Music can be a form of perfection - with nothing added or subtracted, flawless just the way it is.

Sam Cooke has, in my opinion, one of the best voices of all time. It’s soft, full of emotion, it’s reassuring, kind of smokey, creamy and incredibly soothing. If ever there was a voice which could alleviate pain and hurt, I think it would be Sam Cooke’s. Listen to his soulful ‘Ease My Troublin Mind’ to hear what I mean. Whenever I feel blue about something, a cup of tea while listening to Sam Cooke always helps.

Samuel Cook, born in 1931, began his career with the gospel music. He was so successful as a gospel singer, that he was afraid to make a transition into pop music because he didn’t want to disappoint all the religious followers. Eventually despite his fear he made the transition into secular waters with a hit song You Send Me. We can all be grateful he did that, as he is now widely recognized as the forefather of Soul music, which is a predecessor of funk, modern R&B and others, and because he gave rise to the likes of Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Solomon Burke, etc. If it weren’t for Sam Cooke, we would be deprived of a lot of wonderful, soulful music.
If you’re not sure what soul music is, listen to this short recording of Sam Cooke humming. I feel that within these 8 bars he explains it much better than anyone could with 8 pages of writing.

Seeing as he was a pioneer of soul music, you could say he was exploring new territory. He had to find a balance between secular pop music and religious gospel and spiritual music and he was bound to have some misses. I feel like some of his pop tunes were quite awful, but in the end he found his style. His album ‘Night Beat’ is phenomenal and is one of my favourite albums. It’s warm, emotional, bluesy, contemplative and easy to listen to. I strongly recommend it to anyone. Give it a listen! If you’re not sure you would like it, here’s little taste of it.

Sam Cooke wrote and recorded innumerable great and memorable songs, but there is one which goes above and beyond and is the most important song he ever made, if you ask me. Inspired by Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowing In the Wind’ and drawing from his own experiences, he wrote a stirring and profound song about civil rights, called ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’. I think it’s a song everybody has to hear at least once in their life. It has been covered many times and it became an anthem for the African-American civil right movement in the 60’s. If you just listen to it without any knowledge of the background, it’s already a compelling and potent piece of music, but once you place it in its time and context, it becomes something more than just a tune. It becomes a haunting embodiment of things that were happening at the time. On top of all that, the song is very personal - while touring, he experienced the injustices happening in the States firsthand, and not long before Sam wrote the song, his 18 months old son drowned. All of this is reflected in ‘There were times when I thought I couldn’t last for long, but now I think I’m able to carry on’ as well as in the overall weariness and emotion in the song.

But enough talking already. Just listen to the song and you’ll know exactly what I meant and much more.

4. November 2012
Sam Cooke Soul

Last time I wrote a bit about my time in New Orleans and I thought I would continue talking about it for another post.
On a Sunday afternoon, after walking around the French Quarter for the whole day, listening to some great music on the streets, having some great seafood, my girlfriend and I went to hear Kermit Ruffins in Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy pub. The first time I heard of Kermit was in the Treme series, where he played himself. I didn’t think much of him at the beginning but I listened to a few of his albums and immediately started loving his music and now, after seeing him live, I think he’s such a wonderful person. Kermit Ruffins is a New Orleans native who’s been playing music since he was a teenager. If anyone wants to get a quick feeling of New Orleans, you should listen an album of his.
He is an avid cook, he’s always having a good time, and through his music, he makes sure everyone else is happy too. In a sense, Kermit, like his great idol, Louis Armstrong, is just a simple guy trying to draw a smile on your face with his music. He’s warm, unpretentious and humble.

Kermit's Treme Speakeasy by Žan Anderle

We went to many bars in New Orleans, but Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy felt different. I’ve never been in a bar where I felt so at home. It just felt so unbelievably cozy and relaxed.

