Tipitina takes us to a dance at Hotel Du Vin in Birmingham with this live recording. This is music that breathes New Orleans, feels New Orleans and takes you to New Orleans – and that is because Tipitina does it so well and it is alive with love. Besides this they are all fine musicians that hit the right tone and atmosphere.
Debbie Jones has got a strong and warm voice, Justin Randall is a skilled pianist, Andy Jones a driving guitarist with a mellow jazzy tone, Tom Hill a great bass player and Nick Millward makes it all come together. What dominates the record is of course the piano as they choose material from the songbooks of Professor Longhair, Huey Smith and Dr. John as well as from the pen of Randy Newman and their own material. Randy´s Louisiana 1927 is a great song where Tom adds a nice solo on bass to give it that extra touch.
That Debbie has a background in choir singing is evident. Safe and sound when it comes to hitting the right tones while listening carefully to those around her. She is assisted by four colleagues from the choir and they back her well. The final number on the record is a piano instrumental Sweet Louisiana which takes us back to the early 1900s and a bar at the break of day when the staff sweep the floor and put the chairs on the tables while a lonely pianist hits the 88´s. A nice end to a fine concert.”
Jefferson Magazine, Sweden
BANDS that lean towards jazz and blues for their inspiration tend to plough a well-tilled furrow these days.
But every now and again, a bunch of musicians comes along and you realise that they’ve not only chosen a lesser-known style but also made it their very own.
To be sure, the Midlands area is certainly spoiled for choice when it comes to roots Americana. After all, Bewdley’s Mike Sanchez has for years been in charge of the Amos Milburn and Little Richard department, while King Pleasure has neatly sewn up jump-jive.
But then there’s Tipitina… a combo that has looked to the Big Easy for inspiration and quite evidently moulded the New Orleans piano-based mode into something quite special.
I caught their act at the Upton Jazz festival and was absolutely knocked out. So much so that I contacted their record company Big Bear Music and asked to take a look at their album I Wish I Was in New Orleans.
First tune is the title track and Justin Randall’s piano comes rolling and lurching in. Yes, it’s the real thing all right – this is pure church brothers and sisters, ably underscored by Boysey Battrum’s tenor sax lines that provide a perfect counterpoint to Debbie Jones’s buttered rum vocals.
Hit That Jive Jack is more or less reprised later on the album with the better-known ‘hit the road’ version and there’s plenty of attitude here, not to mention pace. This is indeed a fast ride up Highway 51 and someone’s going to get a speeding ticket if they’re not careful.
The first real taste of heavily-spiced New Orleans gumbo arrives with Chris Kenner’s evergreen Something You Got in which Ms Jones seamlessly manages to create a whole new dish.
It’s a nice touch, giving the album an almost symphonic, conversational feel, suites of sound that serve as musical aperitifs to the main courses.
Dream A Little Dream of Me is quite a daring choice bearing in mind that you would think Mama Cass’s reputation was assured. Yet once again, Debbie Jones shows that she’s a force to be reckoned with and she follows this up with a chocolate-smooth I Never Fool Nobody but Me, the number that proves beyond doubt that she’s at the top of her game.
By now, the discerning listener will understand full well where this band is coming from and the next few tracks show how they’ve turned an obsession into an art form.
You Talk Too Much, It Ain’t Gonna Worry My Mind, Trouble In Mind… this is the musical legacy of greats such as Champion Jack Dupree, Mac Rebbenack, Allen Toussaint and not forgetting Fats Waller, who gets a look-in with his timeless Ain’t Misbehavin’.
All this serves as a splendid build-up to I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free, those instantly recognisable chords welling up and hitting the senses as we are baptised in a veritable Dixie river of sound.
The only ingredient that’s been missing so far comes right at the end with a barnstorming Breaking up the House, a shameless vehicle for Justin Randall’s left-hand-like-God prowess.
It’s a breathtaking bit of band boogie and it is only now that Andy Postie Jones – who has obviously been keeping his powder and frets dry for this very occasion – dunks his fingers in hog fat and hits the minor pentatonic like there’s no tomorrow.
Tipitina takes its name from a Professor Longhair track that would probably otherwise be lost in the Delta mists of time were it not for a bunch of players who have taken the genre and given it a fresh polish.
