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Professor Longhair: New Orleans Piano (Atlantic 7225-2)


There’s a relish in Longhair - a delight in words/sounds & the situations they portray, and in the sheer physicality of his pianowork - that is simply irreplacable. Many of his heirs, such as Dr John, capture much of this...but, they would also be the first to admit that there is just no substitute. Whenever you really want that particularly zesty relish - the kind that makes you lick your lips & settle down for a third helping (thank you very much) - the “livin’, lovin’ Dr Professor Longhair” is & always will be your man.

He got his start as a child, dancing atop pianos in New Orleans bars, progressed to playing one himself - building the counterpoint of his dancing into staider/older models - and thereby became the innovator who birthed the New Orleans piano style of the last fifty years (and more).

His first recordings are great, but his best work came in the early 50s, in two classic sessions for Atlantic, now complete on this irreplacable disc. The first session is w/a very small group, allowing his romping piano to fully shine through, like a little kid dancing free in his own candystore. The second session “orchestrates” his style (perfectly) for a slightly larger band - and offers a sax player who sounds something like an animated zipper, to boot.

From his joyous ode to truly upright lovin’, “Ball the Wall”, to the amazed

gape at the female gait of “She Walks Right In”...there’s nary a dud to be heard. And, if you (truly) wanna understand what made his pianowork such a lodestone to every pianist that has heard it since, just listen to his solo in “Hey Little Girl”...repeatedly cascading treble counterposed against a pounding bass, that lurches from side to side w/a grace that seems almost inconceivable: such a thing was never heard prior to the Professor’s advent...

Everything about Longhair was pure one-off...from his crack-voiced/gargled yodels, the whistling solos, & the lyrics that slyly celebrated life’s simple pleasures, to his incredibly physical & slippery piano style - that seems such a natural for the instrument, so that the real (unasked) question is simply why it took so goddamn long for anyone to invent? I could go on forever about Longhair...he is (simply) one of the essential pleasures and, perhaps, the most joyously life-affirming artist I’ve ever run across.

So...next time you’re tempted by the heresy which claims that only down art can be truly great - and that the rest is (merely) superficial “entertainment” - slip on down to your local & lay your hands upon this disc. A genuinely lovely person, I’m sure that Longhair would be embarassed by my unabashed paen to his greatness. But...I’m also sure that he’d purely love to help you rediscover the joys amidst your life...




John Henry Calvinist