“Basin Street Blues” is a song often performed by Dixieland jazz bands, written by Spencer Williams (words and music) in 1928 and first recorded that year by Louis Armstrong. (Williams also wrote the music for “I Ain’t Got Nobody”, popularized by Louis Prima.)
It’s one of the greatest of all blues songs. Named after the main street of the famous Storyville district, the red-light district of early 20th-century New Orleans, north of the French Quarter. It became a red light district in 1897.
Notable recordings: Lous Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, Bing Crosby, and Fats Waller. Sam Cooke, Dr. John, Willie Nelson, Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis.
This performance is dedicated to my friend Todd B, with whom I’ve shared many good times in the Crescent City.
Related post: Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans
P.S. For anyone wanting to read more about this quintessential jazz song:
Pianist and composer Spencer Williams titled this number after the street where he lived as a youngster with his aunt. But the house he lived in was Mahogany Hall, probably the most famous brothel of Storyville.
Williams composed the tune in 1928, eleven years after Storyville closed and seven years after Basin Street had been changed to North Saratoga Street by city fathers who wanted every trace of the Storyville “experiment” to disappear. (Ironically, they changed the name back in 1946, no doubt due in part to Williams’ song.)
As is common with so many jazz standards, trumpeter/vocalist Louis Armstrong’s version is the premier one, done at a time when his six-piece group included his perfect musical foil, the great pianist Earl Hines.
The lyrics paint a picture of Basin Street that never really existed. The line “you’ll never know how nice it seems, or just how much it really means” has sent many a tourist looking for “where welcome’s free, and dear to me.” It gives the impression that you step off of a Mississippi steamboat right onto the street that’s paradise, but it’s actually eight blocks northwest of the river. As far as being “a heaven on earth,” from 1895-1917 it was the heart of the red light district.
*Some information from Wikipedia.
Bosendorfer piano sound – For this recording I’m playing a Yamaha Clavinova – which has the same keyboard action as a traditional acoustic piano, but there are no strings. Pressing a key activates (in this case) a sound which was sampled from a Bösendorfer Imperial Concert Grand piano. Try listening to it with a good set of headphones! It sounds better than any piano I’ve ever owned!!
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