Reviews and Recommendations

“Do you ever wonder how a musician winds up playing on the street?  Geoffrey and Ryan Edwards (THE VERDI BARITONE) did, and the result is the extraordinary A.K.A. DOC: THE ORAL HISTORY OF A NEW ORLEANS STREET MUSICIAN (told by James May, a.k.a. Doc Saxtrum).  May can be found playing trumpet and saxophone outside the Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans, and his personal and musical journeys make for riveting story-telling.  The book includes a CD featuring May performing 15 songs, including such favorites as ‘Closer Walk with Thee’ and ‘Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?’  A.K.A. DOC should be required reading for anyone who doubts the commitment to artistry of street performers.  The rest of us can marvel at a life lived to the fullest, and enjoy some gorgeous music at the same time.”


“Some pretty famous jazz autobiographies have come out of New Orleans.  A.K.A. DOC: THE ORAL HISTORY OF A NEW ORLEANS STREET MUSICIAN offers a different perspective than Dr. John or Wynton Marsalis.  James May is not a world famous musician.  He is a street musician or ‘busker’ (a European term for street performers who play for tips), who regularly sets up outside the famous Cafe Du Monde.  A.K.A. DOC contains numerous straight-talking anecdotes.  Without being either vindictive or pulling punches, May tells who’s a thief, who’s a junkie, and who has weak chops.  You’ll read about the musician who almost single-handedly destroyed Preservation Hall, learn what happens when you ask a black band in New Orleans to play ‘Dixie,’ and travel with May as he accompanies the bizarre touring group, The Flying Neutrinos, into a landlord’s worst nightmare.  These are precious stories, told straight from the street – not from a celebrity dressing room.  No other book gives a better feel for the real life of journeyman musicians who have tried to make a living making music in New Orleans.”


“The title of A.K.A. DOC: THE ORAL HISTORY OF A NEW ORLEANS STREET MUSICIAN tells it all.  James May’s career has run an interesting gamut.  He played with Papa French and Danny Barker, backed up Louis Jordan and Fats Waller’s ‘Erroll Garner-type’ piano-playing son, hired Ellis Marsalis for a week-long Holiday Inn gig, and once signed on for an aborted business venture with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s manager.  His first street moniker was Kid Millenberg, which gave way to Doc Saxtrum in recent years (an interesting detail, given May’s perpetual musical growth). Comparing busking to participating in a sidewalk cabaret, May says a great deal about the good and bad of his playing life.  May’s comments about unions are particularly interesting, giving us a rare window on the business side of the musician’s lifestyle.  But his unfailing optimism is inspirational, as is his dry sense of humor.  A delightful CD comes with the book, featuring Doc’s trumpet, vocals, and alto sax.  Among the many excellent trumpet solos are two from consecutive gospel tunes:  ‘Amazing Grace’ mixes gospel fervor with lowdown blues to stunning advantage and is followed by ‘Closer Walk with Thee,’ which is so grand that it makes me wish he’d recorded with Albert Ayler.  He has the silvery tone and exuberance of a Harry James and technique that allows for a wide range of expression.  On alto (a fairly recent double), he’s bluesy, with great use of vibrato, and reminds me of the early Roscoe Mitchell.”


On the surface, this is a simple story of a man’s journey from here to there.  It is also a story about art and entertainment in twentieth-century America.  James May (A.K.A. Doc Saxtrum) tells his tale without bitterness or rancor but also without sidestepping its realities.  In simplicity there is truth.

A “must” for jazz lovers, this unique oral history is accompanied by a CD featuring fifteen of Doc Saxtrum’s favorite hits, including “Amazing Grace,” “Kansas City,” and “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?”