Leaving the Cemetery

In this painting, legendary trombonist Louis Nelson is leading a musical procession out of the cemetery during the kind of life affirming funeral experienced in New Orleans. Nelson took up the trombone at age 15, and was a key figure that defined the New Orleans sound. He played venues such as Preservation Hall and the legendary Paddock jazz club for sixty years until he died in 1990. Hundreds of people and scores of musicians paraded down Bourbon Street making joyful noise during Nelson’s funeral.  In that jazz funeral musical procession in 1990, Trombone Shorty was among the many musicians that had been mentored by Louis Nelson that to this day keep the music that he loved and lived alive.

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Bill’s Grocery

In the Big Easy, every street corner, every church and even the corner grocery can come alive with the musical spirit of this enthusiastic city.   A drummer with the Eureka Brass Band takes a break to sip a soda pop on a bench outside of Bill’s Grocery.  This seminal brass band epitomized the street jazz that provides the daily sound track for life in New Orleans.  The Eureka ensemble came inside to record classic tracks at Preservation Hall,   -but the streets and funeral processions were where their music was always at its best.

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Art Pepper, walking home in the Los Angeles hills

Art Pepper was born to a single thirteen year old prostitute who worked the gritty seaside docks south of L.A. Pepper overcame a destitute and lonely childhood, a hard scrabble life as a teen street thug/petty criminal and a dozen years of incarceration in such places as San Quentin.  Pepper was held in the grip of heroin addiction for a major part of his career until his third wife Laurie guided him to sobriety, new success and widespread recognition as a jazz innovator.  When you hear the deep emotion and aching pain that pour out of his golden sax, you feel the blues, -and realize that Pepper paid some very heavy dues. As with all great blues, such wrenching pain, deep soul and raw emotion is then distilled down to joyful music that expresses a healing love of life.  Peppers colorful and checkered life is memorialized in his biography “Straight Life” and in the documentary film “Notes from a Jazz Survivor”. This film captures Pepper’s fine live performance at a jazz club in Malibu. Pepper died at a young age, so this Malibu concert was one of his best and last gigs. Pepper’s jazz compatriots included Stan Getz, Hoagy Carmichael, Freddie Hubbard, Zoot Sims, Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones, Stan Kenton and scores of great musicians.  Pepper is credited with defining the “the West Coast Sound” in jazz.  At the time of Pepper’s death in 1982, Jazz critic Scott Yanow referred to him as the “world’s greatest on the alto sax.”

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Jazz Club, Paris 1928

As noted, the cultural term bohemian referred to the low rent district where both ethnic Bohemian-Czech immigrants and impoverished artists and poets lived in Paris.  After World War I, refugees from Northern Africa and expatriate African American soldiers stayed on in Europe after the war and found low cost housing in the Bohemian district.  This created a vibrant, tolerant and exuberant inter-racial social and artistic milieu.  African-American musicians such as Josephine Baker who moved to Paris became celebrated stars of this scene. The Gypsy Jazz of Django Reinhardt added to this magical music mix.  Indeed, the atmosphere was Laissez les bons temps rouler!    Let the good times roll.   African-American poet, Langston Hughes spent time in Paris during this golden age of Jazz… -in fact, his poetry is often referred to as “jazz poetry”.  In Paris, these intimate jazz clubs were fully integrated, however this social acceptance, tolerance and inter-racial social interaction was not accepted in other social settings outside the walls of these Parisian boites. In New York City during this same era, jazz was also a cultural sensation, inter-racial music ensembles performed on the stage of The Cotton Club, -but the audience was “whites only” and also very upscale in social class.  Jazz was a vanguard influence in the gradual social movement toward more complete integration that finally became grounded in political and civil society in the 1950’s and 60’s.  The arts often serve as a leading edge catalyst as society adapts and changes.

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William Bebe Ridgely

William Bebe Ridgley

Ridgley and Papa Celestin were the co-founders of the Original Tuxedo Orchestra of New Orleans.  This brass band took its name from the famed Tuxedo Dance Hall in the Storyville red light district. Noted musicians Louis Armstrong, Johnny St. Cyr and Zutty Singleton all performed with The Tuxedo Orchestra. When this dance hall closed along with the official closing of the regulated red light district, Ridgely and his musical companions continued to perform around New Orleans and on tour throughout the southern Gulf states. When the Storyville red light district was closed as the result of local political pressure, much of the employment for musicians dried up as the brothels and dance halls closed.  Jazz was born in New Orleans, this political event then forced many musicians to migrate north.  Tuxedo Orchestra legends such as Louis Armstrong expanded their careers in Northern cities such as Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago and New York.  A few headed to L.A., where youth of the time such as Art Pepper first heard this liberating music. Jazz started on the streets of New Orleans, but over time became a pervasive American Art Form.

