Celebrating “Frogman”, Grammy winners & Irish Heritage

This week’s show is crammed with stories and recognitions, starting with the opening track by Louis Armstrong – “Irish Black Bottom” and carrying on with Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s 84th birthday, and grammy wins by the New Orleans Nightcrawlers and Bobby Rush. Go ahead and get it started and then read on.

Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five – Irish Black Bottom

I’m not sure what possessed Louis Armstrong to do Percy Venable’s “Irish Black Bottom.” Some have surmised that it was part of his act at the time he recorded it in November 1927 with his Hot Five. Certainly the song’s novelty fits with the sense of humor many associate with Satchmo. It helps to know that Black Bottom refers to a dance craze of that era — which was likely begun as a result of a Jelly Roll Morton song recorded a bit earlier called “Black Bottom Stomp.” Black Bottom refers to a neighborhood in Detroit which was occupied predominantly by African Americans but was named for its fertile dark soil.

The song opens the show and I follow through with a token set of Irish-like songs in honor of a day in which some celebrate Irish Heritage. Marc Gunn, Gina Forsyth, the Zydepunks and the Valparaiso Men’s Chorus represent in that set. I then keep the folk vibe going for one more set with the Tom Paines, Luke Winslow-King and Theresa Andersson, among others.

But then I repeat a short clip from my interview with the New Orleans Nightcrawlers who just won a grammy for their album Atmosphere. In the clip, Matt Perrine talks about how the band mediates between honoring the rich New Orleans music culture and incorporating new elements of interest to the nine members of this band. I follow that up with a couple of songs by Bobby Rush who also just won a grammy — his second in three years. He’s 87 years old.

Speaking of octogenarians, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, who was there when it all happened during the New Orleans R&B boom, turns 84 on Friday. I celebrate his birthday with three songs (the limit according to federal streaming rules).

The real Clarence “Frogman” Henry (left) in a scene from the HBO show “Treme” where he notes how like other early R&B artists, he did not reap the financial benefits of his songs. He turns 84 Friday.

But wait! There’s more. Allen Toussaint sings “Brickyard Blues” a song that was recorded by five different artists when he wrote it in 1974. But Allen recognizes Scottish soul singer Frankie Miller as his inspiration. Here’s the Miller version of Brickyard Blues.

And finally, near the end of this week’s two-hour show, I talk briefly about the Leroy Jones documentary “A Man and His Trumpet” streaming on Netflix. I play two songs by this exceptionally talented and dedicated trumpet player and band leader — perhaps the first member to be recruited by Danny Barker for the famous Fairview Baptist Marching Band. If you love New Orleans music, you should catch this documentary with great stories delivered by Jones as well as Terence Blanchard, Harry Connick Jr., Greg Stafford and Herlin Riley. As promised on the show, his goofy trailer.

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New Orleans Nightcrawlers Second Line to a Grammy Nom

You’ll hear about two dozens performances by New Orleans piano players on this week’s show. But only after I introduce four of the members of one my favorite bands, the New Orleans Nightcrawlers who have a Grammy nomination for their latest record, Atmosphere. You’ll also hear three tracks from that record. Go ahead and get it started.

One of the perks of hosting a radio show is the excuse to score interviews with musicians I love. And recently I had the chance to zoom interview four of the nine members of the New Orleans Nightcrawlers. This brass band is what sold me on New Orleans music. A band that both honors tradition and innovates. Their latest album “Atmosphere” is a just the latest example. It made my favorites of 2020 list. But more importantly its up for a grammy which will be awarded in March this year

From left to right – Craig Klein, Kevin Clark, me, Brent Rose and Matt Perrine.

After Jon Cleary opens the show with “Po Boy Blues,” you’ll hear from saxophonist Brent Rose, who grew up in Lynnwood Washington before landing in New Orleans via a stint in the Marine Corps Band. He introduces his song “Gentilly Groove”.

Craig Klein, who has been featured on this show before, explains the importance of the band’s rhythm section which consists of New Birth and Preservation Hall Brass Band drummers Caytonio “Tanio” Hingle and Kerry “Fatman” Hunter.

