Saxophonist John Doheny was born in Seattle Washington in 1953 but has spent much of his adult life in Canada, primarily in Vancouver and Toronto. After early experiences accompanying strippers in bars and cabarets he became a professional R&B sideman in the late 1970s, touring and recording with artists both prominent and obscure. In 1991 he returned to Vancouver and began a program of intense musical study, both in academe (Vancouver Community College, the University of British Columbia) and in the more informal area of performance. He asserts that "all human intercourse is either an opportunity to learn or to teach. Everything that I know about jazz performance (to the extent that I know anything at all) I owe to those players, teachers and students who have suffered to share the bandstand and the teaching studio with me." Since 2003, Mr. Doheny has been a permanent resident of New Orleans, Louisiana, but makes every effort to spend summers in Canada because "it's too damn hot down here then."

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Another Year Gone...

...in this delightful, horrifying place.

I've never been able to explain the appeal, really, when I'm away on the road and people ask why I live here. The fact is that after six years in residence, the things that are an easy 'sell' to tourists don't interest me at all. The French Quarter wears pretty quickly, I seldom go down there unless I have a gig. It's full of t-shirt shops and obnoxious tourists; sometimes it seems like every jerk in America is there for the express purpose of getting blind drunk and acting the fool. The Garden District is physically beautiful but devoid of streetlife, everyone hiding inside with the air-conditioning, guarding their money. The St. Charles Avenue streetcar makes for a scenic ride, but you'll get where you're going a lot faster on the Freret Street bus.

Don't get me wrong, all this stuff still blows me away. I was recently reading a blog written by a guy who moved to Argentina a year ago, and he was saying that the trouble with actually living in a place like Buenos Aires was that after a while, it starts to seem normal, even mundane. I'm guessing Buenos Aires must have a better functioning infrastructure than New Orleans then, because here, mundane don't enter into it. What with all the shooting and cutting and hurricane evacs and the general sense of insecurity, like we could all be flooded out again at a moments notice, or blown away, or take a stray round through the head, there's never any chance of things feeling ho hum. But get up in the morning and go to work? Wait in line at the grocery, pick up the dry cleaning? We all do that. It's just that in New Orleans, the conversation is a lot more entertaining.

I guess that last sentence catches the corner of it. I could (and often do) go on about "da cultcha," the music, the food, the architecture, the various elements that create the lived experience of being here, something everyone in town walks out the front door and into every day. But it the end it's just that simple; it's the people, the sense of engagement, the feeling of every human encounter and transaction being something to be savored and enjoyed, not rushed through so one can get to one's 'real life.' All that mundane shit, that is your real life, and if you don't get that, you're gonna miss it.

That's it, isn't it? I put up with the weather, the violence, the poverty, the diminished lifespan and career expectations, all because I had a funny and enjoyable conversation with a stranger on line at the Post Office this morning.

Well, that, and parades like the Young Men Olympian last fall:

(warning: turn down the volume on your computer playing this video. This is pure, uncut, hardcore New Orleans street shit, bruh.)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Best Jazz Singers You've Never Heard Of...

...or maybe you have, if you live in New Orleans, but I'm assuming (in my vanity) an international readership.

Philip Manuel, Betty Shirley, and George French are people with almost no 'internet' presence whatsoever, yet their rep among discerning listeners here in New Orleans is stellar. More importantly, their reputation among working musicians is such that the best players in town go out of their way to gig with them, even if the money is less than impressive. And that is the most impressive recommendation of all.

"Researching" this entry proved to be an excercize in futility. Searching Youtube (where conventional wisdom has it you can find "almost anything" nowdays) turned up only three entries on Manuel, none of which show him at his best. (This version of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" with drummer Herlin Riley, bassist Roland Guerin, and New Orleans piano guru Larry Sieberth, is about the best of the bunch, even though the tune has been done to death: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8WUddNmriA ). Just about everything I know about the guy comes from either watching him work, or talking to him on the street (when we lived uptown in the 13th Ward, our next door neighbor was one of Manuel's close friends).

I've got a few of Manuel's CDs in my collection (my current favorite is the 2000 release "Love Happened to Me," which contains stellar performances of jazz standards like"Just Squeeze Me" and "If I Were A Bell," as well as pop tunes like Stevie Wonder's ""I Wish" and Sting's "Fragile," and an all star cast of players including trumpeter Nicholas Payton, saxophonist Brice Winston, pianist Ellis Marsalis, drummer Adonis Rose, and my good friend Fredrick Sanders on organ) but nothing compares to hearing him live, where the astonishing range and resonance of his voice is compellingly present. My wife Darlene and I caught him this past december 23rd at Snug Harbor (with Sieberth on piano and bassist Chris Severn) and when he hit low notes, the whole room vibrated.

Son of oldschool jazzman Albert "Papa" French and brother of drummer and WWOZ DJ Bob French, I first heard George French as a singer on the now sadly out of print Rounder CD "Mood Indigo," featuring the CAC Jazz Orchestra and singers Germaine Bazzle and the late Johnny Adams. It wasn't until I moved to New Orleans that I found out he was also a bass player. He and Bazzle had a long standing gig every Monday night at Donnas on North Rampart, and lately he's been appearing with a trio at the Ritz Carleton on Canal. French has one solo CD, "It's A Beginning" http://www.louisianamusicfactory.com/showoneprod.asp?ProductID=1766 which unfortunately falls rather flat, to my ears. It's got some killer players on it (including New Orlean's unsung hero of the tenor saxophone, Eric Traub) but it's basically a representation of his club set, which tends to be pitched at the tourist trade. French has a gorgeous voice (very Lou Rawls-ish) that sounds good on anything, but tunes like "Sunshine of My Life' and "What A Wonderful World" have, quite frankly, been done to death. French sounds better to me on other people's records, like his brother Bob's "Original Tuxedo Jazz Band"http://www.louisianamusicfactory.com/showoneprod.asp?ProductID=1946
particularly his duet with Tricia "Sista Teedy" Boutte (sister of John Boutte, another underappreciated singer) on "Over in the Gloryland." But his best recorded performances are on "Mood Indigo." If you can find a used copy, snap it up.

Betty Shirley I first heard about from bassist Jim Markway, who insisted I come down and catch a gig he was playing with her at the Royal Sonesta a couple of years ago. Once again, Youtube proved slim pickings, with only a WDSU news story on "Women of Jazz" showing up (that's Betty with the long curly hair, and Tulane drum instructor Geoff Clapp with no hair at all) :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1MTkokHKf4 However, unlike French and Manuel, Shirley actually has a website: http://www.bettyshirley.com/

Your best shot at hearing her, short of coming to New Orleans, would be to pick up her CD "Close Your Eyes." :http://www.louisianamusicfactory.com/showoneprod.asp?ProductID=5333

Or you could give yourself the best Christmas gift ever; a trip to New Orleans.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Left on the Cutting Room Floor.

This year the Professors of Pleasure were asked to record a version of "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" for Tulane's holiday e-card. The session itself was a breeze (we tacked in on to the end of the first of two days of recording for the new CD) , if I recall correctly we did two takes, the second just for insurance, since take one sounded fine and ultimately that's the one we used. The "video shoot" a couple of months later was another matter. I'm starting to develop sympathy for Britney Spears and the rest of the MTV set who suffer from "lipsync malfunctions." It's harder than it looks to fake playing to a pre-recorded track, especially if you're trying to hook up finger motions to a solo you recorded two months before.

Basically, we looked so lame that Tulane decided to cut us out of the visuals altogether. Here's the final version:


We get the same bread either way, so that kind of takes the sting out of it.