Tag Archives: New Orleans musicians

The 12 Yats of Christmas

Okay, so it’s a day or so late, but so what. This was sent to my by my cyber friend, Linda, who hosts The Task as Hand.

People who have followed my blog since its inception, or who have rummaged around in its archives, know that I grew up in the small Cape Cod town of Orleans, and though I lived for more than a third of my life in Broward County, Florida in and around Fort Lauderdale, my spiritual home is, and always will be New Orleans where I lived for nearly 10 years.

New Orleanians are often referred to as “Yats.” Most specifically those who come from the Gentilly area out by the Fairgrounds race track and home of one of the greatest musical events in the world, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and the people who live in the uptown area around Magazine Street known as the “Irish Channel.” They have a unique accent. It’s much like a Brooklyn, New York accent, and probably because the immigrant mix of Irish and Italians to New Orleans is similar to that of Brooklyn.

The reason they’re called “Yats” comes from the manner in which they greet each other. They don’t say, “Hello,” “Good Morning,” or anything like that. They say, “Where y’at?” The response to which is, “Fine,” “Okay,” etc.

Linda sent me the following video in the comments section of this blog, but I’ve put it “Up Front,” so to speak to share it with all my readers.

Looking at the YouTube comments some of the things mentioned no longer exist in New Orleans. The K&B pharmacies, Schwegmann’s supermarkets, and of course the Lower Ninth Ward which still hasn’t been rebuilt. I will never return to New Orleans. Katrina destroyed it. Much of it is still in ruins, and it would break my heart to see the place so near and dear to my heart in such distress.

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New Orleans Music Is World Music

As my regular readers know, I lived in New Orleans for nearly 10 years from the mid ’70s to mid ’80s and, of course, fell in love with the music. I mean who wouldn’t? In my travels since leaving the Big Sleazy, I mean Big Easy, I’ve run across New Orleans music many places.

When I was living on the French Riviera the Neville Brothers, who were once upon a time a $5 cover charge at Tipitina’s on a Saturday night, were featured at the Juan les Pins Jazz Festival. Unfortunately for the Nevilles an acapella group of young girls from London opened the show and blew the audience away. They were called the Mint Juleps and though I posted a couple of videos of the group before I’ll post one to either jog your memory or introduce you to them. This was the song they opened their set with…

Now you understand why the Nevilles didn’t stand a chance after the girls left the stage.

A few years later when I was on my single-handed trip through Mexico, Belize and up into the Rio Dulce in Guatemala, I pulled into the small town of Placencia, Belize. After getting anchored and securing everything on board I hopped into the dinghy and headed to a funky bar built out over the water, and who should be wafting out over the water from the juke box? One of my all-time favorites, Marcia Ball.

A few days later as I was walking down the sidewalk in Placencia (there was no road or streets in Placencia when I was there, just this half mile-long “sidewalk” down the center of town) I heard another New Orleans music legend coming out of someone’s house.  It stopped me dead in my tracks and I just had to stand there in the broiling afternoon sun until Johnny Adams, also known as the “Tan Canary,” finished singing this famous song…

I only saw Johnny Adams live once, but it was something I’ll never forget. Now, hearing Marcia Ball and Johnny Adams, each within a week, tells you that Placencia, Belize is one VERY cool little town.

Last Friday I was down the hill a little way helping a gringo friend saw up some lumber. David, who also lived in New Orleans for a while, streams music into his shop from some feed in the States and there was an “I can name that tune in three notes” moment when this famous piano pounder from the Ninth Ward started to drift over the sound of the circular saw.

I sort of give that one a pass since I know it was beamed in from north of the Rio Grande and shouldn’t count but it’s MY blog and I LOVE the good Doctor.

But this next selection DOES count. I got onto my bus at the terminal in downtown David to head back up the hill this morning. People like to get on it as soon as the bus pulls into its berth because the air conditioning is on in the bus and it’s HOT in David this time of the year at noon. The buses all play music, mostly the “Tipica” rhytms of Panama which I really love, but you could have knocked me over with a feather when the local “Tipica” station aired THIS song…

You can travel all over the world, but if I keep my ears open New Orleans music will creep up on me and say, “Hey, Richard, WHERE Y’AT?”

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Filed under cruising, New Orleans, Piano Players, sailing

My Personal Relationship With The Printed Word

I found, and started playing, an interesting typing game on line the other day. The reason why I started playing the game will be revealed in the natural course of this article, but with the finding and playing of this game I started thinking about my personal, evolving relationship with the printed word.

That relationship started in the first years of my life when my mom and I lived with her parents while my dad was serving on the USS Logan (AP-196) an attack transport ship in the Pacific during WWII. Each evening my grandfather would tuck me in to bed and read me a chapter from one of Howard R. Garis’s  Uncle Wiggily books. While I liked the stories themselves, what I loved the most were the endings like this:

“Now, in case I see a green rose in bloom on the pink lilac bush, I’ll tell you next about Bully making a water wheel.”

