A trip to French Quarter Fest and celebration of Johnny Dodds

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.

IMG_1454Overshadowed 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.

johhny dodds
Johnny Dodds was born on April 12. 1892 and was part of the first generation of jazz musicians in New Orleans.

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.

New Orleans festival season offers more than JazzFest

The New Orleans festival season is fast approaching. While the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is the crown jewel of the season, there are reasons for the music tourist to consider visiting the city at any time during the long festival season other than JazzFest. Here’s a few.

The Crowds.  New Orleans is a tourist town year round but it can be overwhelming during Mardi Gras and JazzFest. During those peak times, restaurants and nightclubs are a harder to get into and lodging is more expensive. Go before or after JazzFest and the city feels more relaxed and accessible.

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Glen David Andrews performing at Jazz in the Park (Louis Armstrong Park) in 2013.

Free Outdoor Concerts – New Orleans offers some wonderful outdoor concerts showcasing local musicians in a festival atmosphere. There are two exceptional, easy to get to concert series that run through the spring. This year, “Wednesday at the Square” features Marcia Ball, Amanda Shaw, Tab Benoit, Flow Tribe, Honey Island Swamp Band, Kermit Ruffins, Anders Osborne and Soul Rebels. This downtown show held in Lafayette Square usually features an opening act, runs from 5 to 8 p.m. and is surrounded by ways to purchase food and booze. On Thursday evenings, Louis Armstrong Park comes alive with Jazz in the Park. This event attracts more locals with chairs and picnic baskets but you’ll still find sustenance and drink in this park just across historic Rampart Street from the French Quarter.

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Local dance group performing at Freret Street Festival

Neighhorhood Festivals –  Only in a New Orleans neighborhood festival would you find youth dance groups and more established artists like Bonerama, Mississippi Rail Company, Tank and the Bangas, and New Breed Brass Band. That was just a sampling of the three stages last year that defined the boundaries of the Freret Street Festival, one of the early season neighborhood festivals in New Orleans. Neighborhood festivals run throughout the year, except for JazzFest. Check the festival schedule and sample a few online such as the Bayou Boogaloo –- definitely on my bucket list for a future visit. You’ll find most New Orleanians are incredibly social—almost to a fault. Go to a neighborhood event or establishment and if you are reasonably gregarious, you will meet locals who will happily share their opinions on bands, restaurants and the best route to take to your next event.

IMG_1454French Quarter Festival – This four-day event attracts more audience than the more well-known seven-day JazzFest. The difference is that the stages are scattered about the French Quarter and they are free, making it easy for the casual daily tourist to get sucked into the music. Whereas JazzFest adds a healthy dose of world and national music acts to their line up of local performers, French Quarter Festival is almost exclusively local musicians. Held two weeks before JazzFest, it’s the first major festival of the season. If you’re already staying in or around downtown, you won’t need to taxi or bus to the fairgrounds as you would with JazzFest. Last year French Quarter Festival headlined with Allen Toussaint, who later joined in a delightful conversation with Deacon John about Cosimo Matassa at the festival’s interview stage. I can’t tell you how fortunate I felt to be in the audience for both of those events.

freret-street-festival-2Lagniappe. Regardless of when you go, relax. You won’t be able to do it all. Things will get in your way, like torrential rain storms. Last year, I had set my mind on catching Irma Thomas at the big stage by the river at French Quarter Festival but when I saw a mass of dark clouds headed my way, I reluctantly ducked into the House of Blues courtyard. What a break. Not only did I stay dry but I became acquainted with the talent of Sarah McCoy and Colin Lake –two performers who were able to keep playing despite a very heavy rain. The Irma Thomas show was cancelled. Slow down, take care of yourself and enjoy the moment because you’re in New Orleans, baby!

P.S. JazzFest is a hoot and you should do it, particularly if you haven’t and have always wanted to. Here’s my five things you should know about JazzFest.

Portland Blues Festival serves up a sweet NOLA line up

Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival seems to have a serious jones for New Orleans music.

In previous years, the festival has held Second Line parades, filled its dancing stage with Zydeco and Cajun music and featured New Orleans acts such as Rebirth Brass Band, Galactic and the Stooges Brass Band. But this year, as we approach the 10-year anniversary of Katrina, the festival doubled down putting together a stellar New Orleans line up for its Friday (July 3) show.

