“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!


HBO’s “Treme” kept music a centerpiece in Season 2

Season 2 of the HBO television series Treme just came to a close, and was renewed for a third season.

While one might say that an ongoing theme in Season 1 was immediate recovery and adjustment for the city of New Orleans immediately following Hurricane Katrina, and Season 2 examined issues with violence and corruption a year later, music remained a vibrant focal point throughout.

Far from simply offering an enjoyable soundtrack, Season 2 of Treme shows the overwhelming importance of music in New Orleans on a variety of levels. Keeping with the mission in the first season, Treme continues to use New Orleans musicians as reoccurring characters playing themselves, in venues they might normally be found, as well as great cameo appearances from jazz and folk superstars.

Season 2 featured musical highlights including scenes and performances by NOLA locals and non-locals, including Dr. John, Donald Harrison, Henry Butler, Kermit Ruffins, the Hot 8 Brass Band, Galactic, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Ron Carter, John Hiatt and Shawn Colvin.

Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers

These performances and appearances were not only entertaining, but keep in stride with the attempts of the program to offer a certain element of “real”. Kermit Ruffins is regularly found leading groups in NOLA bars and clubs to packed crowds. Donald Harrison is recruited late in the season to perform on a record designed to mix modern jazz with the sounds of Mardi Gras Indians. As KPLU’s Robin Lloyd pointed out to me, this is very appropriate for Harrison. He is the Big Chief of the Congo Nation Afro-New Orleans Cultural Group which keeps alive the secret traditions of Congo Square, but has also spent a great deal of time being involved in everything from smooth jazz to hip-hop.

In the Season 2 finale, hope was offered after a tumultuous season, where Jazz Fest takes center stage, and the program closes out with an emotional montage set to the Louis Armstrong recording of Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams.

While the close of Season 2 suggests more optimism than the finale of Season 1 did, several elements of pain and struggle to come for the city of New Orleans in Season 3 are indicated. No doubt that it will be set to the wonderful sounds and music of a city that continues to struggle in recovery.

The Jazz 100 (Part 3 – Thoughts from Robin Lloyd and Abe Beeson)

So now you’ve seen the list, and you’ve got some introductory analysis on the Jazz 100.

I felt that it was appropriate for the next step to be getting some thoughts from a fresh pair of eyes…and who better than two of the best in the business, KPLU’s Midday Jazz host Robin Lloyd and Evening Jazz host Abe Beeson?

Thoughts on The Jazz 100

By Robin Lloyd

Taking the list for what it is, entertainment content, a super-subjective popular-vote collection:  it’s not bad!

Do I have strong objections to anything on the list?

Yes: “What a Wonderful World” and “At Last”—neither of these say JAZZ to me, though they’re great in their own way.

Would I re-order the list?  Absolutely.  “Take Five” is wonderful, and it served as an introduction to jazz for an entire generation, but my preference would have something by Dizzy Gillespie in the #1 spot.

Would I object to sitting down and listening to this list in its current state?  No, not at all.

I see it like the growth rings in a tree trunk—it shows a cross-section of styles and eras of mainstream jazz.  The branches of the tree (avant-garde, fusion, etc) just aren’t, well, quintessential enough.

The Top 100 Quintessential Jazz Songs – Wrong Again.

By Abe Beeson

Have you ever sat down to make a list of the “best” of something? It sure is fun, but don’t expect anyone else to agree with you. “Best of” lists are always wrong. Music is just too personal, it touches people in different ways, and music carries baggage and memories that belong only to the one brain between those two ears. But despite the inherent incorrectness of such lists, they do wonders to spark passions and invite heated discussion – and what’s wrong with feeling passionate about music?

What I’ve found most interesting about KPLU/Jazz 24’s Top 100 Quintessential Jazz Songs list is the passion it has provoked in listeners and the comments they’re leaving at this website. It’s a jazz fan’s opportunity to show their passion, to explain why they love a particular song, maybe complain a bit about missing songs or artists (No Sarah Vaughan??) and to thrill at the obvious passion of fellow fans. Here are a few of my favorite posts:

“No one can question the trumpet or vocal marvels of Louis Armstrong, but come on, does this Holy List really need ‘What a Wonderful World’?”

“If you’ve never heard the song ‘Inside Straight’ by Cannonball Adderley, do yourself a favor. It’s probably the sweetest groove I’ve ever heard.”

“Unfair that the whole Kind of Blue album is there, while only the first track of A Love Supreme – which is supposed to be a suite, complete in itself and undivisible – is featured.”

“100 is not enough space for the TOP one hundred – maybe we need a bigger crowd.”

“This is not a list of the greatest jazz songs, this is a list of what people think are the greatest jazz recordings.”

Exactly. And for my part, you can see my picks for the Top 100 here: http://

Thanks again for your comments, and if you haven’t – show us your passion! Most of all, enjoy the list – even if your favorite isn’t here, there’s a lot of fun to be had in listening. And if I may… maybe the next list will be Top Jazz Artists of the 21st Century?

Tomorrow, I’ll do my best to respond to some of your questions and comments about the Jazz 100.

The Jazz 100 (Part 2 – An Audio Discussion with KPLU’s Kirsten Kendrick)

The Jazz 100 (Part 1 – The List)

Happy Thursday from Robin Lloyd

Here are some fun videos from KPLU’s Midday Jazz Host Robin Lloyd. Have a great Thursday, and be sure to tune in to and hear Robin today from noon-3 PST!

Otis Redding, Ray Vega and Thomas Marriott, and Steve Turre playing shells with Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nations Orchestra


Audio Blog: Jazz Perspectives with KPLU’s Weekday Jazz Hosts

KPLU’s four weekday jazz hosts, Dick Stein, Robin Lloyd, Abe Beeson, and myself, individually sat down and recorded thoughts on a variety of topics related to jazz.

With all of us coming from different backgrounds and upbringings, you will hear very different and interesting perspectives on topics ranging from what the first jazz we remember ever hearing, what music was playing when we were growing up, what how we got hooked on jazz, what live jazz performance blew our mind, what jazz musicians we think are doing great things today, and, if we could pick anyone to see play one song in concert, alive or dead, who would it be.

Enjoy the first Groove Notes Audio Blog by clicking here.

Watch Teddy Wilson, Benny Goodman, and Lionel Hampton play Moonglow, as picked by Dick Stein:

Watch Thelonious Monk play ‘Round Midnight, as picked by Abe Beeson:

Watch Michael Brecker, as picked by Kevin Kniestedt:

Watch Dizzy Gillespie play Manteca, as picked by Robin Lloyd: