All texts written by Jetse de Jong and edited by Lotte Holterman


While being at home as the world goes in and out of lockdowns, I spend more and more time wondering what it is the world needs. I had to conclude — after several hours — that besides world peace, mutual respect and a more circular economic system  a step-by-step course on New Orleans Piano would be a welcome addition. So that’s exactly what I am working on these days.

As part of my research I am rereading the blues and boogie methods I used to learn from, starting out as a piano player. While I was learning from these books I had to practice my piano lessons too, consisting of Bach two part inventions. Although I think they are true pieces of art today, at the time I would spice them up by adding grace notes and blues endings to them often to the horror of my classical piano teachers. I’d like to share with you the books I learned from and elaborate a bit on why they’re so great in my opinion.


Let's start at the beginning. This book was nicknamed the Blue Book and it was my first encounter with the New Orleans Piano tradition as well as Chicago and Texas style blues and boogie. It stood out for me because of it's musical approach which surprisingly is often not the case with these courses. No endless gibberish over technical terms and theory before you're even allowed to touch the piano keys. Instead, it's theoretical content is well-integrated with every song as you progress. Every couple of pages you're saluted by a picture of a famous pianist with a small bio, followed by a song in the style of that player.  If necessary these songs come with some preperatory excercises or tips for studying different sections plus an emphasis on improvisation. I remember how good this approach worked for me; I had a historical reference, records to listen to, building a repertoire and technique all at the same time. 

LEARN BOOGIE WOOGIE PIANO (Colin Davey & Frank Poloney)

A thorough study on the styles of the holy trinity in boogie woogie music: Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis and Pete Johnson. Although the book is not designed for a specific level I'd recommend it not to beginners for it's lack of actual songs to play, making it rather dry stuff to work through.  It makes up for that by being the most precise and complete study on the styles of the three giants of boogie previously mentioned. Enough authentic right hand vocabulary and left hand patterns to keep you busy for the rest of your life. Next to that I can promise you that by practicing the material from this book, your left and right hand independency will become next level. I use this book as a reference for whenever I am need of new vocabulary in this genre.


If you've ever dreamed of a friend who'd introduce you to great music and the people who played it, Eric Kriss might be the one. In his own accessible and entertainig way he takes you on a course on the blues languages of six pianists: Jimmy Yancey, Champion Jack Dupree, Little Brother Montgomery, Speckled Red, Roosevelt Sykes and Otis Spann. By illuminating the history of blues piano and explaining the individual styles of each player by transcriptions a strong basis is forged for further study. As with Tim Richards book Eric Kriss guides the student in crystal clear explanations, exercises, tips and listening suggestions in a most musical way through the pages of his highly motivating book. 


In Exploring Jazz Piano Tim Richards applies the same formula as in Beginning Blues Piano (above). Again a clear guide, this time into the ancient secrets of jazz piano with interesting, well built chapters on harmonic and melodic devices exemplified in corresponding playing pieces in all kinds of styles. Students interested in taking on the mighty beast of improvisation will be well taken care of since improvisation plays such a big role in jazz music and therefore this course. The information — and there is a lot — tends to be presented in a fast pace which can be overwhelming if your aim is to finish these books in a short span of time. Again, the structure of the course is similar as in Beginning Blues Piano which means helpful excersises and explanations plus a suggested-albums list. 

Finishing my own course on New Orleans Piano is on my to do list for this year (2021!) and I am hoping to present a first edition before this summer. This of course depends to what degree the ongoing pandemic situation will keep me at home. Happy New Year!


The Junker's blues is maybe one of the most recorded New Orleans piano songs. Maybe you've heard it as The Fat Man, Tipitina or Lawdy Miss Clawdy. Each of these hits from the 50's basically share the same melody and harmonies as the original folk song which it is derived from.  

The lyrics of the Junker's blues — first recorded in 1940/41 by pianist and singer Champion Jack Dupree (photo) — could easily be mistaken for the latest trap rap song by Fetty Wap. In reality the song has become somewhat of an unofficial anthem for New Orleans piano players, many of them creating their own lyrics on the 8 bar blues form. 

