Author Archives: Jay Mazza

Eric Traub, veteran saxophonist with a luscious sound, has passed away

PHOTO: MR. B | For lovers of New Orleans music, the saxophone work of the great Eric Traub was everywhere, but unless you were a musician, a serious devotee of live music or a record collector, his genius was often hiding in plain sight. A longtime member of Dr. John’s band, he worked with a who’s who of New Orleans music over the course of over 40 years including deceased legends like Johnny Adams and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown as well as dozens upon dozens of artists still active today.

Eric Traub, who passed away February 15, was a consummate musician, performer, composer and mentor to hundreds of younger musicians. His style on tenor saxophone was informed by some of the undersung greats of the 1950s like Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons. He could blow down the walls, but he also had a subtle touch on a ballad we are unlikely to ever hear again.

A brief period performing with the trumpet legend Maynard Ferguson, beginning with his album New Vintage in 1977, marked Traub’s early career. But it was his move to New Orleans in the early 1980s that began a remarkable run of recordings and live performances.

Early on in his tenure as an adopted son, he worked with Johnny Adams on Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus: The Real Me, which appeared in 1991. But it was his work a year later, along with numerous other horn players including Charles Neville and Alvin “Red” Tyler (the horn arranger on the Adams album), on Dr. John’s career-defining effort Going Back to New Orleans that signaled he had arrived as an ace ensemble player and a first rate R&B soloist.

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Karl Denson previews Gnomes and Badgers at NOLA Brewing’s 10th anniversary party, 2/15

Saxophonist, bandleader and songwriter Karl Denson has a busy summer coming up. Besides touring with the Rolling Stones, he will release his latest album, Gnomes and Badgers, on March 8. Denson will play select dates with his band, the Tiny Universe, beginning on Friday night at NOLA Brewery. NOLA was the first brewery to open on the south shore after Hurricane Katrina and the failed federal levees.

Gnomes and Badgers, Denson’s upcoming album, is another in a series of strong funk-based releases that oozes rock ‘n’ roll energy. Local fans will be excited to hear the cut “Change My Way” which was co-crafted by Denson and his “writing mentor,” New Orleans’ own guitar hero Anders Osborne.

The two sides of the album, deep bottom funk and searing rock, are inspired by his long-running jazz-funk unit the Greyboy Allstars and of course his work at his “day job” with the Rolling Stones. The first single is a case in point. “I’m Your Biggest Fan” has stop-on-dime horns, a chiming guitar line, and a driving rock ‘n’ roll beat.

The current version of the Tiny Universe is a dream team and a juggernaut. The rhythm section features Greyboy Allstars bassist Chris Stillwell and former Greyboy drummer Zak Najor as well as keyboardists David Veith and Kenneth Crouch, Denson’s pal from his years in Lenny Kravitz’s band.

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Toubab Krewe recording live album at the Maple Leaf Bar, 2/8–2/9

PHOTO: CHRIS TAYLOR | Anyone who has spent any time listening to live music at the Maple Leaf Bar knows that it is one of the premier spots to hear musicians giving their all with the audience right in their faces. So a month after Frogs Gone Fishing came into town to record at the Leaf, another band based elsewhere but with a serious affinity for New Orleans will record in the uptown club. Toubab Krewe returns for two shows on Friday and Saturday night.

Based out of Asheville, North Carolina, but with their feet firmly planted across the African diaspora, the band and its members are no strangers to the Crescent City. Since forming in 2005, they have played numerous times in New Orleans and various members have called the city home over the years.

Their sound is rooted in the West African music of Mali, complete with traditional instruments like the kora, a 21-string harp, and hand drums like the djembe. But they mix up the ancient African instruments with electric guitars in the style of some of the greats from West Africa like Thomas Mapfumo and the recently deceased Oliver Mtukudzi.

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The Dip, The Dip Delivers in stores tomorrow, 2/8

Horn-drenched soul music has been having something of a major league revival over the past few years. One of the most exciting bands on the national scene today is The Dip. Their latest recording, The Dip Delivers, is in stores tomorrow.

The Seattle-based septet is known throughout the Pacific Northwest for their high-energy shows and compelling song writing. Tom Eddy is the frontman, guitarist, and vocalist. His emotive voice brings out the at-times subtle nuance of the band’s lyrics.

