Friday, April 29
The Happy Talk Band
Friday, April 29 - 1:50 p.m.
New Orleans has a little bit of everything for music fans. Jazz, Blues, Funk, Classical, Rock 'N' Roll and Rap, we're considered one of the most important music cities in the country, and our musicians play with pride because of that. Jazz Fest has come a long way since its beginning, primarily Jazz and Blues featured, highlighted and part of the initial idea of the foundation. Today it's reached out to Rock and Rap.
Jazz Fest once again is having The Happy Talk Band perform, a group that may be considered blues, rock, country, a combination of the three, or roots rock, whatever that is, maybe it is a combination of the three. Hmmm. Anyway, having existed for ten plus years Luke Allen, the main songwriter and lead singer, has been accompanied by many players. The current line up consists of an eclectic group of musical artists that all have been in interesting and quality bands, such as Alex McMurray (Tin Men), Bailey Smith, Steve Calandra, and Mike Andrepont (all of the somewhat deceased Morning 40 Federation), Casey McAllister (formerly of the New Orleans Bingo! Show), and Helen Gillet (Wazozo) playing cello. In both 2007 and 2008 The Happy Talk Band won the Big Easy award for best roots rock band. This combined with their constantly developing fan base, has the ear of local rock lovers. Seeing them at the fest this year may very well turn you into a fan of Happy Talk as well. This band is accessible not to the point of being a boring pop band, but to the point that they are fun and have some well-written riffs that are refined and not too polished. This is why the group has appealed to the tastes of NOLA's rock fans. They are dirty enough for the expectations of the town's professional drinkers, and retain enough appeal that even grandpa can hang with.
The songs that Allen writes cover a range of themes, like the conflictions that come with living in NOLA, broken hearts, the sadness that ensues when friends fall from grace. The love for a friend and considering that person's losses, are also sentiments that are picked up on. There is even a bit of spite, more heart break, suicide, and being reckless. I even heard some lyrics regarding a bike trip to the bar. If there is any darkness that the assumed irony of the band name may lead to, Luke Allen doesn't necessarily see it that way. He's a realist that chooses to laugh at how funny things can be. I spoke with Luke about these themes and romance ended up being first, "There's enough of a back log with break ups to write songs. Basically musicians make lousy partners and so break ups are inevitable. I'm lucky that my wife broke me, meaning my spirit's kinda broken but I'm a better man (laughs)." As far as the developing line up of musicians in the band, things happened by chance. With a little help from some fellow musicians attending one of Allen's performances the beginning of a full band started, "Well, I've been writing songs for a number of years. I'd played shows here and there, sometimes with another guitarist, or a drummer backing me up. But it started when I played a show at Dragon's Den and I borrowed a guitar from Bailey (of Morning 40). After the storm a lot of the Morning 40 guys kinda spread out all over, so it was easy to pick those guys up. Around that time is when we decided to start a band."
Luke hasn't always been a songwriter. Back home in Salinas, California before moving to NOLA in 93', he was a creative writing student. Allen has also written a novella and even a musical. I was curious to know how much literature has an influence on his song writing, "Sure it has, and my background is writing prose and short fiction. Song writing is easier in a way, because it's less of a discipline and it's also more instant satisfaction. I do like the idea of taking a story and condensing it down into its simplest parts. There might be references to certain writers, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., stuff like that. I've wanted to get back into writing prose but just haven't done it. I've talked about it for years but just haven't done it." Since the band name is somewhat ironic and considering certain lyrics seem a bit dark, I needed his take on a drama-free world, "Would the world be a better place without drama? I think the world would be horrible without drama. It would be boring and sterile. What the world doesn't need is melodrama. The thing that I think some people don't understand with my music is that, if you talk to me on the street, I like to be funny and joke around about the world. Some of the darkness with the material is tongue and cheek. People kind of miss that. They may think I'm held in and serious about everything, and some of it is serious. But I hope that there is humor in all of it, when I'm writing it there is, and when I'm performing it there is. You know, bitter sweet. Some of it is just fucking funny."
Considering the band has one a few awards and more often than not, I hear them being spoken about around town, I figured they might be feeling the pressure of popularity, or an expectation the audiences may have. But humility remains because the group consists of adults who have to make ends meet, "I pay my mortgage by bartending. So I'm flattered when people come to my shows and buy my CD's and when we get little trophies here and there. But ultimately I am a bartender, that's how I pay my bills, that's how I take my wife out to dinner. I'd might get an ego if I were paying bills by selling records. You know, we draw ok at our shows. But the fans that we've had since when we started ten years ago all have kids, adult responsibilities. They buy my records and listen to them while they're changing diapers, or driving to Thanksgiving. But the bands that have a big turnout are the kids in their early twenties. It's their scene, their friends, and we get some of those kids too but shit, we're the grandpa band now man."
The Happy Talk Band is a fun group with good songs that should be heard. I know there is plenty of amazing music to see during the fest, but squeeze The Happy Talk Band into your schedule. Everyone can relate to some silly rock songs with a touch of sadness, and there's no reason to feel you can't, Allen puts it simply, "For me the songs are happy, because they're cathartic. I'm generally a pretty happy person. It gives me an opportunity to work out my little black spots." Make sure and get some Happy Talk in your life for Jazz Fest, you just may become a new fan. -Brain Serpas
Friday, April 29 - 3:20 p.m.