We noticed right away that pretty much everyone was from the neighbourhood. You could tell from the way people were talking to each other, the way they were behaving and the casual clothes they were wearing. Everyone knew everyone and they were all so friendly. When we came in all the tables were taken, but right away a couple that offered to share their table with us. The waitress came to get our order saying “what can I get you, baby?”. Everything and everyone in that speakeasy made sure we relaxed and had a good time.
Kermit is famous for cooking at his own gigs and this was no different. He gives away his food during the breaks, but we couldn’t wait for that. We ordered one portion (the portions in New Orleans are huge) of red beans and rice with rabbit. We opted for rabbit, because we didn’t feel like some crazy stuff Kermit always grills like raccoon or possum. It was the best red beans and rice we’d had thus far and we had them almost every day in New Orleans, so that says something. Kermit takes his grilling very seriously. He jokes that he’s actually a master chef who does some music on the side. Well, when you try his food, you see that that’s not far from the truth. His food is just as delicious as his music and it tastes the same way - homey, cozy, friendly, happy, indulgent and just simply good.
Before the show, Kermit was standing by the entrance, saying hi to every guest and he knew most of them. The way he was greeting everybody and the way he had so much fun throughout the show, it just felt like he’s having one big house party every week.The band even had a big ICE box filled with beers by the bandstand.
His love and respect for Louis Armstrong was definitely visible in his performance and his choice of songs. The music was wonderful and even though he was joking all the time, the quality of the music never suffered. Kermit called a lot of friends on stage to perform with him which just added to the feeling that this wasn’t a show but a friendly get-together where he and his Barbecue Swingers played for some friends.

When you’re in New Orleans, even if it’s just for a few days, you come to realize that the city is all about delicious, hearty food, friendly people, wonderful music everywhere and having a good time (Laissez les bons temps rouler!). Well, that’s what I feel Kermit is also all about. His everyday life revolves around music, food and indulgence (here’s a good, but long, article about his everyday life) and in the end, you can see that his music, food and his bar embodies this New Orleans personality of his.

29. October 2012
Jazz Kermit Ruffins Louis Armstrong New Orleans

The Spotted Cat by Žan Anderle

This year in September I was in New Orleans. Going to New Orleans had been my wish for a very long time, but I didn’t want to go before I turned 21, since most of the bars won’t let you in otherwise. Which means I had a lot of time to dream about it before I actually went there. I read about it, I read about the food there, I looked at the pictures, I listened to bands currently playing in New Orleans, I watched Treme and so on. When I finally got there it was everything I expected it to be and so much more. Without a doubt it’s a city of my dreams. And now, three weeks after the trip, I find myself missing it more and more. I miss having problems deciding on what live music I’ll listen to on that day, I miss the amazing food, I miss the unbelievably kind people, I miss beignets, I miss seeing the wonderful street artists, I miss forgetting about the time because I enjoy the music so much and most of all I miss the music I love, being played right in front of me wherever I go. So I’m writing this, hoping it will make me feel a bit better.

The Spotted Cat Music Club is a cool place on Frenchmen Street just outside the French Quarter. It’s quite famous in New Orleans and everyone from around there will know it. I loved the place from the first day I was there. It was where I went every night for one last beer before going to bed and it’s where I heard The New Orleans Jazz Vipers. They’re a band playing traditional jazz and they’re quite renowned around the Frenchmen street. Here’s an example of what they sound like. I think it goes without saying that it’s a completely different thing hearing them live. It’s hearing them live when you can so easily feel all the energy and joy that they exuberate.

Jazz Vipers by Žan Anderle

All of them are great, but Joe Braun, the saxophone player and singer on some songs, is really something special. Seeing him on and off the stage, talking to him and hearing his music gave me something to think about. Off the stage, he’s actually a quiet, shy guy and when I went to talk to him to tell him how much I’ve enjoyed their music, he was just so humble and modest. So when he’s hanging around the bar and on the street, he seems like an average guy, but when he hits the stage and starts playing, he becomes someone different. His singing is truly wonderful as is his playing. He puts so much emotion and energy into it. Listen to him sing and play on “Lonesome Me”, a Fats Waller song. It feels like music isn’t just something he does, it’s a part of who he is. Without the music, he’s only a shadow of himself. It’s only when he’s singing and playing that he really becomes himself, and that is what makes his music so genuine and full of energy.
One day I heard the Jazz Vipers play a song called New Orleans (they haven’t recorded it, so here’s a Louis Armstrong version) and Joe was the one who sang it. Another thing become apparent that day. The way he got serious and happy at the same time when they started playing this song, the way he sang “just think of New Orleans” really slowly and the emotions you could feel in his singing made me realize he must feel a deep connection towards New Orleans. He doesn’t just like the city, he loves it with all his heart and he wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, no matter what happened. It’s impossible to explain it with words, so I’ll just let him explain the way he knows best. Here’s a song he wrote after Katrina, inviting people to come back to New Orleans “I Hope You’re Coming Back To New Orleans”.

New Orleans really grows on you and if I miss it so much after being there for only 10 days, I can only imagine what it must mean to someone living there.

24. October 2012
Jazz Jazz Vipers New Orleans