Matt Perrine, who plays tuba and produced the record, comes on before the third song to explain the very New Orleans approach to getting nine high-demand musicians together long enough to record an album. (Hint: Food is involved.)

L- R – Bernie sitting in, Miles Lyons, Kerry Hunter, Brent Rose, Kevin Clark, Craig Klein, Barney Floyd, Matt Perrine, Jason Mingledorff, Caytanio Hingle.

To give you a sense of how busy these musicians are, Kevin Clark lays out what a typical work week looked like for him and his trumpet before COVID restrictions. In normal times, these musicians perform pretty much every day in a wide range of projects and gigs. A grammy would be a big deal for them and yet, even if they win, you will likely still be able to see them in a New Orleans night club or restaurant plying their craft once live music moves back indoors.

After the Nightcrawlers three songs, its time for more piano. In fact, the rest of the show features performances by two dozen New Orleans piano players – Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Fats Domino, Jelly Roll Morton, Allen Toussaint, Ellis Marsalis, Marcia Ball (honorary New Orleanian), James Booker, Tuts Washington, Champion Jack Dupree, Josh Paxton, David Torkanowsky, Tom McDermott, Amanda Walker, Henry Butler . . .ah geez, just listen to the show will ya!

The program finishes with a New Orleans piano player who has played Olympia a few times. I promised on the show to share a link to Davis Rogan’s Facebook page where he does live performances every Wednesday though some times its on Thursdays. Here it is.

Top 10 Favorite 2020 Records from New Orleans

This week’s show is a look (and listen) back at the great music made during hard times this year. You’ll hear at least two and usually three tracks from each of my top 10 favorite releases this year. (But hey, they’re all great so check out my annual summary.) You’ll also hear a few band voices such as Matt Perrine (Nightcrawlers), Craig Klein (Vipers and Nightcrawlers), and Abigail Cosio (Bon Bon Vivant).

New Orleans NightcrawlersAtmosphere  – First record in 11 years for this funky brass band and it nails a Grammy nomination. No surprise given the collective talent of these nine musicians with a love for creating innovative music based on the New Orleans brass and second line tradition. At about three-fourths through the show, you’ll hear Matt Perrine talk about what makes the Nightcrawlers unique. Also, the show opens with “The Lick” and here’s the five-hour video that I mention in the show.

Shake ’em Up Jazz BandThe Boy in the Boat – Lots to enjoy with this late 2019 release, including Chloe Feoranzo‘s clarinet and Marla Dixon’s trumpet but what sets this record apart from the many other excellent New Orleans swing releases is the singing. From Haruka Kikuchi’s rendition of “Salty Dog” to the harmonizing on “Nuts to You,” this album never fails to make me smile.

Smoking Time Jazz Club Mean Tones and High Notes – This band made my top ten last year with Contrapuntal Stomp and this year’s record is even better with jaw-dropping performances that don’t get in the way of great song choices. Everybody needs to get vaccinated so I can go see this band live.

John “Papa” GrosCentral City – Former funkmaster has improved on his earlier excellent solo release, Rivers of Fire, with a tasty mix of original songs and covers, including John Prine’s “Please Don’t Bury Me.” This a playful record made in a very New Orleans way.

Bon Bon Vivant – Dancing in the Darkness – When COVID hit the fan this year, Abigail Cosio and partner Jeremy Kelley created community with fellow musicians and fans through heartfelt and continuously improving live music feeds. Meanwhile, they were waiting for the right time to spring this record of pandemic prescient songs. I’m so glad to be dancing, even if the “Ship is Sinking.” Near the end of this show, Abigail introduces her song “This Year.”

New Orleans Jazz VipersIs There a Chance for Me  – For nearly two decades, this band has helped defined the Frenchmen Street music scene with a swing sound in which every member of the band takes turns shining and singing. Lots of songs about love, making it just that much more fun to grab your partner and show off your footwork. Trombonist Craig Klein gets on the show midway through to introduce the title track which has a fascinating history

Sierra Green & the Soul MachineSierra Green & the Soul Machine – Came out December of last year and by February, Offbeat Magazine recognized her as Emerging Artist of the Year. This record will make you hope that COVID is just a temporary setback. We need her music.

