Professor Longer: Explore a rock ‘n’ roll dad at ‘Me Got Fiyo’ | entertainment / life

Professor Longer’s Rumba-Mambo-Barrelhouse-Boogie-Blues piano set the stage for generations of New Orleans pianists.

Songwriter, pianist, and producer Alain Toussaint, a famous fan of the movie “Face,” hailed him as a “Bach rocker.” Mac Rybenac, also known as Dr. John, called him “the doctor of the spiritual root of all who fell under his command.” Paul McCartney also expressed his admiration for the beloved singer and pianist.

“He’s the greatest,” McCartney said. “I love him.”

Professor Longhair, born Henry Roland Bird in Bogaloosa on December 19, 1918, is the subject of “Me Got Fiyo: The Professor Longhair Centennial,” an exhibit at the Capitol Park Museum. Running through August 6, it’s a condensed version of the exhibit that debuted in August 2018 at the New Orleans Jazz Museum.

“Viss is such an outstanding person,” said David Konyan, Curator of Music at the Jazz Museum. “Obviously in New Orleans music, but also in rock ‘n’ roll. He’s not really credited with being one of the forebears of rock ‘n’ roll, but a lot of pianists have said so. His influence goes in all sorts of ways that aren’t necessarily predictable.”

The “Me Got Fiyo” exhibition in Baton Rouge includes photos and posters of the concerts along with text panels that explore Bird’s life and career. There’s also a film of him performing at the 1971 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and a copy of a bust of Bird at Tipitina, the music venue founded by his fans in 1977.

The late Michael B. Smith, a prolific historian of New Orleans music and culture, photographed many of the exhibition’s photos. Smith’s photographs are among the most famous photographs taken of Baird, including the gallery’s color photo of the piano master stepping full at the 1977 Jazz Festival.

The script for the exhibition traces the harsh ups and downs of life that ended with Bird’s unexpected death at the age of 61 in 1980. He has been living in New Orleans since his single mother moved from Bugaloosa when he was two months old. His mother, a professional entertainer who traveled with vocalist and vaudeville shows, taught her son how to dance and play the many instruments she was playing.

As a young man, Professor Longhair danced in the French Quarter and played with “spasm” bands featuring homemade instruments. A six-month knot in the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s exposed him to Caribbean percussionists. Blending their Latin rhythms with the influence of New Orleans Sullivan rock pianists, Kid Stormy Weather and Tots Washington.

“With music, you just had to feel it,” Baird told journalist Peter Stone Brown in 1979. I’m just mixing up my thoughts and calling it okra. There is absolutely nothing certain. It’s just rocky rhythm. “

In 1949, Bird began recording for several labels, including Mercury, Atlantic, and local labels Ron and Watch. He released only one patriotic song, 1950s “Bald Head”. In 1959, Ron Records released the definitive version of Bird’s classic carnival song “Go to the Mardi Gras”.

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Elevated to musical sanctity in death, Longhair struggled in life.

He told writer Tad Jones in 1976. “Really, no, I didn’t make a living from music. Other than sessions, I would sometimes play gigs with different mates. Then after gigs, if there were no gigs, well, I know where I was, and that was Right in the corner with those cards.”

Professor Longhair’s resurrection began in 1969, when artist and musician Hudson Marquis, at the behest of Dick Allen at Tulane University, tracked the elusive Bird to the Dryades Street bar where he dealt cards. Jazz Festival talent scouts Quint Davis and Alison Miner also spotted him, leading to his debut at the festival in 1971.

Byrd’s career gradually rebounded. By the end of the decade, with the release of his album “Crawfish Fiesta” nearing and the completion of a documentary, he was ready for bigger things. His death on January 30, 1980, the day Chicago Crocodile Records released “Crawfish Fiesta,” ended the biggest success he had at hand.

Among the bereaved was Dr. John – the friend and lover who is credited as an “invaluable contributor” to the Cruvesh Fiesta.

“By composing music the spontaneous way he made it, Viss created something special,” Dr. John says in his autobiography. “His songs felt deeply spiritual with the rhythm of rumba-bogi, and incantations of the goddess Gula-Malala-Wala.”

“Me Got Fiyo: Professor Longhair Centennial’

9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday; On display until August 6

Capitol Park Museum, 660 North Fourth Street

$7 for adults; $6 for students, seniors and military

louisianastatemuseum.org

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