The irrepressible Hank Staples, proprietor of the Maple Leaf Bar - 8316 Oak Street in the heart of Carrollton (called the Montparnasse of New Orleans by Everette Maddox, but that is another story) - called to let me know that they are doing a tribute to James Booker this Saturday in honor of the 25 anniversary of his passing. Yes, November 8 1983 Booker got dropped off at Charity Hospital in New Orleans where he was put in a wheel chair and in line to see the stomach doctor. He passed out and some orderly whose name is lost to the ravages of time saw his eye patch and moved him from the line to see the stomach doctor to the line to see the eye doctor. There he died from stomach complications and kidney failure. He was 43 years old.
There are other sources to find out the Booker story, but I will tell you that he is the second best pianist in the history of the instrument. (Nobody touches Art Tatum). His story is one that sums up much of what we love and hate about New Orleans. Imagine that Mozart grew up here and was too good and crazy to make any kind of commercial success, but still played like all of the great art that human beings have conceived. That was James Booker. I can almost guarantee that tales of his genius and illness will be spun at the Maple Leaf, a place that can own his ghost more than anywhere else.
Hank tells me that the band will include a Weber, a Hall, and a couple Nevilles. He wasn't sure about pianists, but there are so many great pianists in this town touched by Booker that it should rival WWOZ Piano Night for the best night of radiating the 88s anywhere on the planet. I'll place money that there will be a Cleary, a Paxton, a McDermott, a Worrell, and who knows whom else.
Should be a special evening. see you on the back patio.