To know the trajectory that led Jeff Beck to not one—but two—inductions into the Rock and Hall of Fame is to know the story of rock and roll itself. After spending several years cutting his teeth as a session guitarist in his home country of England during the early-1960s, Beck was invited to join The Yardbirds (replacing then-lead guitarist Eric Clapton) in 1965.
As one of the members of The Yardbirds, Beck—along with fellow band mate Jimmy Page—effectively shaped the sound of rock music in the 1960s and beyond. After the group split up in late-1968, its former members would go on to establish several of rock and roll's most seminal bands: Led Zeppelin, Cream, and The Jeff Beck Group. When the Jeff Beck Group disbanded in 1972, Beck went on to spend time collaborating with several other bands, eventually embarking upon a solo in career that has now spanned over three decades. His pyrotechnic guitar work has been featured on the albums of everyone from Mick Jagger to Morrisey.
Today, Beck continues to write and record music with musicians from all over the world. And though it's hard to fathom the number of ways Beck has influenced rock music, what is certain is that you should be there to see him at the Fair Grounds on Friday, April 29. Bring a friend too—you'll be in for a truly rocking time! --Dominique Minor
Mumford & Sons
Friday, April 29 - 3:25 p.m.
Marcus Mumford, Country Winston, Ben Lovett, and Ted Dwane came together in December 2007 with the common goal of making meaningful music, while enjoying life. Inspired by the styles of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and Kings of Leon, the four men from West London created a brand of music that combines a bit of country, bluegrass, folk, and passionate signing. Although they simply began by playing shows in offbeat venues because of their sheer love for music, Mumford & Sons have become popular with a mainstream crowd because of their masterful sound.
Shortly after their formation, the group began to tour across the United Kingdom in 2008, selling out at several stops. They then hopped across the pond for their first American tour, which was followed by a trilogy of 10" EPs all on Chess Club Records. Their eponymous EP debuted the same month as their Luminaire show. Love Your Ground arrived in December while The Cave And The Open Sea came in May.
As Mumford & Sons continued to releases singles, their success and popularity increased. When they reached the moment to record their debut album Sign No More, Markus Dravs, who is the force behind Arcade Fire's Neon Bible, stepped in to help. With such songs as the title track, "Sigh No More" and "Thistle Weeds," the album includes both passionately romantic and dark tracks with deep beats. "Winter Winds" provides a cheerier contrast along with the merry "Roll Away Your Stone."
Just as they put enthusiasm into their songs on Sigh No More, Mumford & Sons is known to play with energy, passion, and pride at each of their live performances. Their meaningful lyrics and infectious energy enthrals the audience, creating a memorable act. -Suzanne Pfefferle
Robert Plant & The Band of Joy
Friday April 29th - 5:25 p.m.
In all the years that Jazz Fest has existed, how amazing is it that Robert Plant and his Band Of Joy will be performing in our city this year? I'll tell you, it's fucking great. We're talking about a vocalist that has so much range, not only is he responsible for the foundation of Heavy Metal and by default, hair metal, but in his elder years he has shared the stage with Jazz/ Folk vocalist Alison Krauss. Plant and John Bonham were the founding members of The Band Of Joy back in 1966. This was the band that formed before they met Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, which of course turned into Led Zeppelin. Robert Plant and John Bonham formed The Band Of Joy in reaction to American R & B. In the various times that they were actively playing, the group has had several musicians' come and go. Today the lineup consists of: Robert Plant lead vocals, Patty Griffin vocals and guitar, Buddy Miller also vocals and guitar, Darrell Scott lap steel and banjo, Byron House bass, and Marco Giovino on drums. All of these musicians are well versed in folk and blues music, making them the perfect line up for The Band Of Joy in 2011.
Plant's Band of Joy was created to celebrate American music. In interviews Plant has referenced Tennessee, Texas, and also Louisiana as being influential to him and his band. We all know blues is the foundation of Rock 'N' Roll, and that it has paved the way for so many great bands of Plant's generation. In a sense The Band Of Joy is paying homage to the genre, and in turn to American music. The band has come and gone a few different times over the past 45 years, and today they have reformed to do another tour. Luckily for Jazz Fest enthusiasts, they are heading our way for the first Friday of the festival. Watching their set, you can expect to hear some songs that the mighty Led Zeppelin performed. Some of the songs that Band Of Joy plays are also renditions of Zeppelin classics. Listening to the music you hear the twang and slide of blues music in each track. The guitar work is a true representation of blues. And the vocal work is just awesome. Robert Plant remains one of my favorite vocalists because of his dedication to progression. The man continues to this day to learn as much as he can about singing. He isn't a rock icon of days past that one would expect to ride on the tails of his already established success, which most definitely happens when complacency sets in and fame and fortune become common place. He's a true artist who after forty-five years of singing is still interested in hearing and learning different styles. If you like Zeppelin, the blues that inspired them, and great music, then make sure and end your Friday, April 29th Jazz Fest night with Robert Plant's Band Of Joy. -Brian Serpas
The Golden Striker Trio featuring Ron Carter, Mulgrew Miller, and Russell Malone
Friday, April 29 - 5:35 p.m.
