As the muddy Mississippi winds its way past us in New Orleans, we’re reminded of the power and place of these waterways in American culture. First, we seek the source of the mighty river at the headwaters in Minnesota. Then listen to stories of steamboat captains, riverboats and rural fisherman. And learn about New Orleans own relation to the river with Tulane professor Richard Campanella. Plus river tales from Captain Doc Hawley, Aaron Neville and Al Green.
Conversation with and music from Van Dyke Parks, an eclectic, popular classicist known as a composer and keyboardist, arranger and producer, with a great love of calypso and Hawaiian cowboy music. The man behind the curtain for so many artists, the Hollywood-based Parks is well-regarded for writing and studio work with Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, Ry Cooder, Lowell George and Randy Newman, among many. He recently became a fan of pianist Tom McDermott, a St. Louis-born, New Orleans-dwelling and Brazilian-influenced vernacular virtuoso. Parks thought enough of McDermott’s recorded repertoire to collect and reissue some of it as Bamboula — so named for the composition by the mutually-admired New Orleans 19th century pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Tom McDermott, also a fan of Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, Professor Longhair and James Booker, plays in his parlor for us.
For this special American Routes program, we follow the lives of two giants of jazz: Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. From their humble North Carolina beginnings to their triumphs on the world stage, we’ll trace their individual and inspired paths to creativity. And we’ll visit with the musicians who played with the greats, including McCoy Tyner and Pharoah Sanders, and the next generation, TS Monk and Ravi Coltrane.
For Billie Holiday’s centennial celebration, we follow her from her beginnings through a complex life of troubles and musical triumphs, her compelling “autumn” voice and untimely passing at age 44. Biographers John Szwed and Robert O’Meally discuss Lady Day’s style and significance, while Cassandra Wilson describes and sings her approach to the Billie Holiday oeuvre. Singer Catherine Russell describes reaching back to recreate classic blues and jazz. From our archives we hear Nina Simone and Bonnie Raitt praising their blues heroines in story and song.
For 50 years in various incarnations the Grateful Dead have held forth as America’s iconic roots rock, jamming tour band. This July 4th, as Dead fans gather for a final series of concerts in Chicago, we revisit a classic American Routes program that featured the musical sources of the Dead in blues, old-time country, folk and jazz. We also reprise an in-depth interview that Nick did as part of an oral history with the late guitarist and bandleader Jerry Garcia at the Smithsonian Institution. Garcia often presented himself as an alternative huckster version of Uncle Sam complete with a stars and stripes top hat. His Americanist vision was grounded in the diversity of traditional music that he loved, electrified and improvised upon. In addition to Jerry and a wide range of music, the Dead Heads also have their say about the nature of a Grateful Dead live show. So come hear “Uncle John’s Band!” Join us as we go “Truckin’,” and May the Fourth Be With You!