Another in Smithsonian-Folkways “Classic” series, the anthology Classic Sounds of New Orleans from Smithsonian Folkways compiles a variety of recordings that were issued by Folkways when it was under the auspices of the late Moses Asch. This compilation by Robert H. Cataliotti mines the recordings of New Orleans music by Frederick Ramsey, Jr., and Samuel Barclay Charters along with other recordings make for a varied grouping of performances, that includes jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, gospel, spirituals and other roots music expressions.
The music on this opens and closes with the Eureka Brass Band who kick things off with the classic hymn, Just a Closer Walk With Thee, and ends with their propulsive rendition of Lord, Lord, Lord. The latter number may be familiar to fans of todays Crescent City Brass Band such as the Tréme Brass Band that have recorded it, but the performances by Eureka harken back to what many would think of the classic traditional New Orleans Jazz sound. Eureka Brass Band was an amazing group and I would recommend either of their releases on the American Music label. Also representing the Brass Band tradition is the late Doc Paulin’s renditions of We Shall Walk Through The Streets of the City, both as a dirge and as a march with a second line rhythm. The melody is the same as Red River Valley, and Doc Paulin’s sons still carry on the family tradition in the Paulin Brothers Band.”
Street music is represented by an anonymous shoeshine boy vocals and hand slapping on Shine - Hambone, the solo harmonica rendition of Tiger Rag by Freddie L. Small, and Dora Bliggen’s call of a fruit vendor on the streets, Blackberries! It is followed by Red White and Blue Got the Golden Band, by Mardi Gras Indians from assorted tribes. Certainly this 1956 recording is amongst the earliest of this tradition. It is followed by several spirituals/gospel performances including Dark Was the Night by Reverend Lewis Jackson and Charlotte Rucell.
New Orleans Jazz is represented with Kid Punch Miller (with Sam Charters on piano) doing Bucket’s Got a Hole In it, and an absolutely brilliant drum solo, Spooky Drums #1 by Baby Dodds. Clarinetist Emile Barnes leads an enthusiastic rendition of Milenberg Joys, while The Six and Seventh Eighths String Band of New Orleans are heard on Clarinet Marmalade, which should delight fans of skittle bands. Two celebrated New Orleans guitarists, Snooks Eaglin and Lonnie Johnson, are heard on celebrated New Orleans classics. Eaglin turns the classic High Society Rag, into a brilliant solo guitar showcase while Johnson does a nice Careless Love, recorded in 1967, long after he had left his native city. Billie and De De Pierce, another couple mainstays of the New Orleans scene in the fifties and sixties are heard on a nice blues Lonesome Road, warmly sung by the pianist Billie Pierce. It is followed by Kid Clayton’s Corrine, Corrina, with the famed pianist Sweet Emma Barrett part of his group.
After these performances, another Snooks Eaglin performance, of Saint James Infirmary, makes the transition to the blues although this recording and other contemporaneous ones of Eaglin gave the mistaken impression that he was a solo street singer when he know he played rhythm and blues and contemporary jazz at the time. In any event Eaglin’s guitar playing is marvelous, even if acoustic. A medley of pianist HJ Boiusseau provides a glimpse into a the period between ragtime and jazz. Like Lonnie Johnson, Champion Jack Dupree left his home city when young, yet the influence of some of the pianists who taught him was always evident in his playing including the second line rhythms in Rattlesnake Boogie. In contrast to Dupree, the great Roosevelt Sykes grew up in Arkansas and Delta and moved to St. Louis, becoming one of the greatest of all blues pianists, but he moved to New Orleans in1962 where he became a fixture of the music scene. His adaptation of Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone, displays a technical facility and sophistication that many celebrated blues pianists would be unable to match.
A nice Jimmy’s Blues by trumpeter Kid Clayton has some fine clarinet from Albert Burbank, tailgating trombone from Kid Avery and barrelhouse piano from Sweet Emma, followed by another splendid solo performance by Lonnie Johnson, C.C. Rider. Another staple of the traditional New Orleans repertoire, Shake It and Break It, is heard in a performance by Billie Pierce, with Lawrence Tocca, not her husband De De, on trumpet. Sam Charters noted at the time this recording was first issued that it was one of the most exciting recordings done in new Orleans in years.
All in all, this is a splendid compilation of a wide range of New Orleans music. In includes a marvelous booklet with a concise overview of the collection as well as observations on all of the included recordings. It is a terrific introduction to traditional New Orleans music.
Smithsonian Folkways provided an electronic download for my review.