WWOZ Jazz Tent
When Ron Carter steps onto the stage at this year's JazzFest, aficionados of straight-ahead jazz will be seeing one of the best upright bass players in the business. They'll be seeing a serious musician whose career dates back to the late '50s when he began making his name playing alongside such immortals as Eric Dolphy, Miles Davis, Chico Hamilton, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Horace Silver and just about anybody who was (or still is) anybody. Of course, anyone who is that much in demand is going to eventually ask himself, "Hey, why can't I be a headliner too?" which is exactly what Carter began doing by the 1970s. One of the mainstays of the CTI record label in the '70s, Carter put out a string of albums as both a solo artist and as a side man for other big names in modern jazz. All told, Carter has played on more than 2,000 albums. If this is not a Guinness World Record, it has to be pretty close to being one. And today, at 73 years old, he shows no signs of slowing down. He is still recording, still touring and most importantly never stagnating. Though his place in the jazz pantheon is secure, he will still venture into other styles and excel at all of them. On stage with him at Jazzfest will be pianist Mulgrew Miller who formerly backed Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and guitarist Russell Malone, who starred with Jimmy Smith, Harry Connick Jr. and Diana Krall. - Dean M. Shapiro
Friday, April 29 - 5:50 p.m.
What fascinates me about music is that it speaks to every person on earth, and if it doesn't, they don't deserve ears. We can all find a groove that we like, something that makes us dance, sway, or at the least bob our heads. I've been listening to a lot of OTRA lately, a truly authentic Latin Jazz band here in New Orleans, in preparation for this year's Jazz Fest. I'm no dancer, but I dance when I listen to this band. The festive feel of the music, the fun and sexy sounds that you get with polite and dominate horns, non-stop percussive rhythm, and a slithery bass that seems to fall out of time, and in the same breath keeps the songs intact. The music is so rhythmic and fun you can't help but dance. OTRA has spoken to me musically several times over the years, but I've never taken the time to really understand them until now. I decided to contact the founder and the bassist of the group, Sam Price. Sam is from Slidell, LA, and his fascination with Afro-Cuban music started when he moved to NOLA and started listening to WWOZ.
After a stint in the Army Sam came home to start his career as a musician. When he heard Ray Moore's show on WWOZ, he was hooked for life. Having influences such as The Fort Apache Band and other artists like Poncho Sanchez inspired Sam enough to seek out the right musicians for the project. Players have come and gone since OTRA's inception, and the lineup this year will be; Sam Price on bass, Brent Rose on saxophone, Leon Brown playing trumpet, Michael Skinkus percussion, Alexi Marti on congas, Gabriel Velasco plays the timbales, and Eduardo Tozzatto playing piano. The group is no stranger to Jazz Fest, having eight appearances under their sombreros, ahem. These veteran Afro-Cuban musicians have what it takes to provide the perfect Jazz Fest experience.
Speaking with Sam, we talked about the beginning of this new style of bass playing "When I was a kid, at some point I discovered WWOZ and started listening to different music. I moved down to New Orleans and met other musicians, and before I knew it I got a call to do a Brazilian gig. I'm like, 'what is Brazilian music I don't even know what that is'. Ray Moore, a purveyor of Brazilian music here in NOLA called me and told me not to worry about it, just to come down, that they'd show me how to play the music. So that was my first experience with it. And then through doing that I was exposed to Cuban music, and man it just hit me. I felt the rhythm and that was it. Basically it was a slow process of getting involved with World music, and then Latin music."
Playing his first gigs in New Orleans proved to be quite a memorable time. When Sam got a call from one of the best in the business he couldn't turn the offer down,"When Freddy Omar started his band, I was the first bass player. I learned a lot from that experience too. Gradually what I started figuring out was that within the umbrella of Latin music, there are all these sub-genres. I started to identify what they were and then I started to formulate an idea of what I wanted to do with the music."
These experiences helped Sam decide what direction to put OTRA in. The history of the music is an important part of New Orleans, and when asked what Latin music is for Sam, a bit of history comes through "That's why I call my band Afro-Cuban Jazz because it identifies with the connection between slaves that were coming from Africa and eventually ended up in the Islands, and the Cuban connection. So really it's a musical lineage that goes all the way back to the rhythms of Africa." The central rhythms of Latin music is all connected, it holds everybody together. That same rhythm is also heard in New Orleans music. The origins go all the way back to Cuba. Our city is so rich with music culture that it makes our sounds undeniable. Listening to OTRA, what Price is saying makes sense. Latin music is all about the rhythm "In Cuban music, rather than having a drum set where all of the pieces are incorporated into one unit, they're all played individually. The conga drums could almost be like the bass drum and the snare. The tembales are also like the snare, with so many cymbals and accents. The bongo, everything is separated in separate units. The bass and piano are also considered important rhythm instruments."