Some people call me a junker

'Cause I'm loaded all the time

I just feel happy

And I feel good all the time

Some people say I use a needle

And some say I sniff cocaine

But that's the best old feelin'

That I'd ever seen

Champion Jack Dupree — who enjoyed a career as a boxer — learned the song from his mentor, Willie Hall. Willie Hall was also known as Drive 'em Down and worked as a barrelhouse pianist in the downtown wards in 1920's New Orleans including the French Quarter. Junker's blues was performed by the many pianists the neighbourhood shared. 

In his book Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the lost dawn of Rock 'n Roll' author Rick Coleman tells us ''The punch line was a pun on ordinary junk dealers, who hawked odd bits of scrap loaded onto wagons, and the ''junker'' addict who was ''loaded all the time''.  The blues was also part of the repertoire in the jailhouses of Louisiana where it was sung by actual junkies. 

In 1950's the Junker's blues took the hit charts by storm, gaining itself a spot in popular culture. Pianist and singer Fats Domino wrote his own set of lyrics, finding inspiration for the title in his personal life/shape and a famous radio show called The Fat Man. He had learned the song from his brother-in-law guitarist Harrison Verrett who had heard performances by French Quarter pianists like  'Kid' Stormy Weather (Edmond Joseph) who was also an early inspiration for Professor Longhair. The Fat Man became a major hit and launched Fats Domino's career as well as the birth of Rock 'n' Roll. 

Another famous rendition is Lloyd Price's Lawdy Miss Clawdy (1952). Being 19 years old at the time Lloyd Price wrote his own set of lyrics and recorded his song in the exact same studio with a lot of the same personell (Dave Bartholomew's band) as Fats Domino had done 3 years prior.  The session's pianist Salvador Doucette wasn't accustomed to playing the Junker's blues as he was more into modern jazz. When an unsuspecting Fats Domino turned up at the studio he was prompted to sit in and play the piano part. Lawdy Miss Clawdy found it's audience around the globe when artists like Elvis Presley, Little Richard and the Beatles started covering it. 

The beautiful thing I find about studying the New Orleans piano tradition is that the amount of connections between pianists just keeps on growing the more I spend time on it. In essence it's just one big family tree in which everything is connected.

This is also exemplified in the third and last rendition of the Junker's blues which I'll discuss here which is called Tipitina. It was recorded in 1953 by pianist and singer Professor Longhair. Most likely he must have picked it up from a pianist we have already come across in this blog; 'Kid' Stormy Weather, who was one of Professor Longhair's early influences. There are quite some different explanations on the meaning of the lyrics of Tiptina. Some people say it's imitating bird-calls, referring to reefer smoking, secret Indian language or even utter nonsense. My personal favourite is the story about a weed-selling hustler called Tina who'd tippy toe on her peg leg around the neighbourhood doing her business, resulting in Tipi + Tina. What we do know for sure though is that Professor Longhair infused the Junker's Blues with his highly personal rhumba-boogie flavored piano playing combined with the New Orleans parade beats provided by Earl Palmer (who also recorded The Fat Man and Lawdy Miss Clawdy!). With his personal style and mystique Professor Longhair has acquired somewhat of a holy status among his followers, including Dr. John and Allen Toussaint. 


I guess everyone has this one special artist who for some magical reason just keeps on doing everything right. Dr. John has been that to me, being one of the first pianists I seriously started listening to and still do to this day. There's no other musician from which I stole more blueslicks, left-hand patterns or chord changes. More than once I've been stuck with my face to my computer screen just to see what the heck he was playing whenever I could not figure it out with my ears. 

With a performing and recording career of over 50 years, the amount of treasures to discover is endless. From solo piano, small groups to lush orchestra arrangements, everything the good ol' Doc did is strongly rooted in New Orleans culture and comes with extra gumbo-flavoured fonk sauce. 

When Dr. John — whose actual name was Mac Rebennack — left this world in june 2019, it saddened me deeply. Not only did we lose one of the funkiest cats on this planet, but also one of the biggest ambassadors of New Orleans culture. New Orleans, the Crescent City, honoured him with a grand second line parade, as is their custom.  

A leader as well as a side man, he recorded around 40 albums and often appeared with artists such as BB King, the Black Keys, Canned Heat and Jools Holland. (And how about this one with Christina Aguilera?). I selected a few of my favourite Dr. John albums to serve you as an introduction to his great output.  

