The Spirit of Dr. John Preview- The musical legend discusses his Nov. 18th Symphony Center concert and tour

Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack, better known by his stage name, “Dr. John”, is a beloved and iconic American singer, songwriter, pianist, and guitarist. A musical legend, with a cult following since the 1960’s, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, and is the recipient of 6 Grammy awards. The artist has produced a prodigious discography both as a leader and with other artists including The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Ringo Starr, Levon Helm, Leon Redbone, Van Morrison, and Christina Aguilera, to name just a few. He’s influenced several generations of rock and roll, blues, pop, jazz, boogie-woogie and zydeco artists with the special New Orleans flavor of his music.

Dr. John; photo by Bruce Weber

 He’s appeared often on television- always as himself- and been referred to in the works of others. He inspired a “Muppet” character, “Dr. Teeth”, and received an honorary Doctorate of fine arts from Tulane University where Tulane President Scott Cowen dubbed him “Dr. Dr. John”. He’s written and performed songs and scores for television and films, coined popular phrases such as “hip tang” and still tours internationally at the age of 75 years young.

From long before his his first recording in 1968, “Gris Gris”, which introduced the world to his unique mix of psychedelic rock combined with funky voodoo mysticism, to his most recent live double CD/DVD, “The Musical Mojo of Dr. John: Celebrating Mac and his Music”, 2016, Dr. John has taken his fans on a decades-long journey influenced by the New Orleans musicians whom he was raised to appreciate- in particular, Louis Armstrong. Armstrong’s own career, as a composer, “inventive” trumpeter, cornet player, improvisational singer and sometime actor spanned five decades, from the 1920s through the 1960s.

 Dr. John is bringing his newest show to Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, on November 18, 2016. Entitled “The Spirit of Satch: A Tribute to Louis Armstrong”, the show features his band “The Nite Trippers”, with musical director Sarah Morrow, who co-produced and co-arranged the 2014 release “Ske Dat De Dat”, on trombone, special guest Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Jamie Kime on guitar, Roland Guerin on bass, Herlin Riley on drums, and Telmary on vocals. Playing with them will be a fabulous Chicago-born brass section comprised of Victor Garcia and Mark Olen on trumpet, Eric Schneider on alto sax, Steve Eisen on tenor sax, and Jerry DiMuzio on baritone sax.

Nicholas Payton; photo courtesy of Paytone Records

While he once performed a vastly theatrical stage show inspired by medicine shows, Mardi Gras costumes and voodoo ceremonies, the concert to come at Symphony Center will perhaps be less flamboyant but will definitely showcase virtuoso performances and great new arrangements of musical standards in the spirit of both Louis Armstrong and Dr. John.

This reviewer had the opportunity to speak with Dr. John the week before his appearance in Chicago about the Armstrong legacy, his own works and his thoughts on the power of music. He is very immediate and VERY funny. By turns reverent and irreverent, he made me laugh out loud, brought me to tears, and offered me his blessings. Some of his thoughts follow:

He agreed with me, “Yeah, you’re right”, that this concert is “a prescription for a great time”.

Gris-gris are talismans or amulets used or worn to ward off evil. The complicated necklace he wears is composed of “a lot of gris-gris”. The skull which rests on his piano while he performs is there to “make sure everything is ok”; it is also, therefore, “a kind of gris-gris”.

"Music is very healing", he emphasized," Music is NOT gris-gris. I get a blessing from music which is my personal thing; music has always been my partner”.

He described how his father, who owned an appliance and record store, introduced him to the music of prominent jazz musicians, particularly Armstrong. He “never forgot” that music.  “Louis had a picture up in Bucktown in New Orleans”, he said, and he would watch out the window of his dad’s shop “to see if Louis passed by”, but the shop “was not in the way” of Armstrong.

He said of meeting the infamous/ famous Chicago booking agent, Joe Glaser, who met Armstrong and became his manager, "He was a good guy”.

In 2014, Louis Armstrong appeared to Dr. John in a dream and told him to “Do my music but do it your way." Dr. John confided, "I was troubled by this all day and all night, but when I made the decision to do it, I was no longer troubled”.

Dr. John believes the way he has recorded the songs and will play them for Chicago captures both his own spirit AND the spirit of Louis Armstrong. “I tried to do my best”. “Satchmo”, Armstrong’s nickname, is short for “Satchel-Mouth”, meaning a man with a million stories. Dr. John allowed that he also has many stories. “I’ve always thought the best way to die would be to just fall over on stage after your last song- then you don’t have to do an encore”.

Musical legend Dr. John; photo by Bruce Weber

 

There are still tickets available for this one-time concert at Symphony Center, 220 N. Michigan, on November 18th at 8PM. Don’t miss it! For information, go to www.cso.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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