You would assume that a Latin Jazz band would play mostly covers of older bands, such as Arsenlo Rodriguez, or Poncho Sanchez. But Price likes to compose as well as play, "I'd say it's about 60/ 40 originals to covers. Some of the songs I've written started out with bass lines. A lot of it ends up being rhythm ideas. When you listen to this music enough, and play it enough, you start to learn the language." And OTRA definitely has the language down. The bass connects all the instruments in a web of exotic and festive music that will make anyone dance. As the interview continued I've considered the importance of Latin Jazz with Price. When I asked him his feelings about the recognition the genre receives here in NOLA, "Well, this is kind of a hot subject for me. I feel like the relevance and the importance of Cuban music here in New Orleans is really under appreciated. Cuba's role in the development of New Orleans music has consistently been over looked. In the turn of the century before the revolution, there were ships going back and forth to Cuba twice a day. There were military bands playing that created this cross-pollination. I heard a field recording of music that was played in Cuba during that time, and it didn't sound anything like Cuban music as we hear it today, it sounded like ragtime. It was like a reverse affect. New Orleans musicians were picking up on Cuban and African music, and that's where we get these rhythms from."
OTRA will be performing some of the best music our city has to offer at this year's Jazz and Heritage festival. They're a New Orleans music staple, and with their ninth appearance at Jazz Fest in the ten years the band has existed, it's The Heritage Foundation's way of honoring OTRA. In a city with so much zest and culture it is important to have a good mix of styles, and OTRA is the perfect fit. Their already existing fans will also be honoring the group, and to any one checking them out for the first time I'm convinced of your instant love for this band. Make sure you see OTRA during the fun this year. And remember to be prepared to dance, OTRA's rhythms can't be denied. If they can turn this no rhythm white boy into a sex machine, they can do the same for you.-Brian Serpas
Saturday, April 30
Shannon McNally & Hot Sauce
Saturday, April 30 - 11:20 a.m.
Interview with Shannon McNally
By Craig Magraff
WYAT: Hey Shannon, how have you been since the last time we talked to you. It was Voodoo Fest, right?
Shannon McNally: I've been real good. We've been down to New Orleans a bunch, down at Sweet Nanny's and putting on a regular thing at Chickie Wah Wah's. We've been playing a few other places around town including "Tips" (Tipitina's), it's been pretty great.
WYAT: And how long have you been doing your thing at Chickie Wah Wah's?
SM: Since December once a month. We'll do two shows on April 2, and two shows around April 30.
WYAT: And how has that been going?
SM: It's been going great. We've had a lot of people come through and it's given us the opportunity to get on some larger bills with other acts. Its good being around more people than just my own crowd, it's been great.
WYAT: I understand that you've been working on a new album right?
SM: We've been working on it but it's all done now and out. It's actually available at Louisiana Music Factory.
WYAT: Okay, tell me a little about it.
SM: It's called "Western Ballad", and it was produced by Mark Bingham. The title track of the album, "Western Ballad" was written by Allen Ginsburg. Mark and I wrote the whole record except for the one song by Ginsburg it's all New Orleans people. It's real earthy; they're calling it "Cosmic American Music", which is a term that's being used. It's nice; it's real fresh and contemporary sounding. Some folks are calling it more country than other stuff I've done but I don't really agree with that.
WYAT: You feel like it's closer to you roots in music?
SM: Well yes and no. I don't know why they're calling it that. It's broader than that. It has a lot going on, so you can call it a lot of things.
WYAT: Okay, well tell me a little about it. Do you think your musical sensibilities have grown or changed since we last talked?
SM: Yeah. You know, I'm always trying to grow and open up to new possibilities; be open to fresh sounds. I think this record is that. Mark and I wrote all of the songs together, so that automatically made things a little bit different from other things I've done.
WYAT: How so?
SM: Well Mark is a great song writer. And nobody recognizes yet how good of a song writer he actually is. But he makes so much music in his life by owning his own studio and being a great producer. He's really good with working with the right songs and channeling the best out of them. The songs are I think more open and bigger in a way.
WYAT: Deeper huh?
WYAT: So you have you Jazz Fest show coming up right? How do you about it.
SM: Feeling real good. Ready to do a lot of songs from the new record, and I'm going to have a great band.
WYAT: Is it the Hot Sauce band or a new line up?
SM: Yeah it's just Shannon McNally this time.
WYAT: Okay, you have anything different planned for the performance this time?
SM: Yeah it's going to be a bigger band, and we'll be doing more songs from the new record. I'm excited about it. I think it'll sound a little bit classier, show everybody that I'm a professional player.
WYAT: And I'm sure this isn't your first time around Jazz Fest.
SM: Nah, I've played Jazz Fest before in 2007.
WYAT: From that hiatus do you see anything changing for your upcoming performance?
SM: I'm excited because 2007 was the first time I had done it and I got an idea; I got a real good taste for it. I played really big fests before, it's always exciting. I haven't done it in a while, but I do know how to do it.
SM: There's a little more planning that goes into it this time. It's not just another show, it's something special. I have a bigger band than I normally have; I'm excited to really use it a platform for showing where I'm at now.
WYAT: Are you guys able to stick around the fest or do you guys have to jet out right after?
