Tag Archives: New Orleans music

Hugh Laurie and his Musical Visit to New Orleans – “Let Them Talk”

Actor Hugh Laurie, star of the hit TV show House, is quite an accomplished musician. For years he admired and emulated New Orleans pianists and their sound – Dr. John, Professor Longhair, and Allen Toussaint to name a few. He recently traveled to our great city for the first time to see and hear the sights and sounds of the Crescent City first hand, a pilgrimage that culminated in a PBS special/concert and his first album. Laurie collaborated with Vocalist Irma Thomas (The Soul Queen of New Orleans) and the aforementioned Allen Toussaint).

Here’s a brief excerpt that includes a few kind thoughts regarding New Orleans.   

“I feel like this is a city that doesn’t fear death. It’s looked death in the eye. Los Angeles on the other hand – everybody’s absolutely terrified. Terrified of getting old, terrified of wrinkles, terrified of dying.

“Music fills the streets and clubs of New Orleans like nowhere else. It’s a city that sings itself to sleep at night, and sings itself up in the morning. I’ve never known a place or people who so massively exceeded my expectations. It is more than I hoped it ever could be, and I hoped for quite a lot. This has been my Jerusalem.”

Link to the PBS Special/Concert Let Them Talk

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New Orleans Blues in the Night

Copyright Michael Cortello Photography
 

It is said that truly great musicians give the same inspired performance whether the audience numbers 5 or 5,000. I was reminded of that fact when we traveled down to the French Quarter last Saturday night to let my son Michael capture a few late night photos. On the “Moonwalk” that borders the Mississippi River, we came across this New Orleans Street Musician with nothing but a harmonica, a microphone, and a small amplifier. We encountered him, alternatively blowing his instrument and wailing bluesy lines for a handful of late night strollers around 11:00 p.m.

For more great New Orleans photos, visit Michael Cortello Photography .

Free download: My song “City Soldier” (Ms. Romy Kaye on vocals) that is a tribute to the street performers of New Orleans.

The Continuum of Jazz: Article/Profile of Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, and Irvin Mayfield, Jr.

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.

Read “The Continuum of Jazz” from Where Y’at magazine

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.

My profile of Irvin Mayfield, A Golden Trumpet and a Midas Touch (2010)
My profile of Ellis Marsalis Encouragement, Support, & Exposure: The Lessons of Ellis Marsalis, Jr. (2007)

Remembering Harry Ravain, Drummer (1948 – 2009)

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:

NOCCA Applies Artistic Lessons to Mainstream Education: Building Education from a Blank Canvas

What if you could build a school curriculum from the ground up with little or no bureaucratic limitations that hamper the effectiveness of many educational institutions? What if you were armed with the lessons learned from having successfully educated thousands of artists in a unique setting and could apply those lessons to a mainstream education program.

That’s exactly the challenge that NOCCA has been presented.

NOCCA refers to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, an advanced program for young prodigies of music and the arts for high school-aged youths in New Orleans. Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr., Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet, and Wendell Pierce are some of NOCCA’s esteemed graduates. Students who are accepted attend their traditional school in the morning and attend NOCCA in the afternoon, where they receive focused instruction in an artistically centered environment. For years, the faculty and staff of NOCCA have felt as though they could be more effective if they had the students in this environment all day…and that’s just the opportunity that they will have starting in 2011-12.

Dr. Robbie McHardy has been tasked with developing a traditional education program for NOCCA, but she is putting the “NOCCA DNA” into the curriculum. I attended NOCCA’s open studio day in November and was extremely impressed by their approach and by the opportunity that they have to be a model for other institutions. Here are some of the lessons from NOCCA’s artistic programs that will be staples of their academics:

1. Critique: NOCCA has determined that allowing students to receive feedback from their peers accelerates the learning process

2. Beginners Working Closely With Practicing Professionals: NOCCA will seek teachers who are passionate about their areas of expertise and models for their students

3. Teaching Attentiveness & Awareness: The key to learning is being aware of the learning opportunities around you

4. Individuality: NOCCA will spend a great deal of time doing assessments of their students early in the program to determine their strengths and interests, so that learning can be customized for their needs

5. Almost No Homework: While students will have long days at school (approx. 8:30 – 6:30), the concept is that free time should be spent relaxing and practicing their arts

6. Performance-focused: Though the academic studio will be rigorous and all students will have the same expectations of achievement that any school would require, there’s definitely a sense that teaching with a singular obsession toward passing tests is a flawed approach to education

Applicants for NOCCA must pass an audition, and they anticipate roughly 150-200 applications for only 60 spots in the full-day academic program in year one.

I wish Dr. McHardy and the faculty and students great success in the year ahead. Exciting times for a wonderful institution!

Here’s an overview of the academic studio from Dr. McHardy:

Happy 100th Birthday Louis Prima

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.

Happy Birthday Pete Fountain: “Every Note Has a Smile”

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.

Thanks to Tim for lending his considerable talents to our recording project, and best 80th birthday wishes to Pete Fountain (and many more!)

Link to preview the album New Orleans is the One I Love

Irvin Mayfield: A Golden Trumpet and a Midas Touch

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.”

Link to the complete article.

New Orleans Street Performers: Let the Music Play

Tanya & Dorise (photo credit/copyright Michael Cortello)

The New Orleans street performers add ambiance to the French Quarter area and draw visitors to the area. Those visitors support restaurants and businesses. And if you’ve ever been in New Orleans this time of year, you know that being outdoors in the heat and humidity for 6-8 hours is no picnic. All of the residents of the New Orleans metro area benefit from their hard work and dedication.

When I was in college, I tended bar on Bourbon St. on weekends and holidays. Occasionally, some of the performers that included musicians, dancers, and mimes, clowns would come in for a glass of water. While they were all smiles for the crowds, I could see how grueling that heat could be by the expressions on their faces when they came in for a little relief from the hot weather.

The city is considering enforcing an ordinance limiting the hours that these performers can play. While I understand that there are concerns from French Quarter residents, they should proceed with caution. I don’t think it’s appropriate to limit music in the city that is defined by it. The prudent approach would be to simply handle compaints on a case-by-case basis rather than enforcing indiscrimanantly.

Doreen's Jazz New Orleans (photo credit/copyright Michael Cortello)

The New Orleans French Quarter is a unique and wonderful place. Some say it’s the only real Bohemian society in America. Let’s not let the beaurocracy ruin a good thing.

Link to the website of Tanya & Dorise

Link to the website of Doreen’s Jazz New Orleans

Free download: My song “City Soldier” (Ms. Romy Kaye on vocals) that is a tribute to the street performers of New Orleans.

Complete CD preview New Orleans is the One I Love by SONOMA (Craig Cortello and Romy Kaye)

Photos courtesy of my 12 year-old son and photography buff, Michael Cortello.

Music Teacher Advice from a Student: Get in the Trenches

I interviewed jazz guitar instructor Hank Mackie a few years ago. Hank’s reputation as both a player and instructor in the New Orleans area is impeccable, spawning a couple of generations of jazz guitar phenoms. I also interviewed a few of his most accomplished students who became professional musicians. Here’s a quote regarding the essence of Hank’s approach to instruction from a student that provides some insight into why he’s so beloved and admired:

“If I could sum it up with one sentence, he got in the trenches with the student,” student Ted Ludwig said, noting the propensity of some teachers to demonstrate a condescending attitude toward students. “He didn’t sit up there on a higher level, look down at you and say OK, this is the thing you need to learn to get up here. He came down to your level and he brought you up. A lot of teachers shoot things at you—If you get it, you get it, if you don’t, you don’t,” he added.

“Hank never was afraid to tell you things more than one time,” says Ludwig. “When Hank was teaching, he let go of the fact that he was a great player. Hank always encouraged his better students to come out and sit in wherever he was playing,” he added, offering further evidence of Mackie’s self-assuredness and humility.

Link to the entire article “Hank Mackie: ‘Pass’-ing Jazz Guitar to a New Generation” at AllAboutJazz.com