Monday, December 03, 2007

NOLA Report from Frenchmen Street

Frenchmen Street is the street, where all the music lovers meet, down in New Orleans. Sure I heard some very entertaining traditional jazz in Preservation Hall and Maison Bourbon, but getting to them was a little unpleasant. The word “grody” could have been coined for Bourbon Street, as you now find it. Frenchmen Street however, is just outside the Quarter, but it has a great music scene, patronized by a good mix of people, including local residents. Of the Frenchmen Street clubs I was in, about two-thirds of the crowd was a good twenty years younger than me, and the other third was at least twenty years older.

Ellis Marsalis has a regular Friday night spot at Snug Harbor, and it is well worth seeing the patriarch of one of jazz’s famous families when in New Orleans. Son Jason accompanied on drums and Roman Skakun, a young vibist active on the NOLA scene, joined the trio for a good portion of the set. Another upcoming NOLA musician, Jesse McBride, sat in on piano for a tune. It appears sitting-in is far more prevalent in New Orleans—must be that Southern Hospitality. As for the elder Marsalis, he is still an eloquent pianist, who packs the house, so buy tickets ahead of time.

Across the street is The Spotted Cat, which is a bar more than a club, with a talking rather than listening crowd, but it books bands that I was strongly encouraged to check out. The New Orleans Jazz Vipers also have a regular Friday gig there, playing New Orleans flavored swing in a very Basie bag. Like Basie, they keep things loose and tailor their presentation to the ruckus environment. (It is not uncommon to see band members carry on conversations with patrons during a tune.) When they try a vocal number, it is largely lost in the din, but everything is done in fun, so no worries. In the NOLA spirit, Washboard Chazz sat-in for a few. Another regular I would like to hear more of is the New Orleans Hot Club, a Django-inspired combo including violin and clarinet that is honestly better than many such imitators.

“Do you want to hear some funky ass shit?” was Kirk Joesph’s question opening his second set Saturday at Blue Nile. Frankly, yes. Joseph is known for his sousaphone work in the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and is leading a killer band called the Backyard Groove. They do groove, with some very jazz oriented trumpet and reed playing, and some very funky guitar and keyboards, with it all given a real heavy bottom thanks to the leader’s sousaphone (think tuba). They played a smoking “What’s Goin On,” far funkier than the version the DDBB recorded on their Marvin Gaye tribute album last year. They were probably the best show I heard in NOLA and Nile staff was actually very nice.

New Orleans is all about music, and as great as the traditional stuff might be, there is a lot more there too check out. New Orleans produced many great modern jazz musicians, like Ellis Marsalis, more avant-garde artists like Kidd Jordan, as well as a new generation of funky brass hybrid groups like Joseph, the DDBB, and the Hot 8 Brass Band. Yes, there is quality music to hear in the Quarter, but do not (I’m begging here) confine your visit to Bourbon Street, as some of my colleagues did to my everlasting embarrassment.