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BEVERLY HILLS – Fans of Hugh Laurie may lose the actor to his other passion: music. Laurie’s musical prowess – he plays piano, guitar, saxophone and also sings – has been featured in much of his television work including Fox’s House.
But his love of New Orleans jazz and blues is front and center in an installment of PBS’ musical series Great Performances, which documents the making of Laurie’s first album Let Them Talk (Warner Bros.) which features Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas and Tom Jones.
“This whole project and whole experience has really been closer to who I am than many things I’ve done,” Laurie told reporters during at the Television Critics Association press tour.
The British actor has been nurturing a love affair from afar with the music of New Orleans since he was a boy and he first heard Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters on the radio.
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“New Orleans is a unique city in many ways,” he said. “It is musically unique – there are so many different influences Spanish, French, English, Caribbean. It has it’s own feel. It looks like nowhere else I’ve ever been. Ever since I was a small boy the sounds of that city have just thrilled me like nowhere else.”
Warners approached Laurie to make a record, he said, and he was rather close to declining the offer. But he realized, “this is not going to come my way again,” he said. “This was a diem I had to carpe.”
The PBS special, Hugh Laurie: Let Them Talk – A Celebration of New Orleans Blues, premieres Sept. 30.
Of course, Laurie is self aware enough to be utterly intimidated to play with legends the likes of Toussaint, Thomas and Jones in a town where music is a religion.
“There I was sharing a room with my heroes. Tom Jones for half a century has been one of the most famous singers in the world,” said Laurie. “And who the hell do I think I am sharing a room with him, sharing a studio with him? But they were… incredibly generous. I’m sure there were times where they were behind my back rolling their eyes. But if they did, they did not show it. They could not have been more generous.”
Performing live in New Orleans’ French Quarter for the PBS special, he said, “was without a doubt the most frightening thing I’ve ever done. I recently did a tour in Europe. It was only eight shows. But that was a very very daunting, but wonderful experience. But then surviving something daunting can be wonderful. Being attacked by a lion can wonderful. Surviving is important, of course.”
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