Yes, we’ll get a return performance by Galactic, a versatile funk and soul band that hit the I-5 Tour as recently as February.  This time, the band will feature Macy Gray on vocals as the band harkens back to its soul and R&B roots when Theryl “Houseman” DeClouet fronted the group. Galactic takes the Brewery Stage at 9 p.m.

Allen Toussaint looking over his shoulder at a Paddlewheeler cruising the Misssissippi while performing at French Quarter Festival this year. He'll be playing by the Willamette River this Friday.
Allen Toussaint looking over his shoulder at a Paddlewheeler cruising the Misssissippi while performing at French Quarter Festival this year. He’ll be playing beside the Willamette River this Friday.

But the headliner for the day is Allen Toussaint (7 p.m. Brewery Stage).  This uber-talented composer, producer and pianist extraordinaire is closely aligned with the New Orleans R&B and funk sound. He was there from the beginning and now at 77, he continues to prove he can do full justice to his amazing legacy of songs.

“Working in a Coal Mine,” “Mother-in-Law,” “Lipstick Traces on a Cigarette,” “Fortune Teller,” “Sneaking Sally through the Alley,” “Night People,” “On Your Way Down,” “Ride Your Pony,” “Yes, We Can” and so many more song that you’ll recognize.  This guy has made a boat load of money from others singing his songs. The pleasant surprise is how ass-kicking good he is when he sings them.

He started his own New Orleans-based record label in the 60’s and he was the first to do a major recording in New Orleans (with Elvis Costello) after Katrina. He’ll have just returned from performing in London when he takes the waterfront stage on July 3 and I’m struck how the Portland setting is so similar to the French Quarter Festival stage where I last saw him perform in April. His band and performance will be as sharp as the suit he’ll be wearing.

Another New Orleans star attraction is Charmaine Neville. Daughter of saxophonist Charles Neville of the Neville Brothers, Charmaine has toured the world but has stayed closer to home in recent years. She and her band will dish up a jazzy soul set at the Brewery Stage starting at 5:15 p.m.

(From Left) Jeff Mercurio, Ben Ellman, Dan Vogel, Jeff Raines and Stanton Moore.
Galactic will perform at the Waterfront Blues Festival on Friday as part of a New Orleans line up.

Likely to hop on the stage with Charmaine is her former band leader now Portland resident, Reggie Houston. This native New Orleans saxophonist has been making Portland a hipper place ever since he called it home in 2004. With over two decades of performing with Fats Domino, you know Houston and his Crescent City Connection band is going to rock the Brewery Stage (3:45 p.m.)

Other highlights include venerable guitarist Paul “Lil Buck” Sinegal (First Tech Stage, noon), Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band (First Tech Stage, 8:15 p.m.) and the Dog Hill Stompers (Front Porch Stage, 10 p.m.)

See you there, but if you miss it, I’ll be playing some of what I hear on my show on Monday.  Have a safe Fourth of July.

Jello Biafra releases NOLA recording in time for Jazz Fest

Lágbájá, Nigerian afro-beat artist, performed on the first day of Jazz Fest.

The 2015 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival kicked off today at the fairgrounds with 11 music stages and goes full tilt until 7 p.m. Jazz Fest carries on through Sunday before taking a three day break, then picking up for four more days starting Thursday, April 30. Here’s the lineup.

This year, I decided to go to the earlier French Quarter Festival and while I have no regrets, I can’t help but wish I was still in town for Jazz Fest–particularly as I listen to the WWOZ broadcast from the festival grounds.

Perhaps the most intriguing artist for Thursday is Lágbájá, a Nigerian afrobeat musician known as the “masked one” who has been outspoken in his country’s politics. He takes the Congo Square stage during the afternoon. Headliners for today are Keith Urban, Wilco and Jimmy Cliff. Saturday and Sunday features The Who, John Legend, Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga and Jimmy Buffett. But those are just the headliners, there are many gems in the schedule and I encourage you to stream WWOZ during the festival to get a sense of the fun and flavor of Jazz Fest.

