This week I went to a screening of an amazing documentary film at the In-Edit Festival in Barcelona about the life of the brilliant yet tragic “New Orleans Prince of Piano” James Booker. It made a huge impression on me so I wanted to share it with you because I think it is an important film to see, especially if you are interested in modern music at all. The film premiered this year in March at the SXSW Festival in Austin, TX and has sold out in many countries across the globe.
The legendary musician Dr. John described Booker as “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced” and he was being understated, to say the least. The film gave an honest portrayal of James Booker, filled with incredible rare footage including live performances, interviews, and incredible commentaries from people who knew or had been influenced by him. Harry Connick, Jr was hugely influenced by Booker having met him as a young boy through his father who was best known as the District Attorney of the Parrish of Orleans.
The legendary James Booker “Piano Prince of New Orleans”
Classically trained, and influenced by having been born & raised in the thumpin’ and bumpin’ New Orleans, LA – his music was a powerfully complex melange of jazz, blues, gospel, soul, ragtime, boogie-woogie & the original R&B with distinctly classical influences. His sound was completely his own original creation, and I absolutely love it! The “I need all of his records that I can get my hands on” kind-of-love.
Like so many musical and creative geniuses, it was a major challenge for him to live on the earth and lead a grounded existence. His addiction to heroin and alcohol (and who knows what else) were his coping mechanisms that he explicitly knew were poisoning his body (he even sung about it). But he was addicted and in my opinion heart-broken at a certain point in his life. As you might imagine his life tragically ended rather early, and it just stung me a bit to think of what a loss it was for him and the rest of us. His music was an extraordinary gift – I can only wonder what the world would be like if he were still in it.
It made me think about how important it is for artists to truly feel their own self-worth, and the immense value of the art we create and share with the world. I don’t think James Booker realized how extraordinary he truly was. The amazing thing about recorded music is that in some way a part of the artist still lives on, and I feel truly grateful to be able to appreciate the part of him that he left with us. If you have a chance to see the film, go! Also check out his music, I think you will dig it.