Louis Armstrong used to sign his letters, “Red Beans and Ricely Yours” and gave his jazz compositions titles like "Struttin’ with Some Barbecue" and "Cornet Chop Suey." This week on Riverwalk Jazz, we’re cooking up a banquet for those who like their music hot. Also on the menu, stories about that "sweet spot" where food and jazz come together, from bass legend Milt Hinton and New Orleans guitarist and banjo man Danny Barker.
Here's our invitation for you. Savor the beginning of this holiday season with a concert of cuisine-inspired jazz tunes. While you listen to our show, you can chop, slice, saute, bake and broil your way to a heavenly meal.
We know that New Orleans' own Louis Armstrong took his red beans and rice seriously. When Louis and his wife-to-be Lucille were courting, he asked her if she could cook his favorite dish. Lucille just laughed. A bit later in their relationship, she realized it was no joke and promised Louis she’d learn how to make him red beans and rice. The way Armstrong tells it, they sat down to a meal of Lucille’s home-cooked ‘red beans’ with her parents—just before he asked her to marry him.
Like many great cities, New Orleans has a long history of celebrating good food and music. Just think of treasures like Preservation Hall and Café De Monde. Our
opening set salutes San Antonio's hometown cuisine with "Enchilada Man" by Jim Cullum and "Jalapeño Rag" by former band clarinetist Brian Ogilvie.
Milt “The Judge” Hinton is fondly remembered by musicians and fans as a great bassist and equally great human being. His career spanned some 70 years until his death a decade ago at the age of 90. In the 1930s, Milt worked on the road with the Cab Calloway Orchestra nonstop for 15 years.
In those days, touring band members had to get creative if they wanted home-cooked meals. Milt Hinton tells this story...
"Sometimes on the road, we couldn’t find the proper food that we liked and we decided amongst ourselves that, since we had some chefs in the band like Foots Thomas, Lamar Wright and Tyree Glenn and yours truly, we would want to cook our own food. So we ordered a big trunk, made with an electric stove in it. It had three compartments. You could even bake in this thing and we would take turns fixing our food. It happened that one time in Kansas City we had to go on the stage and it was my turn to cook. And I wanted some cabbage and ham hocks. Our dressing rooms were in the basement of the theater. So I put all this stuff on the stove and then we went on the stage to perform. And while we were on the stage, the cabbage got to smelling and came up out of the basement, and the management told us, “Please tell those gentlemen to stop cooking, the audience is starving to death!”
Jazz banjoist Danny Barker grew up in the New Orleans French Quarter in a family of traditional brass band musicians. In the 1930s, Barker moved up north to work in top swing bands, and for eight years toured with Cab Calloway. Wherever he went, Danny carried the culture of the Crescent City with him. With his vivid memory and eye for detail, he brought the flavors of early New Orleans to life in his storytelling.
On our show Danny Barker talks about the "carnival atmosphere" of food vendors and music—right outside his door as a kid. Jim Cullum and the Band reflect this atmosphere in their performance of George Gershwin's piece about Cat Fish Row food vendors from Porgy and Bess titled, "Strawberry, Honey, Crab."
New Orleans reedman Sidney Bechet was more at home in France than in the states. By the early '50s he lived in the resort town of Antibes on the Riviera where he was inspired to write his tune "Fish Vendor" by watching men at work in the market. Soprano saxophonist Bob Wilber performs it with Jim and the Band at The Landing.
Along the way, on our holiday concert of cuisine-inspired jazz tunes, trumpeter Bria Skonberg stomps and sings the traditional number "Ice Cream," guitarist John Pizzarelli sings "Frim Fram Sauce" and trumpeter Leon Oakley and tubist Mike Walbridge join The Jim Cullum Jazz Band on Lu Watters "Sage Hen Strut." Topsy Chapman rocks out on "Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None of My Jelly Roll and bass saxman Vince Giordano sits in on "Clarinet Marmalade."
We close the show with vocalist Catherine Russell joining Jim and the band on Bessie Smith's raucous "Kitchen Man."
Photo credit for Home Page: Holiday dinner at the Armstrong's, 1960s' Photo courtesy the Louis Armstrong House and Archives.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Pick ©2011