Two/Thirds of Little by Listen (Todd and I) headed down to the land of jazz, gumbo, and downright debauchery for New Years this year, and one of the biggest highlights was the sounds heard around the city, both inside and out. If you have been to New Orleans, you know that every corner you turned, is filled with a new tune, from jazz to funk to even folk.
Wes’s Big Easy Jazz Journey
My biggest music highlight was night one when we were able to get into the legendary Preservation Hall, the quintessential jazz establishment in New Orleans. The building is a rugged, battered building that was built in the 1700’s as a Spanish Saloon, but was eventually turned into the Preservation Hall in the 60’s, where now for 50 years, the Preservation Jazz Hall Band and many others have performed traditional-style New Orleans Jazz. The venue is an old dusty room that fits about 80 people on pillows, workbenches, and standing room, and the experience is only for the true music fan, as it requires about at least an hour wait to get in and there is no food or drinks served. Todd had planned to join my wife and I but instead he spent three hours wondering aimlessly up and down Bourbon looking for us calling people and yelling at his phone for three hours over the constant screech that is Bourbon Street. So instead, just my wife and I caught the New Orleans Jazz Masters led by the renowned Leroy Jones, an absolutely outstanding trumpeter and band leader. Us as a blog don’t often talk about jazz, and to be honest I’ve only seen a handful of jazz shows, but this stands as the best jazz show I’ve ever seen. The band put on three 45 minute sets of jazz standards highlighted by “Tiger Rag”, “Royal Garden Blues” and closing with NOLA Jazz Legend Louis Armstrong’s “Dina”. We caught the first set in standing room in the back but were able to get up close and personal in the second row for the second set. I can’t speak more highly of this experience, and consider a stop at Preservation Hall a must do if you are stopping through in New Orleans.
Bourbon Street is fine and all, but the real heart of New Orleans music lies on Frenchmen Street, the Big Easy’s premier jazz stop. The street is home to such signature clubs as The Spotted Cat, The Blue Nile, and Snug Harbor. On the night of New Years, my wife and I split from the group (as did our friend Nate, who snuck his way into the the New Years Dr. John show) and made our way over to Frenchmen St. catching several jazz and brass bands at clubs like Vaso, The Maison, and Checkpoint Charlie. The highlight was a young brass band at the Vaso with likely all high school or college aged kids just killing the crowd with some high energy funk music. That’s when we knew to rally the troops and bring the whole grab back the next night. I’ll let Todd recap the next night spent on Frenchman, which proved to be a night to remember.
Todd’s Nawlans Jazz Experience:
Like Wes said, I unfortunately did not have the privilege of making it to the Preservation Hall that evening. I did spend quite a bit of time looking for it, but that was about it. I did however make it to two of New Orleans’ other most acclaimed jazz clubs a few nights later, The Blue Nile and The Spotted Cat. Both were among the highlights of my trip to the wonderful city.
My first encounter with The Blue Nile was a quick one. The group was all eagerly looking for an eatery to fill their belly’s for the evening, when from deep inside a dimly blue-lit bar, I heard the voice of a seductive angel … Mykia Jovan. She looked like Corrine Bailey Rae, but her voice was deeper and her words were smoother. Unfortunately, hungry hands began pulling on my elbow, and the search for food continued, leaving me hungry only for more Mykia. After 30 solid minutes of walking and debating, we ended up right back by The Blue Nile. The group found a spot to eat, but my friend Riley and I resisted, and succumbed only to the siren calls of Mykia. We stepped in, ordered a beer, and sat back to enjoy a pianist/vocalist duo the likes of which I haven’t seen in my lifetime. The pianist was a free-form jazz pianist (which we were about to see more of later that evening), that was able to interplay beautifully with Mykia vocals. Interlacing classic jazz lines (Miles Davis) with modern piano licks (Radiohead) perfectly with free-form jazz, form-fitted to Mykia’s voice and style. It was bliss. The highlight of their performance was “Toxic” by Britney Spears. Taking a brilliant pop song, and slowing it down to a free-form jazz song that contains the sexiest lyrics known to man is a sure-fire way to win me over.
By this point, the rest of the crew rejoined Riley and I after enjoying what I am sure was a delicious meal. Just in time too. For it was Sunday night, which means only one thing at the Blue Nile … MAINLINE. An extremely energetic, talented, and young group of guys that jazzed their hearts out to an overly warming crowd. They were fast, they were fun, and they covered “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. I was overwhelmed. Due to a dance competition that my friend Brandon and I undeniably dominated two nights earlier, I had a swollen/sprained ankle that could not stand another round of fast-paced jazz dancing. So after their set break, it was time to move on to something a bit slower, but no less entertaining.
Across the street we found The Spotted Cat, which is notoriously known as one of the greatest jazz clubs in NO. The Cat lived up to the hype in ways I thought would not be possible. Pat Casey was leading his gang through a jazz rendition that equated into some of the smoothest, fastest, most beautiful melodies I’ve ever heard preformed before me. Believe me when I tell you that the particular drummer that was playing for them that Sunday night, could possibly go unmatched across the globe. I’ve never seen a drummer that was as quick, yet refined as he. He made Keith Moon look sluggish, and made it look so effortless too. Please also let me remind you, that this was in a cover-free jazz bar.
This trip, and especially that night, made me question why I do not live in New Orleans. Maybe I’ll just let Wes explain my future plans he and I recently “packed” with he and Brandon McCallow …
We did have one true musical epiphany on this trip though that surpassed every other experience. Upon seeing several street musicians especially a jovial old washboard player that strutted his way up and down Bourbon St., Todd and I realized that we have always been meant to start our own jug band. Todd would man the lead jug, our friend Brandon would man the banjo, and I would rock the washboard. And similar to Ron Swanson’s jazz musician/chick magnet alter-ego Duke Silver, I would have my own washboard alter ego as Washboard Chaz. We will move down to New Orleans and ride this thing to the top. This is a surefire success…or so we believe.