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Smithsonian Institution
Louisiana, Where Music is KingAmericans Old and NewMidwestern CrossroadsSouthern FusionLouisiana, Where Music is King
Henry Butler

 
Henry Butler's name is not a household word, but over the last decade he has established himself as the finest all-around pianist in New Orleans, a city known for its piano masters. Butler is equally at home in jazz, blues, or r&b, and has toured with the Verve Big Band as well as being an acclaimed club performer in his own right. He is also something of a historian of New Orleans music, and can present a one-man chronicle that reaches back to the days when Jelly Roll Morton was helping invent the music now known as jazz in the red-light district of Storyville.
       In the second-floor concert room of the Funky Butt club, Butler sits at the grand piano and shows how the Caribbean mambo beat came into New Orleans music, was adapted by Professor Longhair, and mutated into the basic pulse of Crescent City dance music. His fingers trace a delicate filigree of ragtime, and inject modern harmonies and dazzling single-note runs into standards like "Basin Street Blues." Across the street, in Armstrong Park, Butler fronts his crack band at a summer Jazz Park event. Alternating between grand piano and electric keyboard, he runs through a set that includes a tribute to Longhair, with Butler wailing the lyrics in eerie evocation of the Professor's idiosynchratic style, jazz instrumentals, and a guest set by New Orleans stalwart Eddie Bo. Truly a musicians' musician, Henry Butler blends old and new, and preserves New Orleans's reputation as the birthplace of musical masters.

 
 

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