SM: No we're going to stick around. Actually that Monday were going to do an in-store at the Louisiana Music Factory.
WYAT: Are you looking forward to running into anybody or catching a show?
SM: I'm actually not familiar with the line-up. But I'm kinda looking forward to seeing Bon Jovi, I've never seen them perform. I am from the Jersey Shore, I was born up there, so I'm kinda looking forward to seeing him. I don't really know much more about the line-up, I've been kind of self-involved, thinking about what I'm doing; trying to get it right.
WYAT: There's nothing wrong with that.
SM: Yeah, I always look forward to seeing all the good stuff the local musicians do. I'm looking forward to seeing Dr. John. I'm actually looking forward to seeing local musicians more than I am seeing any of the big acts.
WYAT: Cool. What about your local plans? You got any touring coming up soon?
SM: I'm trying to come back and be as active as possible. I've been doing a bunch of stuff for the state of Mississippi and touring up there. I was recently nominated for a Grammy.
SM: Thanks. The nomination is for "Onward and Upward", the acoustic gospel album featuring Luther Dickinson solo and The Sons of Mudboy. I got a new record, new possibilities, and a lot of new stuff going on.
WYAT: Okay, let's talk music and the album for a second. What songs are you excited to break into the audience.
SM: I'm thinking the whole record. I like one called, "When I'm Called", a lot. Then I play another called "Thunderhead", and "True Possession", and there's one called… really I like the whole record. It's something like a, it has a little bit of a blues tune and the songs are so overt and new to me. I'd think it's more Beatles than country. I'm not really sure why they call it country.
WYAT: Haha, I see.
SM: Haha. Yeah, there's some good ballads on there too. There's one called, "In My Own Secondline", it's really powerful.
WYAT: We'll have to see what we can do about that Country thing. If you had to label it, what would you call it?
SM: Well I've heard it called "Cosmic American Music" and I kinda like that.
WYAT: Sounds good. I like that. Well that pretty much wraps up the interview. But is there anything else you like to add?
SM: I'd just like to give a shout out to Mark Bingham, and Piety Street Studios who made the record with me and did a beautiful job.
WYAT: And for folks who check you out and Jazz Fest and just have to have more?
SM: They can check me out at shannonmcnally.com, I'll be touring and doing a lot of playing in the summer. I'll be in and out of New Orleans for the rest of the year and I have a lot of record projects coming up next year. And… I don't know, take over the world. There's a lot of stuff coming up. I hope to do some writing with Anders Osborne soon. We've been talking about it for the longest.
Saturday, April 30 - 12:25 p.m.
WWOZ Jazz Tent
Many of this year's artists performing at Jazz Fest have immense talent, but I feel Kidd Jordan stands alone in the crowd. Based in Baton Rouge/ New Orleans, Mr. Kidd is a renowned jazz educator with a long tenure at Southern University, where he studied music and tightened his craft. While in college, Jordan heard Charlie Parker and that was it, Jazz music became his life. Kidd Jordan has played with many bands over the years and being a Saxophonist, he has sat in with some of the city's best, Rebirth Brass Band most notably. He definitely plays some traditional Jazz composition and standards, but the Kidd also likes to freak out from time to time. Visitors coming to the Fest this year will enjoy Kidd Jordan's style, Jazz standards from his inspirations; Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, etc., or more contemporary playing. One thing I love about his playing is his ability to completely freak out on the instrument. It's when he steps away from the traditional composition of a song, and goes into a complete improvisation of sounds. When he gets in this zone, he plays with such intensity it's amazing to see that the free form style he presents doesn't even make him break a sweat. The sounds that come out of his sax sound like a scream for help, complete noise that shatters any predictable composition on this planet of music known as New Orleans. The playing is reminiscent of the beginning of free form Jazz music that Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman are responsible for. And rest assured, the band follows suit. When Kidd Jordan is blasting notes out of his sax, the backing band will also go into an improve set, following each other in and out of this sonic world. Make it a point to see Kidd Jordan, it's New Orleans playing at its best. -Brian Serpas
The Tenor Sax Woodshed
Saturday, April 30 - 1:40 p.m.
WWOZ Jazz Tent
Interview with Christian Winther
"And I think it's been my luck too, being able to work with so many different people being a sideman in New Orleans," says Danish-born, tenor sax-touting NOLA transplant, Christian Winther. "And it also helps me appreciate playing my own music when I get to do it."
Maybe luck does have a little something to do with it. But Winther's dedicated musical journey began with his father's old jazz and blues record collection, further developed during regular visits to New Orleans as a teenager and his time studying at a music conservatory in Copenhagen, and ultimately prepared him for his own successful career as a jazzman in the genre's founding city.
Innumerable gigs—local and touring—and four albums recorded with SteepleChase Records have now led him to another significant moment in his New Orleans-based career—his first Jazz Fest performance to feature all his own original music, as part of the Fest's Tenor Sax Woodshed special.
The Woodshed series—"woodshed" is slang for practicing a musical instrument, especially done in private until a new tune or technique is mastered—began in 2007, and featured bassists Roland Guerin and James Singleton. In this series, some of the most proficient local players for a particular instrument—which changes every year—come together onstage at Jazz Fest to spotlight the instrument, its unique sound and its technical capabilities, and even pay tribute to the historical masters of the instrument who paved the way before them.
