Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pete's Pantheon: Professor Longhair, Polyrhythmically Perverse

Henry Roeland Byrd is a fine name. But if you want to be the Zulu King of New Orleans piano players, you need a name with a little more je ne sais quois to compete with the likes of Jellyroll and Fats. Somewhere, Henry came up with the name  Professor Longhair. It captures his brainy and wild approach to music neatly.

'Fess, in fact, seems to have had two brains. One for his left hand to boogie and chug with, and the other for his right hand to spin glorious arabesques of melody that loop and skitter, contrasting and converging with the bass lines with a dexterity and invention that satisfies and delights. His buoyant Rhumba/Jazz/Blues music combines logic and surprise in a way that reminds more than one listener of Bach.

The wildness in his music, accentuated by the weird yelps and yodels of his singing style, seems to have limited his appeal outside of New Orleans. But he is the hometown hero that players like Dr. John and Allen Toussaint look up to.  A long way up.

1 comment:

  1. The knights who say "Arabesques" three times.....rapidly.

    Groovin' art work, Pete.