The Cosimo Matassa Project
The Cosimo Matassa Project are a collective of musicians in London, UK, working to conjure up the unique rhythm ‘n’ blues flavours that emerged from New Orleans in the late 1940s and early 1950s. At the core of the band are pianist and arranger Al Dunn (Loudon Wainwright / Richard Thompson), singer and double bassist Dai Price (Dai & The Ramblers) and drummer Roy Pfeffer (The Big Smoke Family). They’re often joined by guest musicians from London’s rhythm ‘n’ blues scene, and members of our collective have played with the likes of Allen Toussaint, James Hunter and Van Morrison. Over the last couple of years the band have become a staple on the R’n’B circuit, gigging around London clubs and bars such as Nightjar in Old Street, Brasserie Zedel in Mayfair and Ronnie Scott’s in Soho.
The entire project is born out of respect for the artists who passed through Cosimo Matassa’s studios, a real love for the music and a desire to summon up the sheer joy that pervades all of Cosimo’s recordings. Playing tunes by well-known artists from that era such as Fats Domino and Big Joe Turner, the band also like to unearth lesser-known gems by the likes of Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry, Dave Bartholomew and Tami Lynn, as well as throwing in a few of their original songs.
Cosimo Matassa (1926 – 2014) started J&M Recording Studio in 1945 in the back room of his parents’ shop at the junction of Rampart Street and Dumaine in New Orleans. His studios saw legends of R&B Little Richard, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint and Big Joe Turner pass through their doors.
Many of the records produced at J&M were hugely popular at the time, and the biggest hits sold millions of copies. The reverberations of the J&M output were felt around the world, and heavily influenced the development of many styles – ska and rocksteady in Jamaica, soul and funk in the USA and the British Invasion bands of the 1960s (Paul McCartney’s parroting of Fats Domino’s piano style on ‘Lady Madonna’ being one notable instance). Arguably Cosimo Matassa and the artists who recorded in his studios set the musical template for popular music for the rest of the 20th century and beyond.
If you’d like to learn more about Cosimo Matassa and the music he recorded, a great starting point is The Cosimo Matassa Story CD boxset. With over 100 songs, it’s a great introduction to New Orleans R&B. Ace Records’ Cracking The Cosimo Code is also a great compilation CD covering Cosimo’s 60s output.
Cracking The Cosimo Code was compiled by Red Kelly, John Ridley and John Broven, who are also responsible for the website www.cosimocode.com – an amazing resource attempting to document all of Cosimo Matassa’s 1960s recordings.
John Broven’s excellent book Rhythm & Blues in New Orleans is definitely worth investigating. With lots of insight into the scene around the studio, it contains interviews with producers and musicians from the era, including Cosimo Matassa himself.