Kirk Joseph’s Backyard Groove returns to the Maple Leaf Bar, 12/8

Sousaphonist Kirk Joseph is one of the busiest musicians in town. Yet, even he was surprised by his answer when asked to recall the last time his solo act played at a club in New Orleans. It was over twelve years ago (not counting last night’s performance at the Three Keys) and the gig was at the Maple Leaf Bar where the band returns Friday night.

The membership in the Backyard Groove has changed a bit over the years. Longtime collaborators, saxophonist Tom Fitzpatrick and trombonist Mark McGrain are on board. Joining them on the front line is trumpeter Kevin Lewis. Guitarist Takeshi Shimmura, a regular on the Backyard Groove’s festival gigs, will be laying down his sterling licks. Keyboardist/vocalist Lilli Lewis and Joseph’s cousin, drummer Jaz Butler round out the latest version of the band.

Fans the world over know Joseph as a founding member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The uber-sousaphonist, as I dubbed him some years back, helped develop the sound of the first brass band to begin integrating modern sounds into traditional New Orleans jazz. Check the vid below of them playing back in the day at the storied Central City music hot spot, the Glass House.

Joseph still plays regularly with the Dirty Dozen, but he also plays with a wide variety of acts looking to get that jazzy, funky Crescent City sound. In recent years, he has been teaching, recording and performing in France where he has what he calls a “French chapter” of the Backyard Groove. He is also a featured player with the New Soulfinders!, the group Marc Stone put together to mine the soul classics of the great Eddie Bo.

Even more recently, he just got off a European tour with Mad Skillet. Like so many New Orleans groove-oriented bands, the group came together during a late night jam during Jazz Fest 2015. Mad Skillet features keyboardist John Medeski of Medeski, Martin and Wood and guitarist Will Bernard. Original drummer Terence Higgins is busy backing Ani DiFranco, so the Dozen’s Julian Addison filled his big shoes.

Joseph is happy to be home and performing at one of his favorite clubs. That gig twelve years ago was on the Monday before Katrina hit and scattered New Orleanians and the Backyard Groove to the four corners of the world. Joseph said, “Expect to hear some old favorites and a couple of new things. It’s a homecoming party!”

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