On another note, the long awaited recording of the 2011 Mother’s Day performance of

JELLO BIAFRA AND THE NEW ORLEANS RAUNCH & SOUL ALLSTARS
JELLO BIAFRA AND THE NEW ORLEANS RAUNCH & SOUL ALLSTARS

Jello Biafra (think Dead Kennedys ) with Bill Davis (Dash Rip Rock), Fred Le Blanc (Cowboy Mouth)  and the horn section from Egg Yolk Jubilee at the 12 Bar has been released. Perhaps you’ve seen the video of Biafra goofing with Ooh Poo Pah Doo. Now there is a marginally better audio version available on Alternative Tentacles and I’ll play a couple of cuts on Monday’s show.

Finally, having just completed our spring membership drive, I want to thank those of you who have supported community radio, either KAOS, WWOZ or your own community radio.  Membership drives are hard on everyone but a necessary chore to ensure that we can demonstrate listener support to other funders. If you haven’t had a chance to be a member of community radio, I invite you to be a KAOS member.

I still have lots of sorting through of my recordings and notes I took while in New Orleans. I hope to start sharing soon. For now, I’m going to enjoy my community’s Procession of the Species and get ready for Monday’s show. Listen to the recorded, edited version on Mixcloud.

Music and history carry on despite rain during French Quarter Festival

In New Orleans, the show must go on unless you can’t keep the musicians dry or if lightning threatens the audience. Over the course of the 2015 French Quarter Festival in New Orleans, we had a good bit of rain and a few lightning bolts.

So periodically, stages have been closed, including Tricia Boutte’s show right as she was beginning. Bummer!

A hard rain on Friday pushed crowds under cover. Saturday and Sunday also had rained out venues at times.
A hard rain on Friday pushed crowds under cover. Saturday and Sunday also had rained out venues at times.

The highlight for me today was indoors though when Allen Toussaint and Deacon John sat down with author John Broven. The one-hour program started with Toussaint going right to the Steinway and banging out his hit originally done by Irma Thomas, “It’s Raining.” This time, Deacon John sang it, with a few appropriate ad libs.

The stated purpose of the program was to reminisce about Cosimo Matassa and the heyday of New Orleans R&B and early Rock n’ Roll–a period of time that launched the careers of both Allen Toussaint and Deacon John. More on Mr. Toussaint and more on Mr. Matassa.

Allen Toussaint (piano) played
Allen Toussaint (piano) played “It’s Raining” and Deacon John sang at the French Quarter Festival Conversations on Louisiana Music.

Of Cosimo and his studio, Toussaint said “It was our doorway and window to the world . . .He and Dave Bartholomew put us on the map. . .He (Cosimo) saw the big picture long before we did cause we were just having fun. “

Deacon John described getting discovered by Toussaint at the Dew Drop Inn one night and the next day going into Matassa’s studio to help Ernie K-Doe record “There’s a will, there’s a way.”

As I mentioned in my previous post, I won’t be hosting this Monday’s show. Anch of Sundrenched will handle affairs and I plan to call in during the show. Consider subscribing to this blog so you can be alerted the next time I post. (see upper right hand of page)

First impressions of French Quarter Festival

With some time to catch up this morning on day three of the 2015 French Quarter Festival, I’ve had a chance to reflect on my first impression of the largest showcase of Louisiana music in the world

The fest started on Thursday with five stages operating mostly in Woldenberg Riverfront Park near the old Jax Brewery and the Audubon Aquarium. Friday, the festival added seven more stages and 11 more open today. This exponential stage growth levels off at 23 stages, otherwise there might not be any place to walk.

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Actually, there’s lots of room to walk. Anyone intent on catching music at all the stages needs to be prepared to hustle or rent a pedicab.  Stages are grouped together but those groups are scattered over the full river length of the French Quarter from Canal to Esplanade and moving away from the river, there are stages on Royal and Bourbon Streets. Like most music festivals, tough choices have to be made cause you cannot catch it all.

In its four days, French Quarter festival attracts more audience than the better known seven-day New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival that starts  later in the month.  But now that I’m here, its quite obvious why.  Jazz Fest participants have to make a conscious effort to get out the Fair Grounds and pay the $70 to get in for a day. As a result, I suspect that Jazz Fest is responsible for drawing in more folks to the city specifically for the festival.

John Boutte performing at French Quarter festival this week.
John Boutte performing at French Quarter festival this week.