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Willie Joseph Trio at the Paddock Café

This colorful painting provided the spark that led the Richards family to explore the art of Edwin Keiffer further.  This painting was being offered at an obscure rural auction in Columbia County New York.  It had been sold a few decades earlier by the acclaimed Papillon Gallery in Los Angeles to a New York art collector.  In 2016 it was offered for sale outside of any art galleries or any established channels of the world of art collecting and commerce.  We surmise that the owner of this painting passed away and that relatives or an estate executor simply tossed this painting in with furniture and other household items being sold off at a rural estate auction. There was no attempt by the estate or the auction house to appraise its actual financial value or the provenance of this interesting work of art. We placed our bid at the auction and purchased it for a small fraction of its actual value. Richards family members discussed our purchase of this painting with the proprietor of The Dorothy Rogers Collection in Santa Fe (a Keiffer expert) and Martin Wolpert of the Papillon Gallery in Los Angeles that had represented Ed Kieffer’s art during the 1980’s and 1990’s. (It is Wolpert of Papillion Gallery that had sold this painting to a New York collector many years ago.)   Wolpert and Rogers, two art experts familiar with the work of Edwin Kieffer described our purchase of this painting as “a remarkable find”.  All three musicians in this painting are named on the back of the canvas; Willie Joseph clarinet,  Anton Purnel on piano and Elvin Woods, drummer. The venue of this performance and the setting for the painting is identified as the legendary New Orleans jazz club; The Paddock.  In 1925, a young gambler by the name of Steve Valenti opened the renowned Paddock Lounge that lasted on Bourbon for a long period of time. Located in the 300 block of Bourbon, Steve Valenti’s lounge was the hot place to go all throughout the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and 60’s.  Valenti was an equestrian and a colorful professional gambler. At the age of 29, he took Bourbon Street by storm. With a stubborn attitude he opened his club with great purpose. On a whim and as a bet with his friends, Valenti set out to prove them wrong. “My friends told me I was crazy.  I was determined to take a gamble and beat the odds.” For over 50 years, The Paddock was one of the most successful and long lived jazz clubs in New Orleans history.  The Paddock Lounge featured noted performers such as Octave Crosby, Clem Tervalon, Louis Nelson and The Willie Joseph Trio portrayed in this Kieffer painting.    “In the old days we’d have the first floor show at 11 at night and every hour after that. The last show was at 8 in the morning.”  Having this early morning show attracted barkers and chorus girls from the other night clubs around the French Quarter as they ended their shift.  The Paddock Lounge was the ultimate after hours gathering spot for other musicians as they finished their gigs up and down Bourbon St.  Valenti was quoted in 1961, “We have the only authentic Dixieland jazz left in New Orleans.”  Indeed, the heart and soul of New Orleans jazz lived on for decades at The Paddock as other establishments in The Quarter catered to tourists with T shirt shops and baudy burlesque shows. The Paddock was a local hangout that achieved international recognition and widespread fame.  In this vibrant painting, you can feel Willie Joseph’s toe tapping to the swing and rhythm of his music.

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Dizzy Gillespie

John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, (1917–1993) was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, composer, and singer. Music critic Scott Yanow wrote, “Dizzy Gillespie’s contributions to jazz were huge. One of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time (some would say the best), Gillespie was such a complex virtuoso player that his contemporaries ended up copying Miles Davis and Fats Navarro instead. It was not until Jon Faddis’s emergence in the 1970s that Dizzy’s signature style was successfully recreated and emulated by another musician.”  Gillespie was a trumpet virtuoso and innovative improviser, building on the virtuoso style of Roy Eldridge but adding rich layers of harmonic complexity previously unheard in jazz. His beret and horn-rimmed spectacles, his scat singing, his bent horn, pouched cheeks and his light-hearted personality were essential in popularizing bebop.  This man defined “cool” in the age of jazz.  In the 1940s Gillespie, with Charlie Parker, became a major figure in the development of bebop and modern jazz. He taught and influenced many other musicians, including trumpeters Miles Davis, Jon Faddis, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, Arturo Sandoval, Lee Morgan, Chuck Mangione, and balladeer Johnny Hartman. For much of his life, he toured the world as a global ambassador of this All American Art Form.  The music of Gillespie remains a national treasure.

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Sarah Vaughn

Sarah Lois Vaughan 1924 –1990 was an American jazz singer, described by music critic Scott Yanow as having “one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century.”  Her career was launched when she won first place at the acclaimed Apollo theatre Amateur Night in Harlem/NYC at the age of 18.  After becoming a regular performer in Manhattan jazz clubs, she rose up into international stardom. Nicknamed “Sassy” and “The Divine One”,[2] Sarah Vaughan was a four-time Grammy Award winner, including a “Lifetime Achievement Award”. The National Endowment for the Arts bestowed upon her its “highest honor in jazz”, the NEA Jazz Masters Award, in 1989.

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Verlaine Dreaming in a Paris Café

In 2016, Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  During various interviews over his long career, Dylan cites numerous literary influences that informed his songwriting art through the decades. One poet that Dylan has cited is the French Symbolist poet, Paul Verlaine.  Indeed, Dylan names Verlaine in the lyrics of his classic 1974 song, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.”  Verlaine’s poetry provided inspiration and lyrics for several composers.  (Gabriel Faure, Renaldo Hahn, Poldowki, Debussy.)  Most well known is Claude Debussy’s Clair de lune.  Paul Verlaine lived the bohemian lifestyle in every aspect of his colorful literary career and life.  In this painting he is swept up in a daydream reverie.  One detail  of note in this painting;  the glass and carafe on his café table.  Verlaine’s drink of choice was the aromatic, herbal, slightly hallucinogenic alcoholic spirit, Absinthe.  Absinthe is tightly interwoven in the music, art and café society of the bohemian experience in Paris.  Because of the slightly hallucinogenic effects of the the chemical compound thujone in this spirit, it was banned in the USA from 1917 until 2007. Since 2007, over 200 brands of Absinthe produced in Europe and the US have come onto the market.  Absinthe that is currently legal and available in the USA has a low content of thujone.

My desire conjured, where the gold roofs soar to music’s strains.

Where fragrances entice, endless harems, bodily paradise.   –Paul Verlain

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