The past few Jazz Fests have included theTuba Woodshed (2008) featuring Matt Perrine and Kirk Joseph, the Clarinet Woodshed (2009) featuring Evan Christopher and Gregory Agid, and last year, the Guitar Woodshed (2010) featuring Steve Masakowski, Todd Duke, and Jake Eckert. This year's focus on the tenor sax will feature Winther to start the set, followed by a set from fellow tenor man Charlie Gabriel, and then the two will perform together to round out the event.
Winther's portion of the set will be comprised of tracks from his most recently recorded album, From the Sound Up (2011), his fourth with label SteepleChase Records following Blue Function (2004), The Only Plan (2006) and Soul House (2008). Living and working in New Orleans but recording in New York City has expanded the catalog of fine jazz musicians with whom Winther has been able to work over the years.
"Most [of the recordings] with Steeplechase have been recorded in New York," he says. "So to go up there, with some of my favorite musicians being in New York—it's inspirational."
Thusly, he felt that the line-up on this latest record—a mix of N.O. and NYC-based musicians—was a special band picked for what he calls "his favorite album so far": Peter Martin on piano (former N.O. resident), Roman Skakun on vibraphone (current N.O. resident), Rodney Green on drums (NY), and Reuben Rogers on bass (NY).
"You try to grow from each album and you refine your sound and some of the ideas you work on as far as what you want the band to sound like," Winther says. "I've got all these great players on my albums putting all their stuff into my music and seeing how that blossoms and turns out, so that's a great privilege."
Winther's Jazz Fest performance of this album's music will actually be a special premiere with a New Orleans twist, as the album itself won't be released until August, and its original artist line-up will be filled in by other popular New Orleans jazzmen: Larry Sieberth on piano, Roland Guerin on bass, Shannon Powell on drums, and again, Roman Skakun on the vibraphone.
"Just being here [in New Orleans] for all these years and being able to play with so many different bands and musicians and getting an understanding of the tradition, and just being able to experience the music on some many levels—it's been great," he says. "And it really helps you to figure out your own music and your own sound and the way you wanna go with it."
This New Orleans influence is apparent in the way Winther approaches the originals he composes and records, but that influence began long before he was a full-time sideman in the Big Easy.
Winther's musical aspirations actually began at a very young age, as a preteen Winther was mesmerized by his father's massive record collection, which first introduced Winther's ears to the likes of John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Stan Getz, and many other significant artists in the traditions of jazz, blues and New Orleans music. He first picked up the clarinet at age 11, and soon after developed a love and preference for the tenor saxophone.
By ages 13 and 14, Winther was not only leaving Copenhagen, where he grew up, to accompany his father on visits to New Orleans, he was also sitting in with bands and musicians all over the city—including the beloved trumpeter, Kermit Ruffins.
After years studying at a music conservatory in Copenhagen, Winther made the next leap in his musical education; he moved to New Orleans in 1997, to study music at the University of New Orleans under such local legends as Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste and Steve Masakowski, to name a few.
It was from then on that Winther remained in New Orleans—save for bouts of touring and visits back home—to explore his career as a jazz musician, especially as a tenor saxophonist. After first picking up a clarinet, and then ultimately choosing the tenor over any other sax as his main instrument, it seems Winther must have felt something strongly about the tenor itself.
"All my favorite saxophone players are tenor players: Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Lester Young," he says. "And I've always liked the sound of the tenor; it's always been my sound. It's the closest to the human voice."
Share and explore Winther's and Charlie Gabriel's affinity for the tenor saxophone on Saturday, April 30th, at 1:40pm in the Jazz Tent for this year's installment of the Fest's Woodshed series.
Saturday, April 30 - 4:50 p.m.
Bon Jovi. These two words, three syllables, and seven letters are enough to make women from anywhere between 18 and 48 croon. Maybe even your Grandma too. For nearly thirty years, this Rock & Roll quartet has been known as the ambassadors of Rock, performing for millions of fans and filling out a resume that towers over most. As if you didn't know, the group consists of lead singer Jon Bon Jovi, guitarist Richie Sambora, keyboardist David Bryan, and drummer Tico Torres. Bassist Hugh Macdonald has also unofficially joined the fray.
Among their laundry list of musical accomplishments, one that steadily remains impressive is the bands rock steady line up, changing only once in the entire history of the band. Jon Bon Jovi began setting the roots for the band as early as 1983, with the group releasing their eponymous day view album "Bon Jovi" on January 21, 1984. The rest as they say is rock and roll history.
The group has released eleven studio albums, three compilation albums, one live album, and has sold 130 million records worldwide. They have performed more than 2,600 concerts in over 50 countries for more than 34 million fans, and were inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2006.
More recently the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees have released their ridiculously anticipated greatest hits album, wrapping up yet another epic touring season with "The Circle Tour" (named No. 1 worldwide touring act of 2010) while beginning "Bon Jovi Live", their fourteenth tour early this year. Thanks to Jazz Fest, Bon Jovi will grace the New Orleans Fairgrounds as a part of their live tour on April 30. -Craig Magraff
Saturday, April 30 - 5:25 p.m.
