Saturday, August 1, 2015

Dr. John at Rumsey Playfield

Malcolm "Mac" Rebennack, better known as Dr. John, was born almost 75 years ago in New Orleans, Louisiana. Active as a session pianist since the late 1950s, he gained his own following in the late 1960s as Dr. John the Night Tripper, when he combined a theatrical stage show inspired by medicine shows, Mardi Gras costumes and voodoo ceremonies with music rooted in New Orleans rhythm & blues, jazz, zydeco, boogie woogie and rock and roll. Over the years, the wild visual element has dissipated, but Dr. John continues to play New Orleans-informed music on his own and on other artists' recordings. Dr. John has recorded over 20 albums, winning six Grammy Awards and inductions into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His most recent album, a tribute to Louis Armstrong entitled Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch, was released on August 19, 2014.

Dr. John & the Nite Trippers were supposed to perform a free Summerstage concert in Central Park's Rumsey Playfield last summer, but shortly before John was to come on stage, his doctor told him he was not well enough to perform. Apologies were made to the audience and the concert was cancelled. Last year he could not perform for five minutes, but this afternoon he performed for two hours. As the Nite Trippers played a revue-styled introduction, trombonist Sarah Morrow asked the audience if "anyone needed a doctor." Walking with a cane, Dr. John made his way to his piano. We may not know if he actually practices hoodoo or voodoo, but a skull decorated his piano. Before long, John was singing one of his many cover songs, "Iko Iko," a song about two tribes of New Orleans Indians clashing during the Mardi Gras parade. The syncopated rhythms of many similar and original songs kept the audience dancing in place for much of the concert. He brought the French Quarter to the stage with a rhythmic gumbo that featured his deep, dark vocals, his fast fingered piano runs and extended solos by his musicians. After a few of his better known songs, including "I Walk on Gilded Splinters" and "Right Place, Wrong Time," John recalled Satchmo with covers of "(What a) Wonderful World" and "Mack the Knife." For Dr. John, Mardi Gras is more than an annual event, it is a pervasive state of mind, and his performance today celebrated that festive life.

Visit Dr. John at