We are very pleased to announce that Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker will have its world premiere in Austin, TX on March 14th, 2013 at SXSW Film Festival.
Friday, March 15
7:00PM – 8:30PM
Alamo Ritz, Theater 2
320 East 6th St
Single-admission tickets to the screenings will be available for sale at the door for $10 if there are any seats remaining after SXSW Film Pass and Badge holders have been seated. Show up early to make sure you get a seat!
Lily & Bayou Maharajah just got profiled in NOLA Defender. Shout out to Ryan Sparks for crafting such a well-thought-out piece!
I am proud to announce that after almost three years of working on Bayou Maharajah, we have a rough cut together and are on the home stretch!! This thing is jammed full of Booker tunes, concert footage you’ve never seen before and (nearly) unbelievable stories. However, in order to make sure that I can pay for all these songs and footage, I’m launching a Kickstarter fundraiser to cover the cost of music licensing. If ever you’ve wanted a chance to get involved with this film, now is the time!
Even if you can’t donate, please please share the link <http://kck.st/XL6Ytw> with your friends!
It’s quick. It’s brief. It’s raw. But it’s honest-to-God never-before-seen footage of James Booker from the 1982 JazzFest. Much, much thanks to Jay Bogas for sharing this with us.
Check it out here:
MakeABetterWorld“Let’s Make a Better World” was recorded in Leipzig, East Germany. It is at last available again, as a digital download on iTunes. But what is missing from the download are the fascinating notes from the back cover. Here they are. Required reading for all James Booker fans.
LET’S MAKE A BETTER WORLD!
This record will never win a prize, will never go gold, will never be a hit. At least, a competent music magazine wrote about the concert, from which this recording is drawn: „James Booker toured London, Germany and Switzerland Oct 18 – Dec 9. His concert in Leipzig (German Democratic Repuplic) was one of the best he gave.“
This is now 17 years past and much has changed. Booker is dead – he died on November 8 1983 at the Charity Hospital in his hometown of New Orleans – and this German Democratic Republic, with all its strange institutions and facilities, doesn’t exist anymore. It survived this great piano player by 6 years, almost on the day. Taking account of the psychological-sociological aspect, there is a lot to be added, before this record fulfills its claim to be a audio document with a historical background.
Therefore it is of significance to clarify the following questions:
- where, in which surroundings and, most importantly, under which circumstances took this concert place?
- in what setting and in which space did this music resound and what kind of people were there that played, listened and for whom it finally became a great common experience?
- When and with which difference in time was the record produced?
When I looked after James Booker on the occasion of his second Berlin performance at the movie theater „International“, this part of the city center not far from Alexanderplatz still belonged to East Berlin, which of course wasn’t allowed to be called by that name.
Booker thought it was Russia. He was pissed. If he was in Russia, he wanted to play a concert in the Kreml, even for free. Corrections like: this is Berlin, the actual capital of Germany, didn’t help much. He knew better. After all, he just came from Germany, had even played in Berlin and everything had been different there – completely different.
A great argument, full of arresting logic. He laughed at me. Berlin?! For him, this strange city was twice as dead as the London central cemetery.
When we finally had to wait in the restaurant of the hotel „Stadt Berlin“, until we – despite of dozens of free tables – were assigned to a table by a waiter, the rest was silence. James Booker had become suspicious, thinking: get out of here – just get out of here.
Hitting rock bottom healthwise anyway, it seemed totally impossible to convince him to do the concert. He lay on the couch in his living room, completely apathetic and depressed. Junco Partner – an autobiographical tragedy? When I didn’t know what to do anymore, I put on a record – „Rubinstein plays Chopin“. Sonate Nr. 2 b-minor op.35. Marche funebre. The tortured face with the eye patch suddenly seemed to be released. Arthur! This was his world. Devastating. James Booker cries, when I tell him that the record is now his. With the help of a doctor friend from the Berlin Charite, a good jazz piano player himself, a fairly decent concert finally did came about. The people of this divided city weren’t actually spoiled with Jazz and Blues. They had a lot of appreciation, were thankful – nice! Locked out, patronized, since more than 15 years.
