Friday, January 27, 2012

Tuba Skinny Tracks: Billie Holiday

Posted by Benson

Billie Holiday is perhaps the most famous artist whose songs appear on the CD.  In fact, two of the songs on the CD were originally recorded by Billie Holiday: “Your Mother’s Son in Law” and “Farewell to Storyville.”

“Lady Day,” as Billie Holiday was often known, was incredibly famous in her day, and remains an almost mythic figure in the history of Jazz, much like the great Louis Armstrong.  It can also be said that Lady Day’s unique and oft emulated style had a significant impact on the trajectory of jazz in the 40s and 50s, a period in which the careers of many of the other artists we’ve discussed were winding down or even already over. 

Holiday had an amazing improvisational ability that complemented and enhanced the nature of the music.  She credited the inspiration for her style to role models Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith, and with it she reconstructed many traditional songs.  This was actually a necessity for Holiday, because she lacked formal musical training and her vocal range was little more than an octave.  The unique intonations of her voice and her emotional improvisations to the melody more than made up for what she lacked in her voice.  In this sense, Holiday’s singing was itself a truly jazz style that was always unique and transformative.

Holiday’s career was very long, and she worked her way from jazz quartets to string accompaniment, pop stardom, and eventually event full orchestral backup.  The two Lady Day songs on the CD were recorded by Holiday at two interesting points in her career, and very far away from each other.

“Mothers Son in Law” was recorded by Holiday with Benny Goodman in 1933.  Holiday was 18 at the time and had just been picked up by producer John Hammond.  The record was holiday’s debut recording, and at the time it only sold 300 copies.  However, she had also recorded “Riffin’ the Scotch” at the same time, which was a hit, selling more than 5,000 copies

Mother’s Son in Law

You don't have to have a hanker
To be a broker or a banker
No siree, just simply be
My mother's son-in-law.
Needn't even think of tryin'
To be a mighty social lion
Sipping tea, if you'll be
My mother's son-in-law,
Ain't got the least desire
To set the world on fire
Just wish you'd make it proper
To call my old man papa
You don't have to sing like Bledsoe
You can tell the world I said so
Can't you see you've got to be
My mother's son-in-law.

You don't have to sing like Jessel
You can tell the world I said so
Can't you see, you've got to be
My mother's son-in-law.

“Farewell to Storyville” was first recorded by Holiday 13 years later in 1946.  In the interim, Holiday had grown substantially in popularity.  Her career had recently taken a turn when she had convinced Milt Gabler of Decca Records to allow her to play with a string ensemble.  At the time, strings were associated with the big name acts such as Ella Fitzgerald.  The change marked a step up in the music industry, and it enabled her to present her voice in a different way.

In 1946 Holiday was slated to star in a musical called New Orleans alongside Louis Armstrong.  The film was fraught with difficulties, stemming in part from McCarthyism.  The script writer, Herbert Biberman, was listed as one of the Hollywood Ten and sent to jail, but not before Holiday’s role in the film was reduced to a jazz-singing maid.  “Farewell to Storyville” was one of the numbers written for the film, which explains its New Orleanian subject matter in spite of Holiday’s East Coast roots.  

Farewell to Storyville

All, you old-time queens, from New Orleans, who lived in Storyville
You sang the blues, try to amuse, here's how they pay the bill
The law step-in and call it sin to have a little fun
The police car has made a stop and Storyville is done
Pick out your steamboat, pick yourself a train
- a slo-ow train
Pick out your steamboat, pick yourself a train
- a slo-ow train
They made you close-up they'll never let you back
- won't let you back
Go buy your ticket or else you walk the track

No use complaining, blue sky's folow rain
- the cold-old rain
No use complaining, blue sky's folow rain
- the cold-old rain
Just say farewell now and get your one last thrill
- your one last thrill
Just say farewell now, farewell to Storyville

No use complaining, blue sky's folow rain
- the cold-old rain
Just say farewell now, farewell to Storyville

Just say farewell now and get your one last thrill
- your one last thrill
Just say farewell now, farewell to Storyville

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Special Guest: Davis "The Real Davis" Rogan!