I have the feeling that this long-dead musical icon would be very proud of them if he’s looking down from musical heaven.
John Phillpott, July 2011
Article by Keith Spera from The New Orleans Times-Picayune
On a recent Friday night, Tipitina finally met Tipitina’s. Back home in England, singer Debbie Jones and pianist Justin Randall front a band called Tipitina. Throughout Europe, they showcase music from, and inspired by, New Orleans, especially rhythm & blues.
But the title of their first CD, “I Wish I Was In New Orleans,” was hypothetical: Neither Jones nor Randall had ever actually been to New Orleans, the source of the sound they’ve dedicated their lives to learning.
Instead, they were smitten from afar. By reading books about the city. By studying its music intimately. By David Simon’s New Orleans-set HBO drama “Treme.”
“I care about the place,” Randall says. “I fell in love with New Orleans.”
They finally resolved to consummate the long-distance romance. For 16 days and nights in August, they would immerse themselves in New Orleans. “These places have always just been something in a book, or on TV,” Randall said. “To experience it for real…”
It would be overwhelming.
After booking the trip, the couple learned Jones was pregnant with their first child. The baby isn’t due until November, but the pregnancy would alter their New Orleans adventure.
“Normally, we’d be staying up until the morning,” Randall said. “But we’d have to pace ourselves, and get home at reasonable times.”
Canceling wasn’t an option. “Not for a minute,” Jones said. “If we don’t go now, we might not get a chance to go for years.”
So, on Aug. 9, she and Randall found themselves at the corner of Napoleon Avenue and Tchoupitoulas Street, contemplating Tipitina’s, a destination they previously had known only from lyrics, legend and Google Maps. “It’s weird,” Jones said, “but good weird.”
And it was about to get better.
Randall, 42, grew up in Leyland, a small town in England’s northwest not far from Manchester. His father compelled him to take classical piano lessons as a child. Later, an album by British pianist Jools Holland, “A to Z Geographers’ Guide to the Piano,” introduced him to the boogie-woogie style.
In the album’s liner notes, Holland cited such inspirations as Professor Longhair, Dr. John, James Booker and Allen Toussaint. Randall had never heard of these exotic-sounding musicians. Pre-Internet, he rode the bus to various record stores, seeking information.
And thus he started connecting the dots to New Orleans. He realized it was Dr. John whose performance of “Such a Night” in “The Last Waltz,” Martin Scorsese’s 1978 chronicle of The Band’s final concert, had so impressed him years earlier.
His obsession grew. He soaked up the New Orleans second-line beat via the instructional DVD “New Orleans Drumming,” with Johnny Vidacovich, Earl Palmer, Herman Ernest and Herlin Riley. He speaks knowledgeably about James Booker’s influence on Harry Connick Jr., and about the contributions of Freddie Staehle, the drummer on Dr. John’s classic “Gumbo” album.
Around 2000, he was toiling as the pianist in a 12-bar blues band. At the Dublin Blues Festival in Ireland, New Orleans pianist Henry Butler, one of his idols, took a seat near the stage as Randall played. Afterward, Butler didn’t mince words: “You’re good, but you ain’t that good.”
Butler suggested Randall study the exercise regimen created by Charles-Louis Hanon, the 19th-century piano master. Randall promptly bought a Hanon book. He realized he still had work to do.
He’s still doing it. He recently spent two months dissecting New Orleans pianist Tom McDermott’s approach to “Maple Leaf Rag” on YouTube.
And so Tipitina now deploys a McDermott-inspired “Maple Leaf Rag” as a segue into “Such a Night.”
Jones, 37, also is from Leyland. Her father was a guitar-playing Ray Charles fan. Family sing-alongs were not uncommon; she learned guitar and piano, too.
The New Orleans sound first seduced her surreptitiously: She adored the piano part in Elvis Presley’s recording of “Lawdy, Miss Clawdy,” not realizing the song was written and first recorded by Kenner native Lloyd Price.
Later, she “found” Aretha Franklin via “The Blues Brothers” movie. Franklin’s “The Delta Meets Detroit: Aretha’s Blues” album impacted her own soulful approach to singing.
She and Randall met on the Leyland music scene. One night in a pub, Randall propositioned her with, “How’d you fancy gettin’ a band together?”