With a driving rhythm section featuring Mark Hunter on bass and Jarred Katz on drums, plus the impeccably crisp lines of the Evan Smith (baritone saxophone), Levi Gillis (tenor sax), and Brennan Carter (trumpet)—dubbed the “Honeynut Horns,”—the new album’s production has that classic soul, stop-on-a-dime spirit. The stellar guitar work of Jacob Lundgren adds ear-candy curlicues around the rest of the instruments.

The songs on The Dip Delivers walk the line between vintage R&B and classic pop delivered in style by Eddy, who possesses the voice of a true soul singer. The lyrics jump out as clearly as the flickering guitar lines and the popping horn parts.

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Tipitina’s and Mikayla Braun present the ‘Best Wishes Benefit’ for the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance, 2/7

PHOTO: RICK MOORE | Mikayla Braun is best known for her work fronting the rootsy rock band, Crooked Vines. But she has also been a positive force in the New Orleans community working for various causes. The latest is the Best Wishes Benefit, which will raise money for the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance (OCRA) as well to assist her mother in her battle with stage 3 ovarian cancer. It takes place Thursday night at Tipitina’s.

An ace organizer, Braun as recruited five bands from across the musical spectrum in New Orleans to provide the entertainment. Expect to hear Sam Price and the True Believers, Miss Mojo, J & The Causeways, Roadside Glorious, and the debut of Micah McKee’s new band, Baby Grand. Four of the five bands represent the latest era in New Orleans music, with Sam Price, the bassist for Honey Island Swamp Band, as the veteran with his side project, the True Believers.

Besides the great music, Reginelli’s will provide free food. There will be door prizes, a silent auction with donations provided by local businesses including WWOZ (90.7 FM), NOLA Brewery, artist Isabelle Jacopin, Your CBD Store, the St. James Cheese Company and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.

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‘Singing for Spencer’ benefit set for Thursday night at Tipitina’s, 1/31

Spencer Bohren (above) has been an important part of the music community in New Orleans and an internationally known troubadour of the blues for decades. He was recently diagnosed with cancer. As he undergoes treatment, a wide range of his musical friends are gathering at Tipitina’s Thursday night to raise money and help defray the living expenses of this hard-touring musician.

The benefit, dubbed, “Singing for Spencer,” is being organized by his son, Andre, and features two of his bands, Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers and Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, as well as the Anders Osborne/ George Porter Jr./ Johnny Vidacovich Trio, Sweet Crude and Raw Oyster Cult with special guests Mike Doussan and Tommy and Darcy Malone.

The event is clearly a family affair as all of the musicians involved have played with and/or are related to one and other. Rory Danger & the Danger Dangers is a rockabilly band of sorts, fronted by saxophonist Aurora Nealand as her alter ego, Rory Danger. Marc Paradis, aka Johnny Sketch, is also in the band.

If you have never seen them perform, they are a hoot to say the least. Though the 45 minutes they are allotted as the first band on the bill won’t be long enough for one of their elaborate productions which often include costumes and spoken word segments, it will be a chance for them to rock out.

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Todd Duke,
An Appreciation

The great New Orleans guitarist Todd Duke passed away on January 6, 2019 at 48 years old. He was one of the most versatile players in the city who was best known for his work with the vocalist John Boutte. He was an extremely talented musician with impeccable style who played with many of the legends of New Orleans music and was a leading light of his generation of musicians.

Two celebrations of his life are scheduled. The first will be Monday, January 28 at D.B.A. beginning at 5 PM.  A second line parade will follow at 9 PM. All musicians, friends, family, and fans are invited. A memorial and celebration of Todd’s life will be held February 2 at 4 PM at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, located at 600 Eleonore Street.

I first encountered Todd in 1997 at Café Brazil. He was fronting the group he founded after travelling to Africa as a United States State Department Jazz Ambassador. The New World Funk Ensemble was part of a coterie of bands that defined an important era in New Orleans music.

They were young musicians stretching far beyond the normal parameters of a New Orleans musician. Most of the musicians that were part of this extended peer group have continued to create compelling music both in New Orleans and across the country.

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Billy Iuso to celebrate
the Big 5-0 at Tipitina’s Friday night, 1/25

Guitarist, bandleader, and singer/songwriter Billy Iuso has been a fixture in the New Orleans music community for decades. He has played with many of the legends of local scene while at the same time leading his own acclaimed ensembles. On Friday night, the stage at Tipitina’s will feature two sets of music. The first will be his original music with his band, the Restless Natives, and the second set will have guest appearances by many of those said legends playing songs from 1969—the year of his birth.

