Music Inside Out With Gwen Thompkins

Thursdays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays at Noon

Music Inside Out with Gwen Thompkins presents the standard-bearers of Louisiana culture — musicians, songwriters, producers, engineers, music writers, and more — as they talk about the art of making music and the songs that influenced them.

Join us for an appreciation of the truly cross-cultural nature of our region’s music. The musical styles, instruments, and techniques of many peoples and lands come together in New Orleans, like nowhere else.

Connect with the show on Facebook and on Twitter.

Major support is provided by the Historic New Orleans Collection, with additional support from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.


Rickie Lee Jones.
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Rickie Lee Jones says she moved to New Orleans, in part, because she wanted to be around people. In Los Angeles, she was mostly around cars.

So far, so good. People from New Orleans — either real or imagined — are all over her latest effort, “The Other Side of Desire.” And one of Jones’ neighbors here even helped inspire a song on the album.

George Porter, Jr.
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When George Porter, Jr. was a child, he wanted to become a Catholic priest. But an uncomfortably silent church retreat and an encounter with neighborhood blues musicians helped Porter find his musical calling.

He turned to funk and never looked back.

As the bass player for The Meters, Porter helped create a body of music in the 1960s and 70s that still resonates as some of the funkiest grooves ever recorded.

So what’s the secret to funk?

John Boutte.
robbiesaurus / Flickr via MusicInsideOut.org

John Boutté is hard to intimidate. He may be the only guy who has ever told Stevie Wonder that his singing was flat. Boutté’s observation, during a chance encounter with Wonder, changed his life for good. What’s more, it made our lives better.

For more than 20 years, Boutté has built a career writing and performing his own songs, as well as re-interpreting the signature work of others. This week, Boutté tells Music Inside Out how he got so good at finding lyrics to suit his voice, his tenderness, his outrage and his legendary sass.

This week, the 77-year-old New Orleans songwriter, producer and arranger Allen Toussaint died after a concert in Madrid. For most of his career, Toussaint preferred working behind the scenes, but our friend Gwen Thompkins met him at a time when he'd thrown himself into performing extensively around the world. Before they parted ways for what would be the last time, Toussaint gave Thompkins a gift: a demo recording of a song he never got to release, but said he wanted the world to hear.

Allen Toussaint.
MusicInsideOut.org

This week, we learned that Allen Toussaint died after performing at a concert Monday in Madrid. He was 77 years old. Toussaint had toured extensively since Hurricane Katrina, but he was, in many ways, a reluctant performer. He preferred his life behind the scenes in the studio — writing, producing, and arranging songs. A disciple of Professor Longhair, Toussaint seemed to understand what New Orleans music could do for the world.

Ben Jaffe, Gwen Thompkins and Charlie Gabriel.
Amanda Irizarry / Elephant Quilt Productions

Giants of traditional jazz played here; hell, they still play here: tucked behind walls with a patina worthy of the temple Preservation Hall has been through the years.

The doors opened in 1961. This was to be a sanctuary for America’s original music, born on the banks of the Mississippi. Here, the original sound of jazz would echo down St. Peter Street, even as rock ‘n’ roll swallowed radio.

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As a child, Jason Marsalis watched old television shows as much for the music as for anything the characters were doing onscreen.

“I became a big fan of reruns of the tv show, The Monkees,” he tells Gwen. “My father thought it was just hilarious that I was into this. But when I look back on it, that was music from the 1960s.”

(L to R) Crystal Morris, Dr. Valerie Jones, Eldric Bashful, Ebonee Davis, Tyrone Chambers II, Aria H. Mason, Brandon Richardson, Givonna Joseph, Ivan Griffin, (Pianist Wilfred Delphin, not pictured)
Derek Bridges / Flickr via MusicInsideOut.org

Givonna Joseph and her New Orleans-based troupe, OperaCreole, tackle some of opera’s most challenging works with gusto, including early compositions written by free people of color in the United States and Europe. So, in addition to Bizet and Puccini and Verdi and Gershwin, OperaCreole gives full attention to composers Andre Ernest Gretry, Edmond Dede, Lucien Lambert and Samuel Snaer, among others.

In doing so, OperaCréole is continuing one of the nation’s longest running opera traditions. New Orleans was home to North America’s first opera house.

Rebirth Brass Band at Underground Arts, 1.11.14
Wendy McCardle / MusicInsideOut.org

This is not John Philip Sousa’s band music.

Don’t get us wrong, Sousa is in the pantheon of them-who-haul-brass-through-the-streets, but we suspect the maestro might be surprised by the music today. Which, if you think about it, is good.

Otherwise, there would only be the old-timey brass band idiom and the genre would have lost touch with the people.

Which is precisely where this music has always lived. With military bands and civic orchestras and parades and funerals and weddings, brass band music has always been popular music.

Sweet Crude
Zack Smith

  Onstage, they don’t look like a traditional rock ‘n roll band. Sure, the seven members of Sweet Crude are kinda young and kinda scrawny and their clothes suggest a GAP-meets-Garanimals flare.

But they carry no guitars. Five of them play percussion. And yes, there’s a glockenspiel in the mix.

Sweet Crude sounds different too. They produce a sophisticated mixture of rhythm, classical strings, and musical theater that’s highly danceable and even educational. That’s because the band sings in English and Louisiana French – a language they’re learning on the job.

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