New Music from New Orleans Class Friends Sunday, Jan 4 2015 

I’ve been reading reviews of new music by New Orleans musicians, most of whom I’m familiar with, but there are others I need to explore. As I was reading through reviews, I realized that students in the New Orleans class have met quite a few musicians over our eight visits beginning in 2007. And three of these artists have new recordings.

Left to right: Alex McMurray, Paul Sanchez, and Arsene DeLay, Gentilly Baptist Church, March 2012.

Left to right: Alex McMurray, Paul Sanchez, and Arsene DeLay, Gentilly Baptist Church, March 2012.

In 2012 and 2013, the class had the opportunity to spend an evening with an ensemble led by Paul Sanchez at the Gentilly Baptist Church. These concerts were especially meaningful because of Sanchez’s work as composer of songs drawn from Dan Baum’s book, Nine Lives, a class favorite. In addition to Sanchez, it introduced them to such talents as singer/guitarist Alex McMurray and singers Arsene DeLay and Antoine Diel. Sanchez’s latest, from independent label Threadhead Records is The World is Round Everything that Ends begins Again. In it, he explores his song-writing and acoustic skills, but also draws from his years in the rock group Cowboy Mouth. He has surrounded himself with a bevy of great voices and instrumentalists, but it is Sanchez, his guitar, and his song writing that stand out. Or as John Swenson, the grand old man of New Orleans music criticism puts it: “These very personal songs…are what makes this the finest moment in Paul Sanchez’s career.”

Big CHief Alfred Doucette at UNH, 2014.

Big CHief Alfred Doucette at UNH, 2014.

Just last year, the class had the chance to meet Big Chief Alfred Doucette on his visit to New Hampshire. In addition to being chief of the Flaming Arrows Mardi Gras Indian gang, Doucette is a singer who frequents clubs on Frenchmen Street and elsewhere. This five-song cd, called Originals, is paradoxically a reworking of a number of classic New Orleans tunes; Doucette has added his own lyrics and occasional chord changes. According to Swenson, they work fairly well with a few bumps along the way. It includes his most famous song, “Marie Laveau,” which it to the tune of the New Orleans chestnut, “Little Liza Jane.” All in all, it sounds like a good, albeit short, party recording.

Glen David Andrews at the Rock and Bowl, 2008

Glen David Andrews at the Rock and Bowl, 2008

The musician with the most contact with the New Orleans class is clarinetist Dr. Michael White, but unfortunately, he doesn’t have a new recording. After our first meeting with him at Xavier University in 2008, the class went down the street to the old Rock and Bowl to hear Glen David Andrews. In addition to a fun-filled set, Andrews pulled student Teresa Ware on stage and sang happy birthday to her. It was the talk of the class that evening as we rode back to Waveland, MS. Andrews has had some personal travails in recent years, but he has literally redeemed himself with a new recording, Redemption, which the staff of Offbeat Magazine and John Swenson consider the top Louisiana recording of 2014. In his May 1, 2014 review, Swenson wrote: “Nothing Andrews has done prepares you for the complete breakthrough, the creative transformation he achieves on Redemption….The result is a career-best triumph for both artist and producer, an album that joins recent work by Trombone Shorty and Rebirth Brass Band in a new era of New Orleans jazz and R&B excellence.”

Needless to say, I’ll be scouting in the weeks before I head down in mid March. In the meantime, I’ll employ cds, downloads, and Spotify to “get out” and listen to some fine New Orleans music.

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The Best of the Beat Sunday, Jan 20 2013 

2009 NEW ORLEANS JAZZ & HERITAGE FESTIVAL PRESENTED BY SHELL - DAY 1

Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews

For 25 years, Offbeat magazine has provided some of the best coverage of entertainment, food, and culture in New Orleans. In addition to its monthly rendering of what’s happening in the Crescent City, it provides a very active website that tracks daily information of life performances and up-to-date news. And annually, it sponsors the Best of the Beat Awards to recognize the best music in a city that is synonymous with music.

This year provided few surprises, but it recognized some stellar, unquestionable musical achievements, some of my very favorite artists, and validated a healthy percentage of my voting for the awards. All in all, I’m pretty satisfied.

