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Back in February, New Orleans author (and "Good Music For You" subscriber) Michael Tisserand approached me about a collaboration. He had written a biography of a singular New Orleans figure, the trailblazing cartoonist George Herriman (1880-1944) who created Krazy Kat. ("Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White" www.michaeltisserandauthor.com)
In the strip, Krazy plays the banjo and is often seen singing the line "there is a heppy lend, fur fur away..." Michael explained that "Happy Land" was an old Protestant hymn Herriman liked to quote and proposed we make something out of it to release this month in conjunction with the arrival of his book in paperback.
The best part though was when he told me that John Boutté, a relative of Herriman's, wanted to sing the part of Krazy Kat!
I paid a visit to John in his North Shore hideaway where, sitting at the piano, he banged out chord changes to create a jazzified version of "Happy Land" using satyrical lyrics that were popular on the stage in the late 1800s. Then, drawing from actual Krazy Kat strips, Michael and I cobbled together a script for our "audio comic" that features a dialogue in which I try to pin down Krazy's gender identity. (Krazy Kat was gender-fluid before that was even conceivable to most Americans.) Then, in the final chorus, Krazy, using rhyming couplets found in the comic, professes his love for Ignatz, the mouse who's always throwing bricks at his head.
When Panorama, John and Michael finally gathered in the studio a few weeks ago, we approached the work from a completely different angle than usual. Rather than playing straight through start to finish like we normally do, we took this one in discreet segments. For example, the accordion trill (right before the punchline when Krazy skillfully evades questions about his identity) was recorded after most of the band had been dismissed for the day and then later placed where it belongs in the narrative.
You will also hear, at the point where I am most befuddled by Krazy's inscrutable replies, a "Dreamy Waltz," which some of you may recognize as a whole-tone treatment of our song-of-the-month for April, a lovely dance by Erik Satie titled "Je Te Veux" ("I Want You.")
After we had everything in the can, the question remained whether the track would flow organically once we edited it all together. I'll let you be the judge of that! Let me know how it strikes your eardrums and if the narrative is coherent.
And for more about Krazy Kat, Ignatz and the rest, check out Michael's book, "Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White" at www.michaeltisserandauthor.com. And please join Panorama for a Krazy Kat jazz party 6 p.m. Tuesday, November 13 at Treme Coffeehouse (1501 St Philip St, N.O.LA 70116), just four blocks from George Herriman's birthplace.
Gang (singing): "There is a happy land, far, far aw- heywhahuh!?"
Krazy: "Hold it Panorama!"
Ben: "What's the trouble Krazy?"
Krazy: "Faster! Faster! This is jazz music, not some dreamy waltz! Paul, gimme a roll off."
There's a hep-hep-heppy lend, fur fur away
Where they has them ham n eggs several times a day
Oh hear them bordas yell, when they hear that kitchen bell,
They gonna give the landlord he-
Several times a day
Gang: "Ah yeah, solid, right on..."
Ben:"Let's find out who this Krazy Kat really is. Oh Krazy... Krazy!"
Ben: "Seeing you here, I take it that the lady of the house is not in, no?"
Krazy:" Ah, but she is..."
Ben: "Hmmm....I will attempt it again. Ah, lady. Seeing you here, I take it that the gentleman of the house is not at home, no?"
Krazy: "Oh, but he is!"
Ben: "Ah, sly one... You say the lady of the house is in, and the gentleman of the house is in. Well then I take it that they are both in, yes?"
Krazy: "No. They ain't."
Ben: "SAY! Who is in anyway?"
Krazy: (sigh) "...Aaah. Love letter written on a brick."
"My heart is aching with a pain
Although there ain't no sign of rain
So haste my love, I can't wait much longa
My weakness is gettin' stronga!
When your sweety ain't around
It's just like music without a sound
Let's have ham n eggs ev'ry day
In that happy land far away!
released November 1, 2018
Recorded September 26, 2018 at Oak Street Recording, New Orleans, LA
Panorama Jazz Band feat. John Boutté as Krazy Kat:
John Boutté - Vocals and vocal characterization
Ben Schenck - Clarinet, sound effects, vocal characterization and gang vocal
Tomas Majcherski - Alto Saxophone and gang vocal
Charlie Halloran - Trombone
Michael Ward-Bergeman - Accordion and gang vocal
Gary Washington - Tenor Banjo and gang vocal
Matt Perrine - Tuba
Paul Thibodeaux - Drum Set
Michael Tisserand and Michael Reiber - Gang vocals
Music - Ben Schenck, John Boutté (Boutteworks / ASCAP), Andrew
Young (PD), Erik Satie (PD)
Lyrics + Text - Andrew Young, Billy Rice, George Herriman,
Michael Tisserand, Ben Schenck, John Boutté
Arrangers - Ben Schenck, John Boutté, Michael Tisserand
Published by Snack Daddy Music (ASCAP)
Recorded, edited, mixed and mastered by Lu Rojas at Oak Street Recording, New Orleans, LA
Cover photo of John Boutté by Michael Reiber
Krazy Kat Comic by George Herriman
Graphic design by Ben Schenck
Panorama Jazz Band / Panorama Brass Band - New OrleansNew Orleans, Louisiana
"New Orleans' genre fluid jazz band"
The Panorama Jazz Band and the Panorama Brass Band have
been working steadily in New Orleans and beyond since 1995. Many hundreds of nightclub gigs, festivals, weddings, crawfish boils and Mardi Gras parades have added to this community of musicians' collective experience, all of which they bring to each of their recordings....more