Musical Gumbo 

Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone brings his blues and New Orleans-influenced sound back to Richmond.

“It’s really rewarding,” says Sansone, who appears at the Virginia Museum’s Jumpin! (no relation) Thursday. “You fill up your own bag and start feelin’ good about what you’re doing. Then you hope it overflows into somebody else’s.”

Sansone has lately been busy working with fledgling bands during breaks in his own musically diverse career. He recently produced CDs for a German zydeco band and an Italian blues group he met during a tour of Europe. He’s now playing with a side group of young musicians in his adopted home of New Orleans, teaching them the old-school blues ropes.

Despite outside projects, Sansone keeps his own career moving forward. A new solo CD is in the works with Fabulous Thunderbirds leader Kim Wilson co-producing. Sansone also has tracks in the can that he recorded with a group of Cuban musicians he met last summer during an Ottawa blues festival. He and a group of Canadian musicians traveled to Santiago, Cuba, to record the CD and what they found was both rewarding and frustrating.

“The recording was very rough ‘cause some days you’d go into the studio and they’d just say, ‘Today we go to the beach because there’s no power,’” Sansone recalls. “You never knew what was going to happen. Santiago was like New Orleans in slow motion. It was like being in a dream.”

Music has always provided plenty of diversity for Sansone since he started performing full time in 1978. He’s called Colorado home and also set down roots in Austin, Texas, and Chapel Hill, N.C. During the late 1980s, Jumpin’ Johnny was a fixture in Richmond, regularly playing the Farmers Market Inn with his Blues Party band. He remembers Richmond fondly.

“It was such a cool town. There were a lot of people hip enough to understand what good music was.”

Sansone next did a stint in blues guitarist Ronnie Earl’s band, where he found himself playing with some of his longtime heroes. In 1989, Johnny moved to New Orleans, where he further developed his burgeoning interests in the accordion and the realms of zydeco and Cajun music and the second-line, syncopated rhythms of the Crescent City. Mixed with his deep Chicago blues roots, the result is a true musical gumbo.

“Experimenting with zydeco, swamp pop, Southern soul, Chicago blues … there’s so much you can wrap up if you consider the options,” Sansone concludes. “It’s nice to mix it up.” S

Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone plays Jumpin! with Mel Melton and the Wicked Mojos, Thursday, June 10, from 6 to 9 p.m., in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts sculpture garden near the Boulevard and Grove Avenue. Tickets are $10 and are available at the museum and Plan 9 or through 340-1405.

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