Champion Jack Dupree

A two-part radio documentary (with breaks each half-hour) about Champion Jack Dupree, a New Orleans piano player with quite a story: as an important tie to the boogie woogie piano players of Storyville; a boxer, an expatriate during the Jim Crow south and a man who came home (for a visit) many years later to see a change, more inclusive United States.

Champion Jack Dupree (photo: Dick Waterman)

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No One Went Hungry: Cajun Food Traditions Today (documentary)

I spent several weeks (and gained several pounds) traveling though Cajun country with Kevin McCaffrey, recording interviews with chefs, lovers of cast iron, farmers and historians. 

The food traditions of Louisiana are known around the world — this film intimately captures the people who maintain and innovate these foodways. 


Georges Gurdjieff, Gamelan instrument, Robert Fripp, Steve Reich
The Price is Reich

Back in the late 1980s, I somehow found my way to an odd assortment of things: the writings of Gurdjieff, Balinese Gamelan music, and Steve Reich. Much of this was brought together because of a guitar teacher based in Virginia Beach, who taught for some time in Claymont, West Virginia at a school led by Robert Fripp.  

There is something cyclical to all of this. Gamelan music works in cycles – too complex to explore here. Much of what Robert Fripp does with his guitar is cyclical – often using odd time signatures (5/4, 7/8, 11/8) which adds to his distinctive sound — and Steve Reich’s compositions are greatly defined by the melodic and harmonic cycles (of different lengths, shifting accents) going on at the same time.  

Speaking of cycles, I’m returning to these early experiences with new tools – and I’m remembering (cyclical!) my excitement about everything I mentioned above. Fast forward to the mid 1990s, when I first created computer based sounds, using loops on what would now be considered rudimentary equipment with limited options (which is not a bad thing) —nearly a quarter century later, I’ve returned to doing some musical experiments using computers and, recently, was able to finally wrap my head around Ableton Live, a software program that works using two interfaces, one is linear and the other is cyclical. That’s as far as I’ll go here.

I can’t score music – I understand it, to some extent I can follow along. However, I can translate Midi notes (from Ableton) into musical notation. Here’s something I wrote out using Midi notes.

Using this two bar sketch, I created four tracks (clips) in Ableton, three of which arpeggiate (using a native midi effect called ‘Bach 16th’) with shifting emphasis (by changing offsets and rates.)  The 4th track (clip) turns these two bars into eight. All of the sounds, two vibes patches, are from an Arturia Synclavier V. The four clips begin and end at different points. 

I hope to do more or something different like this in the future. It’s undoubtedly influenced by Reich but the path that took me here was very different – I’m not a composer or arranger. This is more a matter of what Brian Eno refers to as Generative Music — I put a very rudimentary idea (two bars of chord changes) through two processes: arpeggiators with different accents and one element that was played with sustained chords at 1/4 of the tempo. 

Johnny Adams on Rounder Records

Johnny Adams on Rounder Records
Scott Billington on Johnny Adams in the studio

I’m not sure what came first. My uncle Michael turning me onto Johnny Adams aka ‘the Tan Canary’ or the night I was playing pool at a now closed drinking establishment in the French Quarter. All I can say is ‘Good Morning Heartache’ floored me. I was admittedly lured in by the album (actually CD…) cover (shot by Rick Olivier), but there was something about Johnny Adam’s voice that captured my attention from that point forward.

Fast forward, many years later — here’s part of an interview with Scott Billington, a man greatly responsible for recording musicians who got their start as far back as the late 1950s, beautifully — that’s definitely the case with these 9 albums.

‘Freedom for the Stallion’

Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint
Irma Thomas on ‘Freedom for Stallion’, excerpted from ‘New Orleans Calling’

The city of New Orleans lost one of the best songwriters of the 20th century in November of 2015. Allen Toussaint wrote music that made people dance. His compositions are timeless and known by more people than recoginize his name. He also produced some timeless hits for others, including ‘Lady Marmalade’ by Labelle, ‘Right Place, Wrong Time’ by Dr. John, and ‘Land of 1000 Dances‘ by Chris Kenner, to name but a few.

What is arguably overlooked when one considers all of this is Toussaint’s work in the realm of social justice, equality and wealth — just listen to ‘We the People’, ‘Yes we Can Can’ or ‘What is Success’ and you’ll pick up what I’m putting down.

The Soul Queen of New Orleans, vocalist Irma Thomas, worked with Allen Toussaint for many years, starting around 1961 with songs that included ‘It’s Raining’ and ‘Ruler of My Heart’ (copped by Otis Redding – ‘Pain in My Heart’) – they remained lifelong friends until Toussaint’s unexpected passing while on tour in Spain.

Here’s Irma Thomas talking about ‘Freedom for the Stallion’, a song by Toussaint (and covered by Boz Scaggs, The Oak Ridge Boys, and Elvis Costello, among others), that unfortunately seems more relevant these days than one would wish:

“They’ve got men building fences to keep other men out
Ignore him if he whispers and kill him if he shouts.”

‘Land of 1000 Dances’

Deacon John, Chris Kenner, Allen Toussaint

‘Deacon’ John Moore is hard to categorize. Like many New Orleans musicians, he draws on everything from gospel music to R&B, funk to jump jazz. While this isn’t a story about his music, it’s definitely fitting for ‘That New Orleans’ Touch’ — as we have glimpse at the both Chris Kenner’s songwriting and Allen Toussaint as a producer, told by Deacon John.

If you don’t already know, do you yourself a favor and check him out. I’ll make a point to post some links to his work soon. Until then:

Deacon John on the writing of ‘Land of 1000 Dances’