It’s been a bloody and smoky week in New Orleans. Gang warfare seems to have erupted in Central City and there was a big ass fire in the Broadmoor neighborhood on Thursday. In short, it’s still hotter than hell here and tempers remain, well, short. We’re still waiting on our September cool front tease. It cannot come soon enough after a fucking hot summer.
This week’s theme song is an instrumental composed by Josef Zawinul for Weather Report’s 1977 album Heavy Weather, which was featured on Album Cover Art Wednesday in 2013. Birdland has become one of Weather Report’s most enduring songs. I’ve even heard it played by marching bands during Carnival. I suspect that’s because of the third version below by Buddy Rich. We start the Birdland festivities off with the original Weather Report version followed by a cover by country dobro wizard Jerry Douglas.
Now that I’ve convinced you this post is for the birds, it’s time for the break. I’ll see you when we land on the other side or as my homeys the Radiators would surely put it:
The Jazz theme continues with a piece from the Vestigial-Picayune by Adrastos crony and pun consultant, James Karst. He’s not exactly a crony of mine but it’s a funny word. Why? The C sounds like a K, which is the funniest letter in the alphabet. The horrid punster in him would surely approve.
Buddy Bolden In The Bin: Not trash bin, loony bin. I hope I don’t get in trouble with the language police over this segment title or that first sentence. Bin there, done that. There are simply too many amusing euphemisms for me to avoid all of them. I will, however, try to restrain myself.
I thought I should invoke the spirit of Houdini to get me out of the linguistic hole I’d dug for myself. Back to the matter at unbound hand:
Buddy Bolden is one of the most mysterious figures in the history of both music and New Orleans. He was committed to the state mental hospital at Jackson, Louisiana in 1907 long before Jazz artists started cutting records. James Karst has exhumed (not Bolden’s body) some fascinating facts about the cornet player’s time in the state laughing academy in a piece called Jazz Pioneer Buddy Bolden and the Louisiana mental asylum band. Here’s Karst on the asylum band:
Newly discovered archived newspaper stories indicate that a music program existed at the asylum practically from the time Bolden was committed. There were daily concerts at the institution, as well as weekly dances, not long after the famous musician arrived. In 1908, The Daily Picayune found a 12-piece brass band playing throughout dinners “the most beautiful and difficult strains of heavy opera, as well as light and jovial music.”
“No feature of the institution hardly appeals more to the inmates than does this music,” the paper wrote.
One story from 1907, just six months after Bolden’s arrival, describes musicians from the asylum traveling to a performance in Baton Rouge.
“The most unique, original and highly interesting entertainment given at the Elk Theatre in some time was the concert tonight by ninety inmates of the Louisiana Insane Asylum, at Jackson, La.,” wrote the Daily Picayune on Dec. 11, 1907. “The concert consisted of musical selections, songs, recitations and dances. The theatre was well filled, and the entire entertainment was one of merit. The musical numbers were especially fine. The orchestra, which rendered a number of pieces during the evening, is one of the best heard in the city.”
The paper describes the asylum inmates arriving by train, taking a tour of the Capitol, then playing a few songs at the Institute for the Blind before visiting the LSU campus. The group had dinner at the Istrouma Hotel before heading to the Elks Theatre for their performance at 8 p.m.
The musicians, who reportedly had practiced daily for weeks, performed popular tunes including “Suwanee River,” “Little Brown Eyes,” “Chicken Pie,” “I’m Going Back to Dixie” and a medley of “Southern plantation songs.”
The musicians were not identified; after all, they had been committed involuntarily to a mental institution. But the newspaper gave the barest of details about them.
“The patients were divided equally,” wrote the Picayune, “forty-five men and forty-five women, with one negro man.”
It’s unknown as to whether Buddy Bolden was the “negro man” who played at the show in Red Stick. Bolden died at the asylum in 1931 and was buried in an unmarked grave at Holt Cemetery in New Orleans.
Fellow Jazz pioneer Ferdinand LaMothe aka Jelly Roll Morton wrote a tribute to Bolden, which has come to be known as I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say. Here’s a description of the song by Jazz historian W. Royal Stokes:
I am occasionally asked why my professional card, letterhead, website, and blog are headed by the phrase “I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say. . . .” Sometimes, a person will inquire, “Who is Buddy Bolden?”
Well, the phrase comes from, “Buddy Bolden’s Blues,” which was originally titled “Funky Butt” when it was a song in the repertoire of New Orleans cornetist and bandleader Charles “Buddy” Bolden (1877-1931), the legendary father of jazz. You can read about Buddy here. For further reading, I recommend Donald Marquis’s In Search Of Buddy Bolden: First Man Of Jazz and Danny Barker’s Buddy Bolden and the Last Days of Storyville.
Some consider “Funky Butt” the oldest known jazz tune. It was Jelly Roll Morton (1885-1941) who bestowed the title “Buddy Bolden’s Blues” upon it and fashioned his own lyrics. Jelly made two commercial recordings of the song, in 1939, rendering it as a solo piano piece and as a band number. It is also included in the epic 1938 Library of Congress session that folklorist Alan Lomax recorded of Morton telling the story of his life, providing an account of the early years of jazz, and expatiating upon New Orleans history, all to the accompaniment of his piano.
