Every year, once a year for the past four years, a collection of musicians gather in town for Jazz Fest and consolidate at the Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street for one night to entertain music loving festival goers with an extended jam session. They do not practice, they do not release albums, but for one night a year they are “Worship My Organ”.
It is an interesting combination of a saxophone (Eric Walton aka Skerik), two Hammond B3 organs (Marco Benevento and Robert Walter), drums (Adam Deitch) and DJ Logic that creates a unique jazzy, funky house type sound. It is nothing like the brass band based jazz I have grown so familiar with in New Orleans, it is closer to the original jazz jams in that you are never quite sure where the next beat is going to take you. Its the sort of sharp sound that breaks through the chains of conformity and dumps you in a tumultuous and unpredictable river, forcing you to relax and let your body roll with the ebb and flow.
Fortunately I have recently befriended the sound technician at the Blue Nile and I was able to bypass the queue stretching down the street and avoid the $40 cover charge to get in. After a long day on my feet, dancing in the sun at Jazz Fest, I was able to seek refuge in the sound booth from the bouncing crowed.
I had never seen such a line to a sold out gig on Frenchmen St, nor had I ever heard of a band that doesn’t practice and performs together only once a year, and the sound that they produced was also entirely new to me. But that, my friends, is just another reason why I love this incredible city: it is full of surprises.
Last night I went to Tipatina’s with a friend to see the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. I was entirely ignorant of the awesomeness I was about to encounter. But then that’s just another one of the many things I love about this city – you dont necessarily need to be looking for it to find something incredible. Unfortunately there is no photo to accompany this text because I was having too much fun dancing to think of whipping out my phone.
As my feet shuffled and my hips shook, I could feel my body comparing the sound to that of the familiar Rebirth Brass Band (Maple Leaf on a Tuesday night) and Soul Rebels (Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler on a Thursday night), and I couldn’t help but wonder why these guys didn’t have a weekly gig somewhere. But I was much mistaken to do so! They dont have a regular gig in New Orleans because they are so busy touring the world all the time, I had just been fortunate to catch them whilst on a brief stop home for Jazz Fest.
The Dirty Dozen aren’t similar to Rebirth or Soul Rebels, Rebirth and Soul Rebels are similar to the Dirty Dozen! They were the first. They were the ones who revamped the traditional second lining brass bands playing the same old tunes, and developed the funkier side of the soulful sound of this city that I love. They started out and have carried on as experimentalists, creating sounds in the same way, as one band member has described, that you make a good gumbo – throwing in a variety of ingredients and flavours to make one mouth watering soup. And in much the same way that the scent of a good gumbo will have you drooling, the sounds of these guys will have sweat beads gathering on your brow from the exuberant dancing.
They originally formed out of a church in Treme in the 1970s. It’s not just the combination of seven individual artists (ranging in ages up to 70!) that keeps their sound so fresh, but the fact they will draw inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. They aren’t just jazz or funk; they have blended Carribean spice and Latino suave, they have honoured the classics and meshed the modern.
If you can’t make it here to visit this unique and vibrant city, try and catch the Dirty Dozen Brass Band when they pass through a bar near you, and then you can saturate yourself with their sound and for a little while be transported to the sweaty, rhythmical streets of New Orleans.
Last weekend marked the 31st annual French Quarter Festival, with a record-breaking 733,000 attendees. It’s a free four-day festival (Thursday-Sunday) based, you guessed it, in the French Quarter, celebrating the joys of local food and music.
The Quarter is filled with the scent of spices from the many crawfish boils and BBQs at regular intervals, the streets are sticky with beer spilled during excited dance steps, and the energy of the atmosphere is almost as loud as the brass bands booming on each corner.
There are about 21 regulated and scheduled stages dotted around the Quarter, but there are also the usual street players drawing large crowds. We were fortunate enough to stumble across an impromptu performance as a member of the audience decided to sing along to a familiar tune. The amount and level of talent in this city really blows you away. A part of you cant help but wonder why these people aren’t on a stage or busy touring the country, but the rest of you gets carried away dancing and singing along.
