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.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Soul world mourns Sharon Jones

Sharon Jones' time at the top was far too short. Her death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 60 came just a few short years after she burst upon the scene with her dynamic retro soul performances and recordings. She was singing gospel and doing backing vocals for many years but it wasn't until 1996, at a recording session backing Lee Fields, that her talent was really noticed. She recorded for the short lived Pure and Desco labels where her reputation grew. When Desco folded Gabriel Roth, who co-founded both labels, set up the Daptone label and Sharon, along with her new band the Dap-Kings featured on its first album.
Three more excellent albums followed - Naturally, 100 Days, 100 Nights, and I Learned The Hard Way - but it was as a live performer that Sharon was most exciting. I was rather late to the party and saw her for the first time only in 2010 at the Festival Louisianne in Lafayette (see photo below) where I was knocked out. When she appeared at the Barbican (pictured above) the following year her high energy act was something to behold. She modelled herself on James Brown and was every bit as hard working and exciting on stage as he was. 'She shook, shimmied and boogalooed her way across the stage', and 'Midway through her act she moved into a frenetic series of sixties dances, including the boogaloo, the jerk and the funky chicken, which must have exhausted the audience, never mind Sharon herself,' I wrote.
So sad that such a tremendous performer should be cut down in her prime. A devastating blow to the world of soul.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

And now, Mose Allison

It's inevitable, I suppose, that as the years go by more and more of our music icons will die. But the Grim Reaper seems to be taking the piss at the moment.
The latest death, after various rumours on Facebook, is jazz and blues man Mose Allison at the age of 89. Allison was one of the few white artists who truly represented the blues in the sixties. Indeed, if it wasn't for him what would Georgie Fame have done in his early days?
Born in Mississippi in 1927, Mose was a jazz musician to begin with, recording his first album Back Country Suite for Prestige in 1957. When he moved into blues in 1963 he produced a string of excellent covers of blues standards by the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson (Eyesight To The Blind), Jimmy Rogers (That's Alright) and Willie Dixon (I Love The Life I Live). These weren't just covers but genuine reworkings, and original songs such as Parchman Farm showed that he was a true original. There was a purity about Mose Allison's music that set him apart from other white blues singers. He will be missed.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Leon and Leonard RIP

Two giants of popular music have died over the last week or so - Leon Russell and Leonard Cohen. Both of them had a major impact over several decades, but while Leonard's death has been marked with widespread media coverage, the death of Leon Russell has been little reported by comparison.
Born in Oklahoma, Leon Russell, who was 74 when he died, made a rockabilly record under his real name of Russell Bridges called All Right in 1959 but it went unreleased for decades. An excellent keyboard player, he was a member of LA's renowned Wrecking Crew in the mid 60s, backing the likes of Jan and Dean, Gary Lewis and The Byrds. His first solo release on Dot, Everybody's Talking 'Bout The Young, had a similar sound to that of fellow Crew member P F Sloan who died last year.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UUPUAR1C0U
He formed a studio group The Asylum Choir and found a new image, with long hair and beard and typically wearing a top hat, when he wrote Delta Lady for Joe Cocker and put together his Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. He played with Delanie and Bonnie and took part in George Harrison's Concert for Bangla Desh whilst also playing with a wide variety of artists, including The Band, Flying Burrito Brothers, Dave Mason, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. He
set up the Shelter label with Denny Cordell and achieved his greatest success as a solo rock artist in the early seventies with albums such as the three LP Leon Live, Carney, which included the hit single Tight Rope, and Leon Russell and the Shelter People. Afterwards he recorded country music under the name of Hank Wilson and in 1979 had a country music number one hit with Willie Nelson on Heartbreak Hotel. He formed his Paradise record label in 1976 and continued to record intermittently through to 2010 when he worked with Elton John on The Union, which regenerated his career.    https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/nov/13/leon-russell-dies-pianist-a-song-for-you
Much has been written about Canadian singer songwriter Leonard Cohen, who has died aged 82. In the late sixties, when he decided to put his poems to music, people seemed to be divided into those who loved his gloomy depressing records and those who found them just dull. I was in the latter camp, yet I have to admit that listening to tracks like Suzanne and Bird On The Wire today I find them strangely moving. His later song Hallelujah became one of the most recorded songs of all time.    Here's his obituary in The Guardian.  https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/nov/11/leonard-cohen-obituary
The Vinyl Word says a fond farewell also to actor Robert Vaughn, who has died aged 82. Notable films included The Magnificent
Seven, The Young Philadephians and The Towering Inferno, but it was as a TV star that he had his greatest success, particularly his role as Napoleon Solo in The Man From UNCLE, which spawned several movies. In later years he appeared in Law and Order and Hustle and even had a stint in Coronation Street.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Kay Starr and John Zacherle depart

There are a couple more music deaths to celebrate this week, but for once they have lived to a grand old age.

Kay Starr, who has died aged 94, is best known for Wheel of Fortune and Rock and Roll Waltz (a number one UK hit in 1955), but had dozens more successful records, including Come On a My House, Come A-long A-love (also a UK number one, in 1952), Side By Side, Changing Partners and If You Love Me. She first recorded with Glenn Miller but after signing for Capitol in 1947 she enjoyed a string of pop and jazz hits during the 1950s before rock and roll came along and made her style seem outdated. She signed with RCA Victor and enjoyed her biggest hit with Rock and Roll Waltz, which
summed up the changing times as no other song has done. Following her decline in popularity she turned to country music and continued to tour in the sixties.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJcJIK5olDo
Another old timer to depart is John Zacherle, at 98, who made a
career out of horror. He was a TV and radio horror host and had a hit in 1958 with the novelty horror record Dinner With Drac. Nicknamed 'The Cool Ghoul' by Dick Clark, he played the part of Roland, who dressed as an undertaker and lived in a crypt in the US TV series Shock Theater.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPaJnU91Dig