Cosimo Matassa, left, with Dave Bartholomew in 2010.
— the New Orleans recording maestro and studio owner who shaped early R&B and rock 'n' roll and the "New Orleans sound" — has died at age 88, WWL-TV reports
. Matassa's J&M Recording Studio, founded in 1949, recorded legendary artists Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Lee Dorsey, Ernie K-Doe and dozens others. He received the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Award of Musical Excellence in 2012
In a 2006 interview with Gambit,
Matassa was reluctant to take credit for the incredibly influential music he helped produce:
"All through my career, the one thing I tried to do was be transparent. I heard them in the nightclubs, and just wanted to stay true to the original, to get what they did on record. I didn't try to shape it — I just did my damnedest not to mess it up."
The North Rampart street building that housed J&M was issued a historic landmark plaque in 1999, 50 years after its first recording, Domino's "The Fat Man" with Dave Bartholomew, a track that is considered the birth of rock 'n' roll. "You could present Fats with a song, and let him have a go with it," Matassa told Gambit
. "All you had to do was watch him noodle around on the piano with a new song, add his own chords, and then the song was his. ... The sessions were always a very cooperative, group effort — everybody would contribute their own ideas. ... I just remember always having a good time. We never had a bad session. Even if nothing worked out, we still had fun."
Little Richard also cut "Tutti Frutti" at J&M in 1955 (featuring Huey Smith and Earl Palmer, among other New Orleans legends to-be), ushering in rock 'n' roll. Matassa also had recalled then-untapped talent like Allen Toussaint and Dr. John hanging around the studios for session work. "From day one, in spite of the soft-spoken approach, [Toussaint's] playing was dynamic," he told Gambit
"When he sat down and played, the level of everything jumped."
After moving J&M several times and renaming it and, ultimately, closing it by the mid-'60s, Matassa worked with Toussaint at his studios and, much later, after retiring from the music business, ran a grocery store
(his father bought the store in 1924). He has been honored by the Grammy Awards, the Big Easy Foundation, and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, among others.
"To really understand this music, you had to be around during that time," Matassa said. "Music was just always around us. In the streets. At Saturday night fish fries. In nightclubs. That was New Orleans. That wasn't Cosimo."