Alex McMurray –Lucky One  – McMurray is a musical chameleon capable of rock and rock steady, sea shanties and swing. But at his core, and quite evidence in this record particularly, is a maturing storyteller whose voice delivers droll, yet heartfelt, introspection.

Paul SanchezI’m a song, I’m a story, I’m a ghost  – Like McMurry who he partners with in The Write Brothers, Sanchez delivers heartfelt songs with a voice to match. His duet on “Walking in Liverpool” alone is worth the album.

Colin Lake Forces of Nature – Apparently, these songs were recorded before Lake and his wife sold their New Orleans home, bought a sailboat and began a life of itinerant Caribbean sailors. And yet, the vibe of the album manages to capture a reflective, meditative mood with themes more relevant than ever.

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New Orleans Music Buying Guide 2020

Be good to musicians and your friends’ ears by giving music this holiday. All new music on today’s show creating a guide to your music shopping. Many of these bands offer multiple formats and/or use Bandcamp. (Finding out how people listen to music is the hardest part about giving music these days but is it any tougher than guessing someone’s sweater size?)

You’ll find links to the bands, the name of their new record and the song I play in the same order of how you’ll hear them on the show. What are you waiting for? Get the show started and grab your credit card. Hey, also, check the following week show where I do a different mix of mostly the same releases.

Kid Eggplant and the Trad MelataunsKid Eggplant and the Trad Melatauns Traditional style, but original songs with contemporary themes – “Blue Tooth Fairy”

Shake ’em Up Jazz BandThe Boy in the Boat – Swinging jazz by excellent musicians with vocals that make this record shine. “Say Si Si”

John “Papa” GrosCentral City – Former funkmaster gets playful in a very New Orleans way. “Please Don’t Bury Me.”

Smoking Time Jazz Club Mean Tones and High Notes – Jaw-dropping performances don’t get in the way of great song choices. Friction

Bon Bon Vivant – Dancing in Darkness – Abigail Cosio and partner Jeremy Kelley create community with fellow musicians and fans and emerge from the Year of COVID better than ever. “Dancing in Darkness” (radio edit)

New Orleans Jazz VipersIs There a Chance for Me  – If you can’t swing on Frenchmen Street, why not swing at home with the toast of Frenchmen Street. “Evenin'”

New Orleans Johnnys –  Outta Ya Mind – Rocking songs with a saxophone swing and lyrics embedded in New Orleans. “Outta Ya Mind”.

Putumayo Presents New Orleans Mambo -Putumayo’s nod to the “Spanish Tinge” of New Orleans music featuring the well-known (Dr. John and The Neville Brothers) and the should be well known (The Iguanas and Otro). “Nature Boy”

Lena Prima The Lena Prima Big Band, Live in Concert – As early records attest, Lena can write songs. She also can front a big band and honor her father’s legacy in a live Las Vegas show. “5 Months, 2 Weeks, 2 Days, Jump, Jive ‘an Wail.”

Bobby Rush Rawer than Raw – Bobby Rush demonstrates once again how to create amazingly simple yet deeply moving blues. “Smokestack Lightning”

New Orleans NightcrawlersAtmosphere  – First record in 11 years for this funky brass band and it nails a Grammy nomination. Don’t’ think; buy it. “Gentilly Groove”

Tuba SkinnyQuarantine Album: Unreleased B-Sides – You know the band’s talented when the rejects of three previous albums can sound this good. Available for download only on its bandcamp page. “Any Kind of Man”

The New Orleans Swinging GypsiesHot Boudin –  Another fine example of how New Orleans bands can put a fresh spin on a classic style. “Baby Brown”

Debbie Davis & Josh Paxton – Interesting Times – Second time around for this inspired duo. Davis’ velvet voice backed by Paxton’s sensitive piano touch that steals the show when unleashed, as in the opening track. “Will It Go Around in Circles.”

Jason MarsalisLive  – Recorded at Little Gem Saloon, Jason dazzles on the vibraphone. “At the House, In Da Pocket”

Charlie Halloran and the Tropicales – Shake the Rum – This hip trombonist/bandleader wears Calypso well, particularly when John Boutte sings. Oh, and he has a holiday record too. “Dorothy”

Glen David Andrews – Live from my Living Room  -His trombone has been part of Lil Rascals, New Birth and Treme Brass Bands. Now literally from his living room to yours. “Where We Gonna Go.”

