Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Jazz greats at the Palm Court

New Orleans may be the birthplace of traditional jazz but in my many visits there I have spent a lot less time listening to jazz than to other types of locally produced music, such as New Orleans R and B, blues, rock and roll and Cajun. I have seen quite a few of the jazz greats in the tent at Jazzfest but in the main I have ignored the jazz side of the city's musical offering.
One exception was in 1993 when I went to a gala night at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe in Decatur Street where two of the elder statesmen of jazz, Danny Barker and Doc Cheatham, were playing. I was reminded of this recently when I read that Danny's 1986 book A Life In Jazz is being reissued. Born in 1909, Danny was related to one of the great New Orleans music families the Barbarins and became proficient on the banjo. He became a master of his craft, having played with Cab Calloway, Lucky Millinder and Benny Carter in the 1930s. He was a storyteller and songwriter and eventually became an elder statesman of jazz. When I saw him, a year before his death, he was 84 but still at the top of his game. Alongside him on trumpet was another jazz legend, trumpeter Doc Cheatham, then aged 88, who also had a stellar career with a variety of bands in the 1920s and 30s. Doc died in 1997.
So what was I doing in the Palm Court, a refined establishment where traditional jazz was, and still is, the order of the day and where numerous legends have played over the years since it opened in 1989? I was there to interview owner Nina Buck for an article for The Times in London. The article was published a few days later but sadly I no longer have a copy.
Originally from Yorkshire, Nina was a regular at jazz clubs like Ronnie Scott's and the 100 Club in the sixties and married jazz enthusiast, broadcaster and record producer George Buck in 1986. George began the Jazzology label and through his GHB Foundation now has a huge catalogue of jazz recordings having acquired numerous other labels over the years. While George concentrates on the recordings in this former warehouse, Nina is the gregarious hostess of the Palm Court, which has become something of a jazz institution in the city. Whilst I'm not a regular there, I did visit in 2013 for an event called the Naughty Nurses Prom, a Ponderosa Stomp organised event in aid of the New Orleans Music Collective, at which Little Freddy King and Guitar Lightnin' Lee performed.
My photos above show Danny Barker playing alongside Doc Cheatham and those below are of Nina Buck at the Palm Court.


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