Author Archives: Jay Mazza

Our Jazz Fest Picks
for the First Weekend,

When Saturday and Sunday roll around at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, festers have to contend with massive crowds. One strategy I find that is fool-proof is to go where they’re not. So today, I’m not even going to mention the big acts. If you’re reading this, you already know about them. Here are our picks for Saturday, April 27. The full schedule is here.

Veteran New Orleans guitarist and singer Spencer Bohren leads a band of younger musicians appropriately called the Whippersnappers. The group features his son Andre on drums among other luminaries of his generation. They are super entertaining and superb musicians to boot.

Dobet Gnahoré (pictured) is a young singer from the Ivory Coast in Africa. She has a killer band complete with lilting guitar parts and a great rhythm section. The videos I have seen feature some wild dancing while the band vamps. It should be a fun set.

While Gnahoré plays African music with modern instruments, Diassing Kunda is a traditional African drum and kora troupe from Senegal. They have very little internet presence besides a Facebook page. That’s nothing but a good thing in my opinion since you could be among the first to discover them.

Hurray for the Riff Raff hasn’t played Jazz Fest since 2016. That can’t be an oversight on the part of the festival’s organizers since the band, which is a vehicle for the songs of Alynda Segarra, is one of the best young groups to come out of New Orleans in years. More likely it’s because they have been touring constantly in support of their critically acclaimed 2017 album, The Navigator.

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Our Jazz Fest Picks
for Day Two, 4/26

PHOTO: JIM BROCK | Don’t forget to check out the outdoor carousal brought in from Martinique along with the traditional music of Chouval Bwa before the weekend crowds pack the Fairgrounds for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. It’s open for rides every day from noon until 6 PM. Here are our picks for April 26. The full schedule is here.

A relatively new Mardi Gras Indian tribe, Big Chief Bird and the Young Hunters, make their third stage appearance at the Jazz Fest in the opening slot. They are followed by the second appearance of one of my favorite local bands, the horn-heavy sensation, Kumasi Afrobeat Orchestra.

A hardly noted (until now) feature on this year’s schedule are the asterisks that mark performers who played at the first Jazz Fest 50 years ago. Bassist George Porter, Jr. is being interviewed at 12:30 PM. The man plays a rubbery bass, but he has an elephant’s mind. He remembers everything going back to his days with the Meters. It should be a fascinating talk and precedes his set with the Foundation of Funk.

For Rolling Stones fans still stung by their cancellation, consider checking out Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. Denson (pictured) is the Stones’ touring saxophonist and I bet he will play at least one of their songs to satiate the desire for some classic rock.

There are a lot of great options in the last time slot. It’s been five years since Santana played the Fairgrounds and his spiritual persona and soaring guitar work are a perfect fit for the Jazz Fest vibe. However, Jose James’ celebration of Bill Withers could be the sleeper find of the first Friday. Why else would it be in the last time slot?

Tomorrow: Our picks for Saturday, April 27 and Sunday, April 28.

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Bonerama celebrates
the release of Bonerama Plays Zeppelin at Tipitina’s, 4/19

The trombone-driven rock band Bonerama has never been afraid to tackle cover songs despite having a deep catalog of originals. For several years they have been adding more of the songs of Led Zeppelin to their live repertoire (“Moby Dick” was featured on the first album) and eventually realized they had enough for a full album. On April 26, their new album of all Zep, Bonerama Plays Zeppelin, hits stores. On Friday night, they celebrate the release of the album at Tipitina’s. The album can be preordered here.

From the first notes of this record, which will also be available on vinyl, you know you’re in for something special. The band tackles ten songs, including most of the classics with the exception of “Stairway to Heaven,” which at least as far as this writer is concerned is nothing but a good thing.

Some of the songs are done straight up with searing vocals that will chill, and that’s saying something considering the singer who first brought these tunes to our ears. Others, the beginning of “Heartbreaker” is a case in point, are rearranged with a jazzy touch. But don’t let that scare you away because when the throaty vocals kick in, the band is right back in classic rock territory.

There are a couple of special guests on the album. Ivan Neville adds organ and clavinet on “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” which has a great trombone arrangement on the chorus, and “The Crunge.” But the biggest revelation might come right at the outset when Mark Mullins’ 18-year-old son Michael wails on “Good Times Bad Times.”

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Our Jazz Fest Picks
for Day One, 4/25

PHOTO: BRAD BARKET | The good folks who run the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival have had a tough month with both the Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac being forced to cancel because of health issues afflicting their singers. But everything’s finally settled and it’s time to fest. TVD will be bringing you picks for every day. Here’s what looks great on what I am calling “Stones Bonus Day,” Thursday, April 25. The full schedule is here.

I always recommend Mardi Gras Indians to start your day and the Spirit of the Fi Yi Yi with Big Chief Victor Harris and the Mandingo Warriors are on the bill. But percussionist Michael Skinkus and his Cuban band Moyuba will be welcoming trumpeter Michael Ray as a special guest.

Ray has a long resume including performing with Sun Ra and Kool and the Gang. He also lived and played up a storm in New Orleans back in the 1990s. It will be great to see him back on stage at the Jazz Fest. Check out his wicked solo in the above video.

I first saw singer Amy Helm (pictured) when her late father, the Band’s drummer, Levon Helm, owned a short-lived club on Decatur Street in the French Quarter. She has a great voice and will definitely bring out some of the classic songs from her father’s repertoire.

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Our French Quarter Fest picks for the Weekend, 4/13–4/14

You think you have conflicts at the Jazz Fest with a mere thirteen stages? Now try studying the French Quarter Festival with its twenty-two stages set to roll on Saturday and Sunday. The weekend has a full slate of acts for every musical taste. Here are our Saturday picks. The full schedule is here.

Get started bright and early in the picturesque heart of the French Quarter when clarinetist Tim Laughlin kicks off the Jackson Square stage. A protégé of master clarinet player Pete Fountain, Laughlin plays some of the best traditional jazz around town and around the world.

The middle of Bourbon Street might seem like a strange spot to catch one of the best guitarists the city of New Orleans has ever produced. But Carl LeBlanc (pictured) has been holding down a spot on the tourist street during French Quarter Fest for years. He is as versatile a player as you’re ever going to hear. He counts the late great banjo player and guitarist Danny Barker as one of his mentors. And believe it or not, it will probably be less crowded than at the big stages on the riverfront.

The Jack Daniels stage is one of the best additions to the stage lineup at FQF and they have great music each and every day. One band not to miss is Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers. Led by saxophonist and vocalist Aurora Nealand and featuring ace players all around, they play a sort of New Orleans-centric rockabilly. Their sets are highly entertaining and usually have some underlying theme with spoken word segments and theatrics.

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Our French Quarter Fest picks for Friday, 4/12

PHOTO: DEREK BRIDGES | Friday at the French Quarter Festival finds the annual free festival, which started in 1984 as an attempt to get locals back into the historic district, opening up a bunch more stages before the weekend. Much of the musical action moves to the downtown end of the French Quarter on the grounds of the New Orleans Jazz Museum at the old U.S. Mint. Here are our picks for Friday. The full schedule is here.

Choices abound before noon. Jackson Square features the great New Orleans singer John Boutte. The Tropical Isle Hand Grenade stage hosts a new Mardi Gras Indian tribe on the scene, the Nation of Gumbolia, and singer/songwriter Alex McMurray (pictured) is on the Jack Daniels stage.

At 2:15 PM, a special treat for brass band fans is in order when the New Orleans Nightcrawlers reconvene. The band features some of the best horn players in the city. Most of the musicians are so in demand with their main gigs that performances by the Nightcrawlers are relatively rare. Expect a tribute to the dearly departed sax man Eric Traub, who was a founding member of the band.

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Our French Quarter Fest picks for Thursday, 4/11

PHOTO: BRADEN PIPER | The Vinyl District is once again happy to be a media sponsor of the French Quarter Festival, which has come to be known as the biggest free festival in the south. Opening day has a limited schedule with only six of the over twenty stages that will be open on Saturday and Sunday presenting music. But what a schedule it is. Here are our picks. The full schedule is here.

Galactic is one of the best-known local touring bands and their renown has only increased with the band’s recent purchase of Tipitina’s. Incredibly, they have never played FQF. That drought of funk ends at 3:45 PM when they precede the mighty Rebirth Brass Band on the main Abita Beer stage.

Early in the day, Funk Monkey, a side project of two of the members of Bonerama, kicks off the music on the same stage at 11 AM. Kermit Ruffins (pictured) and the BBQ Swingers follow at 12:35 PM.

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Cuban sensation Cimafunk brings
Terapia to Tipitina’s,
Saturday, 4/6

Cuban music and culture share so much with New Orleans, and over the past several years we have been treated to numerous performances by Cuban artists, many of whom seem as excited to play in the city as local fans are to see them. Saturday night, Cimafunk, a young musician who has captured his country’s powerful musical spirit and soul since the release of his debut album, Terapia, will make his first appearance in New Orleans at Tipitina’s.

The show comes on the heels of an exhilarating set at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin a couple of weeks ago that had critics and music lovers buzzing. Cimafunk will be appearing with our own brass-heavy Soul Rebels.  Keyboardist Jon Cleary and his band featuring drumming legend Herlin Riley will be opening the show.

Cimafunk, who was born Erik Rodriguez, was named the 2018 “Artist of the Year” by Vistar magazine and was anointed a Billboard magazine “Top 10 Latin Artist to Watch” in 2019. He said, “There are so many connections between the musical cultures of Cuba and New Orleans. A night like this has been a dream of mine for a long time. We can’t wait to calentar (heat up) New Orleans!”

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Jazz Fest unveils 50th anniversary “cubes” and announces 2019 news

Tuesday morning, the paddock area of the New Orleans Fairgrounds was abuzz and the annual “press party” —or press conference, for readers unfamiliar with the mores of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival—was more crowded than I have ever seen it. Everyone was eager to find out the specific times and stages for the thousands of acts booked for the festival’s 50th year.

But before producer/director Quint Davis got to the metaphorical goods, the Preservation Hall Brass Band treated attendees to a song sung by octogenarian Charlie Gabriel. The group, which played at the first festival in 1970, was announced in advance. But Irma Thomas was a surprise and she wowed the crowd with a spirited rendition of “Don’t Mess with My Man” backed by the Hall band.

After the requisite speechifying from officials and sponsors, which also included a touching moment where Thomas explained the role of the early festival in reviving the careers of so many of New Orleans’ R&B stars of the 1950s, Thomas sang an a capella version of “Happy Birthday” to the festival itself.

Then Davis told the crowd about the lineups for each day. Of course, who would precede The Rolling Stones on what has been informally dubbed “Stones Thursday” (May 2) was on many minds.

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Delish Da Goddess to play BUKU late night show at the Howlin’ Wolf Friday night, 3/22

Hip-hop stars occasionally come from the most unusual places. Case in point is the rising Louisiana rapper known as Delish Da Goddess. She hails from the tiny town of Violet—population 8,555—downstream from New Orleans in St. Bernard Parish. She is playing a 1 AM show tomorrow night (technically Saturday morning) at the Howlin’ Wolf.

As her star continues to rise, she recently won “Best Rap/Bounce Artist” at the 2018 Big Easy Awards, she is moving into bigger clubs. Her usual haunt is the smallish Poor Boys Bar where she performs frequently and appears as an emcee.

Delish has put out seven EPs and six singles in just four years and has developed compilations with other underground and independent artists. She can also be seen on Diplo’s mini web series “Blow Your Head.”

Delish Da Goddess has cultivated strong local relationships and was called, “the leader of New Orleans’ DIY hip-hop movement” by OffBeat magazine. The show is sure to attract plenty of fans interested in next big thing out of New Orleans. Head by after BUKU.

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Etienne Charles’ Carnival: The Sound of
a People, Vol 1
in stores tomorrow, 3/22

Trinidad looms large on the latest album from trumpeter and composer Etienne Charles. It’s where he was born and when the Julliard-trained jazz musician went home for Carnival he ended up creating a wonderful homage to the musical history and Carnival traditions of the island.

Like other pre-Lenten festivals occurring throughout the African diaspora, the Carnival culture of Trinidad is much more than the steel drums, wild costumes, and frenetic dancing that characterizes the culture in the mainstream media. There are deep historical traditions and Charles mines the fertile terrain on an album that is falls clearly within the jazz genre, but is composed with many of the elements of this timeless culture in mind.

Primary among them are the songs created to invoke the archetypical figures that populate this unique celebration. There is Jab Molassie, the blue, fire-breathing carnival demon, as well as the voluptuous Dame Lorraine and the noble Moko Jumbie.

The tune “Moko Jumbie” sums up his efforts perfectly. Though I know little about the character he is summoning, the song has a sturdy melody and features great guitar work from Alex Wintz and keys from James Frances that expertly channel a truly noble spirit.

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Loup Garou’s Jimmy
Mac releases new single “Sugar in the Rain”

Jimmy Mac, the acclaimed accordionist, vocalist and songwriter who created quite a buzz in the late 1980s and early 1990s with his New York-based, Louisiana-inspired indie rock band Loup Garou, has released a new single. “Sugar in the Rain” features an all-star, mostly New Orleans-based groove band. A full album is expected later this year.

Loup Garou gained national critical and commercial attention by merging classic Cajun traditional sounds and instrumentation with the contemporary rock sounds of the period. They were a seminal outfit that attracted the attention of the major stars and tastemakers of the day.

Jimmy Mac appeared on a single with David Byrne, which was released on the Red, Hot And Blue Cole Porter charity tribute. The band was featured on Paul Simon’s The Rhythm of the Saints tour and made its soundtrack debut in John Sayles’ film Passion Fish. Other major supporters included Bryan Ferry and Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club fame.

The all-star band on “Sugar in the Rain” includes Jimmy Mac on vocals and accordion, drummer Shannon Powell, Chris Severin on electric bass. Ike Stubblefield on organ, and Grant Green Jr. on guitar and backing vocals. Up and coming soul singer Nyo Jones is also on vocals. The tune was recorded at the famed Studio in the Country in Bogalusa, Louisiana.

“Sugar in the Rain” marks an exciting return for Jimmy Mac. While on the road to the countryside, documentarian Sarah Borealis filmed the video.

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Ezra Collective brings preview of You Can’t Steal My Joy to Three Keys tonight, 3/15

One of the buzziest bands on the burgeoning London jazz scene will make their first appearance in New Orleans at Three Keys at the Ace Hotel on Friday night. Expect to hear tunes off of their upcoming debut album, You Can’t Steal My Joy, which is due in stores on April 26. Listen to the first single below.

Ezra Collective is visiting New Orleans after playing at the SXSW music festival in Austin, TX. They have several other dates in the United States. This is a chance for New Orleans music lovers to check out a band that has been turning heads in the United Kingdom since forming in 2012.

Led by the brothers, Femi Koleoso (drums) and TJ Koleoso (bass), and featuring Joe Armon Jones on keys, Dylan Jones on trumpet, and James Mollison on saxophone, Ezra Collective plays jazz, but they don’t like calling it jazz. Femi told NPR, “We’re kind of not letting the word ‘jazz’ be something that restricts us, but letting it be something that brings freedom.”

With a myriad of influences including Afrobeat, soul, hip-hop, and the uniquely British hip-hop subgenre, grime, the band has created a groove-based sound that keeps the dance floors packed even as the horn players let loose on some burning solos.

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Sam Price and the True Believers celebrate the release of Dragonfly at the Maple Leaf Bar, 3/9

With everything bassist, vocalist, and songwriter Sam Price has on his musical plate, it’s amazing he has time for yet another band. But Sam Price and the True Believers is the group that allows him to fulfill his goals as a songwriter in ways that differ from his work with the roots rock of the Honey Island Swamp Band and the Cuban dance band Otra.

Price celebrates the release of Dragonfly on Saturday night at the Maple Leaf Bar. It’s also his 50th birthday and he expects numerous special guests including Papa Mali, Mikayla Braun, Dale Spalding and more.

Dragonfly represents another step in the growth of Price as a songwriter and vocalist. While the True Believers’ first release was an EP, this recording is a fully realized album with ace production from Papa Mali as well as contributions from several well-known local players. An earlier step in that direction after the EP was the release of the single, “We Believe,” which is the band’s theme song or perhaps mission statement. The video is above.

At the top of the list of special guests on Dragonfly is recently deceased guitarist Todd Duke who takes a stellar lead guitar solo on “Old Jim Crow.” The topical song addresses the return of a way of thinking that defined a twisted era in American history. “Old Jim Crow I thought we had you beat, now you’re walking and talking up and down my street.”

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Caetano Veloso’s debut self-titled LP reissue in stores 3/8

On Friday, March 8, Third Man Records will reissue an exclusive limited version of Caetano Veloso’s self-titled debut solo album. This will be the first authorized North American vinyl reissue of the release. 

The work is one of the most important and influential Brazilian albums of all time. With the release of this seminal effort, Veloso became one of the leading voices of the Tropicália art movement, which took place in Brazil in the late 1960s.

The Tropicália movement with its flourishes in visual art, poetry, theatre, and music is one of Brazil’s most adored cultural concoctions. It was a movement begun out of necessity shortly after a repressive military dictatorship seized power after twenty years of peaceful democracy.

The songs on Veloso’s album immediately connected with the people. “Alegria, Alegria” was his breakout hit that gained traction as a hymn for liberty advocates, juxtaposing images of Coca Cola, guerrilla groups, bombs, and Brigitte Bardot as part of the everyday experience.

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