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Tricentennial Reading List With Jason Berry (Part 1)

Susan Larson, host of The Reading Life, talks with local authors and readers about their favorite books from three hundred years of New Orleans literature.

  • “Up from the Cradle of Jazz: New Orleans Music Since World War II,”by Jason Berry, Jonathan Foose and Tad Jones
  • “I Hear You Knockin’: The Sound of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues,” by Jeff Hannusch
  • “New Orleans Rhythm and Blues,” by John Broven  

Susan Larson: Let's go back to “Up from the Cradle of Jazz” you know this was the first book I ever read about New Orleans music and I feel like it set me on the right path. You covered so much material in this book, it's amazing.


Jason Berry: Well, we worked more than five years on it, it began in the late 1979,1980 in a break; production lull, you might say, from the documentary of the same title that Jon Foose  and I were producing; and we realized we had so many outtakes from all of these interviews we were doing with the Neville and Lastie family members; sadly, a number of them are no longer here. Charles Neville died just recently. We conceived the book as a sort of large tableau to explain the inner woven nature of the neighborhoods and the tradition of musical families.


Susan Larson: That's one of the things you brought home to me that was so fascinating the way music is a family affair in New Orleans in almost every kind of music almost.


Jason Berry: It is and frankly I think if one were to do a book like this today dealing with those two themes neighborhoods and musical families it would be an enormous undertaking because so many of the younger musicians who come up, one example alone, Trombone Shorty, whose brother, James Andrews, was a major figure in his life, a mentor of sorts. Their grandfather was Jessie Hill, [with the song] ,“Ooh Poo Pah Doo” the R&B singer and Glen David Andrews who is one of their cousins, comes out of a family that's almost like a dynasty out of Gabriel Garcia Marquez ,where you have eight cousins named Glen Andrews, several of whom have played in the same band.


It takes a great deal of digging, in a scholarly sense research sense, but I think the richness of the musical culture here is fed by this dense network of kin alliance and kinships and people who are cousins and brothers and mothers and sons. It is rather elaborate.


Susan Larson: It's amazing, now some of the other general histories that I think have educated people along the way, I think, I Hear You Knockin, the Sound of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues.


Jason Berry: It's a great book by Jeff Hannusch and both of us I would say, well both books, Jeff's book and the book that I did with Jonathan and Tad [Jones] who sadly is deceased now, we really in a very real sense built on the work that John Broven did with his book, well it's now called “New Orleans Rhythm and Blues”, the early 1970 paperback edition...


Susan Larson: And it's massive.


Jason Berry: It keeps growing every time John updates it and reissues it but it was originally called “Walking to New Orleans” and I remember when I read that, I suppose I was about 25 or so and I had never read a book that dealt with Fats Domino and Professor Longhair and the Nevilles, who at that time did not have a family band and as much as I admired the industry of his research, I felt that there was a much more intimate story to be told about who these musicians were as individuals. Look, when you grow up as I did, seeing Deacon John and Irma Thomas playing at proms and CYO dances and then you get a little bit older and you realize they're not only still around but they're making new records, it rather plants the idea that the music is a garden of ever-spreading delights.


The Reading Life in 2010, Susan Larson was the book editor for The New Orleans Times-Picayune from 1988-2009. She has served on the boards of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and the New Orleans Public Library. She is the founder of the New Orleans chapter of the Women's National Book Association, which presents the annual Diana Pinckley Prizes for Crime Fiction.. In 2007, she received the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the literary community. She is also the author of The Booklover's Guide to New Orleans. If you run into her in a local bookstore or library, she'll be happy to suggest something you should read. She thinks New Orleans is the best literary town in the world, and she reads about a book a day.

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