the music in the DVD stronger than his CDs, which may benefit by the fact that the documentary character of the DVD breaks up the performances. It is one of the better DVDs I have seen recently.
Brock’s CDs and DVDs are available at amazon, cdbaby.com and better retailers. The Cathead website is www.cathead.biz.