A lifetime dream of mine came true, today: I had a half-hour piano gig in New Orleans, playing nothing but Louis Armstrong tunes in front of heroes such as George Avakian and Dan Morgenstern. The gig went really well and crowd was incredibly appreciative. I even got to end the day with an unplanned encore, playing "Avalon," as requested by George Avakian. I'm not going to gush about myself for long as I'm lucky my initial nerves didn't trip me up but my goodness did it feel good playing a beautiful instrument in this great city in front of a room of people that love and appreciate music. Let's just say I'm a long way from my hometown of Toms River, NJ! (Home of MTV's "Jersey Shore" reality hit, a show that doesn't do much to promote live jazz.)
Anyway, that was a personal triumph but as you can imagine, the last 48 hours have been filled with nothing but great moments. Seriously, I wish every Louis Armstrong fan in the world could make it here every August to simply feel the love...and taste the food. Continuing my string of photos of me and food, here I am at the world famous Cafe du Monde, enjoying some piping hot beignets:
They were amazing (and they make a good dessert too, as we found out the following evening!). Though I think my cleaning woman at the hotel thinks I'm a cocaine addict. After proudly stopping at three of these delicious French donuts, I made it back to the hotel where George Avakian's son Greg offered me a bag with three more. Goodbye willpower! But I was in a rush so I took them into my room and wolfed them down while standing over the sink, getting white powdered sugar all over the sink, countertop, my shirt and face. In the midst of it all, the cleaning woman knocked. I answered hopped up on sugar and fried dough, with white powder around my face and told her I'd be finished in a few minutes. The look she gave me made me think she thought I was messing with a different kind of white powder! (Oh, and I'm a jazz musician, so......)
After beignets, it was off to make another deposit at the Louisiana Music Factory before heading to the Palm Court for the first round of seminars. Before they got underway, trumpeter Wendell Brunious and pianist Steve Pistorious played a series of stunning duets on Pops tunes. I had to run back to the hotel for a minute and could hear Wendell's huge tone two blocks away. He was marvelous on his horn, sang charmingly and was a friendly conversationalist in between songs. Just a great hour of music.
Dan Morgenstern kicked off the seminars with a keynote about the ten-year history of the Satchmo Summerfest, followed by a joint presentation by Michael Cogswell and myself on the Jack Bradley Collection. It was a blast and people really seemed to get a kick out of seeing Jack's treasures, the stuff I work with on a daily basis (it's been nine months and I still don't quite believe it). Jack also handpicked some film clips that he wanted us to show: Louis in Copenhagen in 1933, a version of "Rockin' Chair" with Jack Teagarden in 1957 and the symphonic version of "St. Louis Blues" with Leonard Bernstein from "Satchmo the Great." Many in the audience had never seen these clips before so it was a thrill watching people react to Pops.
My parents and I then had dinner at the Praline Connection where I ordered something called "A Taste of Soul." Yes, just a "taste," right? File gumbo, jumbalaya, greens, fried chicken, red beans and rice, ribs, fried catfish, cornbread and bread pudding. Sweet Jesus, it was an overdose of soul, I tell you...
Somehow, that meal didn't kill me and I was able to enjoy the always fun Satchmo Club Strut featuring over 30 bands playing up and down Frenchman St. Lighting wasn't always great and neither was my camera work, but I managed to get some nice footage that I think is worth sharing. First up, Lionel Ferbos playing and singing "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate" with a band that included Tom Fischer on tenor saxophone, Brian O'Connell on clarinet and Ernie Elly on drums. Ho hum, you say, another version of "Sister Kate"? Lionel Ferbos is 99-years-old. There. Now pay your respect:
A few doors down at Blue Nile, pianist Butch Thompson led a great group that included Clive Wilson on trumpet, Freddie Lonzo on trombone and Tim Laughlin on clarinet. Here they are doing "Someday You'll Be Sorry" with Lonzo taking the vocal (and dig Laughlin's quote of "The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else" towards the end of his solo):
(I want to mention that a Henry Butler group that included Lonzo, Fischer, Mark Braud and others absolutely tore the roof of Blue Nile later that night, but my batteries died in my camera. Oh well, I'll always remember that rocking "South Rampart Street Parade"!)
Over on a balcony, the fantastic New Orleans Sax Quartet played some beautiful music without the aid of a rhythm section or anything. Here's a minute of "Tango":
Minutes later, the Rebirth Brass Band took over the streets, as the party really began:
I was fortunate to spend time with four of my favorite Armstrong nuts (from left to right), David Ostwald, Michael Cogswell, Dan Morgenstern and Jon Pult).
Ostwald was in town to play a gig with Ed Polcer, a recent New Orleans transplant who explained the difference between playing traditional jazz in New York and New Orleans: "In New York, I had two gigs a month. In New Orleans, I have two gigs a day." I think that says it all. Unfortunately, the skies opened up and pretty much rained out the Polcer-Ostwald gig, though they managed to still perform wonderfully for a tiny crowd huddled around the bar to stay dry. It was getting late, it was quiet and this short version of "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" just seemed appropriate:
That was all for me as I headed to bed like a wimp (I'll be 30 next month; George Avakian is 91 and stayed out two hours later than I did!). But the following morning it was more fun, more food and more music and Some Like It Hot, a (mostly) female trad band played for the breakfast brunch at the French Market Cafe. Here's the final minute of one of their exciting numbers, led by trumpeter Kaye Caldwell:
And then it was off to my moment in the sun, which I already mentioned. Okay, I've long kept my piano playing hidden as something of a "secret" but I seemed to go over well in New Orleans and that's good enough for me. Thus, here's the first footage on the Internet of me playing solo in public. My mom, bless her, held the camera at an odd angle and a podium obscured my hands, but hey, it's me, performing "Knee Drops." I hope you enjoy it:
So that's that...I'll stick to analyzing Pops instead of my own playing! Anyway, the seminars soon started rolling in, including a delightful one by Clive Wilson and Butch Thompson demonstrating early styles of jazz, a typically terrific presentation on Louis Armstrong in Queens by Michael Cogswell and a standing-room-only interview with Kermit Ruffins conducted by Larry Blumenfeld. I was thrilled to meet Kermit afterwards, who seemed just as down-to-earth as you could imagine. I closed the day by presenting videos of Louis in Prague and East Berlin in 1965, which seemed to go over very well. Pops always kills and this footage allowed me to trot out my standard myth-debunking about later Louis not playing much horn in his 60s. He blew like a wild man in East Berlin and I only wish that the footage turns up on DVD one day.
Dinner with George Avakian's family, Jon Pult and his wife Molly and David Ostwald was a treat before my parents and I ended the evening with those aforementioned beignets. See? Heaven on earth, my friends, heaven on earth. One more day of paradise before heading back to New Jersey for an entirely different paradise with my wife and baby girl. I'm going to hate to leave you, New Orleans, but wow, do I miss my family and it'll be great to get back home. See you soon with one more update...til then!