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

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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.

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Thanksgiving holiday show is about being home

To me, the Thanksgiving holiday is about being at home with loved ones. And so this show is about getting home and being home. 

After Earl King sings about “Eating and Sleeping” (a succinct description of the typical Thanksgiving Day), I move on to this show’s theme with Seth Walker’s “Home Again.”  I switch genre with a rock steady number by New Orleans reggae group 007 and finish the set with Clifton Chenier doing “I Am Coming Home.”

The Radiators do “The Long Hard Journey Home” and Lloyd Price asks for a another chance with “Let Me Come Home Baby.”  Hoagy Carmichael’s early composition “My Home, New Orleans” gets a wonderful instrumental treatment by Al Hirt later in the show followed by Papa Grows Funk.  

Before performing “Home”, Paul Sanchez introduces horn players Craig Klein and Shamarr Allen with a story of how these musicians helped him restore his home after Hurricane Katrina destroyed it.  Stay with the show through to the end and you’ll hear Lena Prima’s song “Come On a My House” and Clarence Brown singing “On My Way Back Home.”

I hope the holidays find you in a place that you can call home. My best to you. Thanks for listening. 

June Yamagishi delivers excellent argument for open borders

June Yamagishi shocked his agent when he announced that despite a revered career as a guitarist in Japan, he wanted to live and work in New Orleans. On the occasion of his 65th birthday, this episode of Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa celebrates his decision. But wait there’s more. (But go ahead and get the show started)

june 2.jpg
June Yamagishi playing with Cyril Neville and Corey Henry in October 2017.

Chocolate Milk, a popular New Orleans funk band from the 70’s, kick the show off with their opening song from their 2010 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival performance.  I follow that up with a set of music featuring June Yamagishi and his guitar. Two tracks from Papa Grows Funk, a band he was part of for 13 years. Because he also loves Mardi Gras Indian music, I included a song by The Wild Magnolias that features some strong Yamagishi licks.

Also, here’s a link to a short video of his cameo appearance on the HBO show, Treme, where he is trying out for the band being assembled by Wendell Pierce’s character.

From this point in the show, I swing through a jazz set that starts with a classic King Oliver number from the late 1920’s and finishes with a recent recording by Preservation Hall Jazz Band featuring an original song.

Coco Robicheaux kicks off the next set which offers two songs about the importance of keeping on the good side of your woman. Paula of Paula and the Pontiacs sings about the importance of getting the coffee (grind) right while Larry Garner, with help from Buckwheat Zydeco, does a number called “Ms. Boss.”

Three contemporary zydeco and cajun numbers push the boundaries of those genres with the help of Bonsoir Catin, the Lost Bayou Ramblers and Rosie Ledet.  A country/folk sets follows before I swing back into funk and finish with a genre-busting song by the BlueBrass Project.   Actually, Irma Thomas gets the last word with “Since I Fell for You,” with Dr. John on piano.

There now, lots of reasons to keep listening.  Thanks for tuning in.

What makes New Orleans drummers and drumming unique?

There’s something special about New Orleans drummers.  A statement I read and hear regularly and while my untrained ear suggests that is true, I cannot in my own words explain why.

Drum Magazine has made it easy for me though by interviewing four of New Orleans top drummers. The magazine pulled together musicians who have handled the beat for The Meters, Professor Longhair, Wynton Marsalis, Papa Grows Funk, Galactic and countless other projects.  Some of the conversation gets a little beyond my understanding but if you’re a drummer, I recommend you read the interview.  Here’s a lay summary of it:

While New Orleans wasn’t much different as other Southern locales for discouraging the continuation of African culture, the city was unique in that it did allow for New Orleans slaves and people of color to congregate at a central location, known as Congo Square, on Sundays to share, among other things, music.  From this setting, Caribbean and African rhythms and syncopation met European harmonies and melodies.

The key distinction of New Orleans drumming is an emphasis on the bass drum which in the New Orleans parade tradition is the heart and soul of the show.  The bass “is the main voice; and the snare drum is the polish.” Interestingly, in the marching band, second line tradition, the bass drummer and snare drummer are two separate musicians.

“Bottom line is it has to be a pelvic thing. . . What makes me unconsciously decide whether it’s good or bad is when I’m having a conversation [at a gig] far away from the music with someone who’s totally distracting me, and in the meantime I’m moving my butt. Then I know it’s the science of true, organic swing.”

Drumming that gets your butt moving.  Yea, that’s what I’m talking about.