LONDON (Reuters) - You can’t get much more New Orleans than Dr John and Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong — so when the former plays the latter, it’s enough to get Big Easy fans sitting up.
Especially if, as voodoo jazz and blues king Dr John says, it was all Armstrong’s idea, more than 40 years after he died.
“He came to me in a dream. He said do my music, but do it your way,” Dr John, a.k.a. Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack or “The Nite Tripper”, told Reuters in an interview at the weekend.
The musician was in London for a concert of Armstrong music at the Barbican Center, part of the EFG London Jazz Festival that runs until next Sunday.
It was a funky affair, earning a standing ovation from the audience, with Dr John’s trademark honky tonk piano and grizzled vocals chaperoned by a thumping brass section led by music director and trombonist Sarah Morrow.
Nearly all the music came from Dr John’s “Ske-Dat-De-Dat ... Spirit Of Satch” album, an eclectic interpretation of songs played by Armstrong rather than a tribute.
“What A Wonderful World” eschews Armstrong’s heartfelt paean for some typical Dr John boogie.
Listening to “Mac The Knife” on the CD, you can’t help wondering what Armstrong (and composer Kurt Weill and lyricist Bertholt Brecht, for that matter) would have made of a sudden burst of hip-hop.
Armstrong would probably have been easy going about it.
“I met him two or three times,” Dr John said. “He was a very funny guy. He always had a good sense of humor.”
At the concert, the rap was replaced by some suitably Satchmo-esque trumpet from Britain’s Byron Wallen.
The band hit its stride about half way through the concert with a powerfully bluesy rendition of the spiritual “Motherless Child” and rounded it off toward the end with a voodoo rock version of the New Orleans anthem “When The Saints Go Marching In”, a world away from its traditional rendition.
It was as Armstrong suggested — his songs, Dr John’s style.
Satchmo is not the first jazz legend to get the Dr John treatment. He has also put out tribute albums to Washington DC’s Duke Ellington and Savannah, Georgia’s Johnny Mercer.
But it is by no means clear either of them asked for it personally.
Editing by Andrew Heavens