Sierra Green & the Soul MachineSierra Green & the Soul Machine – Came out December of last year and by February, Offbeat Magazine recognized her as Emerging Artist of the Year. Then it all shut down. Damn COVID! “Get Up to Get Down”

Alex McMurray: Lucky One and also Road Songs – Through hard work, exploration and prolific creativity, Murray has weaved his songs into the New Orleans music canon. “Little Mercy”

Roland Guerin– Grass Roots – Artful studio release (came out in 2019) by this bass player who has worked with Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, Ellis Marsalis and George Benson. “After Math”

Slugger -Eclipse (EP)  – This funk, jazz group seemed to be hitting stride when COVID crashed down. They also released a live record Uncut Buzz from Maple Leaf Bar. “Praise Break”

Paul SanchezI’m a song, I’m a story, I’m a ghost  – Talented songwriter with a heart rendering voice and songs to match. “Great Wide Open World”

Michot’s Melody Makers: Cosmic Cajuns from Saturn: Live from the Saturn Bar, New Orleans Lost Bayou Rambler Louis Michot’s journey into new Cajun music frontiers continues with December 2019 performance at the Saturn. “Baionne”

The Abitals Hot Box – Perhaps if the Fab Four had come from Abita Springs, Louisiana and Lennon had played an accordion, they might have sounded like this. Original songs. “1000 Times”

Cowboy Mouth: Open Wide (EP) – Yes, the band still performs and records and these five tracks are an excellent edition to the band’s 30 year catalogue. “Oh Toulouse!”

Jack Sledge: Notes of a Drifter – Brooklyn rocker moves to New Orleans for the Gulf Coast experience. He’s not embedded yet but its still fun.

Sonny LandrethBlack Top Run– This studio release is what fans have come to expect – distinctive vocals and guitar. What one YouTube fan described as an eargasm. “The Wilds of Wonder”

Dr. Michel WhiteLive -Hear this accomplished clarinetist stretch out on Canal Street Blues, Summertime and others. “Caribbean Girl”

Shamarr Allen – Quarantine and Chill – Early on, Shamarr put a smile on quarantined faces with this sweet song and video. Show me your footwork!

The Write BrothersInto the Sky  – Second release by this collective of songwriters. This one barely got made given the health decline and death of Spencer Bohren. You won’t hear it on today’s show cause I haven’t gotten the CD yet. But subscribe and stay tuned. Louisiana Music Factory has just sent it off to me. Meanwhile, here is the story of the record’s making.

Time for Gumbo YaYa Dance Show

Maybe the election made you happy, maybe not. But if we all dance, life will be better. It’s a dance party on this week’s Gumbo YaYa starting with Deacon John Moore’s rocking “Jumpin’ in the Morning.”

I’m going to keep this post brief. I selected a variety of music including swing, jazz, rock, zydeco, and brass bands because its music that puts a hop to my step, makes me want to shake my butt, and get those endorphins flowing. It’s a post-election show that I put together before I knew the results. I figured no matter what the results, dancing would help.

On this show you’ll hear: Trombone Shorty, Corey Henry, Rebirth Brass Band, Percy Mayfield, Sierra Green, Erica Falls, Terrance Simien, Buckwheat Zydeco, BeauSoleil, Yvette Landry, Tin Men, New Orleans Nightcrawlers, New Orleans Johnnys, New Orleans Vipers, and the New Orleans Gipsy Swingers. Oh, there’s much more – – 120 minutes of heart elevating boogie. Let me know what you think and please consider subscribing. Cheers.

A Trumpeter, Trombonist, Guitarist and Keyboardist Walk into . . .

Encore performance of this early spring 2020 show featuring messages from NOLA musicians. Airs again on KAOS and KMRE this week.

This week’s Gumbo YaYa features the voices and music of Marla Dixon, Craig Klein, Billy Iuso and John “Papa” Gros plus a birthday anniversary and more. Go ahead and play the show which starts with a live Wild Magnolia performance in recognition of the 2020 JazzFest that didn’t happen.