Their first project played disco music at weddings. Gradually, “we realized we had this shared love of blues, jazz and gospel,” said Jones, who still sings with a gospel choir in Leyland. “He introduced me to all these incredible piano players from New Orleans, and that was it for me.”
Seven years ago, they formed a band to play New Orleans music, the music they loved. “It was just for enjoyment,” Randall said. “We had no plans to do anything with it at all.”
Henry Butler’s 1990 album “Orleans Inspiration” inspired their new band’s name. On it, Butler storms through Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina”; on the album cover, he poses next to the red neon Tipitina’s sign in the nightclub’s window.
“The name is so connected to the music,” Randall said. “You couldn’t really pick a name that is more connected.”
And so they became Tipitina.
As Tipitina, they joined the relatively small community of New Orleans-style rhythm & blues bands in the United Kingdom. Kindred spirits include London-based pianist Dom Pipkin & The Iko’s.
Their repertoire covers such standard fare as “Something You Got,” “Big Chief,” “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” and “Tipitina”; Allen Toussaint’s “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)”; Jon Cleary’s “Go Ahead Baby”; and Irma Thomas’ “I Never Fool Nobody But Me.”
“We could make a lot more money playing other music, but we’re happy now,” Randall said. “And it’s building slowly. The work’s getting better.”
Their name causes some confusion overseas. Jones is occasionally asked, “So are you Tina, then?”
Advertising themselves as a “New Orleans Band” wasn’t specific enough. One busload of traditional Dixieland jazz fans left a Tipitina gig particularly disappointed.
“When some people see ‘New Orleans Band,’ they’re expecting banjos and clarinets,” Randall said. “So we’ve started saying ‘New Orleans Rhythm & Blues’ to make it more obvious what we’re going to do.”
They worked the clubs in Leyland and beyond. Festival promoters throughout Europe started calling. So did Jim Simpson, founder of Big Bear Records, the venerable blues and jazz label based in Birmingham, England.
Simpson has a history with Louisiana music: In 1974, Big Bear released an album by Pleasant “Cousin Joe” Joseph called “Cousin Joe: Gospel-Wailing, Jazz-Playing, Rock ‘n’ Rolling, Soul-Shouting, Tap-Dancing Bluesman from New Orleans.”
Simpson signed Tipitina to Big Bear. They’ve released two albums so far. The new “Taking Care of Business,” recorded live at the Birmingham International Jazz & Blues Festival, opens with “Hey Pocky Way” and continues with “Such a Night” and Huey “Piano” Smith’s “Rockin’ Pneumonia & the Boogie Woogie Flu.”
And as of Aug. 5, the title of their first album, “I Wish I Was in New Orleans,” was no longer wishful thinking.
Jones and Randall prepared for their New Orleans odyssey by reading Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” and pouring over WWOZ-FM’s nightclub listings online, plotting an ambitious itinerary.
Scheduled to arrive in New Orleans at 8:30 p.m., they intended to drop their luggage at a downtown hotel and proceed directly to the Maple Leaf to hear Jon Cleary — himself a British piano player fallen under the spell of New Orleans — and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen.
But their connecting flight out of Washington turned back because of a fuel leak; fire trucks lined the runway as the plane landed. Twenty-six hours after departing England, they finally arrived in New Orleans at 3 a.m. — way too late for Cleary.
“We were gutted,” Jones said. Translation: They were extremely disappointed.
They next day, they strolled along Bourbon Street and the Mississippi River, brimming with excitement to walk streets they had fantasized about for years.
They made amends for the previous night’s snafu by catching Cleary’s solo piano gig at Chickie Wah Wah. Cleary offered them a ride back to their hotel, which turned into a nighttime tour of old New Orleans. They drove through Treme and past the one remaining building from the Storyville era, and a house where Jelly Roll Morton lived.
“For the first day,” Randall said, “it was just amazing.”
Their Manchester accents, and the linguistic challenges of proper names in New Orleans, resulted in occasional communication breakdowns. Aboard the Esplanade Avenue bus, the couple informed the driver they were bound for “Lee-EW-aza’s.” He had no idea what they meant.
They repeated their destination for a woman aboard the bus; she, too, was mystified. Finally they figured it out: Liuzza’s By the Track, where they sampled gumbo for the first time.
