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RJO Honors A Trio Of Jazz Legends

Louis Armstrong, Johnny Adams and Dr. John

By Chuck Reider

The Louis Armstrong House Museum has acquired the only-known film footage of the great jazz musician in a recording studio. The 33-minute, 16mm film captures Armstrong recording his 1959 album "Satchmo Plays King Oliver." (April 20) AP

The Reno Jazz Orchestra celebrates New Orleans' 300th anniversary with “New Orleans – A Night in the Big Easy” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday,  July 28, 2018, at Wingfield Park. This article features the music and musicians, but first a pop quiz from my article about New Orleans history and culture.

1)    Congo Square is located in which New Orleans district:

  • a.    French Quarter
  • b.    Treme
  • c.    Garden

2)    The second line consists of:

  • a.    A brass band
  • b.    Partiers joining the parade
  • c.    Strings of beads thrown from Mardi Gras floats

3)    Acadiana, a region of Louisiana is the home to:

  • a.    Cajuns
  • b.    Creoles
  • c.    Southeast Asian refugees

Extra credit for those who go back to my June 1 article to get the correct answers — or check the answers out at the end of this one.

Now let’s get down to the business at hand. We are going to feature three New Orleans musicians — Louis Armstrong, Johnny Adams and Dr. John — to share a bit of their life story, music style and songs they made famous.

Louis Armstrong

Most jazz historians credit New Orleans cornetist Buddy Bolden (1877-1931) as the creator of jazz. But it was Louis Armstrong, the first jazz superstar who popularized it across the United States and around the world. Born 1901 in the Treme district, Armstrong had a rough childhood. He spent his youth in poverty in the tough neighborhood known as the Battlefield. At the age of 11 he was sent to the Colored Waifs Home for Boys as punishment for firing a blank from a gun. It was at the home that he took up the cornet and played in its band.

His first gigs were playing on a riverboat in Fate Marable’s band and he described it as “going to the university.” Here he learned how to sight-read music and play written arrangements. In 1922 King Oliver invited Armstrong to join his Creole Jazz Band in Chicago where he made enough money to quit his day jobs.

After two years with Oliver and several recording sessions he moved on to New York and joined the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra. A year later, at the urging of his wife Lil, he moved back to Chicago and formed his own group, The Hot Five. The recordings of this group brought Armstrong to the forefront of the brand new jazz scene.

The Great Depression hit the jazz scene hard. Many musicians stopped playing and famous venues such as the Cotton Club closed their doors, so Armstrong took to the road. For the next 30 years he toured the world, performing 300 concerts a year! By 1950 he was an icon and jazz ambassador to the world, touring Africa, Europe, Asia and even the Soviet bloc, sponsored by the U.S. State Department. His trumpet solos and vocal features embody the spirit of jazz to this day and without them there is a good chance folks like me would not be playing and loving jazz. Armstrong passed away in his longtime home in Queens, New York in 1971 at the age of 70.

To honor the great one, the RJO will perform “The South Rampart Street Parade” in a traditional Dixieland style, and a Thad Jones composition from his tribute album to Armstrong, “Suite for Pops." The selection is “A Good Time Was Had By All” that celebrates the joy of Mardi Gras.

Johnny Adams

You may have not heard of our next artist, but I encourage you to run out to the record store, Itunes, or Spotify to check out singer Johnny Adams. Don’t take my word, take the word of Dr. John: “... Johnny Adams ... has to be the best soul singer out of New Orleans ever.”

Born in New Orleans in 1932, he started his professional singing career right out of school, joining the Soul Revivers gospel choir. It was not until 1959 when his songwriting neighbor, Dorothy LaBostrie, persuaded him to try singing secular music. His first song was LaBostrie’s “I Won’t Cry,” produced by none other than teenager Mac Rebennack (aka Dr. John!).

His biggest national hits were in 1969 with “Release Me” and the follow up “Reconsider Me.” Though Adams continued to perform in New Orleans clubs and continued to record, he did not receive national attention again until he signed with Rounder Records in 1984.

The RJO will perform two songs from the Rounder Records collection. David Wells will be our featured singer on “Imitation of Love” and “I Don’t Want to Know.” If you have heard either of the RJO’s gospel Christmas concerts or last year’s Roots in the Blues, then you know how electric his voice is and how it is a perfect fit for Adams' style.

Dr. John

I first heard Mac Rebennack in 1968 when he released “Gris-Gris” under the name "Dr. John," but it was his 1972 album "Gumbo" that I became a fan. This album is a tribute to New Orleans rhythm and blues and includes such great tunes as “Iko Iko” and “Big Chief.” 

Rebennack, a New Orleans native, was born in 1940 and by the early 1950s began his studio recording career. New Orleans during the '50s and '60s was the center for rhythm-and-blues recording, with hits by Fats Domino, Little Richard and Professor Longhair, just to name a few. He was in the middle of all that great music.

After the action drifted away to Memphis and Muscle Shoals, he moved to Los Angeles to continue his recording studio career. Shortly after he recorded his first album “Gris-Gris,” a blend of psychedelic rock and New Orleans R&B. Over his long career he has recorded 36 albums under his name and appeared as a sideman on too many albums to mention — from Harry Connick Jr. to B.B. King, Greg Allman, and Christina Aguilera.

Trey Stone, a member of the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame, will be our featured vocalist on Rebennack’s songs “Qualified” and “Right Place, Wrong Time.” Trey is a powerhouse singer and guitarist we featured on our album “Bring Me the Funk of James Brown.”

The RJO will feature “Big Chief”. It is a tribute song to the Big Chiefs who lead their Mardi Gras Indian “tribes” that have been a New Orleans tradition for over 100 years.

The chorus of the song is “find a levee and burn it down.” I had no idea what that meant until Jackie Landrum, who will sing it for us, told me about the traditional Louisiana bonfires. As Christmas approaches, construction of creative, large and intricate structures are built along the levee. They could be log cabins, pirate ships, anything. People float down the levee to see the show as they all are set on fire.

I need to give a shout-out to Lori Johnson, who arranges all the vocal parts and rehearses the singers. She will be featured on Hoagy Carmichael’s “New Orleans.”

And if you cannot join us Saturday, there are still tickets available for our July 30 performance at Sand Harbor. Information is available at

Answers to the pop quiz:

1)    a
2)    b
3)    a,b,c

This article appeared online at, 7/23/2018

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