BAYOU MAHARAJAH (DVD)
A riveting documentary on the life and times of a colourful musician once famously described by Dr John as ‘the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced’.
If you have ever heard the best of the recorded works of James Booker and wondered just why he wasn’t the best known of the many great blues, jazz and rhythm & blues pianists to have come out of New Orleans, this excellent DVD film Is for you.
More than any other pianist of his generation, his talents far exceeded the limitations of any particular genre. Equally at home playing ‘serious’ classical music as he was with playing any number of popular musical styles, his enormous talents clearly came at a price.
This well-researched and presented documentary nicely balances the representation of his enormous musical talents while detailing his various difficulties in an entertaining but sympathetic way.
The fascinating story is told mostly through various new interviews with fellow musicians, such as Dr John, Harry Connick Jr, Irma Thomas, Charles Neville, Allen Toussaint, Dave Bartholomew and others, as well as with friends and other musical associates, including Cosimo Matassa, Joe Boyd and Scott Billington. Inter-cut with these interviews is plentiful (and rare) footage of James Booker in performance, on record and in conversation.
The picture presented of Booker is of a hugely unpredictable and wild personality, never able to control his demons and habits. Despite seemingly having let everyone down at some point or other, all of the participants involved are still able and willing to speak of him with respect and often awe. Despite often unflattering stories and incidents, this indeed is how this documentary ends; leaving the viewer also with no doubts about Booker’s failings but also with a heightened respect for his genius and a sadness that his death at just 43 was a huge waste.
As well as the excellence of the main documentary, the bonus feature includes much longer and more detailed interviews with some of the other musicians featured, offering up more reminiscences of Booker and, from some, an analysis of his piano technique. This, added to an impressive hardback booklet, with detailed notes and plenty of rare photos, makes this a very satisfactory package indeed.
Whether you have a long-standing affection for the music of the self-proclaimed ‘Chocolate Liberace', or are just finding out about his enormous talents, this DVD is a hugely informative and enjoyable release. It will also undoubtedly stand up to repeated viewing; I know this for a fact as I have already returned to it a number of times myself!
Review Date: October 2016