[Where Y'at Staff]

Stars Align for Tipitina's Thanksgiving Eve

14:46 November 24, 2023
By: Robert Witkowski

Stellar Concert Benefiting the Musician's Clinic

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving was a night filled with stars under Tipitina's vaulted ceiling. Grammy-award winning artists gathered on stage for "A Tribute to the Instigators of Funk & Rock 'n Roll: Huey 'Piano' Smith & Antoine 'Fats' Domino."

Performances to honor these jazz legends included New Orleans royalty such as Irmas Thomas and Jon Cleary. George Porter, Jr. served as the night's musical director. His band for the night was comprised of David Torkanowsky, Kyle Roussel, Chris Adkins, Terrence Houston, Roger Lewis, Tony Dagradi, Brad Walker, Tracy Griffin, Jeff Albert, Phillip Manuel, and Jolynda "Kiki" Chapman.

Piano Smith Tribute

WWOZ's Gwen Thompkins emceed the evening, introducing 14-year old piano phenom River Eckert to open the show, whose set included an impressive cover of "St. James Infirmary." Sharing a story about his recent mentoring moment with a similar savant, Harry Connick, jr., the young piano player launched into a "medley mess" of interlaced songs that effectively impressed the packed house while building anticipation for the musical evening ahead.

Loyola University New Orleans instructor and jazz great Deacon John followed Eckert and had Tips dancing, starting with a vibrant rendition of "Sea Cruise."

At 9:42 p.m., Tompkins said, "Well, its appropriate you are all standing, because that's what you're supposed to do when a queen takes the stage," as Irma Thomas glowed in a blue light, belting out song after song, including "Boogie Woogie Blues."

Fats Domino Tribute

The piano-heavy second half of the night transitioned to honor Lower 9th Ward's own Antoine "Fats" Domino with River Eckert again opening the acts. Tipitina's co-owner Stanton Moore led the charge after him.

Al "Lil Fats" Jackson glistened in a shimmering jacket. Anyone wondering about his nickname had their answer when he sang Domino's "I'm Walkin'," his voice evocative of the musical innovator he honored.

A moment was taken for a shout out to "Fats" Domino's musical collaborator, Dave Bartholomew. Many of Domino's hits would not have happened without the innovative composer.

Lafayette's C.C. Adcock took the stage next to infuse some guitar riffs and a Cajun seasoning to Domino's work, followed by James Andrews whose horn transformed many tunes, including the iconic "Blueberry Hill." James Andrews, in turn, introduced his trumpet to the lexicon of work which was a perfect springboard for Charlie Gabriel's saxophone to follow.

Charlie Gabriel 's sax accompanied Anjelika "Jelly" Joseph's strong vocals. Her plea to "Let the Cold Winds Blow" had extra resonance with Gabriel's soulful sound.

Jon Cleary took his rightful place behind the grand piano and brought the house down. The British-born pianist, who New Orleanians have embraced as their own, did Domino and Bartholomew proud with a slew of popular hits that had the audience not wanting it to end. His encore was a emotive "I'm Ready."

This was the fifth such tribute concert at Tipitina's, produced by Sonny Schneidau. Past ones include "The Professor Longhair 100th Birthday Tribute," "With You in Mind: A Tribute to The Songbook of Allen Toussaint," "The Tribute to Dr. John," and "Covered in Earl: A Tribute to Earl King."

It was very clear the tributes were as personal and passionate to the musicians as the concert was for the fans kicking off Thanksgiving. A reminder that New Orleans is not only appreciative of its musical past, but grateful for the talent and music that permeates the city today—as well as venues like Tipitina's to keep the party going.

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