Each week, I’ve been including recorded messages from New Orleans musicians and playing a set of their music as a way for me and listeners of the show to learn a bit more about them. What comes out clear from this week’s set of artists is how passionate they are about their profession and the music they make.

Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band – Marla Dixon is second from right

After the Wild Magnolia song, we hear from Marla Dixon (at about 8 and half minutes in) who sings and plays trumpet for the Shotgun Jazz Band and the all-female Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band which has played festivals in Europe. You’ll hear her perform with both those bands, including a live performance at the Dew Drop Dance & Social Hall (not to be confused with the old Central City Dew Drop Inn) plus a lagniappe spin of her request, Captain John Handy’s “Panama.” I unfortunately got mixed up and did not play her request “Streets of the City” so I will get to that one in my next show. Dixon is fully embedded in New Orleans and its music scene but Northwest listeners attuned to Canadian speak will recognize her origins when she pronounces “out” as in “out-choruses.”

Craig Klein is very much a native of the city. A former member of Harry Connick Jr.’s big band, he formed Bonerama with Mark Mullins over 20 years ago but is also on a long list of other recordings and involved in a string of New Orleans bands. He will tell you a bit about it (starting around the 26 minute mark), as well as fill you in on the New Orleans Nightcrawlers’ latest release Atmosphere and the New Orleans Jazz Vipers new record, Is There a Chance for Me. You’ll hear tracks from both plus the title track from Bonerama’s Hot Like Fire.

Billy Iuso on guitar performing with Bonerama flanked by trombonists Mark Mullins (left) and Craig Klein.

Billy Iuso caught my attention at the 2015 Freret Street Festival — an event I attended for two reasons. First, to check out my old elementary school — the former Our Lady of Lourdes on the corner of Freret and Napoleon — and to see Bonerama live for the first time. As luck would have it, we got to the Bonerama stage early and caught Iuso’s show. His songs have a way of pulling me in and holding me. You’ll hear his greeting at about the 52 minute mark followed by tracks from four of his records, including one under the name of Brides of Jesus.

John “Papa” Gros was the bandleader of the funk group Papa Grows Funk which held down the Monday slot at the Maple Leaf for a decade. When the band broke up, funk fans all over the world were heartbroken. And the story of the band was retold in a highly entertaining documentary called “Do U Want It.” Now, Gros is doing his own thing but years of helping others with their gigs and recordings pays off with quality support in his latest record – Central City. Starting at the 73 minute mark, Gros talks about his line up and the origins of one of its tracks “Old Joe’s Turkey” – a song you’ll hear along with another track from that new release. I also spin one from his previous solo effort Rivers on Fire and I couldn’t resist including one from his funkier days, “Pass It!”

Near the end of the show, I celebrate the birthday anniversary of Bobby Marchan, recognize the passing of Big Al Carson and close with the Funky Meters performing live at a previous JazzFest.

Please consider subscribing to this blog (upper right hand side of page) since it not only clues you into when my shows are available but provides this great little endorphin boost when I see it come through. Cheers.

Gumbo YaYa celebrates five years as a community radio show

I was in my 30’s when I finally understood that the deep depression I experienced every time I moved was related to having left New Orleans when I was a child. Hosting a radio show of New Orleans music has been cathartic. And today’s show marks five years on the air. (you can get the show started and then continue reading this post.)

Joe Lastie’s “New Orleans in Me” speaks to how when you live away from New Orleans (as happened with hundreds of thousands of residents post Hurricane Katrina) , the city stays with you. The song has always resonated for me and it opens this show as a way to honor why I’ve been doing this show for five years.

I was 10 when my family moved away and my heart stayed with the city, aided by frequent visits, until I moved out of the south after I graduated from college. The Northwest was such a good fit for me that over time, I lost touch with my New Orleans feelings — except that sense of loss that would return every time I moved into a new apartment or home.

By the time I returned to visit my sister who had moved back, it had been almost 30 years since I had visited New Orleans. I caught the New Orleans Nightcrawlers at the 2006 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival which caused me to have almost a mystical experience. I just loved their sound and quickly learned that there was more to New Orleans music than Dixieland. The Nightcrawlers open the first full set of the show with “Can of Worms.”