Posted by Benson

As you know already, Tuba Skinny will be returning to the stage at this year’s 5th Annual DGA Crawfish Boil.  But Tuba Skinny will not be performing alone!

This year the boil will feature a special guest performance by none other than Davis Rogan!

Much like Tuba Skinny, Davis Rogan is a quintessential New Orleans musician, but with a distinctly different flair.  Tuba Skinny connects its audience to the deep roots of traditional New Orleans music by recreating, reliving, and reimagining the sounds and styles that laid the foundation for the blues and jazz traditions that have come to define the city. 

Davis embodies the continual evolution of this rich musical culture and is in many ways an avatar on the bleeding edge of progressive New Orleans music.  He embodies the vibrancy our richly diverse musical heritage; one that has influenced artists around the world for more than a century.  New Orleans has always been, and remains today, a cultural borderland that defies categorization.  The city is a perennial frontier of shared experience; a meeting ground for the exchange of ideas in which meaning is negotiated rather than dictated.

Davis is at home on this frontier.  Like a coureur de bois of old, he is mediator, fluent in the diverse dialects of the New Orleans music scene; welcomed by all and yet truly at home in none.  He blazes his own trails with a mélange of styles that can only truly be described as uniquely New Orleanian.  Critic John Swenson once said that Davis’s “fevered ghjrjhjhjtumind seems to be turning over clever ideas almost faster than he can process them, channeling Brian Wilson, Al Kooper, Steely Dan, NRBQ and the Bonzo Dog Band alongside Fats Domino and Eddie Bo.”

Davis’s fluency with true New Orleans music led the producer of Treme, David Simon, to base the character Davis McAlary on him, which is why Davis is known today as “The Real Davis” as opposed to “The Cable Davis” played by Steve Zahn.

We are truly excited to have “The Real” Davis performing at the crawfish boil this year.  He will be our guide through the turbulent, ever-changing frontier of contemporary New Orleans music, and we could not have hoped for a better one.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cafés and Late Night Dining in the French Quarter

Posted by Benson

The French Quarter is a lively place with something to pique your interest around every corner.  For those of you planning on coming down for the boil, I heartily recommend staying in the quarter.  Along with antiques, fashion, art galleries, quirky shops (and of course bars and clubs); the quarter has a wide range of dining opportunities that range from some of the oldest and finest restaurants in New Orleans to delectable street food.

Today I’m going to give ya’ll a rundown of some of my favorite cafés and late night dining opportunities around the quarter. 

One of my favorite places to grab a cheap bite to eat is Café Maspero.  Maspero is located at 601 Decatur, which puts it right in the middle of the action.  Decatur is a main drag trough the quarter and is the closest street to the river.  Along Decatur you’ll find Jackson Brewery, Jackson Square, Café Du Monde, and the French Market.  North Peters St. actually follows the bends of the river, but it merges into and runs along with Decatur mid-way through the quarter, a few blocks on either side of Jackson Square.

Maspero is at the corner of Decatur and Toulouse, right across the street from Jackson Brewery.  It is conveniently located and has a nice atmosphere.  The food isn’t the best that you’ll find in New Orleans, but then again you can find some of the best food in the world in New Orleans.  The food is decent, the prices are very good, and the portions are generous.  You’ll have the most luck with the sandwiches, especially the muffaletta.  You can get fried seafood, red beans, and jambalaya at Maspero, but you can get those most anywhere in the quarter, and it’ll usually be better elsewhere.

On the down side, Maspero tends to be crowded, especially during the tourist season, and it only takes cash.  If the line at Maspero is long, you can walk in and sit at the bar if you like.  Even so, there are plenty of other great places to eat nearby, such as the Green Goddess.