Adventures piled up. They rode the Canal Street ferry to Algiers Point. A sudden, afternoon monsoon drove them back to the boat before they reached the Tout de Suite Cafe.
“We were scared at one point,” Randall said. “The lightning and thunder was so loud, it sounded like the storm was on top of us.”
They looked back toward the city, Jones recalled, “and you just couldn’t see anything. And within five minutes, the rain was gone. It was unreal.”
On Bourbon Street, a strip club barker propositioned Jones with, “Do you want to change careers, baby?” He apparently didn’t notice, or care, about her pregnant belly.
Sitting on a bench near the Mississippi River, they fell for the oldest of New Orleans hustles: The “I bet I can tell you where you got them shoes” scam. Randall balked at the guy’s initial demand for $20 and talked him down to $5.
Night after night, they heard music. Trumpeter Kermit Ruffins at Vaughan’s. Trumpeter Jeremy Davenport at the Ritz-Carlton (Davenport, it turns out, uses the same sound system as Tipitina). Herlin Riley at Snug Harbor. Johnny Vidacovich at the Maple Leaf, where owner Hank Staples regaled them with tales of James Booker, Randall’s favorite pianist.
“James Booker actually died on my birthday,” Randall said. “It’s full circle.”
At d.b.a. one night, Cleary asked Randall to join him on stage for a bout of tandem, four-handed, boogie-woogie piano. The crowd ate it up.
So did Randall: However briefly, he had played music in his city of dreams. “I was floating on air. It was somethin’ else.”
Jones held out hope that she’d get a chance to sing. “That,” she said, “would be a dream come true.”
On their fourth night, they made their first pilgrimage to Tipitina’s. The club’s size surprised them. “On ‘Treme,’ it doesn’t look as wide,” Jones said.
The room was full, the New Orleans Suspects on fire. Drummer Willie Green personified the New Orleans groove; Jake Eckert wailed on slide guitar. The band sounded like a Big Easy Allman Brothers.
Taking it all in, Randall nursed a draft beer — and a secret. He had planned to propose to Jones during the Aug. 16 Dr. John show at Tipitina’s.
But as the Suspects soared, the music and moment were just too perfect. It doesn’t get any better than this, he thought.
And so, shortly after midnight, during an epic solo by Suspects saxophonist Jeff Watkins, Randall turned to Jones and spontaneously popped the question. Caught off guard with a cup of orange juice in her hands, she tearfully answered yes.
Tipitina got engaged at Tipitina’s.
An hour later, the band was still going strong, but Jones was exhausted. Pregnancy and emotion had taken a toll. On the way out, Randall and Jones rubbed the head of the Professor Longhair bust for luck.
“It was a night we’ll never forget,” he said.
More such days and nights followed. On Aug. 15, Randall bought the first hat he tried on at Meyer the Hatter. At Naghi’s, on the corner of Canal and Royal streets, Jones fell for the first engagement ring she saw — a New Orleans ring to mark a New Orleans engagement.
Later that day, they saw Fats Domino’s historic home in the Lower 9th Ward and paid a visit to Irma Thomas, one of Jones’ heroes. On the drive to eastern New Orleans, a star-struck Jones wondered, “What do you say to Irma Thomas?”
Turns out, she didn’t need to say much. Gregarious and gracious, Thomas told stories and shared tips on vocal maintenance (avoid lemons) and motherhood. She predicted Jones’ baby would be a boy.
And she assured the mother-to-be that she’ll be fine for a Tipitina gig at the legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London on Oct. 20, four weeks before the baby is due: “Your stomach’s pregnant, not your mouth!”
Thomas sent them off with copies of her new CD single, “For the Rest of My Life,” and a signed poster.
“I’m shell-shocked,” Jones said afterward. “What a lovely, lovely woman.”
“For the first 15 minutes, I couldn’t say anything,” Randall said. “Then she was so warm, welcoming and friendly, I had to keep reminding myself that this was Irma Thomas, and not a friend I’d known for years.”
Jones and Randall have seen Dr. John in England, but were eager to hear him at Tipitina’s, his spiritual home. From their vantage point on the club’s balcony, they could see his set list. To their dismay, neither “Right Place, Wrong Time” nor “Tipitina” were on the list.