Iuso’s original music is steeped in New Orleans funk and the improvisational psychedelic rock first defined in the San Francisco scene of the 1960s and led by the Grateful Dead. Thus is makes sense that longtime funksters, drummer Russell Batiste and guitarist Brian Stoltz of the Funky Meters and various other groups are at the top of his guest artist roster.

Iuso, who has been a working musician since his teens, explained his connection to the extended Meters family, “Me and my band, the Brides of Jesus, were the New England guys who opened for them (when they played up north). I almost always had a different drummer so (in conversation with George Porter, Jr. and Art Neville), they said you’ve got to come down to New Orleans, we’ve got lots of drummers.” Within a few years, Iuso planted himself in the city and maintained his connection with the funk legends in various capacities over the years.

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Frogleg brings Busy Checking In for three epic shows, 1/16-17 at the Hi Ho Lounge and 1/19 at the Maple Leaf Bar

The Minneapolis-based psychedelic rock band Frogleg will be making their first appearances in New Orleans after quickly becoming sensations in the Midwest since their formation five years ago. The shows are scheduled in conjunction with the Radiators’ now-annual reunion performances at Tipitina’s.

Wednesday’s gig at the Hi Ho Lounge begins at 10 PM and will feature two full sets. Thursday’s performance is an early one beginning at 8 PM to allow fans to make the trek uptown to Tipitina’s. Frogleg is also scheduled to play Saturday night at the Maple Leaf Bar.

Though often pigeonholed in the “rock” genre, Frogleg is known for compelling and soulful songwriting and their improvisational live performances. Frogleg takes their cues from the greats of psychedelic rock. The band never plays the same set twice and mixes up their song selections with a range of musical influences including funk, reggae, and jazz.

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Tank and the Bangas want you to help build a house with Habitat for Humanity this weekend, 12/14–12/15

They are not just the hottest band to come out of New Orleans in the last few years. They are also eager to give back to the city they call home and where they first burst on the scene. On Friday, December 14 and Saturday, December 15, Tank and the Bangas will lead a group of volunteers and build a home with the New Orleans area Habitat for Humanity

“When you change someone’s life for the better, you are really changing your own,” says lead singer Tarriona “Tank” Ball. To that end, one hard-working New Orleans family will be the beneficiaries of the effort by the band and their fans.

Fans can register to volunteer and fundraise for what has been dubbed, “The Banga Build.” To encourage fundraising among fans, Tank and the Bangas will award prizes for those who reach certain fundraising goals. Fundraising incentives include a t-shirt, a signed poster, tickets to their NYE show, and coffee (or drinks) with the band.

For more information or to register for the Banga Build, please visit

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Omari Neville and the Fuel debut performance featuring Cyril Neville
at the Hi Ho Lounge tonight, 12/12

The next generation of the legendary Neville family steps up to the plate with drummer/vocalist Omari Neville’s first appearance at the Hi Ho Lounge with his hot new band, the Fuel. Omari’s father, Cyril Neville, the iconic singer and percussionist for the Meters, the Neville Brothers, the Uptown Allstars, and numerous other bands and projects, will join his son on stage as a special guest.

Omari Neville was raised in the orbit of the Neville Brothers band, which also included his three uncles, Art, Charles, and Aaron, as well as the projects of his cousins Charmaine, Ivan, and Ian among other assorted Neville kin. He has been playing drums since he was a child and has matured into one of the finest drummers in the city. He is also a formidable vocalist.

The Fuel is an all-star aggregation that features two veterans of the definitive era of the Neville Brothers—guitarist Eric Struthers and bassist Daryl Johnson. “Stormin’” Norman Caesar, a veteran of numerous Neville-related projects including the seminal rap-funk hybrid band DEFF Generation is on keyboards, and Gregg Molinario is also on guitar.

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Vijay Iyer brings Far From Over to the CAC for two nights, 11/30–12/1

The acclaimed jazz pianist Vijay Iyer last played in New Orleans at the Contemporary Arts Center in 2015, with an improvisational trio featuring saxophonist Steve Lehman and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Tyshawn Sorey. That gig was in the theater as part of the HIP Fest. I wrote about it here. On Friday and Saturday Iyer returns with his regular sextet to play two nights in the recently renovated warehouse space at the CAC. They should both be gigs for the record books.

