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SXSW 2013 Preview: 'Bayou Maharajah' (Black, Gay, One-eyed, Junkie, Piano Genius - James Booker)

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by Tambay A. Obenson
February 13, 2013 4:16 PM
2 Comments
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Bayou Maharajah

From director Lily Keber comes the feature documentary, Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker which explores the life, times and music of James Booker, the legendary New Orleans performer who Dr. John proclaimed “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.”

The film will be making its World Premiere at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival next month.

The project recently raised over $18,000 in completion and music rights costs, en route to its premiere. Here's more from the filmmaker from that campaign:

Booker's genius defies easy explanation. He is, first and foremost, one of America's finest piano players. Period. Booker combined his classical training with an encyclopedic knowledge of music and filtered this through a singular take on that distinct New Orleans blend of funk, gospel, blues, R&B, gutbucket, and street syncopations. He never played the same set twice. His off-the-cuff medleys could blend a Rachmaninoff tune with Sinatra, dip into some Fats Domino, take a detour through the Afro-Caribbean roots of New Orleans and end up in the first-row pew of a Catholic church. Dr. John told me that Booker is the only guy he ever knew who would play a song with every verse in a different key.

The film includes Interviews with: Harry Connick, Jr., Hugh Laurie, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Charles Neville, Cosimo Matassa, Harry Connick Sr., Joe Boyd, Bunny Matthews, Ron Cuccia, Joshua Paxton, Tom McDermott, Reggie Scanlan, Ronald Markham, George Winston, and countless others.

Nate Kohn is its producer.

Here's a teaser:

1 min teaser, Bayou Maharajah from Lily Keber on Vimeo.

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2 Comments

  • Jo Anne Tardy | July 23, 2013 6:18 AMReply

    I was unable to view the film. James Booker was my classmate at Xavier Prep High School. No, that's not right. We were not in the same class room,except for chorus. He was our accompanist. He could play anything difficult. I was at the time pursuing a career in the classical voice. He was often my accompanist. I never saw the things I heard people begin to say about him. I just know he had a blessed gift for keyboard. I'm sorry he died the way he did. What a waste of a marvelous talent!

  • Akimbo | February 13, 2013 9:09 PMReply

    Looks interesting, but I wonder if there's going to be any footage of the man himself speaking. On a random note, in the picture above, he looks like a mix of Denzel and Chiwetel, but in the trailer, he looks like Mos Def and Antonio Fargas. Vital information, I know.

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