At French Quarter Festival, many of the attendees appear to be here for other reasons. And therein lies the genius of this event. Like a gill net that traps salmon headed to spawning grounds, the free French Quarter Festival snags tourists as they innocently stumble out of their hotels and bars and provides them with a taste of music they might not otherwise catch.

With the exception of one small stage featuring international acts, the French Quarter Festival showcases local talent. This means the festival provides local musicians with a chance to build a following outside the city.  The fact that the festival can keep 23 stages busy with local talent provides some sense of how deep the musical talent. This year’s lineup includes Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Eric Lindell, Hot 8 Brass Band, John Boutte, Flow Tribe, Bonerama, Little Freddie King, Guitar Slim Jr. and on and on.  All music, by the way, that we play on Sweeney’s Gumbo Ya Ya.

I’m still in New Orleans during the next show but I hope to call in with a brief report. You’ll be in capable hands with Anch who hosts Sundrenched on Tuesdays.

Toussaint infused New Orleans sound into pop music

New Orleans
Allen Toussaint plays the National Anthem at the Superdome. Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The French Quarter Festival, which showcases local music, could not have scored a better opening headliner this year than with the hometown artist whose creativity has nurtured the New Orleans sound for over a half century. (Listen to the show that complements this post.)

Allen Toussaint was a teenager when he first sat in on Earl King’s band and regularly scored gigs at the legendary Dew Drop Inn.

It wasn’t long before he found his way to the center of the known Rock n’ Roll universe at the time, Cosimo Matassa’s studio, where he laid down piano tracks on recordings by Fats Domino, Huey “Piano” Smith, and Aaron Neville. But it was when he joined Minit Records that his creativity became apparent to the world. Using his parent’s living room as rehearsal space and testing ground for new material, he assembled a parade of hit singles by Jessie Hill, Irma Thomas, Lee Dorsey and this blog’s patron saint, Ernie K-Doe.

Ernie K-Doe best recordings were aided by the songwriting, arranging and producing of Allen Toussaint.

As a keyboard savant, Toussaint could accurately reproduce and synthesize the city’s revered legacy of piano professors, especially the style of Professor Longhair. But as a songwriter and arranger, he was able to weave the full panoply of New Orleans rhythms, vocal traditions and spirit into a clean appealing style for the pop market. In fact, he, along with K-Doe, were responsible for the sole number 1 pop chart hit recorded in New Orleans,  “Mother-in-Law.” (A song written before Toussaint was married and had one.)

Later, he started his own record labels providing a platform for local and national musicians to access the New Orleans sound. With The Meters as his studio house band, Toussaint was a key force behind the New Orleans funk sound that developed in the 70’s. A prolific songwriter, his music has been performed by The Rolling Stones (“Ruler of My Heart”), The Who (“Fortune Teller”), Bonnie Raitt (“What Do You Want the Boy To Do”), Devo (“Working in the Coal Mine”),  Al Hirt (“Java”), The Doors (“Get Out of My Life Woman”),  Jerry Garcia (“I’ll Take a Melody”), Glen Campbell (“Southern Nights”), Robert Palmer (“Sneaky Sally through the Alley”), The Pointer Sisters (“Yes, We Can Can”) and many more.

Linda and Paul McCartney performing with Allen Toussaint in his New Orleans studio in 1975.
Linda and Paul McCartney performing with Allen Toussaint in his New Orleans studio in 1975.

In 1973, Toussaint had a big hand in producing and performing on Dr. John’s album “In The Right Place.” Two years later, Linda and Paul McCartney moved their entourage to New Orleans to collaborate with Toussaint in his New Orleans studio on their album “Venus and Mars.”

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009, and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011. If there’s any question of whether being a senior statesman of New Orleans music has diminished his chops, you need only look as far as his grammy-nominated, post-Katrina collaboration with Elvis Costello, “The River in Reverse,” for evidence that at 77, he still has it.

In addition to being a producer, bandleader, arranger and songwriter, Toussaint is an accomplished pianist and stands with the great New Orleans piano “professors.” Toussaint will take the stage at the French Quarter Festival on April 9 at 3:45 p.m. but you will be able to catch his music on my next show this Monday. (Here’s the recorded show)