“Now in case the little boy next door doesn’t take our baby carriage and make an automobile of it, I’ll tell you next about Bawly and Uncle Wiggily.”

“Now if it should happen that I don’t lose my watch down the inkwell so I can see when it’s time for my pussy cat to have his warm soup, I’ll tell you in the story after this about Bully’s and Bawly’s big jump.”

“Now in case that alligator doesn’t chase after me, and chew up my typewriter to make mincemeat of it for the wax doll, I’ll tell you in the next story about Grandpa Croaker digging a well.”

Of course the next story would be about Grandpa Croaker digging a well, or Bully’s and Bawly’s big jump or whatever the cliff-hanger ending was about.

I was so totally enthralled by these stories I vividly remember gathering up some paper and crayons determined to write my own book. Then, as I set out on this project it occurred to me that, at age four, I didn’t know how to write even a single letter let alone an entire book. No matter how brilliant my story might be, no one would ever understand the scribblings on the paper. Hell, seconds after scrawling out a line I didn’t know what it meant. So the dream was deferred.

When I started school I whizzed through Dick and Jane in about a week and started to devour just about everything I could get my hands on. I remember that in the second grade my teacher asked me how I learned to use commas. Well, DUH, if you read books you see them everywhere.

My father, back from the war, was a voracious reader. Books were everywhere and since he didn’t approve of comic books I had to read what was available. By third grade I had a library card and in the sixth grade I was tested as having the reading level of a college freshman. The only thing I thought strange about that was I thought all my classmates should be reading at that level, too. My mom, though she always said she enjoyed reading didn’t do much of it. After all, she had a husband and five boys to look after. What she did in lieu of reading was knit. She was a veritable loom. A Madam Defarge without the guillotine.

(An aside regarding my mother and her knitting. She made wonderful things. Well in to my fifties I still had sweaters she had made for me when I was in high school <and I was still of a size that they fit me>. Later in life I married a girl who only read one book <Valley of the Dolls> in the seven years we were married, but she was a seamstress. She made almost all of her own clothes. She could look at a dress in a magazine and then sit down and make one for herself. In their spare time both she and my mom created things that were useful and lasted for years while my father and I had stacks of books to show for our wasted hours.

I’ll never forget the evening when I was twelve years old and watching television sprawled out on the living room floor when she put her knitting aside, got out of her rocking chair and said, “come with me.” I followed her out to the back of the house where the laundry was located. “This is how you use the washer,” she said going through the procedure. “This is how the dryer works.” Then, setting up the ironing board she proceeded with, “This is how you iron a shirt,” and “this is how you iron a pair of pants.” And that was the last time she ever did it for me, and as each of my brothers hit the magic age of 12 they, too, learned the mysteries of the laundry room. There was absolutely nothing wrong with any of this and I firmly believe all mothers should do the same thing with their sons. It was so funny when I went away to college the first time I went to the laundromat to do my clothes. There I was putting my whites in one machine and my colored things in another while all around me were a bunch of guys reading the backs of boxes of laundry soap trying to figure things out.)

It’s a shame that boys weren’t required to take typing classes in high school. Almost all of the girls took typing and the ones destined to become “secretaries” took shorthand as well. On reflection all these years later both typing and shorthand should have been required courses for those of bound for college. The typing for the term papers we were destined to write with all their ibids and op cits, and shorthand for note taking in lectures.

I got my first typewriter, a portable Smith-Corona my senior year in high school and worked out a typing system that was to serve me for the next four decades. I didn’t learn how to “touch type.” I found it impossible to get a good, crisp impression on a sheet of paper with those keys that required the use of the little fingers. Instead what I pieced together worked this way: I used the little finger of my left hand on the Shift key and my index and middle fingers on the other left hand side of the QWERTY keyboard. My right index and middle fingers found the keys on the right side of the keyboard while my thumb worked the Space bar and my little finger hit the Shift key when a capital letter was required from the left side of the board. Even when I acquired an electric typewriter and pressing the letter “Q” no longer required brute force I  didn’t modify my typing style. Any I remember when I got a job where I got to use an IBM Selectric. Man, did I think that was tits, that little ball spinning around. State of the Art technology.

That system served me well through college, a short stint in the Public Information Office of the USS Lake Champlain (CVS 39). It worked for me as a general assignment reporter on the Cape Cod Standard-Times, as assistant editor of the Inland Printer/American Lithographer magazine, as an advertising copywriter and hospital public relations hack and a hundred or so freelance magazine articles. It is interesting to note that the reporters at the two news rooms I worked in (as a copy boy <yes, there was such a creature> at the Miami Herald and at the aforementioned Standard-Times) generally pounded out their stories with only three or four fingers. If you see old news reel footage of the likes of Walter Cronkite and Andy Rooney you’ll see them typing like that. The only people I ever saw “touch typing” in a newspaper office were the secretaries.

