Continuing on with my theme of great New Orleans piano players I was fortunate enough to see while living there, I present you with James Booker, also known as the “Piano Wizard of New Orleans.
Booker was an all-round player. Jazz, classical and New Orleans funk were all in his repetoir. He was the house pianist at the famed Maple Leaf bar in the Carrolton section of the city… a place where you could drink an ice cold Dixie beer, do your laundry and listen to great music all at the same time back in the early ’80s.
A little-known fact about Booker is that not only was he a wizard on the 88s, he was also a world champion typist. Booker, while little known to the American pulbic outside of New Orleans was extremely popular in Europe.
Sal Nunziato writing in an article said,
“It’s hard to describe Booker’s playing. Of course, as a New Orleans native, Booker will get the obvious comparisons to Professor Longhair and “Tuts” Washington, but it’s not that simple. James Booker also studied the solos of Chopin and Liberace, while continuing to play jazz standards and rock and roll. “He sounds like he has more than two hands.” That quote is attributed to…well…everyone who has heard Booker play.
“Booker played with people as diverse as Lloyd Price, Aretha Franklin, The Doobie Brothers, Rickie Lee Jones, and Ringo Starr. He even toured with Jerry Garcia. New Orleans piano player Joshua Paxton said this about James Booker’s playing in an article from Offbeat magazine: “It was the kind of piano playing that I had always wanted to hear, but never had. It was Ray Charles on the level of Chopin. It was all the soul, all the groove, and all the technique in the universe packed into one unbelievable player. That Booker’s music hasn’t become part of the standard piano repertoire is, in my opinion, a crime.”
Booker died in a wheelchair November 8th, 1983 waiting to be seen in the emergency room at Charity Hospital.
This is Booker’s last recorded song…Classified