Daily Archives: April 13, 2009

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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