In a town famous for its piano virtuosos—Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Eddie Bo, Professor Longhair, James Booker, and even Harry Connick, Jr. (all New Orleans natives)—Henry Butler is a giant. Though his eclectic mixture of funk, blues, jazz, pop, schmaltz, rock and standards isn't everyone's cup of tea, his musical genius is legendary. Musicians and fans both hail Butler as the next piano superstar.
Butler is a quintuple-threat, being an excellent writer, arranger, interpreter, player and multi-instrumentalist. Though he hasn't yet been discovered by the masses, his latest CD, PiaNOLA Live should serve as a step in that direction.
This is the first completely solo recording that Butler, blind since birth, has released. The fact that it was recorded live makes it even more special.
The disc features 11 tracks of pure delight, beginning with the classic “Basin Street Blues,” on which Butler pays homage to those who came before him by playing it in a truly New Orleans-esque manner. Butler also lays down some fine R&B piano on the Toussaint-penned, Ernie K-Doe hit “Mother-In-Law,” a slow, heartfelt version of Otis Redding's “Dock Of the Bay” and his own rollicking, joyful composition “New Orleans Inspiration”—Butler's signature tune and tour de force.
Other highlights include Butler's version of Governor Jimmie Davis' “You Are My Sunshine,” re-interpreted here as a blues and “North American Idiosyncrasies,” composed by Alvin Batiste (who taught Butler at the Louisiana State School for the Blind). “Let 'Em Roll,” which Butler previously recorded with Corey Harris on the guitarist's Vu-Du Menz (Alligator Records, 2000), features a stunning, thumping and powerful barrelhouse piano, followed by a slow-build to a frenzied version of Professor Longhair's “Tipitina.”
The sounds that Butler coaxes, cajoles, pounds and brings forth from his instrument fill the entire room. It is both amazing and deeply satisfying to know that PiaNOLA Live was made by only one man and his piano.
Basin St. Blues
Dock Of The Bay
Let 'Em Roll
Somethin' You Got
You Are My Sunshine
Will It Go Round in Circles
Old Man River
North American Idiosyncrasies
Mr. Butler's extraordinary piano blues, May 31, 2008
By R. Weinstock (Falls Church, VA USA) Amazon.com
The are few musicians that I would call astonishing. New Orleans pianist Henry Butler qualifies to my ears. I remember the first recording of his that I listened to, the marvelous "For All Seasons" on Atlantic. Mostly backed by a trio that included David Holland on bass and Herman Jackson on drums (Steve Turre plays trombone on one track), the album generally is a strong hard bop piano set, but the highpoint is his solo rendition of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues," on which his musical explorations bring a truly fresh take on this classic song. After this disc, his recordings have become less jazz-oriented and more
blues - r'n'b focused.
His newest recording is "PianoNOLA" on Basin Street Records. Co-produced by George Winston, who produced Butler's "Orleans Inspiration", this disc is a collection of live solo performances that include several instrumentals as well his renditions of several blues and R&B classics. The strength of this recording is his piano playing especially on the marvelous renditions of `Basin Street Blues,', his own tour de force `Orleans Inspiration,' and the late Alvin Batiste's "North American Idiosyncrasies.' As a vocalist, Butler sometimes come off as a bit melodramatic to these ears (explaining the four stars as opposed to four and half or five), but even on such a well-known number as Professor Longhair's `Tipitina,' he radically reworks it in his stunning original solo and the piano and a wordless vocal part lifts up his rendition of the Ernie K-Doe classic, `Mother-in-Law.' While the overwrought vocal on `Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,' is perhaps the low point, the rollicking `Let It Roll,' (originally on the marvelous "VU-DU-Menz" album with Corey Harris) picks things up. If this reviewer finds this uneven, there is no question that there are many inspired moments throughout this disc. Maybe his wonderful "Orleans Inspiration," will be made readily available again.
Simply Amazing, August 4, 2008
By John D. Tenney "DesertBluesLover" (Phoenix, Arizona USA) Amazon.com
I saw Mr. Butler a year and a half ago, opening for B.B. King here in Phoenix, at the Dodge Theatre. Seeing him live blew me away. I was simply astonished at the energy of his music, and his personality - which really comes through when he plays. This selection, the newest release is no exception. This is awesome! I enjoyed the raw, live presence of this album. I highly
recommend this one. Not to me be missed. Thank you Mr. Butler.
Henry Butler's 'PiaNOLA' a captivating collection
Jim Abbott | Sentinel Music Critic
April 25, 2008
Henry butler's 'PiaNOLA,' a concert album, stretches from New Orleans classics to R&B to blues.
A piano and a microphone aren't much to work with, but Henry Butler doesn't need more than that.
The New Orleans piano pounder is captivating on PiaNOLA Live, a concert album culled from Butler shows that stretch from the 1980s to 2007. Musically, the songs also stretch pleasantly from traditional Crescent City classics to R&B staples such as "Will It Go Round in Circles."
A New Orleans native, blind by glaucoma since birth, Butler built his career in his hometown. At the same time, his style has veered into jazz (including collaborations with Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette) and blues. The latter influence spawned Vu-du Menz, a 2000 album with Delta bluesman Corey Harris.
