Professor Longhair – "The Last Mardi Gras" – Atlantic – 1982
To pick a Professor Longhair recording, a few things needed to fit the formula. One, it needed to be live. His strength was in stunning live shows – folklore has it when Fess made his “comeback” appearance at Jazz Fest in 1971 his performance was so good food vendors, musicians, fans from other areas just stopped what they were doing and started gravitating to the stage where he was playing. This album has the same jaw-dropping playing. It continually beckons.
Two, it had to be at Tipitina’s. The club is a holy shrine in his honor and arguably the city’s most sacred live music venue. When this was recorded, Tip’s is in its infancy -- a little over a year old at this point.
Three, his music is as essential to Mardi Gras as is his legacy to the city itself. This album is taken from two nights – Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras – inside the venerable, if-a-little-too-dirty halls of Tipitina’s in 1978.
The sound quality, location, dates and Fess’ performance – insane versions like “Got My Mojo Working” and “Mess Around” and, of course, “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” with him whistling away makes this the selection over other every good Longhair albums like “Crawfish Fiesta,” or “Rock n’ Roll Gumbo.” Fess’ piano playing is sparkling, spry and sharp and he is backed by a dynamite band.
Listening to the recording, this is the magic – the legendary sounds from a special time in the city that has a legacy and is still inspiring musicians and delighting fans. Oh, what anyone would give to be in Tip’s for these two shows. Until the time machine comes along, this is as close as we’ll ever get.