But like just about everything else on this trip, it worked out. Rebennack inserted both songs into the set.
At a Sunday afternoon house party at jazz trumpeter Irvin Mayfield’s house, the couple listened, enchanted, to 102-year-old trumpeter Lionel Ferbos & the Louisiana Shakers.
Ferbos sang — quietly at first, but with determination — “When I Grow Too Old to Dream.” Jones dabbed at tears, not for the last time on that dreamy afternoon.
Afterward, Ferbos happily let Jones give him a peck on his cheek.
“I feel like I’ve been to the whole series of ‘Treme,’” Randall said.
With only two nights left, Jones still had not sung anywhere in New Orleans. Randall already had made his second appearance on a New Orleans stage, lending a hand during Johnny Vidacovich’s Sunday afternoon student workshop at Tipitina’s.
Determined to help his fiancée live out her New Orleans fantasy, Randall approached drummer Shannon Powell at d.b.a. Could Jones sing something with the band?
“You’ll have to ask the boss,” Powell replied, indicating keyboardist David Torkanowsky.
Randall went over to Torkanowsky. “You’ll have to ask the boss,” Torkanowsky said, indicating Powell.
Eventually, they all agreed. Backed by Powell, Torkanowsky and bassist David Barard, Jones made her New Orleans debut with “Something You Got.” Thrilled, she pronounced it a “brilliant experience.”
By the final day, they were spent. They relaxed by the hotel pool, bought gifts for friends, sat for an interview and shot a video at Snug Harbor. “The thing is, we’ve got to go home,” Randall said. “I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it.”
They made the most of the final hours. Together, they performed “Such a Night” and “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” with a band at the French Market. They saw Cleary at Chickie Wah Wah again, Davell Crawford at Snug Harbor and, as their finale, the Treme Brass Band at d.b.a.
Appropriately enough, Treme sent them home with “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
“Having been here for 16 days, we feel like we’ve soaked the city into our hearts even more so than before,” Randall said. “That’s bound to come out the other way, when we go and play the music again when we get back.”
Fantasy doesn’t always live up to reality. For Tipitina, it did.
“It was exactly as I thought,” Randall said, “and more.”
Justin Randall and Debbie Jones are proud to come from Leyland in Lancashire, but their band, Tipitina, flies under the banner of one of New Orleans’ most famous names. Ron Simpson finds out why.
Between soundchecking and building themselves up on the meal generously provided by Wakefield Jazz Club, Debbie and Justin do what they can to explain the whys and wherefores of one of the less conventional bands around today. I start by confessing my dilemma about how you refer to the band in news items. If you use some term such as ‘New Orleans-style’ readers expect a six-piece lineup complete with banjo playing Bourbon Street Parade – and that’s not Tipitina. Pianist Justin Randall explains, helped by promptings from singer/guitarist Debbie Jones:
“When we started off as is one thing, what we’re changing into is something else. Initially it was heavily based on rhythm and blues, blues and boogie woogie (Debbie adds gospel to the mix). It was New Orleans music, but more the blues side than the jazz side. As it’s gone on, we’ve added more jazz elements, a touch of Cuban rhythms and the funkier side of New Orleans”.
Debbie comes up with the key phrase ‘second line’, amplified by Justin as ‘specifically a drum style – we try to have the rhythmic underpinning below the songs we do’. All this fits in pretty well with what Dave Gelly writes in the notes for the band’s upcoming Big Bear CD, Taking Care Of Business, commenting on ‘the amount of variety they manage to extract from a style firmly rooted in the New Orleans boogie/honk tonk/rhythm ‘n’ blues tradition’.
But who is/are Tipitina? Is it the five-piece (plus backing vocals) heard on the CD or the six-piece appearing at Wakefield, with guitar replaced by sax and extra percussion? Or is it simply Justin and Debbie? The band was formed some five years ago when Debbie and Justin were playing in bands just for the money and not enjoying the music, so they formed Tipitina to put the pleasure back in music for them, initially not as a full-time working outfit. The choice of name is an obvious enough indicator of where their loves in music lie – a famous Professor Longhair tune now made even more famous as a club and a charitable organisation in New Orleans. Soon Tipitina developed to the extent that it seemed worthwhile to send a demo CD to everyone in agency and management they could think of. Only one person showed any interest, Jim Simpson, which quickly led to the band’s first Big Bear album in 2007, I Wish I Was In New Orleans.
