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An overdue tribute to one of the world’s greatest music partnerships

31st August 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer
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“This is something that needs to live in New Orleans,” declares Al “Lil Fats” Jackson who portrays the legendary pianist/vocalist/composer Antoine “Fats” Domino in the upcoming musical and theatrical revue, “Walking to New Orleans.” Beyond being purely for entertainment, the show, which debuts on Thursday, September 3 at the Carver Theater, stands as a tribute to one of the world’s all-time great musical partnerships – Fats Domino and trumpeter/composer/arranger/producer Dave Bartholomew. Their multiple, million-selling mega-hits, like the title cut, “Blue Monday, “Ain’t That a Shame” and many, many others put New Orleans on the map in the late 1940s through the 1950s and laid down the roots of rock ‘n roll.

“I don’t believe they could have come from any other place in that time,” offers Jackson who sincerely believes he was born to play the role of Fats.

Trumpeter Shamarr Allen co-stars in his depiction of Bartholomew. “We needed someone who could play their ass off and we also needed somebody that looked like Dave and could play the part,” says Don Bartholomew, Dave’s son who in collaboration with actor/producer Lucky Johnson and marketing director Vince Caruso, is presenting the show.dave-and-fats-again-2015-08

Actually, “Walking to New Orleans” is a series of ongoing performances at the Carver with two one-hour shows at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. weekly from Thursday through Sunday. The aim is for it to be an unlimited engagement.

Naturally, says Don, there will be a lot of music intermingled with dialogue that will tell a bit of the history about Fats’ and Dave’s extraordinary relationship. “We try to cover the milestones that are part of their story like the moment that my dad found Fats, the moment that they played the Copacabana in Europe,” Don explains. He elaborates saying that it’s about how they started with “The Fat Man” cash advance in danville va in 1949 with the performances each night ending with ‘The Saints’ with Lil Fats, in Domino’s signature move, rhythmically bumping the piano across the stage.

Don Bartholomew is also acting as the band director for the eight-piece ensemble that will back “Fats” and “Dave.” Saxophonist Derek Douget scored the part of longtime Domino reedman Herb Hardesty and actor Brand Guttoso will play the part of renowned New Orleans record producer Cosimo Matassa.

“There is no way in the world we could have a tribute story like this without Cos,” Don Barthomew states with great earnestness.

“I’m very excited to play Mr. Bartholomew – it’s a great honor and privilege,” says Shamarr Allen. “He’s one of my all time favorite composers.” The two musicians first met at a Katrina benefit in New York’s Madison Square Garden and have since built a relationship. “When I saw him I was asking him about playing the trumpet, like can you show me how you did this on this record, can you show me how you did on this record?” He said, ‘Before you go any further do you know anything about publishing and copyrights?’ Those were his first words to me.” Allen acknowledges that this experience and other encounters with Bartholomew have helped him dig into his role. “It gave me a sense of direction of who he is as a person.

Beyond Bartholomew’s manner and spirit, Allen says he is also trying to emulate the way Dave played trumpet on his recordings. “He was using his throat to growl and the plunger like a wah-wah at the same time,” says an obviously impressed Allen. “Certain things that he did, trumpet players weren’t doing at the time. When you don’t see anybody else in that era (using those techniques) you realize, installment loans franklin tn ‘Hey this guy created this.’”

While Allen has had acting experience in television, films and theater, Al “Lil” Fats” Jackson really hasn’t. A huge fan of Fats since very early childhood, the pianist and vocalist has an advantage in capturing his essence having built a career around performing Fats Domino’s music in the style of Fats Domino. Helpful too is that, as Jackson explains, Fats’ speech patterns and those of his family are just about the same.

“Fats’ roots are in Vacherie, Louisiana and so are mine,” he offers. “My great grandmother is from Vacherie. That almost Creole drawl is natural to me. I think that’s where my singing patterns come from too – I go back to my childhood.”

Jackson finds the most challenging aspect of doing a production of this kind compared to his regular gigs is that the he’s performing scripted material.

“On my live shows, when I lead my band, I never go from a song list. We just go,” he says with a laugh.

Domino’s first big hit, “The Fat Man,” was a kick-in for inclusion in the musical selections. It’s also Jackson’s very favorite.

“That’s because he taught me how to play it when I was 21,” Jackson, 41, remembers. “Oliver Morgan (of “Who Shot the La La” fame) brought me to see Fats. Oliver said for me to play something and suggested I do ‘The Fat Man.’ It’s a difficult tune – more of a barrel-house song than a rock ‘n roll song — but I played it. Fats said, ‘You almost got it, now let me show you.’ And he sat down and played it.”

To set the atmosphere in the Carver Theater, memorabilia like vintage photos, hand-written music, records and original reel-to-reel tapes will be on display. Each night there will be an “opening act” with a variety of artists like vocalist Robyn Barnes, vocalist/trumpeter James Andrews and other local favorites taking the stage before the arrival of “Fats” and “Dave.” “We plan to have someone different every night,” says Don Bartholomew.

“I think with my dad, he’s fine with it (the show),” says Don Bartholomew. “He sat down and talked to Lucky and he said, ‘Just don’t believe all that shit you read.’ He’s trusting us to get it right.”

Al “Lil Fats” Jackson hits it on the head when it comes to his and Allen’s challenges in portraying two of New Orleans’ greatest and most successful artists – Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew. “We’re not playing unknowns,” he humbly acknowledges. “This is the cream of the crop and we have some serious shoes to fill.”

Jazz in the Park Is Back!

Autumn in New Orleans isn’t announced by the leaves changing color or a crispness in the air as experienced in more northern climes – we can only dream – but the start of the fall musical festival season. First up is Jazz in the Park, that celebrates the beginning of its eighth season on Thursday, September 3, 2015. The always high-energy, truly New Orleans vocalist Charmaine Neville performs at 5 p.m. in the lovely and friendly Louis Armstrong Park followed by pianist/vocalist – and though he’s from England, truly musically New Orleans – Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen at 6 p.m. Check out the latest “monster,” the talented drummer and vocalist Jamison Ross, who’s been touring with the group recently. DJ Smoke-A-Lot aka Kermit Ruffins will warm things up beginning at 4 pm. The weekly series runs through October 29, 2016.

This article originally published in the August 31, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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