St. James Infirmary

So a couple of weeks ago I was searching Spotify for a good version of “St. James Infirmary”, a fun blues song I was introduced to a few years ago. I have heard a few versions of this song by artists such as Louis Armstrong and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, but I was immediately impressed by Allen Toussaint’s version when I stumbled across it. The simple instrumentation combined with the minor key and well-placed subtlety made it a very nice arrangement.

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The only problem here is I had never heard of Allen Toussaint and I knew nothing about him. The solution? Listen to all of his music! And I gotta tell you, he has a lot of it; this guy was making and producing music from the ’50’s up until his death in 2015.

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Not all of his music is jazz. In fact, he has done quite a bit of R&B, Soul, Funk, and Blues. Apparently he has been an extremely influential figure to New Orleans R&B and composed a number of well-known songs such as “Fortune Teller” “Ride Your Pony” “Southern Nights” (this one was featured in the recent movie Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and the frequently covered “Working In The Coal Mine” He also helped produce hundreds of fantastic songs such as “Right Place, Wrong Time” by Dr. John (one of my favorites for road trips) and the famous “Lady Marmalade” by Labelle.

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I am so glad I know all of this now! This guy has been a major player in 60’s and 70’s funk and R&B music, I can hardly believe I didn’t know him.

Of course, this does not mean I love everything he’s done. There was one particular album I listened to called Mr. Mardi Gras – I Love A Carnival Ball that was truly hard for me to sit through. Almost painful, really. I can’t even tell you exactly what I didn’t like about it, but I think it was probably a combination of musical style and instrumentation. It just sounded cheap to me, and I was glad when it was over.

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We all know I am a sucker for jazz and all of its varied forms. Jazz is at least a little bit present in or was an inspiration for many of today’s genres anyway, and I enjoy those for what they are, but there is still something special to me about listening to a small combo band playing bluesy or jazzy tunes like I would expect to find in some smoky underground bar downtown in a big city in the 50’s. Thus, the albums I enjoyed most on this journey were the ones that reflected style.

So if you are looking for a relaxing jazz album to listen to, check one of these out: The Bright Mississippi and American Tunes. There are some great tracks on those two albums such as “Singin The Blues” “Delores’ Boyfriend” “Viper’s Drag” and “Long, Long Journey”

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If you prefer to stick with R&B and Funk, check out the albums Southern Nights (really good) and Sweet Touch Of Love. As far as recommended tracks, I would have to go with “Last Train” “Victim Of The Darkness” “Sweet Touch Of Love” and “Southern Nights”

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I may have found Allen Toussaint for his jazz albums, but every time I listen to his Soul, R&B, and Funk I love it just a little bit more. He was truly a gifted composer, and I am so glad I got the chance to explore his music like this. After everything I have learned I am almost ashamed I didn’t know who he was, but then I suppose that’s kind of the point of this project, isn’t it?

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Nice Work If You Can Get It

Anyone who knows me well knows I have a deep and unending love of jazz music, and I have since I was a kid. So it comes as no surprise that the next artist on my list is a group that was a huge hit in the swing and boogie-woogie era, the Andrews Sisters. I’m pretty sure anyone who was around during the peak of their career understands what a sensation they were. They are likely most famous for their work during WWII, recording a number of hits and singing to troops on a USO tour.  They also sang on many very popular radio shows as well as in a number of movies.

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The Andrews Sisters started singing together as children and continued for years, together for most of it. They have fantastic harmonies, as is common for close relatives, and the arrangements they sang were popular across the country. You might be familiar with such hits as “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (Means That You’re Grand)” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Rum and Coca-Cola” but they had many more hits than that.

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Here is a list of tunes I recommend you check out if you have any interest: “Show Me The Way To Go Home” “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)” “Hold Tight (Want Some Seafood Mama)” “Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar” and of course the three I listed above. “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” is a personal favorite of mine. 

Honestly, that’s just scratching the surface. If you ever listen to music from that era you’ve probably heard at least of few of their songs before. If you like tight harmonies, you’ll love them. If you like swing beats, jazz orchestras, and anything related to that, you’ll love them. They set the standard for a specific type of song that has brought about countless other acts doing the same thing. So many artists, from then to now, have taken inspiration from the Andrews Sisters and the type of music they produced.

Here’s a pic from a Christina Agulera video where she draws directly from their legacy, going so far as to have 3 women (a redhead a brunette and a blonde, just like the Andrews Sisters) singing together in uniform. Compare it to the pic of the Andrews Sisters below it.

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The Andrews Sisters are a fantastic group. I am so glad to have them in my music library, not only is it great music, it’s a part of our countries history. They are iconic, and I will always enjoy their music. I love a good three part harmony.

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