I do a funk set with Mem Shannon, Allen Toussaint and Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes. I make sure New Orleans Bounce is represented with the Queen of Bounce Big Freedia doing “Lift Dat Leg Up.”

I try to hint at the diversity of New Orleans music with original songs by Leyla McCalla, Anders Osborne, Kelcy Mae and Lena Prima. I throw in a fun set of Zydeco as well since that is music I would not have learned to love if I had not been doing this show. I hope you have a chance to listen to some of my shows and appreciate the uniquely melting pot American music that emanates from New Orleans

Thank you for tuning in and please consider subscribing.

Celebrating Four Years of Gumbo YaYa

I love birthdays and so it was no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed myself on today’s Anniversary show. I hope you enjoy listening to it. (Go ahead and click the arrow right below and get it started)

birthday-cake-four-candles-mdMarcia Ball’s “The Party’s Still Going On,” which kicked off the show, totally fit my mood. In September of 2014 when the first Gumbo YaYa was recorded, I  was a little nervous about how long I’d be able to sustain a show, aired in the Pacific Northwest, of strictly New Orleans music. After all, the KAOS air studio is more than 2,720 miles from Frenchmen Street).

But with the help and kindness of New Orleans musicians, music distributors and labels ike Basin Street Records, I’ve been getting some current music.   I’m surprised how much variety the New Orleans format offers.  And what particularly amazes me is how much I’ve learned in the last four years.  (Several trips to New Orleans have helped — I like this hobby!).

On my bucket list for my next New Orleans visit is catching Lena Prima and her talented band in the Carousel Room of the Monteleone Hotel. Yes, its a total tourist thing but damn she does a great job, backed up by her band led by husband and bass player Tim Fahey.  Early in today’s show, she pulls off a bit of a medley that starts as you might expect, then gets you and your body moving (guaranteed) by the end.

Got a phone call from a listener when I played The Wild Magnolia’s “Coochie Molly” a rocking song (thank you June Yamagishi on guitar) that dovetailed nicely in to the next track, the New Orleans Nightcrawlers live version of “Tchfuncta/On that Day.”  That set finishes with Galactic’s “Wild Man” with chanting by Big Chief Bo Dollis. In fact, all three songs in that set feature chanting by Mardi Gras Indian Big Chiefs.

Another Big Chief performs later in the show but only on the saxophone — Donald Harrison Jr. backs up Davell Crawford in “River/White Socks & Drawers.” When he’s not playing jazz saxophone, Big Chief Donald Harrison Jr. is working on his next Mardi Gras suit. Oh, and before I forget, Dr. John and Big Freedia do some vocals on that Crawford song.

The show also features an in-studio performance (recorded earlier this summer) of “”Kibi” by Helen Gillet.  I have other surprises, including a 12-minute live version of the oft-covered “Big Chief.” Thanks so much for putting up with these posts and shows for four years. As long as you don’t complain to management, I’m committed to ensuring that “The Party’s Still Going On,”

Three years of Gumbo YaYa

Hello.  Today’s show marked three full years of airing a show about New Orleans music in a town over 2200 miles away from the Crescent City.  My thanks to community radio station KAOS and its listeners and supporters for letting me do this show.

Inkedcb_bday_LIThe show kicks off with Theryl “Houseman” Declouet with his infamous introduction regarding the third world status of New Orleans at a Galactic concert and flows quickly into Shamarr Allen’s “Party All Night.”  Al Hirt takes a turn and so does patron saint of this website and the show, Ernie K-Doe, with his classic “A Certain Girl.”  Who is she? Can’t tell ya.  I have reggae and hornpipes, jazz and blues and an amazing live airing of the Radiator’s 7 Devils from the 2006 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  It was that concert that cinched the deal for me that I would be coming back to New Orleans as often as I could.

Here’s the edited show from today (September 7, 2017) marking three years.  Thank you for listening.