Why, I wonder, were all the others so unmoved by Tipitina? Apart from all the usual reasons, we agree that the difficulty in pigeon-holing the band may have played its part. The New Orleans link is obvious enough: Taking Care Of Business (and indeed, the programme at Wakefield) contains songs by Dr John, Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint, but Tipitina resist easy labelling or conventional stereotype. The first Cd’s title song came from musical maverick Tom Waits, two songs on the current album (both performed at Wakefield), Louisiana 1927 and Feels Like Home, come from the pen of the great Randy Newman, both beautifully delivered by Debbie Jones with a conviction that reflects her love of Newman’s songs (is Randy Newman a New Orleans songwriter? I don’t think childhood summers spent there quite qualify him!) While Justin is so deep into the music of New Orleans that he researches 19th century light classics, he still worries about being too closely identified with one style of music. And the single taken from Taking Care Of Business and currently available on iTunes is a moving and powerful gospel number, You Are A Blessing, composed by one Debbie Jones of Leyland, Lancashire.
The musical interaction between Justin and Debbie is what makes Tipitina work, but nobody’s pretending it’s always easy. When I ask how they merge the gospel and the boogie woogie, both laugh and come out with the predictable ‘with difficulty!’ before Debbie explains: ‘sometime is works really well. We’ll come up with an idea, I’ll really like a song and we’ll put it together and it just fits. At other times we have to change things round to make it work”. Then Justin finds a telling analogy: the Venn diagram. It’s all happening in that bit in the middle where the circles intersect.
To talk to Justin Randall is to enter a strangely pianocentric world. When I ask him about his tastes in small group jazz, I’m foolish enough to mention the Basie small groups and Teddy Wilson studio sessions. Pianists! Soon, with an apologetic “I’m biased in favour of pianists”, we’re on to piano trios!
“I started off as a strictly boogie woogie piano player” says Justin, “that’s all I played for four or five years, 12-bar blues. Then I got into the New Orleans piano players like Dr John and Professor Longhair. I’ve been looking over the past couple of years at stride players in Harlem – James P Johnson, Fats Waller – and bringing that element in, while still keeping the New Orleans feel. I guess I’m starting to move more towards stride and I’m taking the first tentative steps in bebop”.
Given his formidable technique, I confidently assumed a classical training and sure enough he confirms that he started working his way through the grades at 9. Then comes the surprise. Having reached Grade 4 at 13, he lost interest in the piano and started “messing around with synthesisers”. At the age of about 20 he was drawn back to piano by the discovery of boogie woogie – and that, oddly enough, is what prompted him to resume classical study and complete his grades.
And now we have a fully-fledged piano obsessive, illustrated partly by his response when I ask him about Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the admired 19th century classical composer from New Orleans. I’ve always been fascinated by reading about him, heard very little of his music until its use in the score for the silent film Louis. Justin, I reckoned, would be one of the few people to be seriously well-informed about Gottschalk. But, first, a tale of a piano obsessive’s perfectionism:
“I’ve spent six month’s on one song and I’ve still not finished it yet. It’s Maple Leaf Rag, but it’s a guy from New Orleans who reinvented it. I’ve learnt his improvisation note for note – it’s seven minutes long – and I’m going to reimprovise on that. I spent three hours on it yesterday and I’m still not prepared to play it tonight. I thought of Gottschalk’s music for the CD. In the end I chose to play a piece called Sweet Louisiana by Albert Kettelbey. I listened to quite a lot of Gottschalk while I was trying to find a suitable piece to finish the CD. There was plenty to go at, but I really liked this piece by Kettelbey so I decided to go with that. I do a lot of research – I like to try to trace the music back where it comes from – which is impossible because there’s always something before.”
It’s easy (and by no means inaccurate) to make the contrast between Debbie and Justin, gospel and boogie woogie, voice and piano, but Debbie in fact began the same way as Justin, working here way through the piano grades. Early influenced by soul signers and the likes of Aretha Franklin, she graduated to gospel choirs, but, when she joins Justin for four-handed piano on her own composition You, Me and The Keys, it’s no more than a return to her first instrument. But the main theme of Debbie’s conversation is always songs, real songs, emotional songs, story songs – her Irish background apparently.
