A New Orleans Opera and Music Inside Out Presentation
A New Video Series Inspired by Alan Lomax and Jelly Roll Morton
New Orleans is America’s first city of opera and the birthplace of jazz. Scholars might debate those claims, but New Orleanians hold them close, and you can feel it every day in the pulse of the city. We invited artists to talk to us about this musical intersection and are proud to present the following interviews.
The Jelly Roll Morton and Alan Lomax Interviews
“In the early history of jazz, no figure looms as large as Ferdinand LaMothe, better known as Jelly Roll Morton.Stephen Winick, folklore specialist at the American Folklife Center
The New Orleans native, who claimed to have invented jazz itself in 1902, was a bandleader and pianist on numerous recordings in the 1920s but fell into relative obscurity in the 1930s.
Then, in the spring and summer of 1938, Alan Lomax, the assistant in charge of the Library’s Archive of American Folk Song, recorded over nine hours of Morton’s singing, playing and boasting — the first extensive oral history of a musician recorded in audio form.
The sessions were born when BBC radio journalist Alistair Cooke advised Lomax to seek out Morton at the Music Box, a small Washington, D.C., nightclub where he played piano, regaled the audience with tales of his glory days and expressed his strong views on jazz history.
Lomax visited the Music Box and chatted with Morton, who suggested the recording sessions as a way to cement his place in history as the inventor of jazz. This suited Lomax, who had his own agenda for the sessions: in his words, “to see how much folklore Jelly Roll had in him” and capture it for posterity.
Seated at a grand piano on the Coolidge Auditorium stage, Morton filled disc after disc with blues, ragtime, hymns, stomps and his own compositions. He embedded the music in a series of swinging lectures on New Orleans music history and its influence on his style — everything from 19th-century opera to formal French dance music to the chants he sang as a “spyboy,” or scout, for a Mardi Gras Indian krewe.”
Tyrone Chambers, Jr. is a New Orleans-born tenor and a founding member of OperaCréole. He now lives in Germany. Chambers performs with a variety of opera companies across Europe and the U.S. and has sung for many years with the New Orleans Opera Association, as well as the National Park Service’s New Orleans Jazz Historical Park. Chambers is a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta.
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg is a world-renowned violinist, recording artist, and educator currently in residence at Loyola University in New Orleans. A child prodigy in Rome, she and her family moved to the United States to pursue her musical training in Philadelphia at the Curtis Institute of Music and later in Manhattan at Juilliard. In 1981, Salerno-Sonnenberg won the Walter W. Naumberg International Violin Competition. She is also a recipient of the Avery Fisher Prize “for outstanding achievement and excellence in music.” She is the founder of NSS Music.
Ricky Riccardi is the Director of Research Collections at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, New York. He is the author of two biographies: “What a Wonderful World, The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years,” and “Heart Full of Rhythm, The Big Band Years of Louis Armstrong.” Riccardi teaches classes on Armstrong’s music and career at Queens College in Corona, NY and at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Swing University. In 2022, he won a Grammy award for writing the liner notes to “The Complete Louis Armstrong and RCA Victor Studio Sessions 1946-1966,” released on Mosaic Records. He lives in New Jersey.
Givonna Joseph is a mezzo-soprano and co-founder of OperaCréole — a New Orleans-based, non-profit performance organization that celebrates the classical and operatic contributions of composers of African descent, including 18th and 19th-century free people of color. In addition to her work as the artistic director of OperaCréole, she is a vocal coach and educator, currently on staff as an adjunct professor at Loyola University.
David Torkanowsky is a New Orleans-based band leader, producer, arranger and piano player extraordinaire, equally comfortable in jazz, funk, and rhythm and blues. His piano can be heard on a wide variety of recordings, featuring the city’s most notable performers, including Irma Thomas, Johnny Adams, Allen Toussaint, and Walter “Wolfman,” Washington. He also has produced recordings by Dianne Reeves and Maria Muldaur. Torkanowsky is the son of the celebrated flamenco dancer Teresa Romero Torkanowsky and the former New Orleans Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra conductor Werner Torkanowsky.
Antonio “Tony” Domino is a New Orleans-born lyric tenor who currently lives in Houston as a graduate student at Rice University, majoring in vocal performance with a focus on opera. He is a grandson of the great rock ’n roll and rhythm and blues player Antonio “Fats” Domino. Tony earned his undergraduate degree in the Music Department at Loyola University in New Orleans.
Judith Owen is a Welsh recording artist and band leader, based part-time in New Orleans, whose current album “Come On and Get It” celebrates the sexy, sassy women of jazz. Owen was raised in London. She is the youngest daughter of the tenor Handel Lodwig Owen, who sang for 35 years in the chorus at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Judith and her husband, Harry Shearer are co-founders of Twanky Records.
The Creative Team
Janet Wilson is the Director of External Affairs for the New Orleans Opera. This project is inspired by an Alan Lomax feature she heard on WWNO back in 2011! Some things just take time. She knew that there was a cultural crossroads in New Orleans between Opera and Jazz and the radio profile she heard that fateful day pointed directly to Jelly Roll Morton. Janet has worked in the nonprofit sector of New Orleans since her early days at New Orleans Opera in 2001.
Producer Gwen Thompkins is the executive producer and host of the long-form public radio interview program Music Inside Out, which explores the unusually varied musical landscape of Louisiana. She and Lynette Johnson were co-creators of the program, which ran on WWNO from 2012 to 2021. Thompkins is a former senior editor and international correspondent for National Public Radio. Her stories have appeared on NPR Music, Oxford American and The New Yorker online. She is currently writing a book based on the Music Inside Out interviews. A full archive of episodes is available at musicinsideout.org.
Production consultant Lynette Johnson is a cultural historian, documentary filmmaker, and former journalist. She is a founding member of Shift Collective, a non-profit group that works with cultural heritage organizations to give voice to the narratives and perspectives of underrepresented communities.
Director of Photography Andrew Boyd is an award-winning filmmaker and photographer working out of New Orleans, Louisiana. He specializes in telling compelling stories for corporate and nonprofit clients through still images and video.