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Keys To New Orleans On JazzSet

New Orleans is not only the cradle of jazz. It's also the birthplace of great jazz piano, dating back to the early 1900s, when Jelly Roll Morton tickled the ivories. Hear three pianists who are upholding that great tradition — Jon Cleary, Henry Butler and Allen Toussaint — onstage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., with Keys to New Orleans.

Jon Cleary was born in England and came to New Orleans at age 17 to immerse himself in the city's music and culture. He arrived as a guitarist without his axe, moved into a house with a piano and changed instruments. Now, he's one of the most soulful R&B keyboard men in town. He's gigged with such Bayou blues luminaries as Earl King (1934-2003) and Walter "Wolfman" Washington, Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt and John Scofield. On JazzSet, Cleary leads off with Crescent City composers and originals.

The next man up is New Orleans native Henry Butler, a classically trained musician who studied jazz with master pianists Harold Mabern, George Duke and Sir Roland Hanna. In recent years, he's broadened his scope to work with bluesman Corey Harris and guitarist Leo Nocentelli of The Meters. Butler opens his segment with an original that captures the feeling of home: "Orleans Inspiration." When he moves on to "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" and Toussaint's "Workin' in a Coal Mine," your hair may go perpendicular.

Then Toussaint steps on the stage and says, "Henry left a few keys." The Recording Academy recently honored Toussaint with a lifetime-achievement Grammy for his contributions as a singer and songwriter, pianist, arranger and producer. From his 1950s work with Fats Domino and Lee Dorsey to his chart-topping 1970s hits (short list: "Lady Marmalade" by Patti LaBelle, The Pointer Sisters' "Yes We Can Can," Bonnie Raitt's "What Do You Want the Boy To Do?" and Glen Campbell covering "Southern Nights") to present-day collaborations with Elvis Costello, Toussaint has created a unique, rich legacy. Singing at the piano, he shares some of it here.

Originally recorded Nov. 7, 2008.

Credits: Dr. Billy Taylor is the Artistic Advisor for Jazz at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; Kevin Struthers directs jazz programming. Field producer and writer is Mark Schramm, with recording/remix engineer Duke Markos and Big Mo Recording.

Copyright 2010 WBGO

Mark Schramm
Becca Pulliam