GUMBO (1972)

This album showcases the R&B music of New Orleans, covering songs of fellow pianists Huey 'Piano' Smith and the 'Bach of Rock' Professor Longhair to rearranged traditionals such as Iko Iko and Stack-a-lee. Gumbo was recorded when Dr. John had enough of the psychedelica show he had been running during previous years. Gumbo stands out and is one of Dr. John's most well-known and accessible albums.



This live record was actually recorded in a studio with an audience. It must have closely resembled the kind of stage show Dr. John was touring with in those years: large line-ups featuring horns and backing vocals, with songs drawn from his earlier Gris-Gris/psychedelica work mixed up with everything there is to find in New Orleans — gospel, blues and an unhealthy dose of rock 'n' roll. According to his autobiography 'Under a Hoodoo Moon', the voodoo priests down home in New Orleans weren't so pleased with him taking creative liberties with sacred prayers in the title track 'Hollywood be thy name', but I guess they forgave him because of the amount of gospel he put in the medley 'It's all right with me/Blue skies/Will the circle be unbroken' with outstanding vocals by Ronnie Baron and Alvin Robinson. 


Also known as Dr. John plays Mac Rebennack, Vol 2.. Just piano and vocals on this one. One of his most intimate and unadorned records which I also see in a way as a tribute to the New Orleans Piano tradition and the days of Storyville. In Storyville (the red light district) it was customary to have a piano player tickling away in every bar, barrelhouse, hotel and brothel — often solo. This provided so much work for pianists during that time (1897-1917), that the scene was thriving. For many years after, the New Orleans' pianists couldn't be surpassed in their broad knowledge of repertoire and technique. 


When Dr. John was still Mac Rebennack in the 50s/60s, he was very busy making a name for himself as a session musician and songwriter in New Orleans. Especially the latter aspect of his career is often overlooked. One of his most succesful songwriting collaborations occured in the late 70s/80s with a songwriter called Doc Pomus. Doc Pomus was a famous writer with many hit songs under his belt, performed by artists such as Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Ben E. King and Big Joe Turner. Besides co-writers, Mac and Doc became close friends and the results of their collaboration is documented on Tango Palace as well as the album City Lights. I especially love Tango Palace for the beautiful lyrics and the happy feelings it evokes in me. PS: if you are a lover of that 80s sound, this is your record.


Sometimes it just takes your granddaughter to tell you to work with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and apparently, that's just what happened. To receive a Grammy award for the final result on the side must be nice as well, I guess. The album is fully drenched in the characteristic Dan Auerbach production sound and it is just great. All songs on this one are very concerned with politics and society. Dr. John's voice is more haunting than ever and what I like especially, is that this record takes us back to the beginning, evoking the moods and spirit of The Night Tripper from the late 60s (vintage organs included). 

TRIBAL (2010)

It seems to me that the path to Locked Down was carved out by Tribal. Featuring his touring band 'The Lower 911', Tribal feels to me as something they made just for their personal pleasure, which resulted in an awesome record full of swampy blues, gris-gris and uncut FONK. My favourite trombone solo ever can be heard on the song 'Them' by Mark Mullins. I bought this record after a live show in the Netherlands. Being 13 years old, I was by far the youngest amidst a crowd of dreadlocked local funk admirers doing their psychedelic dancing, grasping for things in the air only they could see. I stood right in front of the stage being mesmerized by Dr. John's piano playing, while my father stood in the back, overlooking the scene. The band noticed me and afterwards, I had a nice chat with John Fohl (guitar) and Herman Roscoe Ernest III (drums) who sadly passed away a year later.

It's now 10 years later, and my admiration for Dr. John hasn't slinked an inch.  

The way he made records, each of them with distinct themes, in his own style, remains a big inspiration to me. I look forward to hearing the record he finished right before he died which remains unpublished to this day...


The first thing I like to do when I find myself in a foreign city is visiting the local record shops. A couple of weeks ago this was the case in Malmö. I had a few hours to kill and the record shop located closest to me was called Musik & Konst. To my surprise, this shop was completely dedicated to Blues, Soul and R&B, selling not only the rarest CD's and vinyls but also books on the history of these styles — for a bargain. As you can imagine, I felt like a kid in a candy store.

The book I picked up there, Karl Gert zur Heide’s Deep South Piano, proved to be a gem containing loads of information. It took me through the southern states of the USA while telling me the stories of its pianists, thanks to the recollections of pianist Little Brother Montgomery. I was surprised to discover that ‘Boogie Woogie’, as we've been calling this genre for 80+ years now, was actually known under different names back then. In the Mississippi state, they called it ‘Dudlow Joe’.