Iyer is a polymath who has his foot in many different disciplines and is one of the most important young jazz artists on the scene today. His latest album, Far From Over, hit #1 on the Billboard jazz chart. He has been voted DownBeat magazine’s “Artist of the Year” four times—in 2018, 2016, 2015, and 2012—and “Artist of the Year” in Jazz Times‘ Critics’ and Readers’ Polls for 2018.

Needless to say these performances are special for jazz lovers and for the New Orleans music community in general. Though it’s rare for a performer of his stature, he’s one of the youngest artists to receive a McArthur Fellowship (the so-called “genius grant”), to play in New Orleans outside of the Jazz Festival, the CAC has been aggressively booking cutting edge jazz talent for the last couple of years. The same space hosted New Orleans’ own trumpeter Christian Scott and pan-Latin jazz saxophonist Miguel Zenón.

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The baddest Indian
who never sewed a suit: Tyrone Miller Sr., R.I.P.

PHOTOS: CHRISTOPHER PORCHE WEST | Tyrone Miller, a charismatic and gifted singer of the traditional songs of the black Indians of New Orleans, was laid to rest on Saturday, November 24 in the cultural heart of the Tremé community. Widely known as, “the baddest Indian who never sewed a suit,” Miller was 61.

While the Mardi Gras Indians, as they are popularly referred, are best known for their elaborate handmade suits, the music of the Indians is also an intrinsic part of their culture, which is more than a century old. So though Miller never sewed or even wore one of the intricate costumes, he was respected across the entire city for his ability to improvise lyrics and his powerful voice.

Loosely affiliated with the White Eagles tribe under Big Chief Jake Millon in his younger days, Miller roamed the Sunday night practices of tribes both uptown and down. In a culture where bravado and sheer force of will are regarded as hallmarks of leadership, Miller never backed down during any of the vocal confrontations that are central to the concept of “playing Indian,” as practiced by the black Indians.

His sly wordplay and enigmatic gesticulating could slay virtually any rival save the most revered Indian elders. Miller relished the role and came to be regarded as a formidable foil but always with a satisfied smile on his face. He wouldn’t bow down, but he also had deep respect for the traditions of the black culture.

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Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Marc Stone and more
to play inaugural Wing Wars festival , 11/17

Central City BBQ has become a center of food-related festivals in New Orleans in the last few years. On Saturday, the hot spot on S. Rampart Street hosts the first Wing Wars festival, which is focused on a wide variety of vendors serving that ubiquitous appetizer, the chicken wing. Of course this being New Orleans, there’s plenty of live music on tap.

Conceived and produced by Marc Bonifacic of Central City BBQ and Shane Finkelstein, producer of the wildly popular Top Taco Nola and owner of Nacho Mama’s Mexican Grill, Wing Wars will showcase twenty local restaurants as they battle it out for Tiger Sauce’s “King of the Wing.”

For attendees, wings are only a dollar apiece offering everyone an opportunity to taste many of the competitors, which include fan favorites from the Fried Chicken Festival, Cooter Brown’s teriyaki wings (a recent winner at the “Brews, Blues and Wing Thing”), along with competitors from many of New Orleans’ top purveyors.

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Jazz Batá 2 from Chucho Valdés arrives in stores tomorrow, 11/16

A couple of years back I had the opportunity to hear Cuban pianist, composer, and bandleader Chucho Valdés in concert. It was one of the more inspiring performances, filled with fire and finesse, that I have ever seen. The 77-year old legendary musician has reached a new creative peak in a long career of them, with the release of Jazz Batá 2, his first album for Mack Avenue Records.

Cuba is similar to New Orleans in many ways especially the role that musical families play in the culture of the island country. This year also marks the 100th birthday of Bebo Valdés, Chucho’s father. Interestingly enough Bebo was born the same year as New Orleans’ own piano genius Henry Roland Byrd, aka Professor Longhair.

The new album is a return of sorts for Valdés to the small-group concept of his 1972 Cuban album Jazz Batá. That album was originally considered experimental when it was first released. Now it has stood the test of time for a musician whose long career includes his work with the groundbreaking dance band Irakere.

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