The seating here is actually in Exchange

The Green Goddess is an awesome place to eat.  It is about three blocks or so away from Maspero, on Bienville midway between Chartres and Royal.  The Green Goddess is actually located at 307 Exchange Place, but by the time Exchange hits Bienville it is little more than an alley.  Although that may sound confusing, the Green Goddess is well worth whatever effort it takes to find it.

The Green Goddess is a relatively new restaurant in the quarter, but it is absolutely fantastic and is a fast-growing favorite.  The menu is deliciously eclectic with dishes such as Brûléed Apple French Toast and Armagnac-Soaked Mission Figs.  The restaurant also features an extensive cheese menu in addition to a wide array of wines and specialty drinks.  The décor is classy, yet funky, and even the plating is spectacular.  The Green Goddess definitely deserves a visit if you are in the city.  The chefs have demonstrated a fresh New Orleanian cunning in the field of culinary creations that you will not easily forget.

For something a little less eclectic than the Green Goddess, and a tad easier on the wallet, a quick step out of the quarter and into the Marigny neighborhood will bring you to a great little place called 13.  It is located on Frenchman street midway between Chartres and Decatur.  It is on the opposite side of the quarter from the Green Goddess, and you’ll have to cross Esplanade to get there, but it is only a short walk from the French Market.  If you are in the area, it is a great place to check out.

13 makes excellent sandwiches and pizzas.  It also has a good selection of tasty vegetarian options, and it is very easy on the wallet.  Weekend brunch is particularly good if breakfast is your thing.  I am especially fond of the tots and gravy, a deliciously simple dish of tater tots, sausage gravy, and scrambled eggs covered in melted cheese.  It’s the kind of cheap, less-than-healthy indulgence that you only allow yourself when eating out for breakfast, or in this case brunch. Tots and gravy at 2 p.m., count me in!  It is a good thing that I don’t live in the city; otherwise I might find myself at 13’s brunch more often than was good for me.

Speaking of cheap, stomach-filling comfort food, if you are out late in the quarter and in need of something to fill up on after too much time spent on Bourbon Street, take a walk (or a stumble) over to Déjà Vu.  Déjà Vu is a block off of Bourbon at the corner of Conti and Dauphine.  It is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, much like Bourbon Street.  It offers a range of decent, inexpensive dishes ranging from biscuits and gravy, to steaks and fried seafood platters.  If you are still up for it, Déjà Vu also has a decent little selection of local craft beer on tap.  Hopitoulas by NOLA Brewing Company is a winner.  You can also get a stiffer drink if you are in need of a nightcap or a little wake-up call.

Finally, no discussion of cheap and easy French Quarter eats would be complete without mentioning a staple of New Orleans dining and a personal favorite of Doug’s: the ubiquitous Lucky Dogs stand.  Lucky Dogs have been a staple of late night French Quarter dining for much longer than I have been alive.  The unique, weenie-shaped carts are a familiar sight on the streets of the quarter, and the dogs are good enough to have withstood the test of time.  If you need to slow your roll after one too many hurricanes, grab a snack to perk yourself up after too many hours of hoofing it around the quarter, or enjoy a hassle-free meal while strolling around the river walk, look no further than the nearest Lucky Dogs stand.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

New Orleans in March: Festivals

Posted by Benson

In New Orelans, the spring and early summer are always packed with festivals, shows, and events that celebrate many aspects of the local culture.  March is a particularly lively month.  Not only does Mardi Gras typically fall very close to March, but there’s also Saint Patrick’s Day.  New Orleans is an old city with strong Spanish and French influences, and after almost 300 years, it still has a thriving Catholic community.  Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations have a long history in New Orleans, and the popular Saint Patrick’s Day parades are always quick to revive the carnival spirit.

This year, Fat Tuesday is on February 21st, which is a good deal away from our March 10th crawfish boil date.  The boil is also a week before Saint Patrick’s Day, so at first it looked like this year the boil was perfectly timed for ya’ll to miss out on any parades.  Luckily, I discovered that the Metairie Road Saint Patrick’s Day Parade rolls on Sunday, March 11th, the day after the boil.