Thank you, kind sir.
Time for some music. First, Jelly’s version followed by a more recent recording by Dr. John featuring vocals by the late great Danny Barker.
Let’s lighten things up a bit with a look at:
A Revisionist View of Amos-n-Andy: Times and attitudes change, which is one reason I’m not surprised that there are African-Americans who are taking a second look at Amos-n-Andy, which was a legendary/notorious comedy first on radio, then teevee. The reason the revisionism is unsurprising is that critics and scholars have recently taken a more sympathetic look at black comedy pioneers such as Lincoln Perry, Willie Best, and Mantan Moreland in recent years. In fact, writer Trey Ellis wants to make a teevee movie about Amos-n-Andy that argues that it paved the way for black stars on teevee, and that there was a class divide in the African-American community over the show in the 1950’s.
Aisha Harris has a fascinating interview with Trey Ellis at Slate. An interesting tidbit from the interview is that Henry Louis Gates urged Ellis to write his thus far unproduced script. Don’t, uh, Skip this piece. I’ll let y’all decide what you think about Ellis’ take on this controversial comedy classic.
Let’s move from comedy to gritty drama, which is discussed in a glitzy setting: Vanity Fair.
Boyz n the Hood at 25: The idea that John Singleton’s great first film was released 25 years ago makes me feel old but not farty. I have, however, been known to fart around on occasion. Enough about me: in between the glossy ads and perfume samples, Vanity Fair has a fabulous piece by Sam Kashner: How Boyz n the Hood Beat the Odds to Get Made-and Why It Matters Today.
It’s a helluva story, especially since so many in the cast have gone on to stardom: Laurence Fishburne, Angela Basset, Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, and Cuba Gooding Jr. Dr. A and I saw it on the big screen because of Siskel and Ebert:
I have a funny, albeit stomach churning, story about seeing the movie at the Galleria Theatre in Metry. It was a theatre in an office building that closed years ago. As is our wont, Dr. A and I smuggled in some movie candy: Milk Duds, a big ass box. We were both hungry so we ate the whole darn thing. Holy sugar rush, Batman. I’ve never liked Milk Duds quite as much since that day. But I loved the movie: it’s a 4 star classic and I give it a rare Adrastos grade of A. Check it out, y’all.
Remember the post I put up at the midnight hour on Friday? Gret Stet Politics: Trolling On The Bayou. I have something resembling a sequel. No, make that a prequel.
Who Killed The Jeff Davis 8: Two years before publishing Murder in the Bayou, Ethan Brown published an article based on his research at Medium.com. Check it out.
John Neely Kennedy had nothing to do with its publication, Mr. Boustany. That is all.
Documentary Of The Week: I considered skipping this segment BUT the documentary in question dovetails neatly with two recent posts about Presidential health, Bornstein Again and The Fog Of History: Health Care, Health Scare.
The Wheelchair President is another BBC documentary by Cambridge historian, David Reynolds. I discussed his Great War film, The Long Shadow, in this space two weeks ago. This two-parter is about a subject I am very familiar with: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his presidency, health, and personal life.
I regret to say that I disagree with much of Professor Reynolds’ analysis. The worst being his continual references to Eleanor Roosevelt as “fragile.” Really? A woman who dealt with her father’s suicide, husband’s roving eye, and paralysis? Fragile? Not even close. She was the New York aristocratic equivalent of a Steel Magnolia. Her classic line was: “I forgive but I never forget.” That’s fragile? She was a battleaxe in the best sense of the word. Frank Sinatra always referred to her as “one tough broad.” I agree with the gentleman from Hoboken:
Just change the lyric from tramp to champ, which Frank himself was known to do.
Back to The Wheelchair President. I also think Reynolds makes too much of the fibs surrounding FDR’s paralysis. The fact that he needed assistance walking was an open secret in its time; it certainly didn’t affect his performance as President as Reynolds hints.
I was disappointed in how Reynolds swallowed conservative canards on the Yalta Conference. FDR *was* sick but the only way to keep Poland out of the Soviet sphere of influence was by force of arms. Only George Patton and a few other wingnuts of the day wanted an instant sequel to WWII. And FDR did not believe in making threats he could not back up. The facts on the ground are why Poland become a Warsaw Pact nation. Besides, FDR wasn’t the only impaired leader at Yalta: both Churchill and Stalin got drunk every night.
The good news is that Reynolds doesn’t make like Donald Trump and invent new facts in The Wheelchair President. I simply disagree with his interpretation. I still like his documentaries but not this one. I give it 2 stars, an Adrastos Grade of C and a mild thumbs down. It’s currently streaming at Netflix.
Saturday Classic: Santana III is my favorite album by Carlos and his krewe. It introduced seventeen year old Neil Schon to the music world, which gave the Santana band a killer second lead guitarist. Schon and keyboard player/vocalist Greg Rollie would break away in 1974 to form Journey, which began life as a jazz-fusion-ish band.
Get ready to rock:
That’s it for this week. It’s time to take our closing meme back to its Bat-roots with that flightless bird villain we all love to hate: