Wednesday, March 30, 2016

J's Portraits in Duct Tape: NOLA Jazz & Zydeco Musicians

Dear George,
On our December family visit to New Orleans, we were excited to see our son J’s most recent artwork.  For some time he’s been creating elegant portraits by using layers of multi-colored duct tape on plywood which are cut and peeled away to create photograph-like images.  J has concentrated particularly on New Orleans jazz, rhythm and blues, and Zydeco musicians, and over two dozen of his works are being shown from April 1 to 30 at Gallery Treo in Mid-City in New Orleans (3835 Tulane Ave.).  I’ve posted a sampling of the exhibition pieces here, along with brief biographical blurbs of the musicians.  The full set of portraits plus contact information for the artist are available at J’s website (  If readers will be in the vicinity, I hope you get to see the show in person.  

Louis Armstrong (1901-1971), Trumpet, Cornet, Vocals

Louis Armstrong was born on Aug. 4, 1901 in New Orleans.  He grew up in the Storyville legal prostitution district, listening to the bands in brothels and dance halls.  Armstrong developed his cornet skills at age 13 in the band of the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs, then played trumpet in brass band parades and learned from Bunk Johnson, Kid Ory, and Joe “King” Oliver.  Armstrong joined King Ory’s band in 1919 and became the most influential figure in jazz over the next five decades.  

Danny Barker (1909-1994), Banjo, Guitar, Ukulele, Vocals

Danny Barker was born to a family of musicians in New Orleans, Jan. 13, 1909.  He began his career with the street band, the Boozan Kings, and subsequently became the rhythm guitarist for some of the best bands of the day, e.g., Cab Calloway, Benny Carter, Lucky Milliner.  Barker formed the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band in 1970 which is credited with producing many renowned musicians, e.g., Wynton and Branford Marsalis, and ensuring the longevity of jazz in New Orleans. 

Professor Longhair (1918-1980), Piano, Vocals

Born Henry Roeland “Roy” Byrd in Bogalusa, LA, Dec. 19, 1918, Longhair learned to play on a piano which was missing several keys, resulting in his distinctive style.  He first recorded with the Shuffling Hungarians in 1949 during the heyday of early rhythm and blues.  Professor Longhair later became a staple of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  He is credited with important influence on Fats Domino, Huey “Piano” Smith, Allen Toussaint, and Dr. John.  

Fats Domino (1928- ), Piano, Vocals

Antonio “Fats” Domino, Jr., was born in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward to a French Creole family on Feb. 27, 1928.  He began his career with Billy Diamond’s band, the Solid Senders, at the Hideaway Club in New Orleans. “The Fat Man,” released in 1950 by Imperial Records and often cited as the first rock and roll record, sold a million copies, and Domino went on to have 37 Top 40 singles, including his top hit, “Blueberry Hill”.  Fats Domino appeared as himself in 2012 in the HBO series, Treme.  

Boozoo Chavis (1930-2001), Cajun accordion, Vocals

Wilson Anthony (“Boozoo”) Chavis was born in Lake Charles, LA, on Oct. 23, 1930.  He was a singer, accordionist, and prolific writer of Zydeco songs — music created by Louisiana’s French-speaking Creoles.  Chavis learned to play the button accordion at age nine, and he is considered one of the fathers of Zydeco music.  His single, “Paper in My Shoe” (1954), is considered to be the first modern version of Zydeco.  Chavis was crowned “The King of Zydeco” in New Orleans in the 1990s.  

Earl King (1934-2003), Guitar, Vocals  

Born Earl Silas Johson IV in New Orleans, Feb. 7, 1934, Earl King was an important figure in New Orleans Rhythm and Blues music.  King started playing guitar at 15, and, when his idol Guitar Slim was injured in an auto accident in 1954, King was recruited to continue Slim’s band tour, pretending to be Guitar Slim.  His 1955 recording of “Those Lonely, Lonely Nights” reached #7 in the Billboard R&B charts.  King composed blues standards recorded by many fellow performers, e.g., Dave Edmunds, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Professor Longhair.  

Allen Toussaint (1938-2015), Piano, Vocals, Composer, Record Producer 

Born on Jan. 14, 1938 in New Orleans, Toussaint grew up in the city’s Gert Town neighborhood, where he learned to play the piano as a child and performed as a teenager with guitarist Snooks Eaglin in a band called the Flamingos.  At 17 he stood in for Huey “Piano” Smith with Earl King’s band and was introduced to a group of musicians who played regularly at the Dew Drop Inn in Uptown New Orleans.  A prolific songwriter, Toussaint produced hundreds of recordings including “Right Place, Wrong Time” by Dr. John and “Lady Marmalade” by Labelle.  He was known as “one of popular music’s great backroom figures.”  Toussaint was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama in 2013.  

James Booker (1938-1983), Piano, Organ, Vocals

James Booker, the son and grandson of Baptist ministers, was born in New Orleans on Dec. 17, 1939.  Highly skilled in classical music, Booker’s rhythm and blues playing combined elements of stride, blues, gospel, and Latin piano styles.   Dr. John described Booker as “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.”  His flamboyant style led to his nickname as “The Black Liberace.”  Booker died at Charity Hospital from renal failure associated with heroin and alcohol use. 

Aaron Neville (1941- ), Vocals

R&B Singer Aaron Neville was born in New Orleans on Jan. 24, 1941.  His first major hit,“Tell It Like It Is,” topped Billboard’s R&B chart for five weeks in 1967 and sold over a million copies.  Neville has had four Platinum-certified albums and four Top 10 hits.   He has also recorded with his brothers Art, Charles, and Cyril as The Neville Brothers.   Neville left New Orleans when his home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina but returned in2008, resuming the tradition of the Neville Brothers closing the Jazz and Heritage Festival.  

Irma Thomas (1941- ), Vocals

Born on Feb. 18, 1941, in Ponchatoula, LA, Irma Thomas is known as the “Soul Queen of New Orleans.”  Thomas sang with a Baptist church choir as a teenager and auditioned for Specialty Records at age 13.  Her first single, “Don’t Mess with My Man,” reached #22 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1960, and a string of successful releases on Imperial followed, though Thomas never attained the mainstream commercial success of contemporaries like Aretha Franklin or Dionne Warwick.  Thomas appears annually at the Jazz and Heritage Festival and she and her husband own the Lion’s Den Club near the French Quarter in New Orleans.  

John Boutté (1958- ), Vocals

John Boutté was born into a Creole family in New Orleans on Nov. 3, 1958.  As a teen, he formed an a cappella group that sang on New Orleans streets.  After service in the army, he began working for a credit union until Stevie Wonder persuaded him to pursue a career in music.  He and his sister Lillian, a jazz and gospel singer, toured in Europe, and they recorded an album together in 1994.  In recent years Boutté has worked with ex-Cowboy Mouth guitarist and singer, Paul Sanchez.  One of Boutté's compositions is the theme song of HBO’s Treme series, and Boutté appeared in the first three seasons of the show.   

Kermit Ruffins (1964- ), Trumpet, Vocals

Kermit Ruffins was born on Dec. 19, 1964, in New Orleans.  Influenced by Louis Armstrong and Louis Jordan, Ruffins began playing trumpet in junior high school in the Ninth Ward and co-founded the Rebirth Brass Band in 1983 while attending high school in Treme.  Ruffins’ bands perform New Orleans jazz standards, though he also composes many pieces and accompanies his songs with his own vocals.  Having learned to cook from his grandmother, he is known for cooking on a barbecue during his shows.  

Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes (1963- ), Accordion, Harmonica, Piano, Percussion, Vocals

Sunpie Barnes was born in 1963 in Benton, Arkansas.  A park ranger, TV and film actor, former H.S. teacher, and former NFL player for the Kansas City Chiefs, Barnes has played his own style of blues, Zydeco, and Afro-Louisiana music with his group, Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots, in festivals and concerts in New Orleans, across the US, and in over 35 countries.   Deeply involved in New Orleans parade culture, Barnes is Second Chief of the North Side Skull and Bone Gang, one of New Orleans’ oldest existing carnival groups.  

Wynton Marsalis (1961- ), Trumpet, cornet, flumpet, flugelhorn

Wynton Marsalis was born on Oct. 18, 1961, in New Orleans.  His father Ellis (piano) and brothers Branford (saxophone), Delfeayo (trombone), and Jason (drums) are also jazz musicians.  At age 8 Marsalis performed in the Fairview Baptist Church band, and he debuted with the New Orleans Philharmonic at age 14.  After studies at Tanglewood and Julliard, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.  Currently the director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Marsalis has won 9 Grammy Awards and is the only musician to have won Grammys for both jazz and classical records.  

Sources of biographical information:;

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