An American favorite for his award-winning role in the hit TV series House, the versatile British actor Hugh Laurie showcases his musical side in an atmospheric personal odyssey filmed on location in New Orleans. Hugh Laurie: Let Them Talk – A Celebration of New Orleans Blues airs on THIRTEEN’s Great Performances Friday, September 30 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings).
Defying simple categorization, Laurie finds his greatest satisfaction and inspiration from the mixture of blues and jazz that grew out of New Orleans at the beginning of the last century. He was inspired as a teenager by hearing blues great Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina.” Let Them Talk is Laurie’s very personal journey into the heart and soul of that music: “Here I am in the French Quarter playing with all these amazing musicians. This may be about as good as it gets. In fact, this may be what heaven is like.”
Laurie sings a wide selection of tunes, accompanying himself on piano or guitar, and backed by some of the town’s top-flight musicians. He refuses to pigeonhole his selections. “There are only two categories: good and bad. Those are the only things that matter.”
Throughout the hour, there are intimate performances and rehearsals with blues legends Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas, known as the “Soul Queen of New Orleans,” as well as another fellow traveler from Great Britain similarly inspired by this uniquely American music, Sir Tom Jones.
Hugh Laurie: Let Them Talk – A Celebration of New Orleans Blues also includes documentary segments showing Laurie’s daytime and nocturnal travels around the city on foot, by bike, or car, including a visit to the legendary Euclid Records shop, where he reverently inspects the classic LPs there.
Laurie dubs the city “the most romantic place on earth” and observes that this is “a city that doesn’t fear death. It’s looked death in the eye.” This aspect is reflected in its music, he notes. “Death is the minor key. Life is the major key.”
He freely admits he’s following “in the footsteps of Martin Scorsese, Ken Burns, and Spike Lee,” all of whom memorably trod similar cinematic musical paths.
Of Laurie’s piano prowess, Jones observes admiringly, “He must have listened to a lot of blues players, a lot of boogie-woogie players,” and notes that Laurie’s playing resembles that of Jerry Lee Lewis. Thomas marvels that when she saw him on the keyboards on House, she “could tell he was actually playing.”
With concert sequences filmed at the historic Latrobe’s building in the French Quarter, the musical selections include New Orleans blues standards along with forgotten and neglected gems.
“Swanee River” (Foster/Charles)
“Baby What Do You Want Me to Do”/“You Got Me Running” (Jimmy Read)
Miss Lovell White & The Austin Blues Society Band
“You Don’t Know My Mind” (Williams/Gray/Liston)
“You Don’t Know Me” (Walker/Arnold)
Lady on Guitar
“Copperhead Road” (Steve Earle)
Group Singing and Playing Guitars
“Luckenbach Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)” (Moman/Emmons)
Group Singing and Playing Banjos/Guitars
“John Henry” (Traditional Arrangement – Chatman)
Hugh Laurie/Irma Thomas
“St. James Infirmary” (Traditional Arrangement – Primrose)
“Buddy Bolden’s Blues” (Traditional Arrangement – Morton)
“Baby Please Make A Change” (Mississippi Sheiks)
Hugh Laurie/Tom Jones/Irma Thomas
“Let Them Talk”
“Tipitina” (Professor Longhair)
No stranger to public television, Laurie’s “Jeeves and Wooster” (with comedy partner Stephen Fry) was a popular Masterpiece Theatre presentation in the early 1990s.
Great Performances is a production of THIRTEEN for WNET New York Public Media, one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers. For nearly 50 years, WNET has been producing and broadcasting national and local arts programming to the New York community.
Hugh Laurie: Let Them Talk – A Celebration of New Orleans Blues was directed for television by JP Davidson. For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is series producer, and David Horn is executive producer.
Major funding for the Great Performances telecast is provided by Vivian Milstein, LuEsther T. Mertz, the Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, and the Filomen M. D’Agostino Foundation.