Category Archives: TVD New Orleans

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 www.bangabuild.org.

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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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Mr. Blotto to record live album at the Maple Leaf Bar, 11/16–11/17

It’s kind of surprising that the Chicago-based jam band, Mr. Blotto, has never played in New Orleans. The two principal members of the group, bassist Mike and guitarist Paul Bolger, have been coming to the city for decades and have great stories about wandering the decadent streets of the French Quarter as children. That oversight in Mr. Blotto’s long history will be rectified this weekend when they play two epic shows at the Maple Leaf Bar. Both nights will be recorded for an upcoming live album.

Besides childhood memories of hippies washing their hair using rainwater runoff flowing from French Quarter downspouts, the brothers have has also visited the city numerous times over the decades. Paul even busked on the streets in his younger days.

Mike says, “We grew up in musical household; our Dad loved listening to (the) Preservation Hall (jazz band).” The bassist even took a solo road trip from Chicago to South Bend, Indiana in the 1980s to see what the fuss was all about. Though he was more into punk and metal at the time, he said, “it was one of the most profound shows I’ve ever seen.”

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Billy Strings brings Turmoil & Tinfoil to D.B.A., 11/10

New Orleans is not known as a bluegrass town, although that appears to be slowly changing with inroads being made by some of the bigger names in the genre. That partially explains why the latest phenom to light the scene on fire, guitarist Billy Strings, is playing in a venue the size of D.B.A. In cities with a larger bluegrass fan base he sells out much larger rooms. So this intimate show on Saturday night will be a rare to chance to see this incredible artist up close and personal. It’s likely the show will sell out. Tickets are available here.

Part of the reason the 26-year-old Strings has been blowing up around the country since he first burst on the scene is the intensity of his attack on the guitar. Rolling Stone magazine called him, “the improbable child of Pantera and Doc Watson.” He picks so fast and with such power that he is known for breaking multiple strings in any given song.

His father was a picker too and was one of his first influences growing up in Michigan. He turned him on to the classic players such as Watson, Bill Monroe, and Earl Scruggs. But as with every child of the internet age, he was also influenced by other sounds including the hard rock and metal of Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, and mostly likely the aforementioned Pantera.

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John Medeski’s Mad Skillet in stores, 11/9

Most of the late night jam sessions at Jazz Fest are just that—late night jam sessions with the music flowing from the musicians into the ether. While occasionally magic happens, it is often of the one-off, not-easily-repeated variety. John Medeski’s Mad Skillet, featuring New Orleanians Kirk Joseph on sousaphone and Terence Higgins on drums, formed under those very circumstances. But the magic stuck. Their eponymous debut album is in stores Friday.

Since this writer is New Orleans-based, I had to lead with the local musicians who defined a certain period in the long career of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, but John Medeski is one of the best known musicians in the jazz and jam band worlds. As the keyboardist with Medeski, Martin and Wood, he is highly influential and is one of the leaders of his generation.

The guitar player in the band is no slacker either. Part of the genesis of the band was Medeski seeking out Will Bernard at Jazz Fest in order to jam together. Medeski was already connected with Joseph and Higgins because he produced the Dirty Dozen’s 1999 album, Buck Jump.

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Legendary bassist Jerry Jemmott plays the Maple Leaf Bar tonight, 11/1 and Café Istanbul, 11/2

Johnny Vidacovich’s trio shows at the Maple Leaf Bar have become one of the best shows around town for fans of improvisation in virtually any genre. Usually the other members of the trio are local luminaries on the music scene, but every now and then a legend pops on by. Tonight is no exception when Jerry Jemmott, one of the most recorded and acclaimed session musicians from the 1960s and 1970s, comes to New Orleans. He will also join Vidacovich on Friday night at Café Istanbul.

Thursday night’s gig will also feature keyboardist Joe Ashlar. On Friday night expect to see one of the founding members of the trio, guitarist June Yamagishi. Vidacovich said about the gigs, “I’ve always been a fan! Who hasn’t? I know that I’ll be smiling! I can’t wait.”

Jemmott, who is known as the “Groovemaster,” has a resume that crosses genres much like the work of Vidacovich. He began playing music as a youngster obsessed with jazz players like Paul Chambers and Charles Mingus. But his first claim to fame was with the great soul and R&B saxophonist King Curtis.

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Trombone Shorty welcomes Michael Franti and others to Champions Square, 10/20

The Voodoo Threauxdown, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and his band Orleans Avenue’s summer tour, hit dozens of cities this summer bringing a serious taste of New Orleans to venues across the country. The finale of the extravaganza, dubbed “Hometown Threauxdown,” takes plays a dozen blocks from the Tremé neighborhood where Andrews grew up. The show features Michael Franti & Spearhead, the Preservation Hall Brass Band, the New Breed Brass Band, Mannie Fresh, and many others. It kicks off at Bold Sphere Music at Champions Square at 6 PM on Saturday.

The summer tour featured a number of special guests including Walter “Wolfman” Washington and Kermit Ruffins, but it’s Franti and his band Spearhead that has people in New Orleans energized. The acclaimed singer/songwriter is touring in anticipation of his upcoming album, Stay Human Vol. 2, which is due January 25, and his new self-directed documentary Stay Human that is screening at select film festivals now.

Franti explains about his new music and film, “I’ve traveled the globe making music and throughout the years I’ve always hoped that it could inspire small steps towards making the world a better place. Struggling with the challenges of the world I began filming my new documentary, Stay Human, telling the stories of heroic everyday people who helped me to discover more deeply what it means to be and STAY HUMAN.”

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Unidos do Swing brings Brazilian brass band music to Café Istanbul, 10/18 and 10/22

Regular readers of this space know that I love Brazilian music almost as much as I love New Orleans music. So when a serendipitous encounter with a Brazilian trombonist at Satchmo SummerFest presented a chance to hire a Brazilian brass band, I jumped to attention. Now, two and half months later, Unidos do Swing is in New Orleans and will be playing two shows at Café Istanbul.

The group is from São Paulo and their music is an infectious mix of traditional jazz with the music of the Brazil. The band is a parading unit, like a New Orleans brass band, featuring brass, wind, percussion, and string instruments. The musicians are inspired by the sounds of jazz and traditional Brazilian rhythms. The video below has some information about the band with English subtitles. At the end you will hear a snippet of the Rebirth Brass Band’s “Do Whatcha Wanna.”

The repertoire of Unidos do Swing is a unique fusion of New Orleans second line music, swing era jazz, blues, and the Brazilian sounds of maracatu, baião, and of course, samba. They also throw some ska into the pot along with their original tunes and arrangements. The band is in the middle of their first international tour with performances at HONK! Festivals in Somerville MA, Providence RI, and New York City.

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