New Orleans street bands: alive jazz carrying on the tradition

(photo: Ron Jobe)

RECENTLY I was talking to Nick Polites, venerable (i.e. worthy of reverence!) clarinetist with The Louisiana Shakers, about the future of traditional jazz in Australia. Nick was pointing to the recent and growing American phenomenon (post Katrina) of young street bands in New Orleans which play the old tunes in the old styles.

An entertaining article in the New Yorker magazine of 8 May 2007 focusses on one of these bands – THE LOOSE MARBLES – but it could apply to many others currently playing in the streets and bars of New Orleans.   Click here to read the article.

There are some common elements between most of these bands. By and large they are not New Orleans born – (the modern equivalent of running away to sea or to join the circus) – they are white, often classically trained musicians, their repertoires show evidence of delving into the archives for “new” old material, and dancers are welcomed as a legitimate response to the music. And perhaps most importantly their music/message/influence is spread worldwide almost in real time through the medium of YouTube etc. Will we see a flow on to young musicians in Australia?

Here THE LOOSE MARBLES play in 2007 “When I Get Low I Get High” with their vocalist at that time, the amazing Meschiya Lake.

The MARBLES don’t seem to be together any more, but the founder/trumpeter Ben Polcer has another group (Ben Polcer and the Grinders), Meschiya Lake is also still very much part of the scene, as well as expanding her horizons overseas, and Barnabus Jones the tuba player now plays trombone with TUBA SKINNY.

Here BEN POLCER AND THE GRINDERS play “Lily of the Valley” at one of the popular jazz venues in Frenchmen Street, the Spotted Cat Music Club. And I think that’s Meschiya Lake singing in the audience. (She’s the one with the tatts).

Here’s Meschiya with her own band, MESCHIYA LAKE AND THE LITTLE BIG HORNS : “Everybody Loves My Baby”

Another version of “Everybody Loves My Baby”, this time by SMOKING TIME JAZZ CLUB

One more offering from the SMOKING TIME JAZZ CLUB. Sarah Peterson on vocals belts out “Percolatin’ Blues”, with dancers.

Marla and John Dixon originally formed THE SHOTGUN JAZZ BAND loosely to pay tribute to the music of husband and wife duo of Billie and DeDe Pierce. Here we see Marla Dixon on trumpet, John Dixon on banjo, Ben Polcer on 2nd trumpet and Robin Rapuzzi on washboard. The film cuts out before the end but I couldn’t resist it.

Here’s nother SHOTGUN JAZZ BAND video with Marla Dixon doing a lovely job on “Love Song of the Nile”.

Here’s another Ben Polcer band, ORLEANS 6, playing at the Spotted Cat on Halloween night 2012.

It wouldn’t be a list of New Orleans street bands without TUBA SKINNY which now has a worldwide following. I’ve limited myself to 3 videos – there are hundreds on YouTube and I’ll leave you to make your own choices.

The first is TUBA SKINNY with Erika Lewis singing “Egyptian Ella”. Erika has recently added drumming to her skills!

Then we have TUBA SKINNY at the Spotted Cat with Shaye Cohn on piano.

And finally, Erika Lewis (vocals) and Shaye Cohn on piano perform “Some of these days”.at Preservation Hall with Norbert Susemihl on trumpet, Gregory Agid on clarinet, posibly Jason Marsalis on drums. I’mnot sure who’s on bass.

I’ve gone on far too long, but it’s obsessive once you start. Rather like genealogy – you find one person or group which leads on to another, and another, and another. Haven’t even included such bands as THE CANNIBALS, ZUGDIDI, STALEBREAD SCOTTIE AND THE KITCHEN MAN, YES MA’AM, or NEW ORLEANS MOONSHINERS. I’ll leave those to you to explore!

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