Tuesday, June 13, 2006

SJI In The News

Introducing a new and, really, spectacularly absurd feature to this site: "St. James Infirmary In The News." Through the power of Google News Alerts, I now get a weekly digest of links to articles that mention "St. James Infirmary." Starting this week, and continuing until I decide to stop, I bring you the highlights.

The most interesting thing was the passing (and somewhat cryptic) mention in this Chicago Sun Times article that the organizer of the Chicago Blues Festival "uses the fest to educate the public about the music at its roots, creating daily themes ('Drivin' Wheel,' 'St. James Infirmary,' etc.) that reflect some aspect of blues history." And indeed a peek at the festival's schedule shows that the final day was titled "St. James Infirmary." Unfortunately, that was last Sunday, so ... I don't know, looking at the schedule, quite what it means. My invitation must have gotten lost in the mail!

Elsewhere: A column in the West Island Chronicle notes the "Unfortunate Rake" (antecedent of "Streets of Laredo" and "SJI") as an example of an Irish folk song transported to America.

In the 19th century, the Irish were poor. Because they were poor, they joined the British army. And the British army would allow only a very few of them to marry. So, with their miserly army pay, the rest had to seek out stunningly cheap prostitutes. That's what led to a song, The Unfortunate Rake, about a young man dying of venereal disease. And, when their enlistments were over, some Irish carried that song to America where they found unskilled work as cowboys. (Maybe it was the morality of America that made them clean the song up so their cowboy died of gunshot wounds [in "Streets of Laredo"].)

But you can't keep a sexually active man down. Before long, the song popped up as a piece of New Orleans blues called St. James Infirmary; and the hero was dying of venereal disease again.
Actually I'm not so sure about some of the assertions made there about the song(s), but still. Here's the piece.

& Finally: Nashville City Paper notes that "SJI" appears on the new CD Guaranteed Absolutely Pure, by the Jake Leg Stompers. . . . A Boston Phoenix writer says: "The small and striking singer Holly Brewer [possibly of Humanwine, per minimal Web research] looks like a star waiting to happen, particularly after the chilling version of 'St. James Infirmary' I saw her do at Shaun Wortis and Suzi Lee's Mardi Gras show this year." . . . A writeup of an Arlo Guthrie performance refers to SJI as "Cisco Huston's 'St. James Infirmary,' an instrumental honky-tonk tune he learned from the stack of 78 rpm records his father kept in the basement." (I don't know much about Cisco Huston, but I'm pretty confident that "SJI" is not his tune; it must be a version Woody Guthrie happened to own, right?) . . . . A Guthrie performance is also written up in The Albany Times Union ... A Richmond Times-Dispatch feature basically about Jazz Fest reports that Mahogany Brass Band singer/trumpeter Brice Miller "struggled to control his emotions during a joyous romp through classics such as 'Basin Street Blues' and 'St. James Infirmary,' in which he compared stricken New Orleans to his lover 'laid out on that long white table.'" . . . And another Jazz Fest writeup, in All About Jazz, includes this among the highlights:
Steve Turre, guesting with local trombonist Troy 'Trombone Shorty' Andrews, brought stellar guidance to the young band, updating a wild sound on classic songs such as 'St. James Infirmary'. In evening performances around the city, Turre, possibly inspired by a tour of the flooded areas, blasted emotional depth through his trombone at Snug Harbor and made his signature conch shells cry and moan with a young band of future jazz stars from the University of New Orleans. .... Donald Harrison, nicknamed 'Mister Cool Breeze' by none other than Shirley Horn, played his signature tune with gusto; he was joined onstage by George Coleman, blowing a fat saxophone on a more traditional version of 'St. James Infirmary.'

Wait a minute -- I'm Mr. Cool Breeze! Anyway, that's it for this week... I'm guessing this was an unusually large number of references. We'll see. Meanwhile: Now you're up to date.


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