Hola Nola- and hola Meschiya Lake, baroness of the Little Big Horns, and Frenchmen St. fixture. Originally from South Dakota, Lake moved to New Orleans with the Circus in 2000, started as a street performer, and would often be found performing on Royal with the Loose Marbles. As we wish all true talents would, she eventually worked her way indoors.
With some regular gigs at the Mimis, the Spotted Cat, Chickie Wah Wah, and recorded evidence of her work now compacted into disc form, Lake seems poised to take the world of old-time jazz by storm with her sauntering, swinging sound. Like many of her contemporaries, she’ll have a busy next couple of weeks, what with a spot at JazzFest and all the smaller shows in between. This Friday, however, is the less frequent ‘Old New Orleans Little Big Vaudeville Variety Show’ at One Eyed Jacks, a ‘very good Friday extravaganza’, says Meschiya. In the meantime, Ms. Lake was gracious enough to supply us with some cuts from her listening collection.
1. Maria Callas -- “La Habenera” (Hamburg, 1962)
This is my favorite clip from one of my favorite artists. It seems she
is filled with and exalted by the music as she prepares her body to
procure a sound so deep and rich, so powerful and controlled, it
acoustically fills an entire theatre above the full orchestra. Her
absolute love of and dedication to her art are an inspiration to me,
not to mention her incomparable talent and skill.
2. Bix Biederbecke -- “I’ll Be a Friend With Pleasure”
This bittersweet tune is on regular rotation in my repertoire with the
Little Big Horns. It sings of a kind of love I have experienced in a
few of my past relationships, and is something I think most people can
relate to. It was also composer, pianist, and cornetist Bix
Beiderbecke’s second to last recording session on September 8th, 1930,
(which also happens to be my birthday, some fifty years later) before
succumbing to alcoholism. It’s a beaut!
3. Pokey Lafarge -- “Sad Girl” and “Hard Times Come and Go” (with the South City Three)
I know I’m cheating a bit putting two songs under one listing, but
they showcase a progression of my good friend and mentor, Pokey
Lafarge’s works in song. The first selection, the touching “Sad Girl”,
is from his debut solo album, and the 2nd is from his latest full
length (and 3rd), release, Riverboat Soul. Pokey is a gem of
contemporary talent making original, old-time sounding songs. He hails
from the city of St. Louis, where he befriended my trombonist, Charlie
Halloran. Pokey has a classic style and witty charm that I think is
lacking in most modern men. He is a good soul and rare talent- I’m
honored to share the stage with him when our paths cross, and I
recommend checking him out at www.pokeylafarge.net.
4. Goran Bregovic -- “Ederlezi”
I love traditional Romani (gypsy) music- this clip is from one of my
all time favorite movies The Time of the Gypsies, by Serbian director
Emir Kusterica, with music by Goran Bregovic. The song “Ederlezi” gets
its name from a festival celebrating the return of Spring to the Roma
people. It is believed that wishes made on this night will come true.
I want a brass band to play this song at my wedding, and my funeral.
5. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band featuring Tom Waits -- “Tootie Ma”
Here is a wonderfully growl-y version of one of the oldest Mardi Gras songs; spreading the joy and vitality of traditional New Orleans to the very broad audience of Tom Waits. Good job, Boys!!
6. Siouxie and the Banshees -- “Strange Fruit”
This is listed for the song, not the video! I love the mix of strings and funeral procession brass on this poignant plea of civil rights in America (although she does significantly change the melody). Originally done by Billie Holiday, it was written by a Brooklyn based Jewish poet and teacher named Abel Meeropol. Abel also adopted the Rosenburg children after their parents’ execution by our very own government. It’s an emotional ballad of the oppressed that brings tears to my eyes every time I think of it and it’s meaning. It’s an important and beautiful reminder of the ugliness humans are capable of, and an agent of our progression that I hope will be kept alive for centuries to come.
7. Rezso Seress --“Szumoru Vasarnap”
This is, in my humble opinion, one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Originally composed by Hungarian Reszo Seress about the horrors of war, it became dubbed “the Hungarian Suicide Song” after several suicides were committed while listening to it (including Reszo and his wife). There are a few different versions, including one by Billie Holiday, and one by Diamanda Galas explaining the Billie version, which was significantly altered by censors. These English translations, based on a poem by Hungarian Laszlo Javor, change the
meaning of the song to one about the death of a lover, and subsequent suicide of the one he loves. No matter the lyrics of this song, it hits me in a very strong way, making me feel both sorrow and reverence of beauty simultaneously. You may catch me performing it as a duo with Tom Mcdermott at Chickie Wah Wah most Wednesdays, but not the censored version! What a beautiful melody!
8. Edith Piaf -- “Padam, Padam”
One of my heroes!! This clip shows the power in her voice and her small, often sickly frame. A Life riddled with joy and tragedy- I believe she drew heavily on these things during her spell-binding performances. This is something I believe in very much-the exorcision of pain through art- taking something negative and turning it into something touching. Padam Padam!
9. Valaida Snow -- “I Must Have That Man”
The amazing Valaida Snow is an often overlooked hero of American music. Born in Chattanooga in 1904, she was taught by her mother to play cello, bass, mandolin, harp, accordion, banjo, violin, clarinet, saxophone, and trumpet at a professional level by the time she was fifteen. She was also an accomplished singer and dancer. By the age of eighteen she had mastered the trumpet and was gaining in popularity. She was dubbed “Little Louis” and the “Queen of Trumpet” and was picked up by Duke Ellington. She caused quite the scandal by marrying the younger Ananias Berry of the dancing Berry Brothers. Her restless nature brought her to Europe, and there was embraced by the elite. While touring Denmark in 1940, she was arrested by Nazis and interred in a work camp for eighteen months. Surviving, but wrecked emotionally, she returned to America and tried to revamp her career in the 1950s. Her amazing and tragic story is hard to summarize in a few words. I can’t think of one contemporary star with her magnitude of versatility and skill. Remember, there was no autotune or computer effects back then. They just don’t make ‘em like they used too.
10. Dancing clip from the movie Hellzapoppin (1941)
This is featured to illustrate the physical materialization of jazz dance music. A wonderful thing has happened since dancers Amy Johnson and Chance Bushman moved to New Orleans in 2007 and joined my then jazz band, The Loose Marbles. In their wake, and with their encouragement, more dancers moved to our fine city to support and dance to the sounds of the ever-growing movement of young traditional New Orleans jazz musicians. On any given night, when a traditional jazz band plays, you can see dancers and musicians creating a symbiotic relationship, and marvel at the joy and skill of movement that is produced. We’ve also recently begun combining efforts by creating a monthly show at One Eyed Jack’s called “The Old New Orleans Little Big Vaudeville Variety Show”, showcasing our music and choreography with original and authentic production numbers and recreating the vibrant entertainment of days long past.
Thank you for reading and listening to my mixtape. It’s my aim to take all of these inspirations, internalize them, and drawing on my emotions, experience, and inner drive, create something that may one day, in turn, inspire someone else to do the same.