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Kidd Jordan: Honoring a Jazz Patriarch

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Kidd Jordan: Honoring a Jazz Patriarch

Kidd Jordan: Honoring a Jazz Patriarch

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

New York City's Vision Festival tonight honors saxophonist Kidd Jordan. Jordan is a legend in avant-garde jazz circles. Musically, Jordan's a bit of a contradiction. He lives in New Orleans, where jazz tends to sound like this...

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: But Kidd Jordan's music is entirely improvised.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: NPR's Neda Ulaby visited New Orleans. She talked with Jordan about what it's like to be a musical maverick.

NEDA ULABY: Kidd Jordan, avowed contrarian, could care less about being popular. He just does what he does, even if that means being part of a tiny club of cranky purists.

Mr. KIDD JORDAN (Jazz Saxophonist): The majority of people need somebody else to say yes to what they're doing. They need someone to pat them on the back and say, oh, man, so and so and so. But when somebody starts patting me on my back, I start moving away from them. I say, no, I'm not supposed to be here.

ULABY: Why?

Mr. JORDAN: Because what I'm doing - how can I say it? If the majority likes it, then I'm supposed to go the other way.

(Soundbite of music)

ULABY: Edward Kidd Jordan was born in rice country - Crowley, Louisiana. As a kid, he used to listen to the Charlie Parker albums that black GIs brought home after the war. Jordan thought he'd work with horses like his father, went to college instead, studied music and wound up playing jazz professionally. His progressive tastes did not sit well with conservative Southern audiences.

Mr. JORDAN: We used to play for balls, you know, here in New Orleans. People would tell me don't go too far out in these solos. I would be downstairs practicing, and people would say, man, what is that noise? Go get him something. Stop him from practicing. Give him some chicken. Put some chicken in his mouth. And they'd give me one solo a night. That's all I needed.

(Soundbite of music)

ULABY: To support himself, Jordan played in pit bands for shows on tour - it helped that he knew how to read music - and backed up musicians like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. Jordan never minded playing conventional music, as long as he respected the musician.

Mr. JORDAN: I remember one time, I did a recording with Albert King. And Albert King said...

(Singing) Wine and whiskey is all I crave. I want a big-legged woman to carry me to my grave.

When he said that, the horn fell out of my mouth - the inflections that he had on it.

(Soundbite of song, "Born Under a Bad Sign")

Mr. ALBERT KING (Singer, Guitarist): (Singing) Born under a bad sign. I been down since I began to crawl.

Mr. JORDAN: And he knew he messed me up that day. Wow, but the way he said it. I mean, that was really, really the blues.

(Soundbite of song, "Born Under a Bad Sign")

Mr. KING: That ain't no lie.

ULABY: You might have been better known if you'd moved to Chicago or New York or...

Mr. JORDAN: Might have.

ULABY: Why didn't you?

Mr. JORDAN: Well, really, my family's here. My friends are here. And if you got an idea of what you want to do, I think you can do it in the wilderness. You can do it in Egypt, somewhere in the desert. And make it happen in your kitchen. I used to feel better in my kitchen than in New York City sometimes. I mean, when you're really playing, it doesn't matter where you're at.

ULABY: That said, Jordan is the patriarch of a large and highly musical New Orleans family. One daughter plays violin, another sings. One son plays flute, and his son Marlon plays trumpet. They've performed and recorded together.

(Soundbite of music)

ULABY: Jordan's family also includes hundreds and hundreds, even thousands of students, including Branford and Wynton Marsalis. Jordan started Southern University's jazz program and taught there for decades. Jordan's good friend, Clyde Kerr, is a jazz trumpeter and fellow educator. He says Jordan's the kind of prophet who doesn't get the respect he deserves, even in his own town.

Mr. CLYDE KERR (Jazz Trumpeter, Educator): Kidd is a New Orleans musician, but a lot of people in this town have a certain idea about what is a New Orleans musician or what is New Orleans music. You know? It has to be a certain way.

(Soundbite of song, "Kidd Jordan's Second Line")

ULABY: Still, Kidd Jordan wrote this song, "Kidd Jordan's Second Line," for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, whose musicians were local kids he helped mentor.

(Soundbite of song, "Kidd Jordan's Second Line")

ULABY: They, like so many, many others, were dispersed by Hurricane Katrina. Jordan lost his home in the Upper Ninth Ward. He and his wife evacuated in record time, he says, because he knew all the country back roads from touring them as a musician. But his son Marlon was driven to his roof by the flood for five days.

Mr. JORDAN: That's the only way he could survive, by busting a hole in the roof. And then he got hungry up there, and he swam across the street to my sister-in-law's house, thought he could find some food in there. When he got in there, the refrigerator was floating around in the house. Then he swam to my daughter's house down the block, the same thing happened there. And he encountered alligators, dead bodies floating and all of that. And the helicopters kept passing him by.

ULABY: Less than a month later, Kidd Jordan went in the studio and recorded a melancholy and angry album called "Palm of Soul."

(Soundbite of music)

ULABY: Jordan lives now in Baton Rouge. He'd love to return to New Orleans, but financially, it's too hard. Still, he says, he doesn't care where he lives, just as long as he can play.

Mr. JORDAN: And like when I practice, I don't practice songs. Now around here, they may have some birds in the trees. I may play off of the birds. I may do things like that - imitating and playing off of them, doing this. And that's some natural music. When I get to the place where birds are, I will be ready to go. Say, Lord, take me. I'm ready, 'cause that's some serious music.

ULABY: Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: You can discover more music by the New Orleans saxophonist Kidd Jordan on our music site. That's npr.org.

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