Despite my typing style, I was fairly fast and could pound out about 30 or 35 words per minute, but I was, of course, hampered with certain work that required me to look at a book or some sort of printed material and then type out what was necessary. I had to stop typing, look at the book and then back at the keyboard when I needed to type.

About 15 years ago I bought my first computer. It was then that I decided to learn how to “touch type” since you could buy a program that would teach you how to do it. Of course I modified the learning curve by not bothering to learn the keys with the numbers and symbols since I rarely use them in writing anyway and I’ll never have a job that requires a blinding typing speed anyway. With a little practice and playing the typing games when there wasn’t anything interesting to watch on the electronic cyclops my typing speed was pretty consistently in the low 40 wpm range and I no longer needed to look at the keyboard in order to type.

Recently, being bored, I looked up some online typing games to play and one has grabbed me. It’s a lot of fun. It’s called “Type Down.” The object of the game is to prevent a rising column of 20 words from reaching the top of the page. When you finish a group of words the next group’s speed increases and three groups represent a level. When you complete a level the next group’s words are longer and the speed is reset. Quite challenging. You can find it here…

http://www.onlytypinggames.com/games/type_down/

One of my favorite New Orleans piano players was James Booker. Not only was he a great piano player, but he worked for a time for the City of New Orleans and was a champion typist which shouldn’t be too surprising since the typewriter is simply another kind of keyboard.

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“Champion” Jack Dupree Barrel House Piano Professor

“Champion”  Jack Dupree is another New Orleans piano pounder I have always admired though I never got to see him play. Orphaned at age 2 he grew up in the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs as did Luis Armstrong. Jack taught himself piano and became known as a barrel-house  style “professor.”

In his early years he lived in Chicago and then moved to Detroit where he worked as a cook and met the great Joe Louis who encouraged Jack to become a boxer. He ultimately fought in 107 bouts and winning the Golden Gloves and other championships, and picked up the nickname “Champion Jack” that he used for the rest of his life.

Dupree moved to Europe in 1960 living in Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and England before settling in Germany where he died of cancer in 1992.

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Three Piano Greats

Now you’ve seen, hopefully you’ve been paying attention, three of New Orleans piano greats, Fess, Tuts and Allen. Now here they are together. It’s it’s not often you get to see more than one pianist at a time since there’s rarely more than one piano anywhere.

This was a rehearsal for a public television special but it was never presented since the Fess died before the performance…

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Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack, Jr. (Dr. John)

I’m sorry, I can’t resist adding this one right now.

As far as I’m concerned Dr. John is one of the finest piano players to ever come out of New Orleans. If you were around in the late 60s you probably remember him from “Right Place at the Wrong Time.” But the good Doctor plays the old standards as well.

Probably the most outstanding night of music I was ever treated to came in the early 80s at Tipitina’s. Dr. John was scheduled to start at 11:oo but, as usual in New Orleans, didn’t show up until sometime after midnight. There was no band to accompany him. Just an old upright by itself on the stage. The Doctor sat down at the keyboard and, in his gravelly voice said, “Anything you want to hear just write it down on a napkin and send it on up.” He then started to play and went on for the next three hours without stopping.

“I’m going to take a little break now,” he said, “and then I’ll be back.”

It was about a half hour before he returned. When he finished the second set, and not having repeated a single song all night, the audience left Tip’s to find that the sun had come up. The cost of a ticket that night had been $6.00!

Dr. John has one of the strongest left hands in the business as you’ll see and hear on this video which has a unique perspective.

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Isidore “Tuts” Washington

“Tuts” was another New Orleans Piano legend. Born January 24, 1907 in New Orleans he started to teach himself how to play piano at age 10 and then studied with New Orleans jazz pianist Joseph Louis “Red” Cayou. He played with many jazz and Dixieland groups through the 20s and 30s. Hos keyboard style blended elements of ragtime, jazz, blues and boogie-woogie.
After living and playing in Saint Louis for many years he returned to New Orleans and in his later years he became a staple at the lounge of the Pontchartrain Hotel on the corner of St. Charles and Jackson Avenues on the edge of the Garden District.

Although he avoided recording for most of his career, he released the solo piano album New Orleans Piano Professor on Rounder Records in 1983.

On August 5, 1984, Tuts was playing at the New Orleans World’s Fair. After his first number and his usual response to the applause, (“Thank you, music lovers.”) He said, “I’m really happy to be with you here today. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do this. I’m getting pretty old, you know…” He then played a little riff and stopped for a moment. He started playing another bit of a song and paused again before playing a couple of bars of a different song and then he died. Right there at the piano! No collapse and rushed off to a hospital somewhere. Isidore “Tuts” Washington died doing what he spent his life doing…making a joyful noise unto the Lord. We should all be so lucky to end our days the same way.

(P.S. I know this to be true because I actually happened to be there when it happened. The show was being broadcast live on WWOZ radio and somewhere in a HUGE box of cassette tapes I have is a rebroadcast of the event.)

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