Butler's broad approach reflects his playing style on these songs, which takes as much from Jerry Lee Lewis as it does from Professor Longhair. The stylistic diversity helps, especially over the course of 63 minutes with one instrument.
PiaNOLA opens with a song worthy of its name. There's a swagger to Butler's romp through "Basin Street Blues," that emphasizes the pianist's heavy right hand. At the same time, the breakneck arpeggios that usher the tune into its second half show that Butler has a deft touch, too.
Another New Orleans chestnut, Allen Toussaint's "Mother-in-Law," is retro-fitted with an R&B makeover thanks to Butler's hard-driving accompaniment. Although the song maintains its playful mood, the instrumental twist adds artistry to the humorous lyrics.
Butler indulges his blues side on a slowed-down cover of Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay." It'll never replace the original, but Butler's impassioned vocals capture the song's lonely spirit.
For my money, though, I'd take Butler on the exuberant side, especially on a rowdy barrel-house thumper such as "Let 'Em Roll," off Vu-du Menz.
Equally impressive is "Something You Got," a rollicking tune by Chris Kenner, the guy who also wrote "Land of 1,000 Dances." Butler concludes it with a stately coda that takes the blues to the heavens.
It sounds like a band might have slipped into the room, but it's just Butler's charismatic power. Not bad for one man and a piano.
About Henry Butler
By Craig Harris
An eight-time W.C. Handy “Best Blues Instrumentalist - Piano” award nominee, Henry Butler knows no limitations. Although blinded by glaucoma since birth, Butler is also a world class photographer with his work displayed at exhibitions throughout the United States. Playing piano since the age of six, Butler is a master of musical diversity. Combining the percussive jazz piano playing of McCoy Tyner and the New Orleans style playing of Professor Longhair through his classically trained wizardry, Butler continues to craft a sound uniquely his own. A rich amalgam of jazz, Caribbean, classical, pop, blues and R&B influences, his music is as excitingly eclectic as that of his New Orleans birthplace.
Mastering baritone horn, valve trombone and drums, in addition to the piano, at the Louisiana State School for the Blind in Baton Rouge, as a youngster, Butler began formal vocal training in the eleventh grade. He went on to sing German lieder, French and Italian art songs and operatic arias at Southern and Michigan State Universities, earning a Masters degree in vocal music. He has taught music workshops throughout the country and initiated a number of different educational projects, including a residential jazz camp at Missouri State School for the Blind and a program for blind and visually impaired students at the University of New Orleans.
Mentored by influential jazz clarinetist and Michigan State University teacher Alvin Batiste, Butler was encouraged to explore Brazilian, Afro-Cuban and other Caribbean music. With Batiste’s help, he successfully applied for National Endowment for the Arts grants to study with keyboard players George Duke, then with Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet, and the late Sir Roland Hanna. He studied with Harold Mabern, pianist for the late Lee Morgan, for a summer and spent a long afternoon studying with Professor Longhair.
While his early albums were jazz trio recordings featuring such top-notch instrumentalists as Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins, on “Fivin’ Around” in 1986, and Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette, on “The Village” two years later, Butler has increasingly turned to New Orleans music and the blues. His 1990 album, “Orleans Inspiration,” recorded with Leo Nocentelli of the Meters, was followed by “Blues And More” in 1992. Although he briefly returned to jazz with “For All Seasons” in 1996, he’s remained immersed in the blues since releasing “Blues After Sunset” in 1998.
Collaborating with Corey Harris on a duo album, “Vu-du Menz,” in 2000, Butler spent the next three years touring with the Delta blues-influenced guitarist/vocalist. That fascination with the blues has continued to be reflected in his solo work. After releasing a power-packed, all electric, blues-rock album, “The Game Has Just Begun,” in 2002 on the New Orleans-based indie label Basin Street Records, Butler takes things even deeper with his latest outing on that label, “Homeland,” released in April 2004. “This album is a real turning point,” he said. “It was the first time that I’ve brought a blues and R&B band into the studio with me. On this record, I’m feeling closer to my roots.”
Henry Butler Reviews
"...Henry Butler is arguably the greatest living proponent of the classic New Orleans piano tradition, playing an amalgam of boogie-woogie, jazz, blues and classical in the lineage of Professor Longhair, James Booker, Tuts Washington, Allen Toussaint and countless other emperors of the ivories..."
CMJ New Music Report Issue
"...It's not an exaggeration to say Butler is a piano genius who has yet to be discovered by the masses. His recordings demonstrate that he can do it all: he writes his own songs, does his own arrangements of classic tunes by Professor Longhair and others, and can play with as much passion as a soloist as he can with a band..."
Richard Skelly - All Music Guide
"...The playing is phenomenal, which shouldn't overshadow the emotional vocal performances,...highly recommended disc."
"He is the pride of New Orleans and a visionistical down-home cat and a hellified piano plunker to boot...He plays the piano like Art Tatum, but when he starts singing he sounds like Paul Robeson."
"Henry Butler's name is not a household word, but over the last decade, he has established himself as the finest all-around pianist in New Orleans, a city known for its piano masters. Butler is equally at home in jazz, blues or R&B, and has toured with Verve Big Bands as well as being an acclaimed club performer in his own right..."