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An Hour with Henry Butler

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“Jazz has been in the recycling business for a long time. I'm not the recycling kind. I'm a continuous explorer.”—Henry Butler

For “An Hour with Henry Butler,” Sara Fishko traveled to Butler's home in New Orleans to tape Butler in conversation and at the piano. In the hour, Butler talks frankly about his blindness, his musical influences, his experiences as an African-American student in a southern school in the mid-60's and his view of mainstream jazz. As he and Fishko chat, he often turns to the piano to illustrate a scale, a favorite piece, and even a practice exercise. When they discuss breakthroughs in his improvising skill, he rips through a version of one of his standards, “The Breaks,” with a bit of newly-minted improvisation. This is Butler in great form.

Henry Butler - photo by Ed HaberHenry Butler
Henry Butler was born in Louisiana. He was blinded by an illness in infancy, and at age 5 began attending the Louisiana State School for the Blind. A few years later he discovered music: he studied classical music in his early years, but became interested in popular music in high school and, with permission from his parents, began to play Louisiana clubs at age 14. Butler continued his study of classical music and jazz through his college years, and also sat at the feet of some of the great New Orleans piano players, in particular Professor Longhair and James T. Booker. Butler made jazz records in New York and Los Angeles, working with Freddie Hubbard, Jack deJohnette, Charlie Haden and others. He now plays, writes, sings, writes, arranges, records and tours from his base in New Orleans. Butler is an explorer of sorts: in addition to his experimentation with many different styles of music, he maintains an interest in photography, which he believes strengthens his intuitive sense, and which he explores with various sighted collaborators. Butler’s latest CD is “Homeland,” on Basin Street Records.
» Henry Butler's website
Listen to an MP3 of Henry Butler performing "Mardi Gras in New Orleans"


Professor Longhair - photo courtesy of Michael P. SmithProfessor Longhair
"Professor Longhair" became the name for Henry Roeland Roy Byrd, a New Orleans pianist-singer-songwriter who lived from 1918 to 1980. Byrd, whose mane of long hair inspired the nickname, is regarded as a master who fused Calypso, Blues and Country to create a whole new sound. He’s been called “the driving force behind a generation of recorded Rhythm and Blues.” His songs such as “Tipitina” and “Go to the Mardi Gras” have become New Orleans classics.
» Professor Longhair's website
» 1990 inductee into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

James T. Booker - photo courtesy of Michael P. SmithJames T. Booker
James T. Booker—aka “The Bayou Maharajah” and “The Piano Prince of New Orleans”—lived from 1939 to 1983. He was a classical musician and then a blues pianist, frequently using Beethoven, Chopin and Lecuona as the basis for his blues riffs. He was hugely influential in the piano world of New Orleans; Dr. John, Allen Toussaint and George Winston all cite him as a major force.

Henry Butler and Ed Haber - photo by Sara FishkoCredits

· WNYC Senior Concert Engineer Ed Haber traveled to New Orleans with Sara Fishko as technical director on "An Hour with Henry Butler" (photo of Butler and Haber by Sara Fishko)
· Top photo of Henry Butler courtesy of Kimball Packard Sound Advice Artist Management
· Photos of Professor Longhair and James T. Booker courtesy of Michael P. Smith
· Photos of Henry Butler in his living room in New Orleans with Sara Fishko: Ed Haber

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List of recordings used in "An Hour With Henry Butler"

Henry Butler, Blues & More, Volume I Wyndham Hill 10138-2
Henry Butler, Blues For All Seasons Atlantic 82856
Henry Butler, Homeland Basin Street BSR 0802-2
Tangle Eye, Alan Lomax’s Southern Journey Remixed Zoe 01143-1024-2
Henry Butler, The Village MCA impulse mcad-8023
Henry Butler, Fivin’ Around MCA impulse mcad-5707
James Booker, Piano Wizard: Live! Rounder CD 2027
James Booker, Junco Partner Hannibal HNCD 1359
The Professor Longhair Anthology Rhino R2 71502
Louisiana Spice (Anthology) Rounder AN 18/19
Alvin Batiste, Bayou Magic India Navigation 1069CD
Atlantic Blues: Piano (Anthology) Atlantic 81694
(and private recordings of Butler's live performances in Maine and Massachusetts)
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Additional New Orleans Jazz Resources
» Preservation Hall
» Tipitina's
» The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation
» New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
» The William Ransom Hogan Archive of New Orleans Jazz
   at Tulane University

More Sara Fishko Specials
» An Hour with Dave Brubeck
» An Hour with Oscar Peterson
» An Hour with Keith Jarrett
» An Hour with Ned Rorem
» An Hour with Murray Perahia
» An Hour with George Avakian
» "Oscar Peterson, Vladimir Horowitz, and Transcendent Accuracy"
    by Sara Fishko
» "Twenty Years After Glenn Gould"
» The Fishko Files

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