Musician playing trombone
Wycliffe Gordon is the director of jazz studies at Augusta University.

Wycliffe Gordon celebrates America’s love of barbecue with ‘AU Jazz and Friends: Smokestack Lightning’

Barbecue techniques and recipes are part of a time-honored tradition in this country, handed down from generation to generation.

America’s passion for the pit is the inspiration behind an upcoming concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17 at the Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre featuring live music composed by Wycliffe Gordon, world-renowned trombonist and director of jazz studies at Augusta University.

A few years ago, Gordon was commissioned to compose the score for a documentary, Smokestack Lightning, A Day in the Life of Barbeque. This documentary is based on a book written about the barbecue culture in different regions of the United States, Gordon said.

“The book  was done by a friend of mine, Lolis Elie, and a great photographer, Frank Stewart,” Gordon said, adding the book was called, Smokestack Lightning: Adventures in the Heart of Barbecue Country. “Lolis and Frank went on the road to document barbecue culture in the United States.”

barbecue book

Prior to publishing their book, Elie was the road manager for the Wynton Marsalis Band and Stewart was the photographer for Marsalis’s book, Sweet Swing Blues on the Road. During that time, Elie and Stewart said they consumed so much barbecue that they decided to branch off on their own and write a historical, cultural and culinary study of barbecue.

Driving through the Midwest and the South in a 1981 Volvo with a tape of Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightnin’ for inspiration, Elie and Stewart visited nearly 50 barbecue restaurants, talking to cooks, taking pictures and evaluating the food. They chronicled the lore and traditions of the barbecue belt and collected recipes, descriptions and photographs of everything from barbecued cow faces to pig snouts.

“After the book was published in 1996, a small film company out of San Francisco decided to make a documentary based on the book and they wanted a musician to put original music to it,” Gordon said. “As a result, Lolis recommended me to compose the score for the movie.”

The music for the documentary was recorded at the historic Studio South Production in Augusta, so Gordon decided to help inspire the band by offering barbecue during the lunch breaks at the studio.

“Composing the music for the documentary was incredible. It was a fun project,” Gordon said. “And one of the best things about the recording sessions right here in Augusta was we were in the studio for a week and we ate from a different local barbecue place every day to help with the process. The band was just watching the film and we’d say, ‘Hey, let’s try this type of barbecue today.’ We had a great time trying different kinds of barbecue around town.”

During the upcoming concert at the Maxwell Theatre, AU Jazz and Friends: Smokestack Lightning, Gordon said some of the original members of his band will perform as guests with the AU Jazz Ensemble as they play the music composed for the film. Clips from the documentary will also be shown during the performance, he said.

“The documentary talks about all of the different styles of barbecue and about the barbecue culture in the United States and how it came about in different regions,” Gordon said. “Of course, they have different ways that they look at barbecues in North Carolina, South Carolina, Chicago, Mississippi and Kansas City. The documentary gives you a little bit of history about barbecue in America and even in Mexico.”

Gordon thoroughly enjoyed composing the music for the documentary and he can’t wait to showcase the music and documentary during the performance at the Maxwell Theatre this Friday, he said.

“We are looking forward to having a good time,” Gordon said, adding that he is collaborating with Matthew Buzzell, an associate professor from the Department of Art and Design and an award-winning filmmaker, to record the AU Jazz Ensemble’s show. “Matthew is going to bring some of his students and they are going to use four or five cameras to document the performance. That way, we can put it in an archive of some of the performances we have had at the university, so that’s pretty exciting.”

“I just want to tell people to come out and see this show,” Gordon added. “It’ll be a lot of fun.”

Tickets for “AU Jazz and Friends: Smokestack Lightning” are $5 for the general public and free for Augusta University students, faculty and staff with a valid JagCard. K-12 students are also admitted free at the door. For more information, email the Maxwell Theatre Box Office or call 706-667-4100.

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Written by
Stacey Eidson

Stacey Eidson is Senior News & Communications Coordinator at Augusta University. Contact her to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at 706-522-3023 or

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woman smiling Written by Stacey Eidson

Jagwire is your source for news and stories from Augusta University. Daily updates highlight the many ways students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians "bring their A games" in classrooms and clinics on four campuses in Augusta and locations across the state of Georgia.

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