No political theme today. One of my favorite musicians died this week. Henry Butler. In all likelihood, you have never heard of him, but that is a shame. He was one of the all-time greats, and for those of us whose taste in jazz remains kind of stuck in the 1950s and 1960s, he reminded us that giants still walk among us. He went beyond jazz, though. He was a master of jazz, blues, and everything New Orleans-- the greatest city in the world for music. Butler's touch on the piano rivaled any of the jazz greats (except, I guess, Art Tatum, but nobody else has ever been that great), and his voice... Butler could do everything. He was also a photographer. And did I mention he was blind?
I've been a Butler fanatic for many years now. I found him through a collaboration with blues guitarist, Corey Harris a while back. Guitar-piano duets in blues have a tradition going back a century. Think Tampa Red & Big Maceo, or better yet, Lonnie Johnson & Victoria Spivey. Everyone needs to hear "Toothache Blues" at least once. (I wouldn't call it "safe for work," though). I didn't know anything about Butler when I bought the album, but it was obvious that Butler was the real star. I quickly dug back through his catalog, finding his older jazz stuff, and followed his career closely. Everyone has regrets about who they never saw live. For me, Henry Butler is way up near the top. His last album, Viper's Drag, went back through the history of swing and big band jazz with some interesting orchestration and recording tricks. Great stuff. I looked for a full concert to post, but instead, I'll post one obvious blues clip, and then something from Viper's Drag.
Henry Butler. One of the true musical geniuses of our era. Listen.