While I was in New Orleans last month, I received a webpage link from my friend Steve Cooper. At the time, I was stealing online moments here and there to check work e-mail, download photos, and add to this blog. I couldn’t afford time to do my usual surfing and exploring online. The link was to a blog entry called: A History of New Orleans Music in 100 Tracks.
A few nights ago, I was going through old e-mails and came upon the link that Steve had sent me. It proved a treasure. The two part blog entry can be found on jazz.com. This brilliant piece of work is the creation of Ted Gioia, jazz historian, critic, musician and founder of jazz.com.
I generally like “best of” lists if they are done well, but I’ve learned to approach them with a healthy dose of skepticism. And I did the same with this one. My family would argue that I’ve spent the past few years obsessed with New Orleans music and most things related to the City, for that matter. I’ve downloaded hundreds of songs, dozens of albums, and spent countless hours in bars from the Bywater to Carrollton Avenue. And I have to say, in my estimation, Gioia has it right. If he were in my class, I’d give him an A-, at least. With a little more listening, maybe an A.
The first part of the list covers 1848 through 1956. It begins with Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s “Bamboula,” and includes classics by Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, and early Fats Domino. It would be nice if there were links to the actual music, but his descriptions are rich and persuasive. There are a few tunes I am not familiar with, but that will not last long. I was happy to see that the greatly under appreciated Boswell Sisters were among the first 50 tracks. I’d like to see Blue Lu Barker’s “Don’t You Get Me High” among the first 50, but that is probably not a deal breaker.
The second 50 is great, but a little more problematic. Allen Toussaint, Professor Longhair, Irma Thomas, Fats Domino, Mahalia Jackson, Snooks Eaglin, the Meters, James Booker, and Dr. John are all there, but I feel Winton Marsalis is a bit over represented. The traditional jazz revival is a presence and there are a couple of Mardi Gras Indian cuts, but where are the Dixie Cups, “Frogman” Henry, and Ernie K-Doe? There are two tracks from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, but none from Rebirth or the Hot 8? And the Meters — one song? One song? Really. I do like the fact that it ends with a track from Dr. Michael White’s “Blue Crescent;” however, I do question the choice.
Quibbling aside, this is a fantastic introduction to New Orleans music, soup to nuts. Gioia deftly describes the significance of each track and how it fits into the whole. It is a treasure trove of musical knowledge and I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in New Orleans music, past and present.