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Blues Fest and Guitar extravaganza

22nd November 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

New Orleans isn’t usually regarded as being a big blues or a guitar town though it has plenty of both. The city is much better known for its jazz, funk, R&B and brass bands and its great piano and drum traditions.

Any myth that blues music and guitar players don’t abound in the Crescent City should be debunked at two separate events on Saturday, November 23. The Magazine Street Blues Festival, which takes place on the corner of Magazine Street and Napoleon Avenue, celebrates the style though it also includes some other genres like zydeco and brass. Later that night, the Guitar Extravaganza presented at Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club will find some of the best guitarists strutting their axes for a good cause.

Singular composer, guitarist and vocalist Mem Shannon, who will be featured at both events, agrees that New Orleans isn’t necessarily known for its blues. “You might go see a blues band and hear some other type of music – you might hear some heavy R&B and some funk in there too. I got into the blues category because I was too old to be anything else,” continues Shannon, 55, who jumped back into the music scene at the age of 31 and made his impressive recording debut in 1995 with A Cab Driver’s Blues. “I played a guitar so I got to be blues – where else are you gonna put me? Even the songs that I write are not all standard blues songs. I just want to write a good song. I’m not looking to write a blues song all of the time. There are a few bands that are doing strict blues but they are few and far between.”

One such musician is guitarist/vocalist Marc Stone who shares the bill at Saturday afternoon’s Blues Fest that begins at 11:30 with the Wise Guys. Stone’s All Star Band will include several guest purveyors of the blues, guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart and Benny Turner. “He’s as good as it gets,” says Stone of Turner. Also joining the horn-filled band this day will be fiddler Amanda Shaw.

At the Fest, Shannon will also augment his trio, the Member-ship, with horns and he, like Stone, will turn to saxophonist Tim Green, a go-to musician who has the ability to always complement the music while adding his own imaginative flow. For the show, the group will perform material from the leader’s previous recordings as well as more recently penned tunes. “I could go into the studio any day now if I had the money,” says the prolific composer.

Perhaps it is Shannon’s background in gospel that makes his sound, lyrics and approach to the music so much his own. Like many a gospel artist, he is at once laid-back and powerful. His experiences during his 10 years as a taxi driver also enter his outlook. “My lyrics are important to me,” he explains. “It try to tell a story or paint a picture with my words. I was influenced by everybody, especially B.B. King. That’s the reason I play a guitar in the first place. He got so much emotion out of his guitar, it mesmerized me.

“I’m doing a double that day,” says Shannon, who moves downtown for the Extravaganza where he and the other notable guitarists – Detroit Brooks, Chris Thomas King and Mississippi’s soulful Vasti Jackson will perform in front of a solid band. The group at the gig, which is presented to raise funds in preparation for next year’s first annual (at last!) Danny Barker’s Banjo and Guitar Festival, includes pianist Thaddeus Richard, bassist Brian Quezergue, drummer Walter Harris and keyboardist Kanako Fuwa. A donated guitar, signed by the participating guitarists, will also be auctioned off.

The edition of the Guitar Extravaganza at Sweet Lorraine’s, which gets going at 8 p.m., is part of an ongoing fundraising series that takes place at various venues around town. It’s primary goal is to keep the memory of Danny Barker alive and acknowledge his influence and accomplishments by presenting a festival in his name. Keep an eye out for future Extravaganzas…

Randy Brecker – Trumpet Great at Snug and the Sandbar

Three-time Grammy recipient trumpet and flugelhorn player, Randy Brecker arrives at Snug Harbor on Tuesday, November 19 to team up with some old friends, bassist James Singleton and drummer Johnny Vidacovich. Brecker, whose impressive resumé includes stints with greats such as pianist Horace Silver, guitarist Larry Coryell and bassist Jaco Pastorius as well as leading his own groups and teaming with his brother, the late Michael Brecker, met up with Singleton and Vidacovich back in the early 1980s when the trumpeter was brought to town by the Xenia Foundation. His most recent appearance in New Orleans was at 2009’s Jazz Fest when he played with (festival founder) George Wein’s Newport All Stars.

Brecker’s wife, saxophonist Ada Rovatti will also perform with the group for two sets that the trumpeter says will include some straight-ahead jazz and funk, standards and original material.

On Wednesday night, November 20, Brecker will play with the University of New Orleans jazz studies students as part of the Jazz at the Sandbar Series at the Cove on the UNO campus.

This article originally published in the November 18, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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