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Booker, James

orleans king night rebennack

Booker, James, American jazz pianist; b. New Orleans, La., Dec. 17, 1939; d. there, Nov. 8, 1983. The troubled, flamboyant master of New Orleans piano, James Carroll Booker had so much technique and energy that other keyboard players were in awe. On a good night Booker could take those 88s and drive tunes into an ever-widening spiral of improvisation that left performers such as Mac Rebennack (a.k.a. Dr. John) and Allen Toussaint with their jaws hanging to the floor. Trained in the classics and picking up R&B licks on the side, Booker had the kind of technical grounding which let him segue from Chopin to bop-influenced riffs and traditional New Orleans habanera-tinged barrelhouse with ease. Rebennack has called Booker a genius, and few who have heard him on a good night would deny the possibility.

In 1960 Booker had a Top 40 hit with “Gonzo” a raucous organ instrumental released on Don Robey’s Peacock label. He also did a lot of session work for Imperial, King, and Reprise in addition to working with Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, and Lloyd Price, among others. Still, idiosyncrasies and drug dependency had derailed other major talents, keeping them from a life their abilities deserved, and Booker was no exception to the rule. A convicted felon and drug addict, having spent time at L.A/s Angola State Prison and the Anchora Mental Institution, Booker’s offstage behavior often interfered with his onstage responsibilities. The last year of his life found him working a day job in the New Orleans city hall.

Booker, Simeon(1918–) - Journalist, Chronology [next] [back] Bonvin, Ludwig

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