My first trip back to New Orleans in over 22 months comes to life in this week’s show, featuring musicians I saw perform live during my short visit made shorter by an unplanned diversion to Bossier City, Louisiana. Start the show and then read on about the trip.
Our nonstop flight from Seattle to New Orleans was met with dense fog and a malfunction of the airport’s guidance system. With gas running low and no Rudolph to guide our sleigh in, we landed at Shreveport in the Northwest corner of Louisiana — about as far away from New Orleans as we could get and still stay in the state. Eventually, we ended up in a casino hotel on the other side of the river from the airport in Bossier City — a far cry from Frenchmen Street. “Gamblin’ Blues” by Champion Jack Dupree helps paint the picture on my show.
Eventually, we got to hang on Frenchmen Street on Thursday night. The famous music neighborhood seems a bit diminished after a worldwide pandemic and another hurricane. A couple of clubs are closed and others are operating on more limited hours. But the music is there to be heard and seen. In the show, you’ll hear music that follows our bar-hopping course.
We started at Three Muses with Tom McDermott playing his Jelly Roll Morton and rag time influenced piano behind a plastic glass. After dinner, we walked down to the bottom of the street to the Yard with Jason Neville Funky Soul Band. Jason is son of Aaron Neville and performs with his wife Lirette, daughter of New Orleans Jazz Legend “Sullivan Dabney,” and a solid band of funk professionals. The band does mostly covers with a signature style and unfortunately I have no recordings of their music. (The Neville’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” cover fills in) You’ll just to have to take my word for it that it was worth the stop. In fact, I think most of my group would have been happy staying there the whole evening. But, we pushed on.
We landed at Bamboulas where Marty Peters and Party Meters were holding court. Peters plays saxophone and clarinet and his hot jazz quintet explores a similar vein of music as the New Orleans Jazz Vipers. My favorite feature of this group is the singing by Peters and his trumpet player, Jeff Kreis. The two also offer up a bit of comic repartee to enliven the show — as they do in “Somebody Stole My Gal.”. But wait, there was more.
I’ve wanted to catch Shawn Williams live ever since hearing her Motel Livin’ record. And since she was just across the street at Favela Chic, I moved the group again. This was my first time in this relatively new music venue and I was a bit disappointed in the sound quality. I’m not sure if that was the venue’s fault or the fault of the brass band blazing on the corner just outside. You need to hear Shawn’s words and that just wasn’t possible. Still, it was good to see her perform live. On the show, I play her “Buried Alive.”
New Orleans is more than the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street and its imperative to get out into one of the hoods. The Greenway Supernova in Mid City on Friday night was a solid choice. A combination art event, fundraiser and concert in support of the Friends of Lafitte Greenway – a 2.6 mile greenbelt trail that runs from Louis Armstrong Park to Bayou St. John. Twelve luminary artworks dotted the park, anchored by a crafts fair, silent auction and two music stages.
My favorite light installation hung from a sprawling oak tree and involved some intentional spotlighting of “deconstructed disco balls” which cast spiral shadows and random sparklies. Later, singer and songwriter Abigal Cosio pointed out that people have been dancing to mirrored balls long before disco. In addition to being right on that one, she was also the reason we were there. She fronts the band Bon Bon Vivant who did an evening outdoor concert under the cheery lights.
As we got into the weekend, the clubs became more active. We caught John Saavedra’s G & the Swinging Gypsies digging deep into Django Reinhardt’s songbook at Bamboula’s on Saturday. I have a recording of this group when it featured Gisell Anguizola on vocals and tap. But it appears Gisell lives and performs in San Diego now.
The highlight of Saturday was Dragon Smoke at Tipitinas (well there also was an awesome meal at Herbsaint, a walk through the lit holiday decorations at Roosevelt Hotel and a street car ride all the way up town and back along St Charles and Carrollton). Dragon Smoke is a group formed in 2003 as part of New Orleans JazzFest tradition called Superjam which puts together people from bands who don’t normally play together. In this case, the Galactic rhythm section of drummer Stanton Moore and bassist Robert Mercurio pair up with keyboardist Ivan Neville (Aaron’s oldest son and leader of Dumpstaphunk) and guitarist, singer/songwriter Eric Lindell. The band alternated jamming on songs led by Neville and Lindell. The communication between musicians was strong, creating improvisational riffs that stayed tight and strong the whole night.
J and the Causeways opened for Dragon Smoke (exactly on time by the way). Bandleader Jordan Anderson handles the keyboards, singing and songwriting with the help the help of a horn and rhythm section and tasteful rhythm and lead guitar by Evan Hall.
During the pandemic, The Broadside Theater opened an outdoor venue in its parking lot–which is where we caught “The Very Loose Cattle Christmas Show.” Loose Cattle is fronted by part-time New Orleans resident Michael Cerveris (You might know him as music manager “Mervin Frey” from the HBO show “Treme.”). The show was two hours of Christmas songs – reverent (O Holy Night) and irreverent (“Drunk This Christmas”). The show a featured a steady flow of guests such as Meschiya Lake, Antoine Diel, Mia Borders, Paul Sanchez, Arsene Delay, Lilli Lewis, and John Boutte. Stage musicians included two members of the grammy winning New Orleans Nightcrawlers (Craig Klein and Jason Mingledorff), The Iguanas bassist Rene Coman and Josh Paxton on piano. Cerveris generously taped and posted the entire show on YouTube– Merry Christmas.
The show starts with Louis Armstrong singing “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans.” On air, I promised I’d provide the link to the original recording of that song featuring Billie Holiday singing with Louis Armstrong.
Here’s posts of other trips I’ve taken to New Orleans: