That a song can have such power over me must be one of the sweet mysteries in life. It happens once again when I hear the intro to Diane Schuur’s jazz vocal, “Louisiana Sunday Afternoon” pouring like a mint julep out of the Sirius XM radio channel on the TV in my sitting room. A late morning after yesterday’s bus trip to the Festival of Lights at Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, with Jay, Kathie, and Bob, I have just ascended the basement steps from starting a load of laundry and checking in with Cokie cat, who is snuggled atop a basket of dirty towels, when the breezy first few bars with keyboard and seductive guitar seize hold of me.
In an instant I quick-step across the kitchen. I grab the remote from the glass coffee table and ramp up the volume to dancing level. I simply cannot keep still when I listen to that song, nor can I refrain from snapping my fingers as I shimmy solo to the beat. It may be a soggy, gray December 3rd on the calendar, but I am grooving through warm, melodic breezes on a June afternoon on St. Charles Street in the Garden District. Patches, who has been perched on the countertop next to the kitchen sink by his milk bowl, turns his head to watch my gyrations, showing some amusement. It occurs to me that I may look to him like he looks to me when he dances around, pawing and batting his favorite toy, Green Fishy.
Diane Schuur may be unparalleled among today’s top jazz vocalists and could match up very well with the greats of all time. It is amazing to me that I had had the privilege to see her perform for free back in the early 90’s when Allegheny County revived the old Allegheny County Fair for a number of years. I was thrilled that Diane Schuur, also known as “Deedles” by those who love her, as I do, was the headliner for the final Sunday of the County Fair. I think my friends Bob and Mark were in the bleachers that evening with my mom and me as we heard one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time—red, tightly curled hair and trademark dark glasses—punching out rhythms on her piano and making love to every song she delivered.
You can find the lyrics on the web along with various live performances of “Louisiana Sunday Afternoon” by this artist on YouTube, which I have enjoyed recently, but the original studio recording is difficult to match. I do have the album titled, Talkin’ ‘Bout You, produced in 1988, on vinyl. That song, in particular, simply jumps off the turntable.
The moaning saxophone comes in with the line about feeling temptation in her bones as the keyboard and percussion drive on with a light, yet relentless back beat. From there, the heat builds deliciously like an Andouille sausage in a steaming pot of jambalaya all the way through to the riff-like, melodic screaming of the vocalist in the last stanza.
To simply read the lyrics of the song outside the context of the music and Diane’s vocal performance is to reduce their meaning to that of a lovesick woman pining for a visit from her lover on a steamy Loo-zi-anna Sunday afternoon. I am not certain that the rap-rap-rap at the door is real or only imagined from the urgency of her longing. But when I hear those lyrics sung to the heights with instrumentation and background vocals, it becomes a song about so much more.
It becomes a celebration of all the riches in a life well lived—a lover, to be sure, but also friends, family, exquisite works of art, great literature, tempting cuisine, and oh, that sweet music that we live for. The longing of the singer, massaged through her memory, is the longing I have for all of the above—the sensual pleasures that make me want to jump in the car and cruise down the highway with the windows wide open, to get up and dance, to shout from deep inside, “This must be Heaven on Earth.”