The birth of Boogie Woogie can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century. Large areas of the Deep South were wooded and hosted a large lumbering, wood-processing and turpentine industry. Traces of this can still be found in the names of towns and villages: Lumberton, Kentwood, Woodville, …. The people who worked in these industries lived in camps. They could leave on weekends, but most of the time they stayed to enjoy themselves in so-called barrelhouses and honky-tonks where they would eat, drink, gamble and dance.

A large railroad system known as the Santa Fe provided transportation of industrial goods through the whole region. By hopping on the Santa Fe trains, piano players playing the barrelhouse circuit traveled their fixed routes from camp to camp.

I find music the most authentic and touching when it reflects and expresses the sentiment of the time it was created in. Boogie woogie is no difference in this case; listen closely to the left-hand figures and right-hand melodies and you´ll hear the sound of roaring and squeaking trains moving along the Santa Fe train tracks. Even though I was born decades later, I can't help feeling a little nostalgic when hearing Honky Tonk Train Blues or Pine Tops Boogie and thinking of the solitary pianists travelling the Deep South from camp to camp, only accompanied by the sound of the trains they rode. 

The funny thing with boogie woogie is that for me, it functions as a secret weapon — let's say it's my nuclear rocket. Whether I find myself in a firefighter annual congress playing background music, an elderly home or a gynaecologist christmas buffet where everyone has their back turned to me, whenever I start that rumbling piano left hand for some reason it sends an electric shiver through the room and people suddenly start smiling and tapping their feet. When they turn their heads to me, I sheepishly smile back at them.


Few have heard of piano player and singer Esquerita (1938-1986), one of the true unsung heroes in rock and roll history. I stumbled upon his name in ‘Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans’ by John Broven and when I looked up his music, a couple of things happened: my jaw dropped, I started dancing and the rest of the day I couldn’t stop smiling. Take for example his rendition of Nobody wants you when you’re down and out; there’s just too much soul in his groaning, foot-stomping, gospel piano playing and singing. Why on earth haven’t I heard of this guy before? Time for a bit of research.

Esquerita is mostly known for teaching Little Richard more than a thing or two on the delicate art of pounding the ivories. Little Richard, while recording in New Orleans at Cosimo Matassa’s, saw Esquerita perform ‘Tutti Frutti’ and recorded it — a cleaned-up version of the original. Little Richard was part of my first holy Trinity including Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. The raw energy displayed in his piano playing and singing enchanted me already at a young age. 

Esquerita (actually called Eskew Reeder) recorded for multiple labels over the years, both as a solo artist as well as a session musician. His piano and organ playing, showing strong roots in gospel and blues, can be heard on recordings with Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, Dr. John, John Hammond, Idris Muhammad and others. 

His stage names included Magnificent Malochi, Estrelita, Eskew Reeder, and the Voola. Voola was the spirit that he believed to permeate his music. One of the most obscure and experimental singles from the rock and roll era is ‘Esquerita and the Voola’, released in 1958 by Capitol. Besides Esquerita’s thundering piano playing, he is singing in what he himself called ‘obligato’ voice — another style feature which Little Richard copied from him. 

One of the many legends surrounding Esquerita says that Berry Gordy brought him to Detroit, along with a group of fellow New Orleans musicians, to record for Motown. Gordy wanted to infuse the sound of Motown with a stronger beat and groove, which at that time could only be found in New Orleans. They played all day — with the Motown crew taking notes, obviously — but due to conflicting contracts, the session had to be stopped and to this day the recordings remain unreleased.

The following decades, Esquerita continued to perform mostly in New York clubs, slowly disappearing and falling into obscurity. If it wouldn't be for Miriam Linna and Billy Miller from Norton Records discovering him there, we would have lost one of history's greatest rock ‘n’ rollers. A small but loyal group of admirers surrounded Esquerita in his last years. He was one of the many victims of the AIDS pandemic and died in 1986, after which he was buried in an unmarked grave. 

Norton Records has done a great job at making Esquerita’s recordings available to a wider audience with their releases ‘Vintage Voola’ (1987) and ‘Sinner Man: The Lost Session’ (2012).

PS: They have T-shirts too!!