Unfortunately I was only able to attend the Saturday festivities, but I did not fall short on highlights. The Dixie Cups performed on one of the main stages, and I got to dance along to some memorable tunes with my boss which was unforgettable. You may remember them for “Going to the Chapel and we’re going to get married, going to the Chapel of Love…” They also did a brilliant rendition of “My Guy”:
“There’s not a man today who could take me away from my guy”
“What about Denzel Washington?”
“There might be man today who could take me away from my guy”
I also really enjoyed getting to hear Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes on recommendation of a friend. I shall be looking out for them in future local gigs. And of course my beloved Glen David Andrews who, as always, had a large crowd in the palm of his hand.
When I lived here in 2010 my friends and I regularly went to DBA on Frenchmen Street on a Monday night to see Glen David Andrews. He is without a doubt a born preformer. However, he did have a substance abuse problem, which eventually got him into some hot water.
Fortunately, when he hit bottom, he came climbing right back up, fitter and stronger. He is now clean and abstains from drugs and alcohol. He is a Christian and regularly tweets his gratitude to God for each new day and opportunity.
When I saw him in 2010 I didn’t think he could be any better, I already thought he was brilliant. But seeing him now – wow! World, watch out. He is incredible. He is talented, energetic, charismatic and definitely going places. And I find myself once more frequenting DBA on a Monday night to get my fix of his gravelly voice. He is my top recommendation to anyone visiting the city; you are always gauranteed a good time, and even the most resistant feet will start tapping and hips start shaking.
It seems the world is beginning to catch up with him, as Glen has recently signed a deal with Louisiana Red Hot Records. Earlier this month a two-night long party was held at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse to celebrate the release of his new album: Redemption.
As he made his customary entrance through the crowd he clasped my arm passing me. I almost fainted with excitement, convincing myself that he must have recognised me. The audience was initially quite mellow, as it tends to be in the very civilised setting that Irvin Mayfield’s offers in juxtaposition to its Bourbon Street location. Until, that is, he invited his fans to get out of their seats and dance in the small space by the stage. My friends and I rushed to obey, and gleefully danced the night away.
Last weekend was Jazz Fest (relevant post to follow) and I was adamant in putting together my personal schedule of the many artists who were playing that I would not ‘waste’ my time seeing Glen perform when I had the opportunity to do so every week. That being said, come Saturday afternoon (the third day of the festival) I crumbled and rushed to his stage to catch the last few songs of his set and end my day in the greatest of spirits. I am a fan for life, and I am so excited about what the future holds for this incredibly talented artist.
Each year Tulane University hosts the annual Crawfest. Its $10 on the door for all you can eat crawfish and pretty much unlimited sodas, and two stages for an afternoon lazing, gobling and listening to local music.
This year I dragged three new NOLA residents to Tulane, praying that the weatherman was mistaken and the ominous grey clouds would keep their legs crossed.
I gave them all a tutorial on how to eat these boiled and spiced delicacies – pull off the head and suck out the contents, pull off the tail and push the meat through the body with your thumb, and enjoy a little bit of heaven.
Super Sunday, this year rescheduled due to rain and held on March 30th, is the day on which the Mardi Gras Indians mask and march.
Not to be confused with American Indians, the Mardi Gras Indians are generally composed of residents of African American communities in New Orleans, although their suits do have a tendency to look like brightly coloured American Indian costumes and their tribes are generally named after American Indians in honour of those who provided sanctuary to escaped slaves.
Little is known or confirmed about the origins of the Mardi Gras Indians, although it is believed they date back to the late 1600s.
Historically the marching of the Mardi Gras Indians was a violent affair, with the Big Chief of each tribe challenging the others for respect. Gun and knife fights ensued as tribes met each other. Now the ritualistic warfare is mimicked in dance and song, and Super Sunday is a friendly celebration, with tribes masking and parading in their finary for an admiring public.
Each suit takes thousands of hours (apparently a whole year) and dollars to create. I hope the detail that goes into the beading is evident in this photo.