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!

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We’ve All Landed Sunday, Mar 11 2012 

Before I begin, a public service warning: these daily posts during spring break are often done on the run, usually in a McDonald’s. I generally don’t have the time to review them as might usually, and the chances that I’ll go back and catch things is limited. In advance, let me apologize for typos (especially this year since I am using a netbook) and missing words. It goes with the territory, but it I can, I ‘d rather snatch the time to post as often as time allows.

Shrimp boats on Bayou Bienvenue, March 2012.

Now: yesterday was a roller coaster of a day. I started at a motel overlooking Bayou Bienvenue in Chalmette, Louisiana. I had a leisurely breakfast at the cafe of the casino attached to the motel. In this case, a couple of dozen video poker machines constitutes a casino. After a quick visit to the docks and shrimp boats behind the motel, I headed into the City.

It was kind of a gray day as I crossed the Ninth Ward and headed down Elysian Fields to the Marigny neighborhood.  I strolled down sleepy Frenchmen Street (it would be an entirely different story 12 hours later). It was one of those aimless mornings that I look forward to, especially in front of hectic week with work and events planned. I walked a lot and found nice places to pause and people watch.

Line at Cafe du Monde, March 2012.

I strolled through the French Market. I passed the University of Kentucky basketball fans lined up a half block to get a seat at Cafe du Monde (I guess I’ve never had a cup of coffee that good). I visited Jackson Square and the Cathedral and headed north to Treme. I crossed Bourbon Street without glancing either way and ended up in the newly refurbished Armstrong Park.

For a music lover, it was like a trip home. Before Katrina it was reputed to be to dangerous to visit and after Katrina, it was closed for years. So I jumped at the

Louis Armstrong statue, Armstrong Park, March 2012.

chance to walk across Congo Square where Africn slaves were permitted, every Sunday, to relive their dance and musical traditions. A statue to Mardi Gras Indian chief of chiefs Allison “Tootie” Montana, the Mahalia Jackson Center for the performing arts, statues of Louis Armstrong, pioneering cornetist Charles “Buddy” Bolden, and azaleas and magnolia trees to boot.

I returned to Jackson Square where I was to meet some friends later. There I stumbled on the other end of the New Orleans musical timeline. I got to see the Roots of Music band, the brainchild of Rebirth Brass Band’s snare drummer, Derek Tabb. After Katrina, when the future of New Orleans’ musical traditions were in question,

Derek Tabb conducting the Roots of Music Marching Band, Jackson Square, 2012.

he conceived of a program to pull inner city middle schoolers off of the mean streets and into the band room. There they would have a few precious minutes away from the drug deals and drive by shootings, incentive to keep up with their studies (they receive tutoring before band lessons), and they would later populate a long list of competitive high school bands in New Orleans. It has been such a success that they are having to turn hundreds of kids away each year.

But this 150 were as good (or better) than many high school bands. They performed in front of an enthusiastic crowd to raise money for a trip to the Tournament of Roses Parade, to which they have been invited. Tabb directed them through several spirited numbers (including a very challenging Rebirth tune) before they passed the bucket. And with a few more days like this, and they should be on their way to Pasadena.

Mena's Palace, March 2012.

I met my former student and New Orleans trip group leader Kyle, and his roommates. They have paused in New Orleans before heading over to Texas to visit friends for spring break. I took them over to one of my mainstays, Mena’s Palace at Chartres and Iberville, for their Saturday special of fried chicken with red beans and rice. Eight bucks — add fifty cents for white meet. We walked back towards my car so I could head up to Slidell to meet up with arriving students.

The Peace Mission Center, in Slidell, LA, was about a forty minute drive from downtown, including a trip across Lake Pontchartrain. Two groups arrived in the afternoon, unpacked and showered off over 24 hours on the road. The third group did not arrive until after night fall, long after we had headed into the French Quarter. Groups fanned out across the Quarter, some to test new dinner fare, while other took in the Italian Marching Club parade to honor St. Joseph’s Day. Well nominally.

610 Stompers, St. Joseph's Parade, March 2012.

The lure of beads has long worn off for me, but it’s fun to see students at their first New Orleans parade . However, this year’s parade fielded a surprise: the 610 Stompers. They performed at the Macy’s Parade at Thanksgiving and the normally-gratingly, talkative parade hosts were speechless. Basically, they are a bunch of New Orleans schlubs who decided to learn some dance moves so that they could get into a Saints game to perform. They did this during the Saints’ Super Bowl season and the rest, as they say, is history. There motto is “Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Moves.” And they did their routines, danced with the crowd and my students. It was all in good, weird fun.

Brass band and crowds on Frenchmen Street, March 2012.

I ended the evening listening to some music on Frenchmen Street. And the place was humming like I’ve never seen it. I stayed for a couple of sets and listened at several doorways, but the day and the crowds finally took their toll and I headed back across the lake.

 

Rebirth Brass Band at the Howlin’ Wolf, March 2008. Sunday, Mar 4 2012 

Rebirth Brass Band, March 2008.

Mardi Gras Miscellany Wednesday, Feb 15 2012 

OK, I’ll be arriving in New Orleans three weeks, one day and 21 hours from now, not that anyone is counting. In the meantime, there is a lot going on in the Crescent City. A few days after the Grammy Awards, a few days before Mardi Gras; well, things are popping and in a blaze of randomness, I’ll try to capture it, in keeping with the season, without adding any unnecessary structure.

  • Rebirth Brass Band returns from the Grammy Awards — After nearly thirty years of producing great music, Rebirth scored their first Grammy for best regional roots album. Kermit Ruffins, one of the band’s founders, the Baby Boyz Brass Band, and other friends and musicians, greeted the band as they arrived at the Louis Armstrong International Airport. Here’s the video.

    Rebirth Brass Band receiving the Grammy Award.

  • King Cake Crown awarded — for the last few weeks, Judy Walker, food editor for the Times-Picayune has led a team of king cake tasters throughout the New Orleans region to find the finest Carnival-season confection. The judges visited six bakeries that were picked from over 20,000 reader votes. nola.com provided videos from visits to the six bakeries, including: Gambino’s; Haydel’s; Manny Randazzo’s; Nonna Randazzo’s; Randazzo’s Camellia City; and Sucre. All bakeries put forward three King Cakes except for Sucre, which makes only one. The six top cakes were pitted against one another and the top three were separated by but 1.5 points. The winner, announced today was Manny Randazzo’s pecan praline king cake. A celebration ensued at the bakery.
  • New Galactic album — Galactic, the great New Orleans funk/rock band has a new album, Carnivale Electricos, coming out on Mardi Gras Day. Since the whole concept is a reworking of classic Mardi Gras tunes, it seems cruel to make us wait until the season is over. I have heard snippets, but not the whole album. Thankfully, Conan O’Brien and Team Coco are providing a full album stream for the album. For a listen, go here.
  • New Orleans City Councilwoman Dorothy Mae Taylor, 1992

    An Integrated Mardi Gras — And to all of this frivolity, let’s add a bit of history. Twenty years ago, City Councilor Dorothy Mae Taylor had the audacity to force old-time Mardi Krewes to abandon the racism and sexism that they represented. And while jail time was dropped as part of the ordinance, the new regulations  forced old-time krewes Comus and Momus off the streets. Rex and Proteus agreed to the new regulations and continue to parade. According to columnist James Gill, Taylor should receive credit for making Mardi Gras krewes more color-blind and the season as a whole, an all embracing celebration. It is good not to forget such achievements.

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.

Rebirth of New Hampshire Saturday, Apr 9 2011 

The Rebirth Brass Band has a new cd coming out on Tuesday called the “Rebirth of New Orleans.” You can listen to the album, minus one tune with explicit lyrics, on SoundCloud. I find it a very nice mix that represents Rebirth’s range quite well. With a driving rhythm section guiding the sound throughout, they go through standards (“Exactly Like You”), New Orleans Saints fight songs (“Do It Again”), and raunchy anthems that would have found a place in Storyville (“I Like it Like That”) with a funkified enthusiasm all their own. If you like Rebirth, you’ll love it.

And better than SoundCloud or even the best of recordings, just last night Seacoast New Hampshire got to hear them live. As part of a short, east coast tour, they came to the Music Hall in Portsmouth. Dover-based Gnarlemagne opened the festivities with its horn-driven funk and blues sound. It was tight, well-received, and got the winter-weary crowd warmed up for the main act. I was interested to see how it was all going to come together: Rebirth had ridden up from Brooklyn and arrived just before the show; the crowd was a typical Music Hall crowd of mostly middle-aged white folk; and we were all sitting in numbered seats. And in my memory, I can’t recall watching a New Orleans brass band while seated. I shouldn’t have worried.

After very limited set-up and sound checks Rebirth let it be known right away that they were in the house. They opened gently, for them, with a marvelous version of  “Exactly Like You” from their new album. They then launched into a nice mix of tunes, old and new, including a great cover of Ray Charles’ “I’ve Got a Woman.” They then closed with a flourish of greatest hits, including “Just the Two of Us,” “Cassanova,” and “I Feel Like Funkin’ It Up.” They encored with brief, yet spirited version of “The Saints.”

I’m increasingly aware that recordings, copies, and facsimiles of things are seldom as good as the originals, something we need to remember in this “let’s digitize everything” world. A photo really can’t capture the glory that is a flower and a cd can’t bottle up the spirit and enthusiasm that I saw at the Music Hall last night. Soon into the set, many in the audience came to the front of the stage and filled the aisles to dance and sing along with the band. And the energy of the musicians rose accordingly. A recording can’t capture that energy, the non-verbal cues, the joy, and the interaction between band and audience. Live music in front of an unfettered crowd; you can’t record it and you can’t beat it.

Afterwards I had the chance to meet and talk with members of Rebirth. And even after a long day and nearly two-hour set, they were a gracious and engaged bunch. I especially wanted to meet drummer Derrick Tabb and thank him for the work his done with his organization, Roots of Music, which he established to get middle school-age, at-risk New Orleans kids into an organized music program. And every moment they are doing homework, practicing, or marching is a moment they are not on the street. And it was certainly a pleasure to meet Keith and Phil Frazier, who along with Kermit Ruffins, founded Rebirth back in 1983.

So, recordings are not as good as a concert. And the Music Hall, however spirited, is not Frenchmen Street or the Maple Leaf. But life is short and we have to get out there and enjoy what we can get. So buy Rebirth’s new cd and listen, but more than anything else, get out there and enjoy some live local music, where ever you are.

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.