Monday, December 31, 2007

Blues In The Snow

It's five PM, and completely dark outside, right now. The sun set almost an hour ago and so I slowly gather my clothes together in my dimly lit minuscule apartment. The computer casts its rays across the room, which helps light the place up. In the six years that I have lived here, this is the closest thing that I have to Christmas lights.

I look out one of my two windows, and I see a vast parking lot, filled with snow-covered cars. Most of the vehicles have several inches of freshly fallen snow on them and it is still snowing. A tiny Bobcat plow is clearing he sidewalks. It darts back and forth, as it removes the snow from the pedestrian's path.

I bundle up warmly with a hooded sweat jacket, overcoat and wool hat, then I head for the front door and out into the cold night air. The large, crisp snowflakes sparkle and shine underneath the streetlights that break the huge dome of darkness, which rains down from the heavens above. It is a magical night for walking.

I have a forty minute stroll down the hill to my place of employment, where I wash dishes in a busy restaurant. It is an enjoyable walk, especially when I plug into the local radio station; the one that has the blues hour, which begins at five o'clock. The music is as beautiful as the thickly descending snow, even though the songs originate from that hot and humid place, called New Orleans.

The song is classic barrelhouse piano with a driving back beat. The artist is Henry Roeland Byrd, better known the world over as Professor Longhair. He is noted for his driving rhythms, which often come from his feet with which he constantly pounds against the base of the instrument. It is a captivating style of music, one which he first perfected during the heyday of R & B back in the sixties. The Professor enjoyed a second career years later when the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival got going. Until his death in 1980 the New Orleans native was one of the fixtures of the very popular outdoor music stage.

Then another piano master from the Big Easy comes over the air. The song begins with a wild classical prelude, then it breaks into a funky style. This is the trademark of another keyboard wizard of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues, the late great James Booker. He was a madman of the piano, known around the city as much as he unique style that developed from his early training as a classical pianist, as his legendary descent into a dark world through the doorway of illegal drug use. Booker was a child prodigy on the piano, who eventually found his way to a successful recording career. He too became a fixture at the Jazz Festival in New Orleans until he died in 1983 at the age of 43.

Music from these two marvelous musicians continues all the way along my snowy walk to work. It is a birthday party of sorts. A sort of wacky Jazz funeral that warms up the New England winter night, for these two maestros practically share the same birthday. Henry Byrd was born on December 19th and James Booker on December 17th.

No comments: