“First person: KPLU’s Robin Lloyd tells the story of Dr. John, a 45 and ‘A Losing Battle’

I see my primary care provider once a year.  He shows up at Seattle’s Jazz Alley with his band, the Lower 9-11.  His name is Mac Rebennack, known to the world as Dr. John.

Dr. John, an expert at the kind of “feel good music” that sells out concerts and clubs, is also a deep repository of the history of New Orleans and its musical culture.  His songwriting and producing abilities made him a valuable studio asset in the early days of rhythm and blues in the Crescent City, and he’s still in demand for those skills.

Spending just a few minutes in conversation with him before or after a show is certain to make you feel connected to the entire musical universe.

Photo by Robin Lloyd

Having been at the Alley for opening night on Thursday, I decided to treat myself to a second helping of Dr. John and the Lower 9-11 on closing night.  I brought with me an antique-shop treasure:  a 45-rpm record from New Orleans label Ric Records from 1962, Johnny Adams singing two songs co-written by Mac Rebennack.  I’d fallen deeply in love the first time I heard Johnny Adams sing.  He had the most beautiful voice I’d ever heard, and he knew just how to use it.  I’d been meaning to ask Mac about the song, about the co-writer and about the session in general, because the A-side (A Losing Battle) was Johnny Adams’ first appearance on the national charts (I know, I know, but radio geeks like me live for that kind of thing).

I showed the record to Mac, and he uttered an unmistakably New Orleans-style expression of amazement, which is too, um, colorful to include here.  He set me straight on the co-writer of A Losing Battle, but then confided:

“I actually wrote the song with that guy’s girlfriend.  She was showin’ me a stack of love letters that had passed between them, and that’s where I got the idea of fightin’ the losin’ battle, but havin’ so much fun tryin’ to win.”

Hmm…there’s obviously much more to that story.  You dawg, Mac.

Asked about the band on the session, the infamous AFO Studio Combo, he started to reel off names of New Orleans musical royalty, like Battiste, Boudreau, Lastie and so on.

I reminded him that this song he wrote when he was 21 years old had made it to the national charts, and he said, yes, Berry Gordy had wanted to sign Johnny Adams to the Motown label based on this very record.  But a meeting with Mr. Gordy went poorly, then Ric Records threatened legal action, and everyone back home said “there goes Johnny’s career” –and they were pretty much right.  Johnny Adams did some great recordings in Nashville after that, but didn’t really get the national recognition he deserved until Rounder Records started to showcase him in the 1980s.

Photo by Sarah Colt

Overwhelmed by this wealth of information from The Source, I said, “It’s so wonderful that you remember all of this from back in 1962!”  Mac flipped the record over to the B-side, and deadpanned, “What’s this?  I don’t remember s**t about this here song!  Did I write this?”

The good Doctor topped off my annual check-up with a booster shot from the stage, dedicating a great version of Basin Street Blues to me and my friend Sally.  I’m vaccinated and verified, inoculated and indoctrinated for another year.  Thanks, Doc!


Jacqui Naylor combines original compositions, acoustic smashing and fan choice on ‘Lucky Girl’

Jacqui Naylor's latest release, "Lucky Girl" hits stores September 27th. Her fans can purchase a copy ahead of time tonight at Jazz Alley.


Singer Jacqui Naylor releases her 8th album, Lucky Girl tomorrow. She is also performing tonight at Jazz Alley in Seattle as she kicks off her international tour. I spoke to Jacqui today about letting her fans choose the songs for her new album, her continued success with “acoustic smashing” and being the subject of a new documentary.

Producing a positive album

Feeling like she had recorded her finest album so far, Jacqui credits that to wanting to bring something positive to her listeners. The album consists of originals and covers, but the ongoing theme seems to be a feeling of inspiration and hope. Even with originals like It Was Supposed to Work Out, where there might be a suggestion of sadness, there is a feeling of a silver lining and optimism in each track.

Fans pick the songs for the album

Jacqui hosted a gathering of about ninety people where she performed twenty-five songs and let the listeners rate them on a scale of 1 to 5. Without exception, the top fifteen rated songs did become the cuts selected for the new album. Jacqui said that there was a little bit of nervousness in letting her fans choose the songs, but when it was all said and done, the fans made excellent choices.

“I think that a lot of the time fans are pretty much right on. At least mine. I feel like they know me. And in this particular case I wanted them to really know my heart in this album, and I think that comes through.”