As of November 2011, Tipitina’s set has plenty of variety, but oddly almost no jazz standards: It Don’t Mean A Thing and Ain’t Misbehavin’ in a variation on the wonderful 1943 version for the film Stormy Weather. The most surprising selection (and very successful too) is the combination of the late Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good with Tico Tico. I thought Debbie was being unduly sensitive in explaining that they thought of stopping performing You Know I’m No Good after Amy’s death – perhaps the fact that her powerful piece of self-analysis sandwiches a Latin romp had something to do with it!
Asked about particularly successful gigs, Justin and Debbie cite the Birmingham Festival concert recorded for the CD, then mention Upton Jazz Festival and Ronnie Scott’s. Two very different audiences, I would have thought, but they hardly varied the set: “we have the sort of material that will fit in different places, so long as it’s not contemporary jazz”. Now, coincidentally, Wakefield Jazz displays a banner reading “the best in contemporary jazz” – and that proves no barrier to the size and the enthusiasm of the audience! In fairness, I should note that Chris de Saram of Wakefield Jazz is looking to expand the range of jazz at the club and bring in new audiences – very successfully on the evidence of this Friday in November.
The performance at Wakefield is surprisingly slick given the changing nature of Tipitina’s lineup and also a pretty good advertisement for Taking Care Of Business which is well represented. What else can they tell me about the new CD?
“There’s more of us in it” says Debbie. “The first album was all covers, except for Justin’s piano links. We were playing stuff that we had learned, not stuff we had developed”. Justin also makes the comparison to I Wish I Was In New Orleans: “We hadn’t been together long and over the years there’s a style that’s emerging slowly, but surely. The drums, the rhythm side of things, have become crucial to the sound of the band.” “This time we have more of our own original material, but I think the album has more of a New Orleans feel” concludes Debbie.
And the future? Debbie wants to enlarge the vocal capacity: “I would like to see the band develop more use of gospel-style backing vocals. There are a couple of tracks on the album and it would be my dream to do concerts with full backing vocals”. When Justin puts in claims for a three-piece horn section, the conversation ends in laughing consideration of the size of the band bus required!
Ron Simpson, The Jazz Rag, December 2011
Ever since 1967 and Aretha Franklin’s immortal Respect, her on-record command ‘Take care; TCB’ – ‘Take care of business’ has been a universal mantra for rocking bands the world over. And in their brand-new album, named in honourable echo of its message, Tipitina do exactly that.
Tipitina is already recognised by thousands of fans as the best new group of its kind in Britain, a five piece band which celebrates the down-home music of New Orleans, Mardi Gras and (the real) R’n’B amid a canon of work which moves from the repertoire of past-masters like Dr John, Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint to gospel songs, traditional anthems and select additions by the fitting likes of Randy Newman. And apart from the fact that their music is (very possibly) several degrees better, you could easily hear it through the windors of any dance-and-drinking hall down in the Treme. Because inside, the house would already be packed.
Their new album – recorded live at Birmingham’s Hotel Du Vin during the city’s International Jazz Festival in June 2011, and lovingly post-produced by Jim Simpson – effortlessly demonstrates all of the above. A tightly arranged quintet of virtuosi who know all the rules of their craft, then apply them with dashing panache to an uninhibited demonstration of carefree music-making, Tipitina can bring any crowd to its feet. I know because I was there – up on the stand with Dave Gelly, who’s liner notes grace this collection – the night after this set was recorded, this time at the Lord Clifden, another Birmingham home for righteous music. ‘The hard the band worked’ says Dave, ‘the more the people loved it and the happier everyone became. A clearer demonstration of the power of live music to lift the human spirit would be hard to find!