While traditionally slightly less raucous than most Mardi Gras parades, Saint Patrick’s Day parades are always a fun time and a sight to see.   In addition to beads, traditional parade throws include cabbages, onions, carrots, and especially moonpies!  You can find out more about the Matairie Road parade here.

If you are interested in music, the Foburg Music Festival is a fast-growing staple of the March festival scene.  Foburg is a three day alternative music festival that takes place in various venues in the Marginy neighborhood of New Orleans, just past the French Market in the Quarter.  This year the festival is the same weekend as the crawfish boil.  It kicks off on Friday, March 9th and goes through Sunday.  Keep an eye on the Foburg website for updates about bands and venues.

Crawfish will not be the only Louisiana seafood that you will have an opportunity to enjoy on Saturday.  This year, the Louisiana Oyster Jubilee is the same day as the crawfish boil!  The Oyster Jubilee is a celebration of Louisiana oysters that takes place in the French Quarter every year.  It is a really fun event with live music, a local chef competition, and the Longest Oyster Po-Boy!    

If you are looking for something a little more refined than parades and street-side events, you are in luck!  The French Quarter Wine Festival is taking place during the entire month of March.  The festival is a series of wine dinners and lectures throughout the month hosted at various wineries in the French Quarter.  The dinners take place on Tuesday and Wednesday every week.  You can visit the festival’s website for details about specific events and to purchase tickets.

The New Orleans Museum of art is also opening its 26th annual Art in Bloom charity event on Wednesday, March 14th with a Patron and Preview party.  The event features culinary masterpieces by the finest area restaurants and caterers and a silent auction of unique works of art by the region’s most gifted artists.  Tickets are available on the NOMA website.

Finally, if you are interested in arts and crafts, two very excellent festivals are taking place during the weekend of the crawfish boil: Frisco Fest and the Lagniappe Dulcimer Fete.  Both are multiple day events taking place over the weekend.  The Dulcimer Fete starts on Thursday, March 8th and Frisco Fest starts on Saturday, March 10th.  Both events continue through Sunday.

Frisco Fest is a wonderful casual craft fair held on the San Francisco Plantation near New Orleans.  This year’s fest will include more than 100 art and craft booths, a cracklin’ contest (not to be missed), as well as live performances by Geno Delafose and the French Rockin’ Boogie.

The Lagniappe Dulcimer Fete takes place in Port Allen, LA, which is close to Baton Rouge.  Even so, it is only a quick hour drive from New Orleans.  If you are interested in the dulcimer, the Fete is a great opportunity to learn more about this interesting instrument and the music it is closely associated with.  The Fete features nightly concerts, dulcimer classes for all levels of skill, as well as vendors.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Track 12: How They Do it That Way?

Posted by Benson

Victoria Spivey was an interesting character in the world of early jazz and blues artists.  Like many that we have already discussed, Spivey was introduced to music at a young age.  When she was twelve years old she started her musical career by playing the piano in a movie theatre in Houston, Texas.  Spivey was born shortly after the turn of the century, so at twelve years old, playing piano at a movie theater meant playing live music to accompany silent films.

Films with synchronized soundtracks, or “talkies” as they came to be called, were not a practical reality until the audio amplifier tube was perfected and the Vitaphone system was introduced.  This didn’t happen until the late 1920s, and Spivey started her piano playing career back in 1918.  By then, of course, Houston had already become a thriving metropolis and the most populous city in Texas.  Movie houses in such large cities often had organs, musical ensembles, or even large theatre organs that could produce a wide range of sound effects.

Spivey played piano at the Lincoln Theatre, which opened in 1916 and was Houston’s first black owned and operated theatre.  Sadly, the Lincoln theatre doesn’t survive today.  At first, Spivey played to help her family earn money after her father died.  While still in her teens, Spivey began playing in saloons and gambling houses, as well as playing for parties.
Balcony at the Lincoln Theatre

In 1926, at the age of twenty, she moved to St. Louis in an effort to start a recording career.  She brought with her two self-composed songs and worked to convince Okeh Records to let her make a recording.  The resulting record, featuring Black Snake Blues and Dirty Woman Blues, was a success that swiftly catapulted Spivey to fame.  She began a lively career, playing with renowned artists such as Louis Armstrong, Louis Russell, and King Oliver.  Spivey was extremely prolific, recording a new record almost monthly in her first two years. 

