Glen David Andrews
He might be the greatest pure performer we’ve seen yet. An extrovert on stage, an introvert off, he seems to be built for it, more comfortable swaying a crowd than talking one on one, where his eyes dart around as he nuerotically moves from conversation to conversation, sight to sight. The man plays with immense attitude and swagger which he carries as naturally as a dark cloud does thunder. He likes to let himself burst. He leans into each trombone roar, takes a giant step forward with one foot, straddling the floor and fire hoses the audience with his horn. Soon he dismounts from the stage where he sings and dances amidst the crowd. Then he pops back up in perfect time for his horn part. Andrews can sing with a full gospel-like range, he can get an entire audience singing along within minutes, even on a brand new song. His energy is raw and contagious. Nothing he performs is contrived, half-hearted, or belabored. The man breathes brass. A recovered addict, he plays with the same fever and ferocity of the possessed, seems to peak during his show, chasing his high through performance now, replacing a synthetic rush with chaotic, fiery band stands which he manhandles, although young, like a wiley veteran. He embodies New Orleans, yolked by its temptation, suffering, immense will power and pride. www.glendavidandrews.com
A cajun group equipped with accordion, fiddle and vest wash board among the drums, bass and guitar, they are a sweet young bunch made up of family and friends of French ancestry in LaFayette, LA. Nominated for a Grammy Award in 2010 and winning the Big Easy 2013 Cajun band of the year the young group has quickly made an impression on the music scene locally and nationally. They play the range of tight up beat, irresistably dance-able picnic songs to slow heartfelt love songs and ballads. Their fresh faces, honesty and grit have audiences swinging at one moment and puppy eyed with their cell phones in the air at the next. “Tired of Your Tears”, written by the lovely Kelli Jones-Savoy, is sure to do the latter and, like the band, bears an enigmatic combination of compassion and toughness. www.feufollet.net
Alexis and The Samurai
I first saw Alexis and the Samurai at this year’s Bayou Boogaloo. Even the deaf could have noticed the effect of their sound. Every other show at every other stage during the festival hosted a rowdy moving mob of drunk dancers and half committed party animals. For the first time the audience, hundreds deep, were sitting, captured, in awe of Alexis and Sam and the chunky syncopated cello, the rattling accompanying rythms and the young dancers at their side. The group not only has a large triumphant sound, powerful harmonies and chest shaking rhythms, they have, best of all, something to say. Alexis and Sam are studied songwriters, who share personal stories, poetry, fantasy in their songs and ended with a topical song about the oil spill from a pelicans perspective. Check out their hit ‘Leila and the Orange Moon’. www.alexismarceaux.com
In today’s music era where simple sound fundamentals like volume and audibility seem to be a thing of the past, Pokey La Farge and the South City Three are a refreshing, well balanced group. Able to incorporate complex parts on harmonica, trumpet and clarinet without sacrificing a single decipherable word out of the lead singer, the band, to me, represents the lost art of isolating individuals parts. Remember Billy Holiday? Louis Armstrong? Hank Williams even and Bob Wills -all played with rather large bands with vast instrumentation and yet achieved a balance and clarity, a window for the words and the solos, unobtainable by even two and three piece bands today. “The funk is in the space”, reminds Paul Sanchez explaining how brass bands leave a silent ‘hallelujah’ in their chorus, a space between bars where, if so inclined, an audience member or band mate could interject a hypothetical ‘hallelujah’ between words. Similarly, Pokey’s gang knew how to quiet way down and create space when he was singing, to isolate the vocals and give them room, and likewise the band offered the same consideration to each solo, quieting for the trumpet or harmonica or clarinet part as well. Eventually the South City Three took turns trying to stump each other with their own scales and solos that one member would create and the other took turns emulating. Their pre-war sound, Tin Pan alley echoes, blues, show tunes, singer’s jazz, was complemented by their sharp vests, lace ties, flowery dresses and greased back hair. Pokey spoke with a sharp, classic nasal drawl, old fashioned sensibility and all smiles, old manners and appreciation for the wet crowd enduring the rain of Jazz Fest. www.pokeylafarge.net
One Man Rubber Band
I told myself I would give myself one ‘New Orleans’ night, which meant taking advantage of the late, or non-existent, curfew and staying up until 6 a.m. when the sun comes up and all the rest of the locals stubbornly goto bed. On this night, after a walk along the Mississippi River, Bourbon St and Frenchman St, a long beer at a dueling piano bar watching a witch sing behind a beat up grand piano surrounded by a dozen drunks hovering over singing along in the candle light of the oldest bar in the south – Jean LaFitte’s Blacksmith shop, after squeezing into the famous Spotted Car and also a dominatrix styled bar called the Dungeon, finally near two in the morning, in the quiet back streets of Bourbon, where few feet were stumbling by, I stumbled upon a banjo player who called himself One Man Rubber Band. He was young, dressed in a dirty button up shirt, suspenders and slacks, sitting on a suitcase where he played old bluegrass and folk numbers. All the while he accompanied himself playing harmonica and kazoo through his neck rack, clapping two small cymbals strapped between his knees, knocking a tambourine fastened to the toe of one of his shoes and knocking a kick drum under his other heel. Like a one man circus band he played all the rythms in perfect time and even worked in variable rythms with his feet creating a rag tag, rustic, ramshackle and yet irresistible homemade sound. He tore through old roots numbers and even a few of his own originals, admitting to the small but building crowd, “I’m just waiting for my girlfriend to get off of work so I figured I’d set up shop until she drags me away”. www.purevolume.com/onemanrubberband
Brushy One String
Like One Man Rubber Band, Brushy One String is a surprising act that can create unbelievable dynamics and layers all on his own. The King of the One String hails from the Jamaican countryside. He plays a regular full body acoustic guitar that is missing all its strings except the low E, giving his right hand fingers room to not only pick the bass string but also tap rather complex rythms onto the body of the guitar at the same time. I first heard him on the radio, sure that he had a drummer in the studio playing the bongos or djembe in the background. At Jazz Fest I heard him from afar, I swam towards the sound, teetering around muddy bogs and puddles and when I reached him I looked up and to my surprise, there he was, all by himself, in leather frills and long boots, playing percussion and the melody both with the same hand, singing his songs on top of that crisp, choppy, soulful river of sound. He switches between deliveries singing one verse with blues and folk inflections then the next verse in that emblematic rhythmic Jamaican chatter. His songs, often precluded by a quick story, are simple and honest stories about Jamaica, about break-ups and he seems to be unafraid of removing any filter between his personal tales and what he discloses to audiences. Check out his song ‘Grey in my Blues’. www.facebook.com/brushyonestringmusic
Doreen, The Clarinet Queen, though locally famous, a world-wide tourer, a player alongside many greats and even performer for four presidents, is most readily found playing on the humble streets of the French Quarter. Next to her, her husband plays tuba and drums at the same time -a feat I have never seen before and likely will never find again. With other local players accompanying her, the lineup changes each day. Doreen plays with all the chaos of the modern world and seems to play it out with such strength and ownerships that she grinds it down and soothes it away. She is one of the few street performers who you can sit near endlessly on the bumpy sidewalk edge and never find yourself uncomfortable or wandering. She holds you in her sound. She can sing too. Like a female Louis Armstrong she carries all the gravel and sunshine of the street that she’s made into her daily stage. She is also New Orleans’ number one proponent and advocate for street musicians. Also named Queen of the Street, she has been the leading spokesperson for buskers and street performers in the city and has fought and won numerous cases for busker’s rights at City Hall. www.doreensjazz.com
Dwayne Burns and Keith “Wolf” Anderson
Like Doreen, Dwayne and Keith are accomplished musicians who stick to the roots of the street and like Doreen they can play as good as any of the horns at the bars and venues. While in New Orleans, in the back of my head, I was in constant search for that missing link reaching back to locally grown Louis Armstrong. Of course all modern music partially derives from his revolutionary vocabulary and style but who’s carrying on his spirit I wondered. On our last day in New Orleans we are scouring the French Quarter for interviews and inside Jackson Square we finally find him: Dwayne Burns, the modern embodiment of the great Satchel Mouth. The man sings in that endearing, flooded moan and effortlessly breathes its delicacies and its motoring flares. His trumpet playing is no less emblematic. Next to him is trombone player Keith Anderson who plays his horn with a giant puff in his right cheek, his head cocked to the side, goofy raised eyebrows speaking to the crowd, one eye a little wider than the other, one leg paws the cobble stone then buckles in as he lowers his body, he shoots straight up then leans forward putting his butt in the air, hissing his long trombone playfully at a little girl walking by. Never have I seen a player evoke a wider range of emotions with his performance so effectively. His dancing is so original and his playing is so good that a flood of emotion erupts up your body and you don’t know what else to do with it except laugh.
*this list is by no means a definitive catalogue of the entire vast gorgeous New Orleans music scene.
Special thanks to Sienna Pinderhughes and Sam Smith for hosting us, Paul Sanchez for his encouragement, wisdom and connections, the entire ThreadHeads organization for groceries, Bonnaroo Tickets and making a life style out of generosity and care, Nick “Taco” Stracco for fast internet and Sheldon from the laundromat for so kindly dropping his work and jump starting our van.