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Iko Iko-The Definitive New Orleans Anthem

It's Jazz Fest time in NOLA!!!!

I have been a huge fan of the music of New Orleans all my adult life, having made my first trip to Jazz Fest in 1987. What is Jazz Fest you say? Well, technically its called the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, but the locals refer to it as Jazz Fest of simply The Fest. It's hard to describe the atmosphere and vibe of New Orleans if you haven't been there. It's a huge melting pot of culture, race, music, food and dance. Throw in a little voodoo and some ghosts that haunt the various venues and graveyards and you've got yourself one eerie, magical place.

Jazz Fest this year is happening as I write this, and I'm a bit disappointed to be missing it. Sure, it's gotten very, very big, and it's not truly a jazz festival anymore, but there's so much fun to be had it's a shame not to be there for it. You can pick up on some of the action if you tune to, the local radio station down there. You can find out everything you need to know about Jazz Fest right here...

For sure a tune that has long been associated with New Orleans music is the classic anthem Iko Iko. Made famous by Dr. John, (pictured above) who's cover is likely the definitive version, this tune is simple and so much fun. Iko Iko can be found on his classic recording Gumbo on Atlantic Records.

Hear it here:

There are a lot of famous and iconic musicians on this recording and the beginning of Iko Iko from this version sets up one heck of a second line groove with some classic Dr. John piano thrown in.

There is a long tale about the origins of Iko Iko, which is described in detail here... Essentially a battle song describing a challenge between New Orleans tribes, the lyrics are well worth absorbing to get the true flavor and meaning of this tune.

Verse 1

My spyboy tell your spyboy

Sittin' on the bayou

My spyboy told your spyboy

"I'm gon' set your tail on fire"


Talkin' 'bout hey now (Hey now)

Hey now (Hey now)

Iko iko an day (Oh)

Jockomo feeno ah nan day

Jockomo feena nay

Verse 2

Sittin' on the Bayou

My marraine told your parraine

"I'm gon' set your thing on fire"

Verse 3

We goin' down the for-lay-shon

Iko, Iko, an day

We gonna catch a lil' ol' salmon

And put jockomo feena nay

There are addtional verses but you get the idea; a bit silly, humorous and a challenge to interpret. The groove with all the horns is just so infectious, and I love the way this tune develops on this recording.

There are dozens if not hundreds of versions of Iko Iko, and all are worth investigating. Which leads me to my next point...One of my favorite saxophone players is Donald Harrison, himself a native of New Orleans. Donald is steeped in all the history and traditions of New Orleans, and has a very attractive blend of styles that he draws upon. He often shows his funky side, yet he can play jazz standards as well as anyone. He also knows his New Orleans roots music very well, and it's often on display on a tune or two on each of his many recordings, all of which are worth seeking out and hearing. Donald studied at the Berklee School in Boston and has some obvious Charlie Parker stylistic leanings, and he is a perfect player to transcribe as his solos are chock full of interesting melodic and harmonic material. His sound on the alto saxophone is fantastic, to me a perfect model to emulate.

I am including here my transcription of Donald's version of Iko Iko from his excellent recording Free Style. This solo brings together several fantastic elements that are excellent study examples for intermediate level saxophonists. Hear it here on Youtube:

Be sure to check out how the bass offsets the beat and notice that there is no drum set, just a grooving percussion part that seems to feature cowbells, spoons and God knows what else. It's just so soulful, and gets me every time.

So there it is, a tribute to New Orleans' Jazz Fest, a definitive tune from the Big Easy, and a great version of Iko Iko for saxophone students to study. A little history lesson wrapped around a great piece of music. As they say down there, Let The Bon Ton Roulet.

Thanks for stopping by my blog...Markos

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