Congo Square Stage
2004 American Idol Winner Fantasia Barrino has done anything but slow down since her win and meteoric rise to stardom. The teen mother faced hurdles and controversy after being raped by a classmate and giving birth to her first child at seventeen. Not letting this stop her or hold her back, Fantasia had auditioned for American Idol, and by nineteen years old, had completely turned her life around.
In 2004 she released her single "I believe" which later debuted at number one on the Billboard Top 100, signed to J Records, Barrino released her first CD, "Free Yourself", which has since gone double platinum. Avoiding the sophomore slump, her second eponymous CD "Fantasia" went certified gold.
Instead of fading away into the reality TV netherworld, Fantasia has shown that her talent, despite her humble beginnings, can continue to propel her forward. After the success of her reality television show, Barrino has released her third studio album in 2010 as well as embarking on her promotional CD tour, her first solo touring venture.
Grammy awards, broadway acting roles, and now film roles abound, Fantasia continues to bring her big voice to the forefront, sticking close to her gospel roots while exploring the multifaceted face of her own music. Fantasia is set to perform Saturday, April 30. Be sure to check her out.-Craig Magraff
Saturday, April 30 - 5:30 p.m.
Jason Mraz simply makes music that makes you feel good. With a style that encompasses elements of reggae, pop, rock, folk, jazz, bossa nova and hip hop, Mraz's uplifting sounds have been in your ear even if you don't know it. His singles have been the soundtrack for commercials selling all types of stuff from hotel rooms to cell phones.
Perhaps his all American upbringing contributed to the wholesome, warm feeling this guy seems to emanate through his pores. Mraz was born and raised in Mechanicsville, Virgina, and despite his parents being divorcing early in his childhood; he describes his upbringing as happy and "very American". He studied musical theatre from adolescence into young adulthood before turning away from the thespian life, dropping out of The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City and picking up a guitar.
From there 2001, Mraz released a live acoustic album, "Live at Java Joe's" which featured Mraz's free-lancing vocal style and songs he later rereleased, including "1000 Things", "You and I Both", and "Halfway Home." His performances at the world famous Java Joe's, led to his first studio album, "Waiting for My Rocket to Come", which proved to be a moderate success and is probably the Jason Mraz you know and most likely love. Since then Mraz has put two more albums and is currently traveling all over the world putting together his third album and touring. To get your fix of this spunky, upbeat, style of feel good music, check out Jason Mraz April 30. - Craig Magraff
Saturday, April 30 - 5:35 p.m.
WWOZ Jazz Tent
At 80 years old, jazz pianist/composer Ahmad Jamal is one of the last of the old greats still standing (or sitting). Over a long career that stretches back to the early 1950s, there isn't much this Pittsburgh native hasn't seen or done. He began touring with George Hudson's Orchestra, then joined another touring group known as The Four Strings, which was soon disbanded. Jamal's next move was one that shaped his career for the next sixty years: he went to the trio format. With The Three Strings, he and a guitarist and bass player recorded for the Okeh, Parrot and Epic labels over a six-year period. Then, in 1957, he replaced the guitarist with a drummer and has stayed with the piano-bass-drums configuration ever since. The House Trio, as they were known because of their long-running gig at Chicago's Pershing Hotel, released the live album But Not for Me which stayed on the Ten Best-selling charts for 108 weeks. Jamal's well-known song "Poinciana" was first released on this album. Clint Eastwood used the song, along with another one from the album - "Music Music Music" - in the soundtrack for his 1995 movie The Bridges of Madison County. Today Jamal still works with a trio consisting of himself, bassist James Cammack and New Orleans-born drummer Idris Muhammad (formerly Leo Morris) who grew up in the Neville Brothers' old Uptown 17th Ward 'hood. - Dean M. Shapiro
Sunday, May 1
Fredy Omar con su Banda
Sunday, May 1 - 11:10 a.m
Wherever Fredy Omar performs crowds follow. As "The Pied Piper of New Orleans," a dedicated fan base has followed him from the old Red Room in the late '90s/early 2000s, to the now-shuttered Café Brasil, to the Blue Nile, to the Dragon's Den, to the Balcony Music Club and other, more recent venues around town. His high-energy Latin-style jazz resonates through every bone in the body, magically transforming even the most self-conscious wallflower into a spirited, dancing, life-of-the-party. It's simply impossible to listen to him singing with his band and sit still. After a long, nearly ten-year hiatus, Omar finally released a new CD last year - Bailando - Spanish for "dancing," which is exactly what it is. Consisting of twelve original compositions, the record is a compilation of merengues, salsa, cha-chas, cumbias and other lively Latin American dance numbers. Even Flamenco! A JazzFest mainstay for the past decade, Omar came to New Orleans in the early 1990s from his native Honduras and promptly began shaking up the local music scene with a lively genre that was just starting to take off in popularity. Today's "su Banda" retains longtime guitarist Jose "Pepe" Coloma and keyboardist/reeds player Ralph Gipson, but the rest of the core band is relatively new - Will Buckingham on bass, Alejandro Bueno on timbales and Mike Jacobsen on congas. You can catch up with these guys for their regular gig at Mojitos, 437 Esplanade Avenue (at Frenchmen Street), on Friday nights at 10:30. Viva la musica! - Dean M. Shapiro
Sunday, May 1 - 2 p.m.
WWOZ Jazz Tent
Jazz Fest always has amazing music to be heard and as usual, Astral Project will be gracing the ears of the Festival's attendees with their high level of musicianship. The quartet is made up of quite possibly the city's best Jazz musicians. Each player is not only a well-studied musician but also music educators. Tony Dagradi is the founder and saxophonist of the band. He started it in 1978, and the group has continually won awards for best contemporary Jazz band here in New Orleans since. Mr. Dagradi is not only a professional musician, but also a music teacher. An Associate Professor at Loyola University, he teaches improvisation and has even published a book, Essential Scale Studies For Improvisation. On guitar is Steve Masakowski, a mind blowing player who seamlessly erases the fret board as he covers combinations of notes and phrases that never do less than impress. Mr. Masakowski is Associate Professor at the University of New Orleans where he teaches guitar, improvisation, and composition. He contributes regularly to Guitar Magazine in addition to being a very sought out artist and lecturer.Johnny Vidacovich is on drums. To say that he plays drums is a bit off, because the man is drums. He's been the most sought after drummer in New Orleans since the 70's. Johnny V has been teaching at Loyola and UNO for over twenty years, and he also has an array of instructional videos available. James Singleton is an amazing bassist who has been in many projects over the years. After moving to New Orleans from California, he soon after joined Astral Project to complete the rhythm section. Mr. Singleton teaches bass privately in addition to playing professionally. Over all, Astral Project will be one of the more impressive acts at the Fest. Be sure to see their set. -Brian Serpas
Sunday, May 1 - 5 p.m.
John Mellencamp, formally known as Johnny Cougar and John Cougar Mellencamp, is famous for his organic style of heartland rock. Mellencamp's music and story are a picture perfect example of finding one's self and staying true to it. Originally from Seymour, Indiana, Mellencamp was born with a mild form of spina difida, a birth defect that affects embryonic nervous systems and required a lengthy stay in the hospital. Despite this, Mellencamp grew up strong, starting his first band at fourteen. After becoming an early father at eighteen, he married his girlfriend and by 1974 had dedicated himself to a career in music.
After manager Tony DeFries convinced him that his German last name of Mellencamp was too ethnic for mainstream success, Mellencamp reluctantly adopted the campy stage name of Johnny Cougar. Under the Johnny Cougar tag, Mellencamp's first album, "Chesnutt Street Incident", was a complete failure, selling only 12,000 copies. Over the years Mellencamp slowly distanced himself from the Cougar in his name, with his breakthrough album, "American Fool", with his biggest hit to date, "Jack & Diane" finally giving him the power to force his label to market him complete with his last name. Since then, John Mellencamp has been John Mellencamp, the Cougar hasn't been seen since.
Not slowing down since then, by 2008 Mellencamp was recording his eighteenth album of original material and in 2009 released yet another album titled, "No Better than This" and leading up to Jazz Fest will be just finishing the album's promotional tour. If you like unparalleled musicianship, organic sounds, acoustic music, and a wide range of musical genres from a guy known for playing over twenty four songs in a set, Sunday, May 1, look for John "no Cougar" Mellencamp to rock the stage. - Craig Magraff
Sunday, May 1 - 5:30 p.m.
WWOZ Jazz Tent
Quite possibly the most reviled musician in today's jazz world among so-called "jazz purists," Kenneth Bruce Gorelick (Kenny G) is also among the most successful. With multi-platinum record sales translating into the multi-millions of dollars, Kenny G has literally defined the "smooth jazz" sub-genre, setting the standard by which other smooth jazz artists are measured. Though many so-called serious jazz musicians and straight-ahead jazz fans don't even acknowledge smooth jazz as a legitimate category within the genre, legions of Kenny G fans have made him one of the most successful recording artists of all time. Singlehandedly, he succeeded in taking an obscure, infrequently used instrument - the soprano sax - and elevating it to such prominence that other saxophonists began adding it to their arsenals as well. Since leaving the Jeff Lorber Fusion in the early '80s to go out on his own, Kenny G's success was almost immediate. His second and third albums on the Arista label went platinum. His fourth record, Duotones, in 1986, sold over five million copies in just the U.S. alone, and it yielded "Songbird," a tune considered by many to be the National Anthem of smooth jazz. Two years later, Breathless hit 12 million in sales. That CD included "The Wedding Song," which quickly caught on and became a nuptials standard. And, despite being Jewish, Kenny G also has the top-selling Christmas album of all time; 13 million in sales for 1994's Miracles: The Holiday Album. That same year he won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition for "Forever in Love."Good-naturedly ignoring the criticisms, Kenny G continues to turn out fan favorites and play to a worldwide following. This is his first JazzFest appearance and the reception he is given in the city where jazz began will be very interesting to watch. - Dean M. Shapiro