Brass Bands Make You Move Your Body

Sorry if you missed my interview of Rebirth Brass Band founder and sousaphone player Phil Frazier on the November 3 Gumbo YaYa show. Rebirth comes out to the Northwest next week, playing in Seattle on November 13 and Portland on November 14. Also, WWOZ is doing its pledge drive this week.  Here’s why its important to support community radio.

Live music has the potential to freeze time for me–particularly cool new music. Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be unique to anyone else. Just to me.

So when I stumbled into the Jazz Tent at my first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest in 2006, I was oblivious that brass bands had undergone a major makeover. I was a couple decades behind the times. Having grown up around Dixieland jazz and watching brass bands at Mardis Gras in the 60’s, I wasn’t expecting the addition of funk, rock and R&B that the New Orleans Nightcrawlers were throwing at me from the stage. The music was unexpected, danceable and down right entertaining.  I can pretty much trace my radio show and this blog to that moment in the jazz tent.

cropped-blog11.jpg
Many New Orleans brass bands blend tradition with newer styles to keep the music fresh and unique.

Returning home with their live album hot in my hand, I started learning more about this music which seems to have one toe in tradition and the rest of its toes in hip hop, bepop, funk, and rock.

When I got back to New Orleans later in the year, I made a point to catch Rebirth Brass Band at their home base, the Maple Leaf — which for this brass band band fan is the equivalent of a devout Catholic getting to meet the Pope in the Vatican.

I wish I could tell you first hand how this music has transformed over the years. But I wasn’t there. I can tell you that an important part of it was keeping the brass band tradition alive. Mentors like Danny Barker who formed the Fairview Baptist Marching Band were key. From that youth band, a new generation of musicians, schooled in the tradition, but open to other styles, rose up the ranks.

What do I like about this music? Just about everything.

Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf Bar in Uptown New Orleans every Tuesday night except when the band tours..
Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf Bar in Uptown New Orleans every Tuesday night except when the band tours..

But I’ll use Rebirth’s “What Goes Around Comes Around” from their grammy-winning CD as an example.  Vincent Broussard on tenor sax applies a simple but catchy melody. Then the drummers kick in, keeping a beat but also playing around the beat in a totally engaging way. Founding band member Phil Frazier enters with the bass line on sousaphone while the other horns add depth. Broussard then takes the melody to new territory on another solo before the harmonizing horns kick in with a full breath rendition of the original melody, and I feel it right in my chest, a total uplift. There’s a give and take between the sax and the horns with the trumpet and trombone doing their own solo turns before a sort of controlled chaos breaks loose. At around the 4:20 mark, with about minute left, the band members begin to sing or sort of chant: “What goes around comes around in its time. We’re going to dance around, smoke a bong and get on down.”

Okay, so its party music. Music that definitely works best performed live, with a favorite libation nearby and some room to boogie. In fact, brass bands are designed to move, to march in parades, lead second lines and get people dancing wherever they are.

A couple of years ago, while waiting in line to eat lunch at Casamento’s, I got into a discussion with the guy ahead of me about The Soul Rebels who had just put out “Unlock Your Mind” that year. He was quite insistent that the only way to hear a New Orleans brass band is at their home base, which for the Rebels is Les Bon Temps Roule on Thursday nights. Given that the guy talking was David Simon, creator of Treme who has filmed a number of brass bands including the Rebels in action, I took it as sound advice.  And its true. While I’ve always enjoyed catching Rebirth wherever I can (the band plays the Tractor in Ballard on November 13), I’ve had the best times with them at the Maple Leaf.

Baby Boyz at Jazz Fest. No longer the province of  old men, brass bands provide a path for young musicians to gain professional experience
Baby Boyz at Jazz Fest. No longer the province of old men, brass bands provide a path for young musicians to gain professional experience

Here’s some simple tips for catching a brass band in New Orleans. Do what Simon says, catch them on their home turf if possible. Or catch them leading a second line parade (schedule). If you catch them at a club, be ready to stay up late cause if you’re lucky, the show will start by 11 p.m. Be prepared for a crowd and know that many bars still allow indoor smoking. Finally, if you’re worried about your ears, bring some ear plugs. You’ll still be able to hear them well.

You can also hear them well on Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa, every Monday from 10 a.m. to noon on KAOS, 89.3 FM Olympia