In Nine Lives, Dan Baum writes about Frank Minyard, now in his 80’s, and in this song Frank reflects on a life of good and bad choices and says, “What the hell.”
I wanted the instrumentation to be sparse. Throughout the musical Frank’s songs are big raucous trad jazz numbers with a lot of instruments reflecting Frank’s wild years and his desire to be a jazz trumpet player. Here, he is old, the wild times have faded and I thought the band should be small.
Alex McMurray plays banjo and he has become my favorite guitarist to have on a session or a live gig. His playing is melodic and edgy at the same time and most importantly for me, he plays any style of music I throw at him. When I am playing a live set I like to play what pops into my head and I know hundreds of songs and Alex can handle them all. Also, Alex is a great songwriter and I like having songwriters or people who really love songwriting play my stuff. They tend to leave space in their playing for the song to breathe.
Andre Bohren, another versatile player, is on snare and brushes. He slams a funk groove with his band Johnny Sketch and The Dirty Notes. He has played with The Rolling Road Show and swung a New Orleans groove, pounded a rock beat, shuffled a country skip. The first time I saw Andre play he was maybe twenty years old, playing guitar for Beatin’ Path and he was head turning good back then. Andre also plays classical piano beautifully. You get the feeling he is one of those folks that could get music out of a chunk of concrete if you asked him.
The trumpet player is Doyle “Trumpet Red” Cooper. Trumpet Red is 18 years old (17 when we recorded) and has already been on the scene playing for a few years. His mom is a nurse. She was one of the nurses who helped care for me when I was in the hospital last Jazz Fest, with out-of-her-way kindness to my wife when I was out of it. She also cared for my brother Andrew in his final days. Andrew had taught me to play guitar and he passed way too early. He would have so enjoyed these sessions and what my music has become since the flood. I wanted to do something to thank Red’s mom. Red also happens to be a wonderful young player who like most brass band players has been working the New Orleans scene since before he was a teenager. Since Frank is supposed to be 80 in this scene I wanted the tone of the trumpet to have a certain preciousness to it that I thought only someone very young or very old could give to it and Red was the right choice. In the intro, I wanted to reference the song, Old Rugged Cross, which Frank plays throughout the book and the musical. Red has played that song almost since he could play and instantly gave me what I wanted for the intro as Alex jumped in behind him on banjo.
When we finished the track, Trumpet Red thanked me for the gig and I asked him to remember to hire me when I am old and he smiled. I also told him he got the gig for his beautiful tone but also because of his mother’s kindness and that he should remember that keeping that very sort of kindness in your playing, tone and music would make his music touch hearts as well as ears. He is going on 19 years old now and already a student teacher with young kids looking up to him. Obviously kindness runs in the family.
The harmonica player is John Herbert. John was my first musical pal in my first band. It was 1978, Godot was the name of the band. He was and remains one of the best songwriters I’ve ever worked with and one of the most melodic harmonica players I’ve ever heard. He knows how to make it howl and jowl like the best of them, but he also knows how to wrap the harp around the melody in the gentlest way.
John lives in Los Angeles, works in the film business and doesn’t play much anymore but I emailed him and he told me to send him tracks and he would record his part on his laptop. Easy as that, I had tied my own musical roots back to this project. Nine Lives had once again given me back a little piece of time that was lost both in the flood of New Orleans and the flood of 30 years of life between when I began playing music with my old pal John Herbert and when I stood at the mic as Frank Minyard to sing Should’ve Beens. I gave it my best Frank Sinatra, surrounded by the light touch of three musicians I respect and three souls who have helped me down life’s path, each in different ways, a path which for me has always been music.
~ Paul Sanchez – August 23, 2011