Newport Jazz Fest Countdown: Henry Butler

A few months ago, Henry Butler started playing gigs at a cozy Bed-Stuy club, Bar LunAtico, and after the first solo show, the buzz built quickly. There’s something overwhelming about seeing a talent like Butler’s unfurling his invention alone at the piano, inches from your seat. The NOLA hero is a physical player, and his versatility is staggering. Like James Booker, he has a yen for showing an audience the breadth of his substantial scope, meaning that a down home stomp a la Tuts Washington might veer into a punishing Bud Powell bop attack. His improvs have a symphonic vibe to them – over and over there are new variations added to initial thoughts, and he doesn’t finalize until a melodic tangent has been wrung dry. But the bottom-line reason to catch Butler is simple. Fewer and fewer real deal N’awlins pianists are at work these days, and when the lingo that resounds from Tremé to the Lower Ninth finally fades, fans of American music will feel the loss. The 66-year-old is a key cog in that tradition. Close your eyes as he drops into a Longhair romp during his solo Newport show; you’ll think you’re at the Maple Leaf.

Newport Jazz Fest 2016

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