Six-time Grammy nominee Maria Muldaur, who’s been dubbed “The First Lady of Roots Music” for previous albums touching on her wide-ranging influences from blues, country, folk, jazz and even jug band music, continues her exploration of the great American roots music songbook. On her latest excursion, this time into the vintage jazz and blues sounds of the 1920s/’30s, Maria teams up with acclaimed New Orleans street band Tuba Skinny for Let’s Get Happy Together, releasing May 7th on Stony Plain Records.
Muldaur recorded Let’s Get Happy Together at Marigny Studios in New Orleans along with the members of Tuba Skinny: Shaye Cohn – cornet; Todd Burdick – tuba; Barnabus Jones – trombone; Jason Lawrence – banjo; Craig Flory – clarinet; Greg Sherman – guitar; Max Bien-Kahn – guitar; and Robin Rapuzzi – washboard. This is Maria’s 43rd album release in a long and storied career, (her ninth on Stony Plain).
The Crescent City has always been a favorite destination and inspiration for Muldaur and that New Orleans feel permeates throughout the album’s 12 tracks. When Maria discovered the music of Tuba Skinny, she learned that just like her, these musicians study, play and immerse themselves in the early blues, jazz and jug-band music of the ‘20s and ‘30s. “They were not just playing a marvelous repertoire of cool tunes with great skill and authenticity, but somehow channeling the very atmosphere and vibration of that bygone era,” she says.
“A couple of years ago, while shopping in my favorite Woodstock, NY, clothing store, I heard the most wonderful vintage jazz joyously floating through the air! ‘How cool that the local radio station is playing this kind of music,’ I remarked to the shop owner, who informed me that we were not listening to the radio, but some CDs of a band called Tuba Skinny. She told me they were a band of young musicians, some originally from the Woodstock area, which now lived in New Orleans and performed on the streets and at many clubs and festivals there.
“Having studied, enjoyed and immersed myself in early blues, jazz, and jug band music of the ‘20s and ‘30s all of my musical life, I found it almost impossible to believe we were not listening to some classic old 78s from the era, but instead to a band of young street musicians! She had to show me the CD covers before I would believe her! I was gratified to learn that there was a current crop of young musicians coming up dedicated to rediscovering and preserving the treasure trove of our rich musical past, much as my Jugband mates and I and so many others had done in the Folk Revival of the ‘60s. I immediately asked how I could get ahold of their CDs and when I returned to Woodstock a month later, she had five Tuba Skinny CDs for me, which have been in heavy rotation in my life ever since!”
Just prior to the COVID Pandemic in January, 2020, Muldaur asked Tuba Skinny to collaborate for a showcase performance at the International Folk Alliance Conference in New Orleans. It was so well-received that an album was immediately conceived and recorded later that year, with the title track summing it all up: “Let’s Get Happy Together!” Performing 12 songs as closely as possible in feeling to the original recordings, Maria and Tuba Skinny breathed new life into rarely heard gems from this incredible era.
“It was an amazing show,” recalls Holger Petersen, Stony Plain Records founder and executive producer of the new disc, about the Folk Alliance concert. “‘A match made in heaven’ as they say. We talked about a possible album and I am delighted that it worked out and to now hear the results. I’ve had the honor of working with Maria on many of her passion projects. There is no one who digs deeper with more respect, enthusiasm, and love for the music. She spends months researching material and preparing. This is a unique historic project that pays reverence to the early New Orleans women of blues and jazz. You can almost see the grin on Maria’s face when you hear her singing with this truly inspiring band. The music and performances are infectious.”
Maria Muldaur’s 57-plus year career is a long and adventurous odyssey through the forms of American Roots Music: blues, jug band, bluegrass, jazz and Appalachian “Old Timey” music. Besides her six Grammy nominations, as well as other blues, folk and roots awards, Maria was the 2019 recipient of the “Lifetime Achievement Americana Trailblazer Award” from the Americana Music Association.
It is my hope that by sharing the origins of these tunes, you will be inspired to look up these wonderful artists yourself on YouTube and start exploring and enjoying the endless abundance of incredible music they left us! – Maria Muldaur
A Few Notes from Maria about the Songs and Where They Came From
- 1. I Like You Best of All. – originally done by the Goofus Five, a popular band in the ‘20s~The minute I heard it I knew it would be a perfect vehicle for Tuba Skinny!
- 2. Let’s Get Happy Together – originally written & recorded by Lil Hardin Armstrong, a perky happy song with hip lyrics.
- Be Your Natural Self – originally sung by a vocalist named Frankie “Half Pint” Jaxon, who sometimes sang and entertained as a man and sometimes as a woman, one of the first openly “gender benders” of the era! I’m sure this song had special significance for him!
- Delta Bound – originally recorded by Ivy Anderson & the Duke Ellington Orchestra, it’s always been one of my favorites and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to finally record this song with the right band!
- Swing You Sinners – recorded in 1935 by one of the most delightful discoveries of my research…an amazingly talented woman named Valaida Snow, a virtuoso American jazz musician and entertainer who became an internationally celebrated talent. She was known as “Little Louis,” “Queen of the Trumpet,” and was referred to by Louis Armstrong as “the second best trumpet player in the world.” How could I have studied this music for so long and never heard of her??….That’s the beauty of our rich musical legacy….the more you delve into it, the more there is to discover and enjoy!
- He Ain’t Got Rhythm – I just love Irving Berlin’s droll, clever lyrics! Recorded by many artists in the 1930s…Billie Holiday’s rendition with Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, Benny Goodman, et al, is the one that informs our version.
- Got the South in My Soul – originally recorded by New Orleans natives, The Boswell Sisters…fabulous singers with incredible musicianship who sang and swung with all the best big bands of the day. Connie Boswell, who so soulfully sang lead, is one of my favorite singers.
- I Go for That – Dorothy Lamour, another New Orleans native, was married to a big bandleader and sang with his band before she became the exotic sultry Hollywood movie star we all remember. I was delighted to discover what a cool singer she was and to find this droll, witty song – “You play the ‘uke, you’re from Dubuque”… hilarious lyrics!
- Patience & Fortitude – another song originally done by the incomparable Valaida Snow…An uplifting little sermonette with a useful, positive message.
- Some Sweet Day- a sweet, wistful song originally done by Frankie “Half Pint” Jaxon.
- Big City Blues – an all-too-true tale of loneliness, originally recorded by a wonderful singer I greatly admire, Annette Henshaw, who recorded over 250 sides and was one of the most popular radio stars of the 1930s.
- Road of Stone – This raw, soulful, plaintive blues was recorded in the 1920s by Sweet Pea Spivey…. sister of famous classic blues queen, Victoria Spivey, who actually “discovered” me and mentored me in my youth.
*Feature image photo by Josef Crosby