A few weeks later, not far from Checkpoint Charlie in the artist agency of the DDR, I sat opposite of a colonel who, in this institution of cultural power now dressed as a civilian and as the head of department among other things responsible for Jazz, had taken office with the grotesk remark: „No Americans will cross my desk!“
An intellectual master achievement. Still in the preliminary discussions for the first Booker concert, a friend from the old jazzclub times was confronted by this said comrade with the embarrassing question: „Does he of all things have to be a negro?“ Late socialist racism. And this wasn’t just a one time lapse. This kind of thing happened – in sports as well. And then some people marvel at all these things happening. Not me. But on this day in the fall of 1977, the man outdid himself and he did so in several regards. It started with a criminal action: „If you continue having the intention of illegaly interfering with the cultural policy of the party and the government, I see myself forced by the way of the cultural minister to have your general director at the VEB Deutsche Schallplatten (record company) disengage you from your position in this house.“ Exchange of unkindnesses, with the notice that coercion was – even in this country – a criminal action.
After that, a contract came about which contained a concert at the Moritzbastei (bastei = bastion) of the Karl Marx University in Leipzig as well as an additional fee for a concert recording with the intent of publishing it on the radio and, if applicable, on vinyl.
Leipzig, October 29 1977 – Hotel Astoria
While Booker was sleeping in his room, I secretely drove to the University. Behind the closed glass door was a Booker poster with a note on the concert that night, of course sold out. Everything seemed to be right. The search for a performance space however seemed to be more like Heinrich IV, walk of Canossa. It rained cats and dogs, as I found myself in the mud of a of a huge construction site. Through the rain, I thought I heard a piano – water music?
Following the ear, I stood in front of a half finished building. Blankets in front of empty window frames, bags instead of doors, garden chairs and raw wood planks to sit on. The Moritzbastei almost didn’t exist yet, but with passion and enthusiasm, the students, along with the representatives of the Jazz Club Leipzig, had done everything they could to make this concert happen. On the cement foundation – which surely was to become a stage at some point – there was a fine Bechstein (piano), on which an expert was working. Last details.
Booker – light blue suit, black shoes. When he asked me to leave him alone, I had a sense of foreboding. But nothing. James Booker, on his knees, was praying.
He was in a great mood of playing, in great shape, and so accepted a site caravan as warderobe just as much as the path through mud and construction waste to the stage. The concert turned out to last more than three hours. Great enthrallement, wishes for autographs, acknowledgemnts and hand shaking – again and again. Everyone sang along, clapping rhythmically as good as Germans could. But here in the eastern part of the country, the message had sparked the crowed: – Let’s make a better world! -
A few guys in the first rows couldn’t imagine a better world, seemed out of place.
Booker philosophized – very suspicious; he made political remarks – even more suspicious. The attempt of trying to stop him didn’t succeed until it was pointed out that the whole tour and possible record production was in jeopardy.
So followed: James Booker – the comedian.
Equipped with the ambiguous humour of all opressed people, he first turned his head away from the crowd, making it understood that he had understood the warning, then suddenly turned – now looking at the first rows of the auditorium, grinning diabolicly, grabbing the microphone, creaking with a low voice: „Peoples from the CIA!“
Who is who? For us and for the students there was no question. Applause overlaid with sneering laughter. A unique, memorable night in every way. Booker played his heart out, later he sang: „People get ready“, with the chorus „free at last“, he improvised, spontaneously composing songs which he dedicated to certain people or events, sometimes only a seconds length, until he finally, under roaring requests, wanted to make once again make a better world with everybody. Since this night, I know what it is that I find so fascinating about this music: „There is so much longing in it – longing for freedom and for love.“
At the VEB Deutsche Schallplatten (record company) they didn’t want a black do-gooder. The red Amiga („communist record company“) had never been a jazz musician’s friend. In the editorial offices, they acted clueless. „Booker – never heard, who’s that?“ No criteria. At the acquisiton of a famous jazz series, the executive offices didn’t know who Dinah Washington was, either. None of this could really reach them – in those days, when the party was always right. How suspicious this music really was to them was documented by them a year later in 36-page booklet in LP format, which for example stated on page 12: „In recent years, Jazz also came into its own at Amiga.“ Did it, gentlemen? One single sentence at the occasion of the companies anniversary over a quarter of a century!
You can leave it at that. No comment. It speaks for itself – just like that.
Twelve years after this concert, all of this is already history. Over and done. The world has changed. Not for the better. In the territory of the former Soviet Union and the Balkan states, people kill each other, around the globe wars are started, millions die of hardship and hunger – that is the reality. Reality Blues!
