Rick Koster Nets a Gumbo as Diverse and Delicious as its Namesake
Experts on the subtitled subgenres may not like Louisiana Music. They"ll feel too many details were left out, or subtleties were misrepresented. Never mind that. Rick Koster states in his introduction, "this book is about a search for Louisiana music, and it all starts not far from where jazz bubbled into existence, in the French Quarter of New Orleans." He threw his net as wide as he could, searched high and low, past and present. Due to time and length constraints, he knew some stuff would be left out. But in the process, Koster created a thoroughly readable cross-section of an incredibly musical region. Louisiana Music is much more than a reference work or book of lists.
After introducing a broad musical category, he introduces the major characters, then the minor characters (frequently subdivided by instrument family.) The entire narrative is woven with a Southern story-tellers wit.
Forced to draw the line somewhere Koster describes most musicians in just a paragraph or two. Even so these colorful pieces form a bewitching mosaic. Of course some musicians are such characters they warrant longer passages i.e. Louis Armstrong Jelly Roll Morton Buddy Bolden and the irrepressible Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers (named for his custom of pulling a barbecue pit behind his truck to hand out sausages at his own gigs.) Still other musicians transcend category and thus appear over and over such as Dr. John Professor Longhair Fats Domino Koster builds a compelling argument that no other land has produced such diverse music. He shows with specifics how Louisiana birthed (or at least nurtured) jazz blues brass band Rhythm & Blues Cajun Creole Zydeco Indian Voodoo swamp pop carnival songs folk country rock & roll Gospel rap Hip Hop neo-classical even forms of Klezmer. Fact is cooler than fiction when it comes to the diversity of Louisiana musicians whose very names boast tremendous diversity. It's interesting to note that for each of the musical styles that evolved strict traditionalists continue to practice in the region. Filling in all the gaps are modernists who display varying shades of local color such as Randy Newman Aaron Neville Better Than Ezra Mulebone Continental Drifters and to some degree Britney Spears and Trent Reznor. When reviewing his first book Texas Music Booklist complained he "seemingly includes every noted musician who ever drew breath in the Lone Star State". When it comes to the state of Louisiana however it's impossible to exaggerate.
Louisiana Music is a sort of grown-up's fanzine. If you care about music at all you"ll catch Koster's contagious enthusiasm. His success can be measured by how many pages you dog-ear how many bands and titles you scribble in the back cover to check out later and how sold you are on finally visiting New Orleans for yourself. It's really too bad this book doesn"t come with maps and a compilation CD. After introducing each broad musical category Koster names the major characters (usually subdivided by instrument family) then the minor characters. The entire narrative is woven with a Southern story-teller's wit. Particularly juicy tidbits are recounted verbatim from his reporter's notebook. An extensive bibliography is also provided.
With the world's attention turned to hurricane rebuilding there is no better time to read a musical survey of the region. Highly recommended.
See other related titles:
Texas Music also by Rick Koster ISBN: 0312254253
The Kingdom of Zydeco by Michael Tisserand ISBN: 0380732386
CDs by Putumayo World Records: New Orleans Mississippi Blues Louisiana Gumbo Cajun Zydeco Kermit Ruffins
-David Seymour is a jazz journalist in Saint Louis Missouri USA.