Every year about this time, all hell and happiness break loose in New Orleans – and many another place on the globe as well – in celebrations that bring together wild music and dance, drunkenness and overindulgence of every kind with serious, ceremonial religion. We call it Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras is that kind of “get it out of your system” week that precedes Lent and the highest of all Christian holy days, Easter. In the middle of it all, Spring arrives and pagans everywhere can celebrate this annual pleasure any way they want.
In New Orleans, Mardi Gras is a high celebration of jazz and surpasses, in its particular way, the jazz festivals that follow in places near and far. The television series Treme brought New Orleans and Mardi Gras to American audiences in a new way with a rich trove of great jazz and great jazz musicians.
One of them was Dr. John, a legend around New Orleans – and elsewhere. In the spirit of the week – Mardi Gras is this coming Tuesday although the celebrations go on all week – here he is with a taste of that great Bayou city where so much of what we love in the jazz world began. Buddy Bolden and all, you know.
Get ready to throw some beads his way as Dr. John and the crew get nostalgic in a bluesy way with “Going Back to New Orleans,” from his 1992 album of the same name. Some of the musicians on the album are the Neville Brothers, Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, Danny Baker, Alvin “Red” Tyler, Chuck Carbo and Clyde Kerr, Jr. There are others and they’re all great. The album won a Grammy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdvzfeIKHTE&list=PLiVNmkdRthaPxVD3HZSlTLE-5DT293oBU&index=8
Now back to so-called sunny California (raining again this morning) where the four basic food groups are sea, sand, sun and sex. (I stole that line from one of my own plays. It turned out to be true.) But like Annie, we know that the sun’ll come out tomorrow or maybe later today if the gods are with us, and this puts me in an oceanic state of mind which translates today into tunes about the sea, the shore, the sand. With those three and jazz, the rest will take care of itself.
The Tommy Flanagan Trio leads off with a smooth take on “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” from their 1996 Sea Changes album. This tune was written by Harold Arlen. That man really was everywhere! Flanagan is joined here by Peter Washington on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. Go ahead, dive in! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONpG6dtiqzE
This next tune is about my all-time favorite by Billie Holiday and that’s saying something. Billie recorded this song fourteen times not counting alternative takes in studio sessions. Maybe she liked it as much as I do. I cannot explain just what it is about Billie’s take on “I Cover the Waterfront ” that makes my own heart sing; I just know it makes me want to head for the nearest dock, no matter how far from the ocean I may be. Give it up for our Lady of Maritime Sojourners everywhere. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbLSNDmDR5Q
“Long Tall Dexter” Gordon was six and a half feet tall and every inch a beloved jazz musician. In addition to the “long tall” nickname, he was also known in some circles as the “Sophisticated Giant.” And that he was. Living in both his native United States and for long stretches in Europe, Gordon endeared himself to his audiences, other musicians, magazines and even governments. He was named Down Beat’s Musician of the Year in 1978 and 1980, inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame in 1980, given a Congressional Commendation (with Dexter Gordon Day) in Washington, D.C., and received a Lifetime Achievement award from the National Endowment for the Arts. If that was not enough, Gordon was named a member and officer of the French Order of Arts and Letters in 1986 by the French Ministry of Culture. Hold your applause, JazzBabies, and just listen while he graces us with his mellow version of Tom Jobim’s seashore hit, “Wave.” Enough said. Music, maestro, please.
Robbie Williams, one of the U.K.’s notable musicians, was strongly influenced in his swing music by musical heroes Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Not only does Williams carry the musical torch for these two legends, he goes a step farther and has carried their “bad boy” torch as well. Williams has a reputation for making trouble but as one reviewer has it, he does these things to “get our attention, and it’s worth it.” Williams’ performances are energetic and sometimes dazzling. This time he swings with the English translation of the Charles Trenet French ballad, “La Mer,” which comes out as “Beyond the Sea.” Bobby Darin and Kevin Spacey had their turns with it, and here’s Robbie Williams in the best Sinatra tradition from his album Swing When You’re Winning. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQ_zlZVV9kk
Finally, I just could not put up a post about the sea without giving a nod to my youthful dreams of living the good life in the sea, sun, sand world, so please indulge me, JazzBabies. For a little girl from Walla Walla, southern California was the dream. And when this last tune came along, we bopped our little hearts out to it. Nope, it’s not jazz, but it does feature one of the close harmony boy groups that were so popular back in the day. This time it’s Bruce Belland, Ed Cobb, Marv Ingram, and Glen Larson, boys from Hollywood High who went on to become the Four Preps and to influence the Beach Boys – with their 1958 hit, “26 Miles.” Everybody on the beach!
And that’s it for today, JazzBabies. If you’re far from a sandy beach, just close your eyes and do some California dreamin’. Or any other place that’s your favorite for a walk along the shore. The gods have been kind – the rain has stopped here and the sun’s out. Gotta get myself to the beach…