Bayou Maharajah: “The Tragic Genius of James Booker” Screening at Morley College Friday 23rd January

Lily Keber

Lily Keber

Documentary film produced and directed by award-winning film director Lily Keber.


“Ask jazz fans outside of New Orleans if they have heard of James Booker and most will lean back, rub their chin and say they know they have heard the name. Unless you lived in Europe in the seventies and eighties, where he was loved—or were lucky enough to hear him or play with him in his hometown of New Orleans—the name may not even be familiar.

“To those of us who did our laundry on Monday nights at the Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans, where he had his regular gig, he was just a good pianist that kept us entertained while we drank our beer and waited for our clothes to dry in the small laundry in the back of the bar. We did not recognize just how good he was, and for that we should be forever sorry. Youth really is wasted on the young.

James Booker“Booker was like no one else, and as Allen Toussaint says about him in the documentary Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker, produced and directed by Lily Keber, “I know the word genius is thrown around loosely, but Booker, I considered Booker a genius when I met him, and to this day, a true genius.” It’s always impressive when a genius calls another a genius, but that is what happens throughout the film. Keber’s collection of concert videos, interviews with New Orleans musicians who played with him, audio and video interviews with Booker, and footage of old New Orleans bring Booker back to life again and introduce him to a new generation of fans. Booker, without a doubt, may have been the best pianist to ever come out of a city that already produced amazing piano players. Or, as Dr. John—who credits Booker with teaching him to play the organ—said, he was …”the best black, gay, one-eyed, junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.”

“Keber’s film allows Booker and the people who knew him to tell his story. She wisely stays out of the way; there was no need to interfere, as Booker and others unfold the story of what she rightfully calls his “tragic genius.” And throughout the ninety-minute film there is a truly gripping and beautiful piano soundtrack playing in the background, and it is all Booker. The music speaks for itself and becomes its own character in the film.” (Courtesy of


Bayou Maharajah is screening in the Holst Room at Morley College in London, 7.30pm this Friday, 23rd January. All proceeds go to help paying for the music clearances. Please help us get the word out!


“The film chronicles the life and music of the legendary New Orleans pianist, James Booker. In spite of his lack of wider recognition, Booker was widely regarded by many musicians as a genius.

Booker 2

“We are also very fortunate that the film’s director, Lily Keber, will be attending the screening and will be available for a question and answer session after the film.

“There is no fixed ticket price, though donations would be welcome. All proceeds will go towards the cost of music licensing for the film, without which it will not be possible to distribute the film more widely.”

YouTube courtesy of “Bayou Maharajah”

Please follow and like us:


  1. Jon Guthrie says:

    Morley College and I would like to thank everyone who came along to last Friday’s screening – especially those who had to spend the evening sat on the steps as there were too many people for the auditorium to take. The film went down brilliantly – again there was a round of applause as the credits started to roll – something which I’ve rarely seen, but which has happened at every Bayou Maharajah screening I’ve been to.
    Following the film, there were many questions for director Lily Keber – more than we had time for. As there were a number of the college’s music students at the screening (the idea of the Morley College screening was initiated by jazz and blues pianist Tim Richards who also teaches a number of classes at the college), Lily was asking the audience about Booker and how they felt the film had captured him and his playing.
    There is still a shortfall in funding to clear the music licensing which is required if the film is to be distributed as a commercial DVD or put out on general release. The screening had been organised in part to raise funds towards this, and over the course of the night, over £1,000 was raised thanks to the generosity of the audience.
    Many of us retired to the Gladstone Arms after the film, where Dom Pipkin played a Booker-inspired set, with a brief interlude (organised on the spot by Lily!) where Tim Richards, Seamus (I’m sorry I don’t know Seamus’ surname), Jaz Delorean and Tim Penn all played a tune each.
    Good times definitely were had by all!
    At present, there are no further planned screenings of the film in London. If you’re interested in seeing the film, then keep an eye on the Bayou Maharajah facebook site –
    In addition to raising funds to get Bayou Maharajah seen by a wider audience, Lily Keber is now working on a new project (along with Spencer Leven and Josh Bagnall) – a film about Professor Longhair, called “Making a Gumbo”. You can find out more about this film at

Speak Your Mind