This week my cover story for local entertainment publication Where Y’at magazine’s New Orleans Jazz Fest issue: Interview/profile of legendary jazz musicians/educators Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, and Irvin Mayfield.
Thanks again to Laura Tennyson, Communications Strategist for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra for arranging this interview and to Josh Danzig and the staff at Where Y’at magazine for the assignment. Photo credits: Romney Photography
(From left to right: Ed Petersen (standing – recent performance paying tribute to the music of Harold Battiste), Harold Battiste, Irvin Mayfield, Jr., Victor Atkins (standing – recent performance paying tribute to the music of Ellis Marsalis, Jr.), and Ellis Marsalis, Jr.
Tonight I saw a music video that plays annually on a local news broadcast in New Orleans this time of year, and it brought back to memory a departed musician from my past.
The late Harry Ravain was a “musician’s musician.” A veteran drummer with a great enthusiasm for his craft and for other musicians, Harry was to music what actor Kevin Bacon was to the movies – he had a connection to most every musician who ever passed through the Crescent City, and was respected and beloved by them all.
For the last dozen or so years of his life, Harry played with Benny Grunch and the Bunch, a legendary New Orleans band known for their colloquial tunes that pay tribute to nuances of life in the Crescent City. In 2006 I started on a quest to realize a lifetime dream and finally record a music CD (one of my “bucket list” items) with talented musicians who could bring a few of my songs (and a few interpretations of others) to life. A mutual musician friend referred me to Harry.
In 2006 and again in 2007 Harry laid down the drum tracks for the CD, perhaps his last recorded work. Later that year, Harry was diagnosed with cancer that ultimately claimed his life in 2009. It is my regret that I didn’t complete the project until after his death, but I was gratified that I had the opportunity to work with him and capture his work for others to enjoy. Harry’s energy and enthusiasm for music and the recording process made the experience pure joy.
If you’d like to hear Harry’s work, here’s a free .mp3 download of one of the tracks entitled “City Soldier,” a tribute to the street performers that make New Orleans a unique and wonderful place to stroll on a sunny afternoon.
Here’s Harry (in red shirt and black vest) in “Ain’t Dere No More,” a video from Benny Grunch & the Bunch:
In 1985, David Lee Roth’s recording of “Just a Gigolo” hit the Billboard top 40. While many of my friends who grew up in the era of music video considered it a new song, there was nothing new about the song if you grew up in an Italian-American family in New Orleans.
Louis Prima was one of the most dynamic performers of his era, and his 1950′s Vegas show was a favorite stop of many of the celebrities of the day, many of whom rose to greater levels of fame and success. But they realized that Louis Prima was one of the most dynamic musicians in the business, and he had a rare gift. No performer exuded the joy of playing music like Louis and his band (The Witnesses led by sax player Sam Butera).
My fellow Sicilian-American, New Orleans native would have been 100 years old today. His son Louis Prima Jr. currently performs a tribute show to his dad. The music of Louis Prima has been rediscovered by new audiences through remakes by David Lee Roth, Brian Setzer, and other artists. His music has also been re-discovered and utilized by TV commercial and film producers.
Prima’s success was a great source of pride in my family growing up, and it was only later in life that I began to understand why. Here’s one my favorite (thought somewhat lesser known) Louis Prima songs, “Banana Split for My Baby.” Happy Birthday, Louis.
Jazz clarinet legend Pete Fountain celebrated his 80th birthday yesterday. Pete had over 50 appearances on the Tonight Show, and was a favorite of legendary host Johnny Carson. He has recorded about 100 albums. He lost many of the artifacts documenting his accomplishments in Hurricane Katrina, but he continues to perform.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Pete in 2008 for Where Y’at magazine in New Orleans. The photo here is of Pete and I from the interview, along with Pete’s son-in-law/manager Benny Harrell.
Link to the article “Every Note Has a Smile”
When Ms. Romy Kaye and I recorded our album New Orleans is the One I Love, Pete’s protegé Tim Laughlin recorded several tracks using a custom-made clarinet given to him as a gift by Pete, and it sounds extraordinary. “There’s no better clarinet player in the country now,” said Pete of Laughlin.
In this month’s Where Y’at magazine, my interview/profile of Irvin Mayfield, Grammy-winning leader of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and the cultural ambassador of New Orleans, among other accomplishments.
Here’s my favorite excerpt:
“We need to take a serious look at what being educated really means. The mandate has to be across the board that in New Orleans, every kid is going to know the sound of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet and the recipes of Leah Chase. Those things are not less important than what Hemingway wrote. A dish, a word, and a sound are equals.”