Central to the musical proceedings of course is Debbie Jones, a singer-guitarist who – were she to be let loose amid the manufactured pop culture of, say, Britain’s Got Talent – could (and would) knock down its fabricated walls within eight bars. As you’ll hear throughout this album, the breadth of Debbie’s vocal talents alone is phenomenal; she can rock the house with funky undertakings like Sweet Lover and Mac Rebennack’s Such A Night, or bring it to hushed stillness with her from-the-heart declamations of songs like Randy Newman’s touching Feels Like Home or You Are A Blessing (the group’s spellbinding new single). Jones is quite a composer too; she wrote Blessing, as well as the album’s title track Taking Care Of Business (with pianist Justin Randall) and a goodtime pianist tribute for Randall bubbling with fun, titled You, Me and the Keys. Apart from her innate musicality however, one of Jones most endearing qualities is her audible joy in performance; an irresistible (occasionally mischievous) presentation of Toussaint’s marvellous Brickyard Blues on track two – another hit ‘if ever I heard one! – brings to mind the sound-picture of a kitten whose just realised that she’s growing up into a tigress.
But let’s not forget her fellow-musicians. From hardy veterans like drummer Nick Millward and bassist Tom Hill (whose sonorous bass lends wise comment to many musical moments) one expects – and invariably gets – nothing but the best. But perhaps the greater surprises come from pianist-singer Randall (whose formidable technique, chiming polyrythmic outings and regular considered pauses for dramatic effect all bespeak a master of his art) and guitarist Andy Jones, whose contributions consistently avoid the excesses of so-called ‘guitar-heroes’ but instead supply witty appropriate solos that speak of the blues without the need to shout about them. And the Tipitina Gospel Choir, whose voices rise in praise of the music on several tracks, lend a live authenticity to the music that you could never find in some computer-based sample. ‘Real music, properly-played’ (and sung) as the album’s label attests.
Perhaps though the last word should go to master-produced Jim Simpson. Following a hell-for-leather Mama Don’t Allow and When The Saints his quiet musical postscript to the album, played alone by Justin Randall, is (extraordinarily) a poised piano solo titled Sweet Louisiana, composed by Albert Ketelbey (coincidentally a onetime student at the Birmingham School Of Music) who wrote both In A Persian Market and In A Monastery Garden and is sometimes quoted as England’s first ever millionaire composer! Whether Ketelbey ever made it to America – or New Orleans – is anyone’s guess. But his poised miniature furnished a totally appropriate afterthought to this collection; a dignified celebration of a musical tradition from the Crescent City which has survived floods, hurricanes and degredation but still – more than a hundred years on -can bring the world to its feet to dance, sing and shout for joy.
Digby Fairweather in The Jazz Rag, December 2011
Firstly, a progression of hymn like chords introduces a stirring gospel-infused vocal and an attractive blues ballad unfolds. Next, a gently purring saxophone enters and a vocal backing group emerges to reinforce the lead singer’s soulful fire as she moves towards a dramatic finale.
This is the way the group Tipitina approached the Tom Waits’ title track, the opening number on this remarkable CD, which from the start conveys a sense of the steam-heat of a New Orleans night, a Bourbon Street bar where the house band mix the genres in a typically Crescent City manner.
Tipitina takes its name from the best known composition of New Orleans piano giant Henry Byrd (aka Professor Longhair) and comprises the quite exceptional singer Debbie Jones, a remarkable blues/boogie/R&B pianist Justin Randall and a versatile driving drummer Gary Barber. they are augmented on this debut album by Guitarist Andy ones, saxophonist Boysey Battrum and bassist Tom Hill.
Twelve varied pieces include another gospelly blues ballad It Ain’t Gonna Worry My Mind, Billy Taylor’s churchy anthem I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, Nat Cole’s Hit That Jive Jack, Fat’s Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Dr John’s I Never Fool Nobody But Me.
Continually, the striking voice of Debbie Jones dominates, but special mention must be made too of moments such as Justin Randall’s boogie tour de force on the fast rocking Breaking Up The House.
These pieces are cleverly interspersed with eleven piano interludes from Justin Randall, all brief (under one minute) paying tribute to the rich roster of New Orleans piano masters, ranging from the extremely well known (Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, Dr John) to lesser known exponents (Tuts Washington, Henry Butler, James Booker). Possibly ‘that Spanish tinge’ which Jelly Roll Morton thought so essential to jazz found its fullest expression in New Orleans blues and R&B where blues characteristics and Caribbean rhythms blended so uniquely.
Now comes the revelations! The group is not from New Orleans, nor the ‘Deep South’, nor even from the USA, but from Preston, Lancashire! To capture the spirit of this music so fully from a base in the Northwest of England is a spectacular acheivement
Chris Yates, The Jazz Rag, December 2007