Dr. Michael White

Dr. Michael White

The Artist of the Year Award went to Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews. On the heels of two very successful albums, I believe he is on the verge of national recognition. The New Orleans-borne eclecticism that marks his music is likely the main thing holding him back. Andrews was also recognized as best “R&B/Funk” artist and as the best trombonist  And Dr. John, the venerable yet adaptable scion of swamp rock was recognized for Album of the Year, for his remarkable collaboration with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, “Locked Down.”  In addition to this well-received album, Dr. John was recognized as the best “Roots Rock” performer and keyboardist.

Clarence "Frogman" Henry

Clarence “Frogman” Henry

Some of my other favorite reward recipients: Best R&B/Funk Album: “Carnivale Electricos,” Galactic; Best Bounce Artist: Big Freedia; Best Traditional Jazz Artist: Kermit Ruffins; Best Brass Band: Rebirth Brass Band; Best Brass Band Album: “Unlock Your Mind,” The Soul Rebels; Best Drummer: Stanton Moore; Best Female Vocalist: Irma Thomas; Best Male Vocalist: John Boutté; and Best Clarinetist: Dr. Michael White. Some of my heroes receiving lifetime achievement awards were: Al “Carnival Time” Johnson; Clarence “Frogman” Henry; and the Dixie Cups.

To cap off the awards, at least as far as I am concerned, WWOZ was recognized as the best radio station; Basin Street Records as the best recording studio; and the Roots of Music, the wonderful marching band , after-school program, was recognized for non-profit achievement/community music award.

Now, on to the Grammys!

New Orleans Music Miscellany Thursday, Jun 14 2012 

Preservation Hall Jazz Band press photo

It has been nearly three months since I left New Orleans, but the music has not left me. I’ve got days of music on iTunes and a lifetime of music on Spotify, so it’s almost always with me. But, it is not the same thing as being in a sweaty, smoky bar on Frenchmen Street or walking beside a brass band on Orleans Avenue.

However, several things have crossed my radar in recent days to get my toe tapping:

First, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is coming to the Portsmouth Music Hall on Friday, June 15th. Yes, I bought tickets months ago, but it is now imminent. No, it’s not the same thing as entering their stark, yet hallowed hall on St. Peter Street. For one, it’s a lot more expensive; but, you don’t have to wait in line with a bunch of drunks or  stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the back for the first set. Although I’ll miss sitting on the floor in front of the band for the second set. The tour helps mark the band’s fiftieth anniversary since its creation in 1961.

The second thing to get my traditional New Orleans music juices going was a review in Offbeat of Dr. Michael White’s upcoming album, “Adventures in New Orleans Jazz, Part 2.” I know, I know, I made fun of the title of last year’s installment and putting another number behind it doesn’t make it any better. However, I loved the concept and execution of the first one and this sounds even better. While the first had a decidedly international flavor, White brings it back home this time around. It includes some original music, chestnuts like “Tiger Rag,” and some unlikely covers of Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobbie McGee” and the Turtles’ “Happy Together.” In two words: “it’s fun.” Basin Street Records provides some musical snippets online prior to its release later this month.

Rock and Roll pioneer, Fats Domino

And finally, in an escape from more traditional New Orleans musical fare,  Rolling Stone helps celebrate Louisiana’s bicentennial with an 18 song collection of funk, soul, hip hop and more. From Irma Thomas to Lucinda Williams; Lee Dorsey to L’il Wayne, it is an eclectic reminder of the musical richness of our 18th state. You can read about each tune and artist and thanks to Spotify, you can listen along as well. Chances are, you’ll encounter something new. And if you are an old hand, it should serve as a happy reminder of what we miss by being anywhere else than the Crescent City!

New Orleans Music — It’s hard to know where to begin Friday, May 4 2012 

In the weeks since returning from New Orleans, the thing that has been sticking with me the most is the music. During the week I experienced brass bands, traditional jazz ensembles, reggae, trumpet players on park benches and more. Everywhere we went, the music seemed to find its way out of doors and into my ears. Not only did I love hearing all the music, but I loved how everyone else seemed to love it too. From kids not even out of high school to 70 year old men, everyone enjoys and soaks up local music.

Left to right, Alex McMurray, Paul Sanchez, and Arsene DeLay at the Gentilly Baptist Church, New Orleans, March 2012.

I’m kind of jealous of the way music is such an ingrained part of New Orleans life. I love listening to music, playing music, and just experiencing music. Unfortunately, I think that for a lot of Americans, music is a very passive listening only experience. New Orleans certainly doesn’t follow this idea. People are expected to get up and move and be a part of the music. I fell in love with the music culture in New Orleans.

In the months leading up to the trip, we listened to our regular song of the day in class. I enjoyed these songs, but they felt somewhat disjointed. From Big Freedia to the Wild Magnolias, to Louis Armstrong, to Louis Moreau Gottschalk — it was all interesting and I enjoyed the somewhat new sounds, but it was very abstract.

Once in New Orleans, I began to see, hear and understand how it all fit together in one place. We heard Paul Sanchez sing about the city, about its struggles and its love for life. His voice, paired with fantastic guitar reminded me a little of folk singers up north. The themes he sang and spoke about reminded me that we were far from there. He’s been a part of a musical adaptation of the book Nine Lives, and a song telling the story of Orleans parish coroner Frank Minyard repeats the line “Where are the bodies?” – a bit shocking, startling and very effective in its message. He was accompanied by Arsene DeLay, whose voice was incredible beyond words. It was sweet and smooth, yet at the same time striking and powerful. The concert made for a fantastic evening for the first full day in the city.

Brass band performing on Frenchmen Street, New Orleans, March 2012, Madelyn Ball.

We found that the clubs on Bourbon Street played popular dance music that spread far beyond the walls of the buildings and saturated the humid air. It was loud and it was crazy, but that seems to be the New Orleans way. The clubs nearby on Frenchmen Street host more authentic New Orleans music. It was there that I experienced my first live brass band. New Orleans musicians put a cool in brass that I didn’t know existed. The sound was less like playing an instrument and more like singing through the instrument. There was nothing refined, and everything exciting and soulful. I loved it. The part that I’m the most amazed by though is the ability of these musicians to memorize and improvise — there was even a student from Indiana University who seamlessly jumped in and played with the band for the night. The sound shot out of their instruments and filled the room. The energy was amazing and I couldn’t sit still. It was a really wonderful night — I felt like I was really experiencing New Orleans.

Dr. Michael White Quartet,Xavier University, New Orleans, March 2012

Later in the week, we went to see Dr. Michael White and his quartet play traditional New Orleans jazz at Xavier University of Louisiana. The band consisted of jazz clarinet, trumpet, banjo, and bass and all four players were incredibly talented musicians. They played a number of songs, and spoke about the development of jazz before each one. The history and evolution was so interesting and made each tune all the more interesting to me. The band was tighter and the sound more refined but without sounding flat or repetitive. They improvised together, and I was in awe with their skill. My favorite was when the trumpet player Gregg Stafford  sang “Basin Street Blues” in his raspy yet smooth voice, adding things about our group and that very night. I loved it.

Crowd listeing to brass band, Frenchmen Street, New Orleans, March 2012

We experienced each ‘sub-genre’ of New Orleans music in its place in New Orleans and it all began to make sense. The people in New Orleans are of such diverse backgrounds and cultures and the music is likewise. I know that during my week in New Orleans, I only experienced a small portion of all the music there is. It pulled me in and, now that I’m hooked, I’ll be able to explore more New Orleans music and better appreciate it. Dr. John next to Galactic won’t seem quite so strange anymore, but rather pieces of the whole New Orleans picture.

-Maddie Ball-

Second Day of Work…..And All That Jazz! (March 14, 2012) Tuesday, Apr 24 2012 

Painting in Slidell, March 2012. Bill Ross photo.

Today we returned to Maple Street to work on the houses some more. We’ve got more painters than we have things to paint, so we have down time. A few of us used this time to explore the area. We walked around the neighborhood and realized just how many Habitat houses there are; aside from some stone houses that must have made it through Katrina, nearly every house in the neighborhood was built by Habitat. It’s sad, but also wonderful that such a progressive non-profit exists, and that people are continuing to persevere, even after losing so much.

Root Beer, Slidell, LA, March 2012. Lily O'Gara photo.

On our walk, we saw so many flowers and realized how much we missed them! Everything is already lush and green here, so returning to NH is not going to be easy. We also saw a few abandoned houses, all boarded up. Apparently, abandoned houses cannot be worked on or sold or anything; the local government has to wait until the house falls down to take any legal action. Many people didn’t come back after the hurricane, and looks as though the government will be waiting for a while. In the meantime, the houses stand there as a stark reminder of Katrina.

We also walked through Slidell’s “projects.” They certainly did not look like low-income housing and did not feel dangerous; but we were told not to go there again, as there is a lot of violence that takes place over there. The people we passed were very friendly and tipped their hats to us, so this seemed not to fit together very well. Guess we still have a lot to learn about the area!

Habitat homes in Slidell, LA, March 2012, Bill Ross photo.

I also had to take care of Root Beer today (the name of the neighborhood pit bull has now been confirmed), because his leash allowed him to climb up the stairs that we were painting. After he succeeded once in getting dirty paw prints all over the stairs, and blue paint all over his paws, I took him for a little walk around the neighborhood to let the group paint in peace. He had a ball; it was like watching a young child on Christmas morning! He rolled in the leaves for five minutes, tongue out and tail wagging, and then went mud puddle jumping (dragging me through the mud with him and also tipping over a bench in the process). He was filthy after this field trip, and I tried to give him a bath but, as it turns out, he hates water and ran away immediately. He then rolled around in the sand under the porch, all while watching me as if to say “Ha! I win!” It was pretty funny!

Dr. Michael White Quartet, Xavier University, March 2012, Lily O'Gara photo.

After showering and eating another hearty dinner (meatloaf and potatoes and green beans), we headed to Xavier University in New Orleans to see Dr. Michael White and his quartet perform. Dr. White is a jazz clarinetist, and also a professor at Xavier. His quartet consists of a trumpet player, a bassist, and a banjo player. The four musicians were absolutely phenomenal! They truly delivered everything anyone could want from a jazz concert. Dr. White took us through the history of jazz and the musical techniques used through lecture and demonstration. The four played songs from each period of history to illustrate the changes, and also played different types of jazz, including the blues, ballads, jazz funeral dirges, Spanish-influenced jazz, etc. They also performed the “Basin Street Blues” (one of the tunes from our midterm) and the trumpet player sang. That was probably my favorite part! Watching their fingers fly over the keys/strings and also taking in the intense, passionate body language/facial expressions was awe-inspiring! It also made me miss my clarinet, though I will never be as good as Dr.White! The musicans were just talented, genuine people, and I am so glad that I got to experience traditional New Orleans jazz!

After the concert, we thanked the musicians, and most of us headed back to Slidell to catch up on some much-needed sleep!

— Lily O’Gara —

The End of the Week Friday, Mar 16 2012 

Los Islenos and Baratarians in Slidell LA, March 2012

You can take all of the cliches about returning home after spending a week away and boil ’em up in a pot and pretty much get the point of this post. Between Thursday night and Saturday morning, the students here are already preparing for the separation; the trip, the thing they’ve looked forward to since pre-registration is about to be over. No matter how much we talk about their experience in an effort to place this great, yet peculiar City in context; it won’t be enough. And then they’ll get to drive the 26-28 hours back to Durham NH. I think they’ve really begun to understand this place, warts and all. And they understand the small contribution that they’ve made to the lives of the people in this region. They’ve certainly gotten the food. They’ve adapted to the slow pace. And they understand that this place sweats music. And they have already begun ignoring the sunburns, and blisters, and the aching muscles that they never realized that they had.

UNH Students on the Canal Street/Algiers Ferry, March 2012

Thursday night, everyone got up from dinner and a surprise birthday cake from home, and ventured into the City. One group had already gone in to eat at the Praline Connection on Frenchmen. I met the other two groups for a round-trip on the ferry to Algiers Point. I didn’t even get off the boat. The night was balmy, almost summer-like. We’ve enjoyed it immensely, but I’ve heard several locals worry aloud: “if it’s this hot in march, what is it going to be like in July?”

Young Fellaz Brass Band, Frenchmen Street, March 2012

After the ferry ride, the groups went their separate ways, although most ended up listening to some sort of music. I caught the up-and-coming Young Fellaz Brass Band for a short, yet-spirited set at the corner of Chartres and Frenchmen, before ducking into one of the nearby clubs for a set of cafe jazz. I had early morning plans to visit with the group working across the Parish, so I returned before most of the students.

Friday brought the last day of work and the last night in the City. I drove through the morning fog to meet up with the Wild Magnolias, who are putting the finishing touches on a couple of homes outside of Abita Springs. Both are scheduled to close before the end of the month. In the process, they have picked up such skills as pouring cement, building steps, and playing with local canines. They have plans to work through so that they can go to Uptown New Orleans for a Parkway Bakery po’boy. I would be jealous, except for the fact that I have found a couple of very, respectable po’boy shops right here in Slidell (As of this writing: Jocko’s and Kenney’s Seafood. I’m sure if I return in the future, I’ll discover others.).

Wild Magnolias, outside of Abita Springs LA, March 2012

The Los Islenos and Baratarians continue to toil away on Maple and Tupelo Streets,  painting and laying flooring. And they so without the benefit of the shade enjoyed by their cross-Parish classmates.The volunteers next week will be left with a nice platform upon which to erect walls. Yup, students from UNH-ABC did that. Nevertheless, you could feel the energy level drop like the air released from a balloon. And the fact that it was humid and above 80 degrees before 11 a.m. didn’t help. They too, were heading out for po’boys, but I warned them to leave room for dinner (fried catfish, okra jambalaya, salad, etc. And I’m throwing in 10 pounds of boiled crawfish, so that everyone will have a chance to try them).

I don’t think there’s a soul who’ll stay put or retire early tonight. Most plan to meet up at the Blue Nile to see Kermit Ruffins and his band, the Barbecue Swingers (Kermit is know almost as much for his cooking as his effervescent music). I might try to catch Dr. Michael White, who is playing over in the courtyard of the Historic New Orleans Collection on Royal Street a little before. From the Blue Nile, I suspect they’ll fan out to have cafe au lait, listen to more music, or just enjoy walking the streets on a warm night. And again, even though I don’t have a long drive ahead of me, I think there’s a good chance that I’ll be among the first back in Slidell.

Or, as the old crank in “It’s a Wonderful Life” said: “Youth is wasted on the wrong people!”

“Scruffy,” Abita Springs LA, March 2012

“Root Beer,” Slidell LA, March 2012

Abita Springs Thursday, Mar 15 2012 

I deeply miss the opportunity to have my students work in New Orleans with Operation Helping Hands. It’s not that the work is far different from what we are doing this week, but for the purposes of the New Orleans course, the chance to work in the neighborhoods and learn the streets, meet and talk to the people, and have them stop and thank you (and talk some more) is very important. And the young, full-time volunteers, most of them just out of college themselves, were fun to work with and provided my students with good role models.

Habitat for Humanity homes outside of Abita Springs, LA, March 2012.

That said, the experience of working with the two Habitat agencies in St. Tammany Parish and the housing at the Peace Mission Center has been great. The volunteer coordinators have been informative, helpful, and welcoming. And as always, I am amazed at the construction heads, crew chiefs, etc. that Habitat is able to put on site. They are born teachers; they are patient (to a remarkable degree), quick to assess skill levels, and always looking to make the experience a meaningful one for the volunteers. And it helps that I have a cracker jack group this year who are threatening to leave next week’s volunteers with nothing to do.

And, as anyone who knows me can tell you, I love visiting and learning about new places. For fear of online retribution, I will not list the handful of places for which this is not true. I’ll just leave it at that. Slidell has been a pleasure. The food is good, the people are friendly and almost as welcoming as those down the road in New Orleans, but we’re talking gold standard here. The terrain is pleasant, although I could do without all of the strip malls. I realize that this is, for the most part, a national epidemic, but it does seem that my native-South has perfected the blight.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to follow one of our groups over to their work with Habitat for Humanity St. Tammany–West. The work site was just outside of Abita Springs, which until then was just a name on one of my favorite regional beers (their Turbodog, to be exact, but their amber is good, too). It is a beautiful little community, just north of Mandeville. They’ve preserved much of their downtown, complete with tin roofed buildings, undisturbed trees, and locally-owned businesses.

Painting trim, Abita Springs LA, March 2012

The Habitat build was just to the west, and as you pulled off of the main road, you see a whole community, largely built by Habitat for Humanity. One of the crew estimates that nearly seventy homes in this area alone have been built by Habitat over the past two decades. That’s right. Before Katrina. We sometimes forget that events like Katrina, this spring’s tornadoes, etc. do not cause a shortage of quality, affordable housing in the richest country in the world, they only exacerbate it. And such events hopefully highlight the need for those who would rather forget about that fact. Habitat for Humanity does not forget. Their mission is to alleviate it, one house and one deserving family at a time.

Installing sub-flooring at homesite on Tupelo Street, Slidell LA, March 2012

The students were working with a wonderful crew of professional builders, young people, and those unable to truly retire, not becuase of economic need, but because they care. And the students, whether they realized it or not, had been paid a very high complement. The house they were working on was about to be turned over to a family, who had also had to put in considerable sweat equity — a Habitat requirement. There was a punchlist of items that had to be done before the papers are signed and usually, becuase these tasks can seem rather random, yet time sensitive, a crew member usually completes them. However, our group so impressed on Tuesday that they were there completing the punchlist: touching up trim and walls, installing screens; removing debris from the yard and shed; and pouring cement landings in front and back. It will be interesting to see what they are allowed to do the rest of the week.

The two groups working for St. Tammany-East Habitat for Humanity are not being left in the dust by the other. They are laying sub-flooring at one site, painting porches on completed homes, and power-washing in preparation for future paint jobs. The construction manager is complaing that they are moving so fast that he is worried about having work to do for the 32 volunteers arriving next week. He is giving them a late start on Friday; 10:00, rather than 6:45 a.m. I suspect it is both reward and an attempt to slow them down a bit. Needless to say, given the performance of this year’s class, both volunteer coordinators are eager to have us sign on for next year. And I just might.

After work, students returned to the Peace Mission Center for warm showers, some online time, to write in their journals (remember those journals!) and to shoot baskets or throw a football. They had very satisfying chicken pot pie and for those so inclined, veggie burgers, for dinner. For dessert was angel food cake with freshly made blueberry or strawberry sauce.

Left to right, Dr. Michael White, Kerry Lewis, Gregg Stafford, and Detroit Brooks, Xavier University, March 2012

After dinner, we drove across New Orleans to Xavier University of Louisiana for our annual fix of traditional jazz. There we met with Dr. Michael White, jazz clarinetist, composer, bandleader and holder of the Keller Endowed Chair in the Humanities of New Orleans Music and Culture. He and his quartet, which includes Kerry Lewis on bass, Detroit Brooks on banjo, and Gregg Stafford on trumpet and vocals, led us on a musical journey from the beginnings of jazz in New Orleans, up through one of Michael’s new compositions in the traditional idiom. I was especially taken with White’s channeling of Sidney Bechet while playing Gershwin’s “Summertime” and the ensemble’s performance of a newer composition “Give it Up” (Gypsy Second Line), a traditional-style tune with a hint of Eastern European flavor. One of my favorites. It was fun to see the recognition on the students’ faces when they played “Basin Street Blues” with Gregg Stafford on vocals. It was one of the ten tunes they had to learn for their mid term, just a week ago back in Durham.

We were joined by Joonhyung  and Desiree Cho. Joon has a masters degree from UNH and works in the intellectual property division of the LSU Agricultural Experiment Station. They had attended the conert with us before, but Joon, is known to the the class as the guy who provides us with a king cake during Carnival season. Last night, he also brought each student a small package of LSU-licensed rice. All he and Desiree got was good music and a pair of “UNH–New Orleans” tee shirts.

Walter "Wolfman" Washington, d.b.a., March 2012.

After the concert, you could see that the fatigue of the past two days had really set in. A small group of intrepid cultural warriors headed into the City, but most chose to make their way across the lake to the relative comfort of our base in Slidell. I went to Frenchmen Street where I caught a long and enjoyable set by bluesman Walter “Wolfman” Washington at d.b.a. It was tempting to stay for another, but as with the others, the Northshore beckoned.

Things to Do in New Orleans — Part 2 Saturday, Mar 3 2012 

Preservation Hall Stars at Preservation Hall, March 2010.

Tuesday, March 13th will be our first day on the job. Expect to be on the road and ready to report for work before 7:00am. Breakfast and lunch makings will be provided at the Peace Mission Center. Remember: close toed shoes are required. At the end of the day, we’ll return to the Center to clean-up and have dinner. For that evening, I would suggest a trip to Preservation Hall, where Shannon Powell and the Preservation All Stars will be playing. It’ll require $10.00 and a substantial wait in line. And if that is not your cup of tea, Frenchmen Street is a musical smorgasbord where you can wander from door to door to hear what’s playing. And I suspect a few will end up at Cafe du Monde for cafe au lait and beignets.

Dr. Michael White

After work on Wednesday, we’ll be heading out to Xavier University to hear Dr. Michael White and his quartet, drawn from his Original Liberty Jazz Band. White holds the Keller Endowed Chair in the Humanities of New Orleans Music and Culture, but he is best known for his clarinet and musical compositions in the traditional style. This will be the fifth year we’ve had the pleasure of working with him to learn more about the origins of New Orleans jazz. (Thanks to the New Hampshire Library of Traditional Jazz for sponsoring this event.)

Thursday offers diverse choices. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band featuring Mark Braud on trumpet is downtown, while Geno Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie are Uptown at Rock and Bowl off of Carrollton Avenue. A trip to Rock and Bowl is a must and zydeco is a great way to get your feet moving.

Friday will be our last day on the job and our last night in Louisiana. And it offers some great choices for entertainment.If you’d like to hear multiple trombones playing covers of Led Zeppelin and Allman Brothers tunes, then Bonerama at the Rock and Bowl is a must. They are unique, to say the least. If you’d rather stay downtown, I’d suggest Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers. Kermit, one of the founders of the Rebirth Brass Band, is a regular on the HBO series Tremehe is a party waiting to happen. Kermit will be at the Blue Nile on Frenchmen. And of course there are the usual attractions in and around the French Quarter.

Sylvester Francis at the Backstreet Cultural Museum, June 2011.

On Saturday morning we’ll return to New Orleans to visit the Backstreet Cultural Museum. Curator Sylvester Francis has accumulated an incredible collection of Mardi Gras Indian suits and second line memorabilia. He is a walking encyclopedia of those traditions. (Thanks to the UNH Discovery Program for sponsoring this visit.) It will also give you a chance to visit Treme, the oldest African-American neighborhood in the United States. For your remaining hours in New Orleans, I’d suggest a visit to the French Market near the river and a walk down Royal Street. The former is a great place to by gifts and souvenirs. And on Royal Street, late Saturday morning brings street performers and musicians. And be sure to grab a po’ boy or muffalletta before you hit the interstate

The Best Louisiana Albums of 2011 Thursday, Jan 26 2012 

In the January 2012 edition of Offbeat magazine, the brilliant music writer, John Swenson, identified “The 40 Best Louisiana Albums of 2011.” Needless to say, I can’t argue with someone of his caliber, in large part because his musical range and expertise is far greater than mine. However, I can laud his “best of” list while identifying some of my favorites that are part of it. And for the most part, I was not disappointed in his selections.

Most of my picks are in the top 20, so I was a little disappointed to see Galactic’s The Other Side of Midnight in the second half of Swenson’s ranking. It is Galactic’s first live album in a decade, and collaborations with New Orleans artists give it great traction. It includes performances by Trombone Shorty, Corey Henry, and the Soul Rebels Brass Band; however, I am most drawn to tracks with the timeless Cyril Neville and singular Big Freedia.

In the top 20, Swenson has American Legacies, a singular smash-up between the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Del McCoury Band. It is a brilliant paring of traditional jazz and blue grass, although some of the tracks do feel a bit contrived and transitions jarring. However, upon further visits, it seems to make more sense. I like it.

When it comes to the Rebirth Brass Band, I have a hard time being objective. Suffice it to say, I was pleased that their Rebirth of New Orleans was at Swenson’s number 10. There is much to like here and let’s admit it, it’s just plain fun. If asked to pick favorites, I’d give a  nod towards the raucous “I Like It Like That,” “A. P. Touro,” and their update of the traditional tune, “Exactly Like You.”  Flea Broussard’s sax on “What Goes Around Comes Around” is worth the price of admission, alone.

At number eight, I love everything about Dr. Michael White’s new album except for the title. When he told me it was called  Adventures in New Orleans Music Part One, I had an unmistakable flashback to music appreciation classes in middle school. But the album is far greater than that. White’s ensemble is superlative, with White’s rich clarinet, Gregg Stafford’s trumpet and vocals, and Lucien Barbarin’s trombone — incomparable musicianship . And White’s arrangements, traditional in idiom, but fresh and modern in application, is stunning. His duet on “House of the Rising Sun” with Detroit Brooks on banjo is haunting and oh so memorable.

At number six, Swenson has Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses. Again, I have a hard time being objective on this one. The first time I saw her playing with the Panorama Jazz Band, I instantly fell in love. The energy, fun, and joy that she puts into her playing the sax is a musical contagion. And that is present throughout this tribute to the great New Orleans clarinet/soprano sax player, Sidney Bechet. The sound level on vocals could be stronger, but the loving treatment of these traditional jazz chestnuts is priceless.

At number one is my number one for the year: Trombone Shorty’s For True. Of all the New Orleans musicians I think have the stuff to make a mark nationally, from Kermit Ruffins to Big Freedia, I think Trombone Shorty is first in line. This album put him on the late night circuit. His “For True” provides the background music for one of Ashton Kutcher’s Canon camera commercials. It is clear that the time is ripe for “supafunkrock.”

So, a great year in 2011. Looking forward to an even better year in 2012. And while you are waiting, get out there an enjoy some great New Orleans music.

Hearing New Orleans Wednesday, Mar 16 2011 

The work Uptown commenced right on time. There was still some scraping to do, but most students were engaged in priming and caulking. And throughout the day, all were engaged in talking.

Front porch classroom, March 2011.

People often focus on the sights of New Orleans, but the theme today seemed to be the sounds of New Orleans. While work proceeded at a pretty good clip, students talked to each other, became more acquainted with homeowners and extended family, neighbors, and sometimes people walking down the street. And this is where the education comes in.

In a tiny classroom in New Hampshire, I can talk until I’m blue in the face and show a thousand PowerPoint slides, but the experience of learning about a city from a sidewalk is irreplaceable.  Whether is is hearing about someone’s Katrina experiences, discussing gang violence, or learning about the best local place for po-boys, it helps expand awareness and knowledge about other people. And it many ways, it can be viewed as an extension of New Orleans’ oral tradition. And the information can be put to good use, whether it’s gathering information for a term project or buying lunch.

L to R: Kerry Lewis, Dr. Michael White, Greg Stafford, and Detroit Brooks, March 2011.

In the afternoon, we returned to St. Raymond’s where Miss Kathey treated us to a traditional dinner of red beans and rice. We then braved rush hour traffic to cross the river and clean-up. All in preparation to hear some classic New Orleans sounds.

For the fourth year in a row, my class has had the very real pleasure of meeting with clarinetist and educator Dr. Michael While to learn about the origins of New Orleans traditional music. We met in a small studio in the music building where we were feted with the sounds of Michael, Kerry Lewis on bass, Detroit Brooks on banjo, and Greg Stafford on trumpet and vocals. And, we were joined by the fifth UNH group that is working over in the Lower Ninth Ward, making 45 of us in attendance.

The group went through the musical ingredients of New Orleans music, from African rhythms and marches to church music and the blues. And Michael focuses on the pioneers, including Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. I believe their take on “Basin Street Blues,” with Greg Stafford on vocals, brought the evening to a nice healthy crescendo. And in spite of the late hour, the event ended with a spirited question and answer period.

Rebirth at the Maple Leaf, March 2011.

While most of the attendees headed downtown or back to Marrero, I went with Kyle and Maddie to the Maple Leaf on Oak Street, not that far from where we are working during the day. Not satisfied with an evening of exquisite music, we went to hear Rebirth Brass Band. The place was packed to the rafters, but Rebirth’s steeped in funk take on New Orleans musical traditions made it all worthwhile. Alas, after a long day of work, sun, and excitement, we left after the first set. But the brass sounds and percussive rhythms linger in our brains. Or maybe that is the ringing in my ears.

And appropriately enough, Madonna Manor was abuzz with jokes, and story-telling, and guitar strumming that went well into the morning. It seems as though these oral traditions are both infectious and hard to break.

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