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Fall Festivals and ‘Gem’ Sessions

11th November 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard increasingly vibrates with activity that is anchored by the Ashé Center Cultural Arts Center and has gained further local and national recognition by the wonderful work and food at Café Reconcile. On Saturday, November 16, the community of business leaders and involved folks celebrate the accomplishments of the vital neighborhood and its historic namesake by presenting its 7th Annual Central City Festival in the area of 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.

It’s a diverse, all afternoon affair starting at 11 a.m. with speakers followed by a Luckylou Bounce Dance Competition. Choirs from the New Hope Family Worship Center and the New Hope Baptist Church will then perform in memory of the late Bishop Robert C. Blake Sr. and Pastor John C. Raphael Jr.

Grammy-winning trumpeter Irvin Mayfield headlines the event as he closes the festival at 4 p.m. with his NOJO Playhouse Revue. The Uptown Creole Wild West Mardi Gras Indians, the oldest Black Indian gang in the city, will shake their tambourines starting at 2:30 p.m. followed by the popular Latin crooner Fredy Omar at 3 p.m. The Tremé Brass Band, led by snare drummer Benny Jones, hits the street for a second line with the Black Men of Labor social aid and pleasure club sporting its exotic African inspired outfits.

OCH is the place to be for a total, real New Orleans experience.

‘Gem,’ ‘Legends’ and ‘Ses­sions’

Two ongoing series – Davell Crawford’s New Orleans Le­gends and the Gem Sessions – stand as highlights of the upcoming week’s musical offerings in the upstairs Ramp Room at the Little Gem Saloon.

Pianist and vocalist Crawford hosts the Friday night show, November 15, with his special guest, Grammy-winning trumpeter and keyboardist Nicholas Payton. “He’s a “young legend,” Crawford explains of selecting Payton for the series that kicked off last month with vocalist Irma Thomas and will feature a parade of veteran artists in its upcoming schedule.

The show that includes a casual chat between Crawford and Payton and musical performances by both, will differ from the one with Thomas simply because of the nature of the guests’ personalities and style. Crawford will perform briefly on the baby grand before introducing Payton who will play trumpet, a Fender Rhodes keyboard and acoustic piano with his trio with drummer Joe Dyson and bassist Vincente Archer.

“I might play a song with him,” says Crawford, who did take to the keyboards with Thomas. Though he and Payton have only performed together on rare occasions, the trumpeter was heard on Crawford’s wonderful 2013 release, My Gift To You (Basin Street Records).

“I met him when he was going to NOCCA (New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts),” Payton remembers. “I had already left (the school) by then but I used to go back and visit. We came up in the same generation. We talked about doing something together but it never worked out.”

As noted in this column, Payton has been performing more gigs than usual in his hometown. At Voodoo Fest he played with pianist David Torkanowsky’s adventurous jazz group Fleur Debris and in the horn section with pianist/vocalist Dr. John and his all-star band. Both shows were the best of the Fest for those, mostly locals, not drawn to big, loud main stage acts.

In more Payton news, he has recently released Sketches in Spain, trumpeter Miles Davis and composer/arranger Gil Evans masterpiece album released in 1960. Along with his rhythm section, which includes Archer, who will join him at the Little Gem, the trumpeter performs the classic work brilliantly in its entirety with 19 select members of Switzerland’s Sinfonieorchestra Basel ensemble.

Payton explains that he was asked to record Sketches of Spain. “It wasn’t necessarily anything that I had in mind,” he says, adding that he was contracted to play his “Black American Symphony” and that the presenter wanted to tie it into a more conceptual program.

For his “Legends” performance, Payton will again explore his many musical interests.

“We want to celebrate him here in New Orleans,” exclaims Craw­ford of Payton who is celebrated and renowned throughout the world.

Gem Sessions Joyride

Jamison Ross, the 2012 winner of the Thelonious Monk Institution drum competition, is touring with keyboardist Jon Batiste, has recorded with locally-based musicians saxophonist Rex Gregory and vocalist Cindy Scott, soon goes into the studio with our own bas­sist/vocalist Cornell Williams and guitarist Big D for a new album by their group Pocket Time. Locally, he also performs regularly with trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, bassist George French and saxophonist Wess “Warm Daddy” Anderson.

No, the talented drummer doesn’t come from New Orleans, he just moved here in 2011 to earn a Masters degree at the University of New Orleans. Nonetheless, he has long been tied to this city and its music.

“My New Orleans connection originates from my teachers – (drummer0 Leon Anderson and (pianist) Marcus Roberts at Florida State University,” explains Ross, who performs Monday, Nov­ember 18 at the Little Gem as part of its Gem Session series. At the gig he be joined by pianist Joe Ashlar, saxophonist Derek Douget, trumpeter Aslin Parker and bassist Barry Stephenson.

Anderson, a Louisiana native who spent years on the New Orleans jazz scene, “discovered” Ross when the 16-year-old drummer was a member of the esteemed Florida All-State Jazz Band. He then introduced him to Roberts, the assistant professor of jazz studies at Florida State University and once regularly heard with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

“I wouldn’t say they recruited me, but they kinda did,” says Ross who, at the time, wasn’t aware of Anderson’s and Robert’s New Orleans backgrounds and influences.

“There was such a level of New Orleans based teaching. I was taught on a very high level from soulful musicians – those are my ties.”

“The way they taught the music to me, it really spoke to me because of where I was coming from,” he continues. “ I grew up playing music in church and in church it’s all about playing music for people not for them to listen to you play your music but to feel something.”

Ross, 27, didn’t, as it might sometimes appear, burst on the scene or become a new discovery at the Monk competition. He began touring at a young age, notably with vocalist Carmen Lundy and he presently works with esteemed pianist Patrice Rushen. He’ll be releasing his debut album, tentatively titled Jamison Ross and Joyride, in 2014 on the highly-regarded Concord Jazz label. He estimates that much of the material from that album will be heard for the first time live on Monday night’s gig.

This article originally published in the November 11, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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