We have not been subjected to all of this. It is nice to be able to walk at the Berlin Spree (river) without being controlled, without the danger of being shot from watchtowers and this leaves room for hope.
But as long as old insider parties team up with new cynics and amuse themselves at the cost of others who gave their lives, there will be a wall in existence in the heads of the people and on this wall is clearly written, what James Booker had demanded on October 29 1977, when these recordings of one his greatest concerts were made: „Let’s make a better world!“
New Orleans folks: was there a show called “Black Haze” on local TV in the mid 70s? That might not be the exact name, but Booker mentions that he was featured on the show. ANY ideas??
Reporter Gwendolyn Thompkins profiled the in-progress documentary “Bayou Maharajah” this morning for Weekend Edition Saturday. Gwendolyn picked some really rockin’ James Booker tunes include. She opened with “Come On In The House” from Piano Wizard, Live!, one of my absolute favorites.
Interviews include film director Lily Keber, Grammy-Award winning musician (and former Booker pupil) Harry Connick, Jr., and local piano player David Torkanowsky.
Listen to the full piece here (and check out the comments! Everyone’s talking about the possible meanings of the lyrics of ‘Papa Was A Rascal’) at:
It’s that time of year again. James Booker would have turned 72 this Saturday. (Beethoven will turn 241 on Saturday. The fact of their shared birthday was not lost on young James Carroll. Incidentally, Prof Longhair’s birthday is on the 19th). We’ll be celebrating all these legends and more this Saturday, Dec. 17th at the Hi Ho Lounge. Stay tuned for details on line up and scheduling.
Where: Hi Ho Lounge. 2239 Saint Claude Ave.
When: December 17th. 6-11pm
How much: $5
A non smoking event.
Also featuring a sneak peek at some never-before-seen footage of Booker and an excerpt from the forthcoming documentary film, “Bayou Maharajah”.
It’s been a while since we sent out an update about Bayou Maharajah and- Wow!- do we have a lot to tell! This spring we spent a whirlwind two weeks in Europe, tracking down photos, audio recordings, and memorabilia of Booker’s tours in Germany, Belgium, and the UK. We found folks who hosted him, set up shows, and remember the awe-inspiring concerts he played. And most exciting of all, we found troves of never-before-seen footage of Booker talking, playing, and noodling around on the piano. Many thanks to everyone who hosted us, fed us, and let us peek into their archives!
This summer, veteran film producer Dr. Nate Kohn came onboard as Producer. His resume is entirely too long to list here, but suffice it to say that we’re super excited to have his level of expertise involved in the project.
We have continued to expand our understanding of Booker’s life, work, and influence with interviews from singer Irma Thomas, actor Hugh Laurie, historian Douglas Brinkley, drummer John Boudreaux, long-time friend Russell Rocke, jazz poet Ron Cuccia, and guitarist Texas Johnny Brown.
In November, we got word that Bayou Maharajah has been selected as one of the 2011 Louisiana Filmmakers grantees. Many thanks to Louisiana Entertainment for the support!
However, as exciting as this news is, we still have a l-o-n-g way to go in our fundraising efforts. All of our work to date has been funded by individual Booker fans who see the value in ensuring that James Booker’s life and music will endure and reach a new generation. 2013 will mark 30 years since Booker passed away. In those three decades, Booker’s best albums have gone out of print. His name is little-known outside of his die-hard fan base and his music is rarely heard on the radio, even in New Orleans. We are hoping that this film will revive interest in James Booker and help place his name alongside America’s greatest piano players.
As a small reminder, donations made to Bayou Maharajah are tax-deductible. If you are making a year-end donation this year (for tax purposes or otherwise!), please consider visiting JamesBooker.com and clicking the ‘Donate’ button. Or if you’d prefer to go old school, you can send a check to the address below:
Video Veracity, Inc.
memo: Bayou Maharajah
3020 Royal St
New Orleans, LA 70117
And if you’re in the market for a Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa gift, we have James Booker t-shirts and posters for sale. The shirts are 100% cotton, made in the USA, and super soft. Posters are signed and numbered by the artist Bunny Matthews.
In any case, thank you for your interest in the film. If you’re in New Orleans, we’re having our annual Booker Birthday Bash on December 17th at the Hi Ho Lounge. Visit JamesBooker.com for more details (coming soon). Come on out and celebrate Booker’s life in style!
Lily + crew
Joshua Paxton playing Gonzo on organ and piano at the 2010 James Booker birthday celebration at the Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans, LA.