New Orleans has always had a well-earned reputation as a party town, rich with spicy food and an abundant array of music. Brass marching bands, Spirituals, Cajun fiddle and squeezebox, French folk songs and the classic 7-piece New Orleans jazz band are all synonymous with the city. Pioneering jazz educator and rhythm guitarist Danny Barker said his happiest childhood memory growing up in early 1900s’ New Orleans was running after parades and second-lining through the streets, caught up with the sound of music coming at him from everywhere.
This radio show, captured live at The Landing in San Antonio in 1995, features two artists native to the Crescent City. The first is a veteran performer, vocalist and actor Topsy Chapman, now an international ambassador for blues, jazz and gospel music throughout Europe and the UK. The other was a relative newcomer in 1995, but is now a prominent figure on the worldwide jazz scene, trumpeter Nicholas Payton. Applauded as a teenage virtuoso, Payton won a Grammy for his 1997 album of trumpet duets with the nonagenarian Doc Cheatham. The son of bassist and sousaphonist Walter Payton, Nicholas earned a strong foundation in traditional jazz playing alongside his father as a very young member of Danny Barker’s Roots of Jazz Brass Band.
Host David Holt interviews both guests about their lives in music and the jazz scene in New Orleans. Asking Topsy where to find the best red beans and rice in the city, she quips, "My house!" Nicholas and Topsy team up with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band on an anthem of New Orleans jazz, "Basin Street Blues,” composed by Spencer Williams in 1926 and made famous by Louis Armstrong with his 1928 Victor recording. Armstrong's version is celebrated for his improvised "scat" singing—"nonsense" syllables sung rhythmically, using the voice as a jazz instrument. The famous verse with the lyric "Won't you come along with me/To the Mississippi..." was later added by trombonists Glenn Miller and Jack Teagarden.
Topsy Chapman's spellbinding vocal artistry has been a part of the musical tapestry of Riverwalk Jazz since its earliest productions. A star of the Obie-award winning, off-Broadway show One Mo' Time, the acclaimed vaudeville review by Vernel Bagneris, Topsy now receives kudos for her work in both jazz and gospel settings, the latter with her own gospel group featuring her daughters. On this radio show, we hear Topsy's interpretations of "When You're Smiling,” "If Dreams Come True" and her stellar performance of Duke Ellington's "In My Solitude."
When he visited us at The Landing in 1995, 21-year-old Nicholas Payton had recently made his major-label recording debut on Verve with From This Moment. Since that time, Payton has composed and arranged, performed and recorded with his own group in a variety of settings; and in 2012 he debuted his full orchestral work, The Black American Symphony. On this radio show, Nicholas returns to his roots and pays tribute to his hometown and its major cultural export in jazz, Louis Armstrong. He joins The Jim Cullum Jazz Band with these classics from the Armstrong canon: "I Surrender, Dear," "12th Street Rag" and "Ain't Misbehavin.'"
Photo credit for Home Page image: Nicholas Payton. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick © 1995