In 1929 Spivey appeared in the MGM film Hallelujah!Hallelujah! was one of the first all-black films by a major studio.  Interestingly, it was also the first talkie film by the acclaimed director King Vidor.  Little more than ten years after Spivey was playing live piano for silent films, she was performing in a film with a synchronized soundtrack!

Spivey is also an interesting figure in the history of blues and jazz because unlike many artists, she was able to remain relatively successful through the decline of the genre.  Spivey expanded her performances to the vaudeville stage, and sang numerous one night stands to maintain her career in music.  Spivey left show business by the 1950’s, but she actually restarted her career in the 1960’s, even opening her own record company, Spivey Records.

“I think one of the best records that I’ve ever been a part of was the record made with Big Joe Williams and Victoria Spivey.  Now that’s a record that I hear from time to time and I don’t mind listening to it.  It amazes me that I was there and had done that.”

Bob Dylan , Rolling Stone Magazine, November 22, 2001

Spivey recorded How They Do it That Way? in 1929.  The story goes that the idea for the song came as Spivey and her husband, Ruben Floyd, sat on their back porch in St. Louis watching a rooster chase a hen.

How They Do it That Way?

Have you ever had a feeling that someone would come out leadin' you?
If you had it's not so bad unless you found that it is all untrue
Take a good girl to keep her man, some can't do it, others can
I'm no chump but I would jump if I could find someone that's not unlike me too
Oh when the river runs, flowers are bloomin' in May
And if you get good business, how do you do it that way?
Streetwalkin' women, they are happy and gay
But I'm never happy, how do you get that way?
I want a man to be near, because he bring good care
But the men don't like me, they don't seem to care
Now they can come and go, to and fro every day
But I can't make 'em like me, how do you do it that way?
Now if you want somethin' good, you mustn't knock on wood
Just get a good man to look up under your hood
And when the rooster and the hen go to the barn to play
Oh the hen has chickens, how do they do it that way?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Get Ready for the Crawfish Boil!

Posted by Benson

Hey everybody, I hope you have all had a wonderful holiday season, and I hope the new year is treating you well.  Doug decided to spend the holidays in Paris this year, so needless to say, he's been home jet lagged while the rest of us have been at the office getting things rolling again.  He claims to have taken a great number of pictures, so brace yourselves.

Well, it is that time again!  The 5th annual DGA Family and Friends Crawfish Boil is just around the corner.

We've made up some fine-looking invitations that will be headed out shortly, so keep an eye on your mailbox.  The invitations come with a special gift that you will definitely want to bring with you to the boil.

The crawfish boil will be on

Saturday, March 10th at 1:00 p.m.

The boil will be at the same place as always:

Friends Coastal Restaurant
Madisonville, LA

TUBA SKINNY is performing again LIVE this year.  We also have a special guest performance lined up that you will not want to miss.

The annual crawfish boil has grown into a genuinely spectacular event that I look forward to every year.  The weather is always great, the food is excellent, and the music is fantastic.  It is a perfect excuse to come experience joys of New Orleans and a wonderful opportunity to relax before settling too deeply into the yearly grind.

March and October really are the best times to visit New Orleans, so we heartily encourage our out of town friends to come down for a few days and spend some time in the city.  Not only is the weather the best that you will find throughout the whole year, but all of the best seafood is in season and there is a festival or event around every corner.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll be posting articles about local accommodations as well as some of the festivals, shows, and events that are happening around the same time as the boil.  I'll also post some articles about local attractions, and we'll do some reviews of the best local bars and restaurants. 

I hope to see all of you at the boil this year.  We would love to see the boil grow every single year and I can guaranty that you will have an excellent time!