The Dirty Dozen Brass Band kicks off this week’s show with “It Ain’t What You Think.” Well maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. Get it started to find out.
The next set starts with a 2019 New Orleans record that I didn’t have a chance to get to during last week’s show of 2019 in review. Lakou Mizik, from Haiti, recorded their latest album HaitiNola in New Orleans and I play a track featuring Leyla McCalla, a singer/songwriter with strong family ties to Haiti. The set carries on with another new release by The Electric Arch and a Latin number by The Iguanas.
The show carries on swinging from funk, jazz, R&B and zydeco — accented with a tasteful number of winter holiday songs. This show includes a jazzy cover of “Wang Dang Doodle,” a new song by the Soul Rebels, the Sailor’s Hornpipe with Alex McMurray’s Valaparaiso Men’s Chorus and a raunchy cover of “Ooh – Poo – Pah – Doo.”
In today’s show, we take an imaginary, real-time visit to French Quarter Festival happening right now and we celebrate the 126th anniversary of clarinetist Johnny Dodds’ birthday. Here’s the edited version of the show which you listen to while reading this.
Overshadowed by the older and more well-known New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival which starts later in April, the French Quarter Festival packs over 300 music acts (roughly 1,700 musicians) into four days starting today. Celebrating its 35th year, this free festival is the largest showcase of Louisiana musicians with stages scattered throughout the French Quarter. Some of the more well-known acts playing this year include Cyril Neville, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Irma Thomas, Jon Cleary, Little Freddie King, the Lost Bayou Ramblers, and Amanda Shaw.
And while I do play Neville and the Lost Bayou Ramblers later on the show, I start the show with a real time experience. Through the magic of radio and with a vivid imagination, I take you directly to the French Quarter to the stages and play music by musicians who are performing in real time synchronized to the airing of my show (10 a.m. to noon on Thursdays). This requires precision math on my part since I have to convert the Central Standard Time New Orleans-based schedule to the Pacific Standard Time reality of my radio show.
We start by running over to catch the last song of the Panorama Jazz Band performance on the Big River Stage in Woldenberg Park, before heading back toward the Quarter on Decatur Street to hear Tuba Skinny playing on the Jack Daniels Stage. And because we can run fast in radio life, we can haul butt over to the Hilton Tricentennial Stage to catch the Preservation All-Stars.
After a little break with showcasing other artists featured later in the festival, we go back to real time with Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue performing at the River Stage again. And then we dash to Tropical Isle Hand Grenade Stage to catch Alex McMurray. During this imaginary real-time tour of the first day of French Quarter Fest, we also hear Banu Gibson.
Later in my show, I honor Johnny Dodds, a first generation jazz musician who performed with Joe “King” Oliver. He and his younger brother, the drummer Warren “Baby” Dodds were part of Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven. In honor of his birthday (April 12, 1892), this show dives into two versions of the same song that feature dual solos by Dodds. The songs have different titles and different release dates though they were recorded back to back by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven.
S.O.L. Blues and Low Gully Blues feature Armstrong and Johnny Dodds at their peak, doing technically difficult and brilliant solos. S.O.L. Blues was recorded on May 13, 1927 in Chicago for Okeh records but was not released until Columbia Records got a hold of the collection 15 years later. The original release version went under the title of Gully Low Blues and was recorded the next day, May 14. Both versions have their merits but I play them because I love the amazing tempo shift that Dodds pulls of during his solo. For more on this, check out Ricky Riccardi’s blog. I also play a favorite, Dippermouth Blues, recorded by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band in April 1923, because it contains a famous Dodds solo.
I’ve got other fun stuff on this show including Dana Abbott, Yvette Landry, the Subdudes and Eric Lindell, just to name a few. Thank you for reading and listening. Please consider subscribing.
With Mardi Gras over, we enter Lent and confront 40 days of reflection and deprivation. Don’t deprive yourself of the music, get my show started and then read on.
After the fun of the holidays and partying of carnival season, true believers in Lent settle down to a period designed to eliminate distraction and focus mind on prayer and connection.
While I’m not exactly a true believer, I am fascinated with the ability of religious practices to focus the mind on self-reflection. So today’s show displays that theme through music.
Alex McMurray sets the tone with “The Day after Mardi Gras Day.” I follow up with a rocking, bluesy set of reflection featuring Kevin Sekhani (“Wrong Direction”), Anders Osborne (“Echoes of My Sins”) and Honey Island Swamp Band (“No Easy Way”).
