New Orleans musical giant pays tribute to fellow legend


Proper Records / September 1st

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and six-time GRAMMY®-winner Dr. John is New Orleans’ most prominent living musical icon. He’s the embodiment of his hometown’s freewheeling creative spirit and multiple musical traditions and has built a visionary, idiosyncratic body of work that’s deeply rooted in the Crescent City’s myriad blues, R&B, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll traditions.

Dr. John’s new album on Proper Records, Ske-Dat-De-Dat…Spirit of Satch, is fitting and pays heartfelt tribute to another larger-than-life New Orleans legend: the influential trumpeter and vocalist Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, whose musical innovations created the template for 20th-century jazz and whose playful attitude and extraordinary spirit made him a beloved figure whose worldwide appeal transcended music.

“He’s the most famous guy that ever came out of my neighborhood,” notes Dr. John. “He became a legend all over, for his trumpet playin’ and everything else, and he was the United States’ ambassador to the world.”

Ske-Dat-De-Dat…Spirit of Satch honours not only Armstrong’s musical genius but also his effervescent personality with 13 classic smooth jazz numbers drawn from various phases of Armstrong’s five-decade career, with Dr. John joined by a stellar supporting cast that manages to update the material while maintaining the music’s timeless emotional appeal.

The subtitle Spirit of Satch is particularly appropriate given the album’s birth cycle, which, according to Dr. John, was set into motion when the late legend Armstrong—whom he’d only met once in his lifetime, when in the office of their mutual manager Joe Glaser—came to him in a dream. He remembers “Louis’s spirit came to me and told me to do something, that’s how this whole thing started. Louis told me, ‘Take my music and do it your way.’

It was the most unexpected thing in the world to me, to have Louis’ spirit show up like that, but he gave me a concept of where to roll with it that was spiritually correct. That made me feel very open to try some different things, because I felt that his spirit had ok’ed this record.”

Before making the album, Dr. John honoured Satchmo, in many ways including on stage, by presenting rapturously received tribute concerts, dubbed “Props to Pops,” at New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music in March 2012 and at the Hollywood Bowl in July 2013.

In addition to Dr. John’s trademark vocals and piano, and backup from some of New Orleans’ finest musicians, Ske-Dat-De-Dat…Spirit of Satch features a stellar assortment of guest singers and musicians.

Bonnie Raitt shares the spotlight on a swinging reading of “I’ve Got the World On A String,” Ledisi and the McCrary Sisters lend gospel authority to “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” Anthony Hamilton is also featured on the somewhat mournful “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child,” Shemekia Copeland trades verses with Dr. John on a playful reworking on “Sweet Hunk O’ Trash,” and the Blind Boys of Alabama lend their powerful voices to “What A Wonderful World” and “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams.”

Since Ske-Dat-De-Dat…Spirit of Satch is a tribute to the man who popularized the trumpet for a worldwide audience, it’s appropriate that the project should feature some of today’s greatest trumpeters, such as Nicholas Payton (on “What A Wonderful World” and “Gut Bucket Blues”), Terence Blanchard (“Mack the Knife,” “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams”), Arturo Sandoval (“Tight Like This,” “Memories of You”), Wendell Brunious (“Thats My Home”) and James Andrews (“Dippermouth Blues”), along with New Orleans’ legendary horn ensemble the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (“When You’re Smiling”).

“The whole thing felt pretty special, and I definitely was in a different zone for this record,” says Dr. John, who co-produced the album with his hugely talented trombonist Sarah Morrow, who also arranged ten of the album’s 13 tracks. “I wanted to pull together some of his hits and some of songs he wasn’t as well known for, and make them feel fresh and different. Sarah wrote some slammin’ charts that kept everything spacious and hip. And everybody played and sang great, and gave it their own spirit.”

Ske-Dat-De-Dat…Spirit of Satch is the latest achievement in his colourful musical history that stretches back to the 1950s when he was known as his given name, Mac Rebennack. Dr. John has tried his hand at numerous things in the music industry, being a hugely talented producer, guitarist, pianist and songwriter working New Orleans’ studio scene, working for such local labels as Ace, Ron and Ric, not only this but collaborating with the likes of James Booker, Earl King, Professor Longhair, Art Neville and Frankie Ford.

In the early ’60s, Dr. John relocated to Los Angeles, where he played on countless sessions before debuting his flamboyant new musical persona, “Dr. John, The Night Tripper,” with his first solo album, 1968’s Gris-Gris, which introduced the world to his uniquely eclectic voodoo-funk.

In more recent years, he has remained the distinctly prolific and powerful force that he always was, not only releasing more than 30 albums of his own, but also collaborating with a broad array of acts including the Rolling Stones, Sonny and Cher, Van Morrison, Aretha Franklin, Gregg Allman, Mike Bloomfield, Levon Helm, Ringo Starr, Rickie Lee Jones, B.B. King and Christina Aguilera. He has also experimented with acting and has been featured in such films as The Last Waltz and Blues Brothers 2000.

Without a doubt, Dr.John has had an astounding amount of success and this album is just another to add to the list. He has combined old school smooth jazz with a modern spin to create a fresh new sound whilst paying tribute to the legends of the past. This album has all the components to be a real triumph and one that will be celebrated for years to come.


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