PBS has two programs in the coming week that focus on New Orleans Blues and the Jazz Age. This Friday, September 30 at 9pm (Eastern), British actor Hugh Laurie showcases his musical side in a Great Performances episode filmed in New Orleans. October 2-4, 8-10pm nightly, brings Ken Burns' and Lynn Novick's Prohibition, about the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution and its effect on (or creation of) the Jazz Age.
Laurie says he finds his greatest satisfaction and inspiration from the mixture of blues and jazz that grew out of New Orleans at the beginning of the last century. This Great Performances, "Let Them Talk," includes documentary and interview segments during Laurie's travels around the city. The program features his performances with blues legends Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas, as well as a fellow countryman Sir Tom Jones. With concert sequences filmed at the historic Latrobe’s building in the French Quarter, the musical selections include New Orleans blues standards along with some forgotten and neglected gems.
On Friday at 6:30pm, tune into WBGO for the WBGO Journal as TV Guide's Bruce Fretts stops by to preview Prohibition. Ken Burns will also be a guest on Jazz at Lincoln Center Radio on WBGO Jazz88.3FM on Monday, October 3 at 6:30pm.
Photograph by John Rogers
Drummer and composer Brian Blade brings the Fellowship Band to the Village
Vanguard this week. We are presenting them live on WBGO and NPR Music,
tomorrow night at 9pm. Don't miss this.
It's never an easy interview when your guest is a quiet, introspective person.
But Brian and I share a passion for music made intently and intensely. I
suppose that's why I love listening to The Fellowship Band. Especially when
they play at the Village Vanguard.
Anyway, listen to Brian Blade talk about music. My favorite story? One night,
just before midnight, Brian biked through the French Quarter in New Orleans.
He absolutely had to buy a Blind Willie Johnson record before the store closed.
So Brian gets home, plays the music, and cannot go to bed. The bare sound
of Johnson and his guitar was haunting. One of many stories you'll find when
you listen to the interview here.
Bo Diddley died this morning. I learned about his death en route to an interview with Allen Toussaint, the legendary New Orleans R&B producer. Toussaint, himself a fellow member of the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, shared some beautiful thoughts about the legendary Bo Diddley.
Hear what he had to say.
Those are actually the lyrics to "I Remember Clifford," one of the enduring jazz ballads by Benny Golson. With one modification. The name.
It should not go unnoticed that nearly two years ago, Hilton Ruiz lay unconscious on Bourbon Street in my hometown. What particularly stings me is that he was in New Orleans working on a benefit CD for and video about Hurricane Katrina victims.
It reminds me of a quote attributed to Dizzy Gillespie:
“Men have died for this music. You can’t get more serious than that.”
In 1986, Hilton Ruiz played the Steinway B in our performance studio.
Listen to "I Remember Clifford" from the WBGO Archives.
People who know me will tell you I always have jazz on the brain. Guilty as charged. Recently, scientists studied improvising musicians, hoping to unlock the underlying neurological functions of high and low level musical improvisation. A summation of the study is here.
Turns out all you have to do is turn off your prefrontal cortex (can an Idiot's Guide to Turning Off Your Prefrontal Cortex be far behind?).
This study reminds me of a conversation I had with the New Orleans writer, performer, and creator Kalamu Ya Salaam. One night on Rampart Street, at a club called The Funky Butt, I watched in awe as Kalamu performed an original poem in a style similar to the way that pianist Cecil Taylor played his music. Kalamu and I worked together at WWOZ in New Orleans. One night, during his Thursday evening Kitchen Sink show, I asked him how he could do such things.
He said, "There's an invisible button located on your forehead. It controls the part of your brain that says you cannot do something. Turn it off."
WBGO and the Jazz Foundation of America partnered with Baryshnikov Arts Center to present another night of free live music. Gary Walker hosted the evening, which featured a concert an interview session with the New Orleans pianist and wunderkind, Davell Crawford.
Listen to the concert here.