“Acoustic smashing” continues

Jacqui Naylor made famous what she defined as “acoustic smashing,” or taking a jazz tune and a rock tune, and singing one while the band plays the other in a seamless fashion. On this album, Jacqui smashes Surrey with the Fringe on Top with George Benson’s Breezin.


Success with smashing

Naylor credits the success she has had with “acoustic smashing” by not only singing the song as it was written, but by also committing to the groove of the second song that the first is being smashed with.

“We are bringing ourselves to (the song), much more like an arrangement as opposed to a sample.”

Additionally, she credits her success with not making “acoustic smashing” her main element of recording or performing.

“We aren’t trying to make a schtick out of it but just do it just like any other arrangement. We ask ourselves what kind of cool thing can we do to this song, and say, ‘OK, this will work in this case.’ “

Lucky Girl Documentary

Jacqui Naylor will also be the focus of a documentary due out in the next couple of months. Directed by two women who are creating a series of documentaries following the process of artists, the documentary follows Jacqui around for a year and a half on location everywhere from Istanbul to Seattle. Initially told that it would be a twenty-minute short, the seventy-five minute film features everything from band performances to interviews with band members, family, friends and teachers.

I got to preview the film, and thought “Wow! That is my life. And I’m pretty happy with my life.”

More Links:

Jacqui Naylor Website

(End of) Summertime Poll

The final days of summer are upon us, and depending on where you live, summer seemed far too short, just right, or far too long this year.

Regardless, the end of this summer inspired me to post our first poll in quite some time, asking you what your favorite version of Summertime is. Your comments are encouraged!

[poll id=”3″]


Djangofest Northwest kicks off today

Now in its 11th season, Djangofest Northwest brings a world-class musical lineup to Langley on Whidbey Island to celebrate the music and spirit of Django Reinhardt and Gypsy Jazz.

Presented by the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, this unique blend of Eastern European melodies, Parisian Musette, Spanish Flamenco and American Swing was created and perfected by the genius of Django Reinhardt and his fellow Gypsy musicians in the Cafes of Paris during the thirties and forties, and is quickly becoming one the most distinctive and enjoyed jazz hybrids on the music scene today.

Artists scheduled to perform this year range from local favorites to world-class international recording artists, making it the the premier showcase of Gypsy Jazz in North America.

Performers this year include violinist/composer, Mark O’Connor, with his Hot Swing band playing in the style he came to love while touring with Stephane Grappelli. Martin Taylor will be playing with Seattle’s own Pearl Django and as a special treat Howard Alden is joined by Anat Cohen from Tel Aviv for an extraordinary guitar clarinet duet. Also, the great Gypsy guitarist Stochelo Rosenberg will be joined by Canadian guitarist Denis Chang and bassist Beau Sample. Gonzalo Bergara and Adrien Moignard, incredible guitarists individually, will join together for what promises to be a classic performance.

In addition to the performances, there will be a number of workshops, unannounced local acts, surprise guests and jam sessions in local pubs and cafes.

Djangofest runs Sept. 21-25. A complete schedule can be found at the Djangofest Northwest website.

Jazz legend Ramsey Lewis releases 80th album today

Photo by Justin Steyer/KPLU

Three-time Grammy winner Ramsey Lewis, who rose to prominence in the early 1970’s, released his 80th album, Ramsey, Taking Another Look today with his Electric Band.

Lewis (who performed live in the KPLU studios in October 2009), signed with Los Angeles based boutique label Hidden Beach Recordings earlier this year, and Ramsey, Taking Another Look marks the first release on the label.

On the ten song CD,  Lewis and his Electric Band breathe new life into many of Lewis’ favorite tunes including a  new rendition of  the Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” and a new edit of the original “Sun Goddess” recording featuring Earth, Wind & Fire. “Living for the City” is  accompanied by a music video created at Chicago’s Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, with Film & Broadcast and Recording Arts students taking the lead on production.

Featuring an energetic performance by Ramsey Lewis and his Electric Band, the video below celebrates the visual vibrancy of Chicago at night time.

“The idea of the electric quintet came up and having played mostly in an acoustic trio arrangement for twelve-fifteen years, I decided to get together with the guys to see how it felt. The rehearsals went so well that I called in my engineer, Danny Leake, and my producer/son, Frayne Lewis to come in and roll tape. I’ve recorded maybe 65-70 albums, and this album is definitely among the top five.” – Ramsey Lewis

In support of his upcoming release Ramsey will be touring this summer and into 2012 with a five-piece electric band including Henry Johnson, Tim Gant, Joshua Ramos and Charles Heath.

On the Web:

Ramsey Lewis Website

Piano master Ramsey Lewis performs live at KPLU