The ashes placed on the foreheads of Catholics speaks to our mortality. We are dust and to dust we shall return. Leyla McCalla’s “Let It Fall” beautifully captures that feeling as does Howard Fishman’s gospel like “When I Die.”
Other traditional songs with new twists include Aurora Nealand’s “His Eye is On the Sparrow,” Shotgun Jazz Band “Down by the Riverside,” and the Neville’s revision of a Steve Miller hit renamed “Fear, Hate, Envy, Jealousy.”
There’s lot more to explore in the show. Thanks for listening!
If Taylor Smith was a moth, New Orleans would be the light.
And that light is shining bright for a lot of musicians, young and old, who have found their muse in New Orleans. The Roamin’ Jasmine‘s bandleader initially visited New Orleans as part of the ancient college ritual, Spring Break.
But fortunately, the music major managed to wander beyond the beer-chugging Bourbon Street scene to where the real magic happens. As a University of Miami senior, he had yet to find his musical niche in Florida so, as it has for generations before him, New Orleans proved to be both eye and ear opening.
Captivated by the scene, he and his roommate moved to New Orleans after graduation in 2010. He stayed for a year but then went looking for greener pastures, doing a couple of tours with bands and ending up in his hometown Boston.
“But I realized I wasn’t playing music that much. I came back to visit one time while I was living in Boston and thought why did I ever leave this. Every minute I was here, I was going to jam sessions, going to people’s houses and they’re having a campfire and playing tunes. I even played on the streets a few times.”
Smith returned to New Orleans in 2012 and soon after formed The Roamin’ Jasmine which plays regularly in New Orleans and is currently doing a tour in Alaska. Smith’s experience is not unique.
Throughout the years, musicians have been finding their way to the birthplace of Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Fats Domino and The Meters. Jon Cleary, who has mastered a wide range of New Orleans piano styles, was raised in England but took a one-way trip to the city as a young musician.
In 1995, Japanese blues guitar sensation June Yamagishi abandoned an established career to immigrate to New Orleans — much to the benefit of the Wild Magnolias and Papa Grows Funk. Matt Perrine, whose sousaphone and bass anchor countless New Orleans recordings, migrated from California to the city in 1992. Others, like guitarist/songwriter Alex McMurray and the founding members of Galactic, were college students (Tulane and Loyola respectively) who decided to stick around after graduation. University of New Orleans jazz program also has contributed a number of new residents as well.
The magnetic force of New Orleans seems to have only gotten stronger since Hurricane Katrina. Last week, I attended a Rising Appalachia concert where the two sisters that fronted the band referred often to the enriching years they spent in New Orleans following Katrina.
In my last visit to New Orleans, every musician I talked with (and most are delighted to chat) was from some other place. Pianist Bart Ramsay (Zazou City) has lived in the city a long time but hails from Chicago. Another pianist was from New Jersey. A saxophone player was from the Midwest. Everyone had a story about how they came to New Orleans and found their bliss.
Josh Wilson, whose Seattle-based band Tubaluba is heavily influenced by the New Orleans brass sound, did a pilgrimage to New Orleans specifically to improve his New Orleans piano skills. He connected with Jelly Roll Morton specialist Tom McDermott and seriously considered moving to the city permanently.
But its more than just the professional milieu that is attractive. The daily infusion of tourists and the large number of clubs and venues provide a wealth of employment opportunities for musicians — allowing them to lead a reasonably normal life. They can catch their child’s soccer game in the afternoon, play a gig in the evening and sleep in their own bed that night.
“I’ve never been to any city where I’ve met so many working-class musicians. New Orleans is really nurturing in that way; the quality of life is very good,” Kristin Diable told American Songwriter magazine. Diable, Americana singer/songwriter, is from Baton Rouge but for a time she tried her luck in New York City. “Within a year of being in New Orleans, I was making 10 times more money than I ever made in New York City.” The influx of new talent is not without its controversy. Some have argued that newcomers don’t take the time to learn the history, culture and style of New Orleans music.
The debate raises the question of what is New Orleans music. Is it jazz, R&B, bounce, funk, roots, hip hop Mardi Gras Indian? Or is it all of the above and more. The lesson and legacy of Congo Square is that the city’s musical storehouse relies on its continued ability to welcome and nurture different styles.
So I’ll keep playing music from New Orleans whether or not you might think its New Orleans music. For this Monday’s show, I’ll emphasize music by those who made a conscious decision to make New Orleans their home. Oh yea, and I’ll have a little more of my interview with the effervescent Taylor Smith. (Whoops. Left the interview on the wrong computer. I’ll include with podcast and air it next week.)