Focus on the Prime
2nd June 2014 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
“I always wanted to play at the Prime Example – I like the room, I like the space, I like the ambiance. It’s like an actual club – there’s no pretense,” says pianist and educator Jesse McBride. He was thoroughly convinced that the North Broad Street music venue and restaurant was the place for him and his group The Next Generation to be after the club acquired the beautiful, Sohmer baby grand piano that, at only five feet long, fits perfectly on the small stage.
“I was doing a gig there with (drummer) Geoff Clapp and saw it and before the night was over I talked to Julius (owner Julius Kimbrough) about playing and he said, ‘Sure.’”The Next Generation, a group of young musicians who have studied either formally and/or informally with McBride, has since taken over Wednesday nights. It plays as a unit from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. with a sometimes shifting group of musicians with regulars including pianist McBride, bassist Jasen Weaver, drummer Thomas Glass, guitarist Dominic Minix, trumpeter John Michael Bradford and a vocalist simply called Honey. Then, McBride calls other artists up for what he calls an “organized jam session. “It’s not random,” he says reassuringly. “Some of the musicians who I worked with when they were in high school, just graduated from college and are either coming back to town to visit or moving back,” McBride says. “It just brings another infusion of good energy into the band. I like to hear their growth – what they’ve been working on. If the city had a mechanism in place for young modern artists to come back and make a living, they would come back. But that doesn’t exist except for little pockets of things,” he laments.
McBride, a Texas native who in 1998 moved to New Orleans to attend the University of New Orleans, became the keeper of the flame of educator/saxophonist/record producer Harold Battiste’s AFO record label and his conceptual project, The Next Generation. “It’s the preservation and the expansion of the second 50 years of the 20th century of New Orleans music,” McBride explains. He adds that the first era of New Orleans jazz from 1900 to 1950 and artists like Louis Armstrong, Buddy Bolden and Sidney Bechet have receive the bulk of the attention. “The guys from the 1950s to the present also had a major contribution to this music. It should be celebrated as well because the music didn’t stop in 1950.”
An important aspect of the McBride’s Next Generation philosophy and thus the band’s repertoire is to perform material composed by some of New Orleans modern jazz greats. The Next Generation’s sets are likely to include tunes penned by Battiste, drummer James Black, pianist Ellis Marsalis, saxophonist Alvin “Red” Tyler and trumpeter Clyde Kerr Jr.
“All of these young people that are coming up – no matter where they go to school and no matter who they come in contact with they’re still not exposed to those cats. I spend hours and hours and days and years to make sure that they are and that they understand the way those cats taught me. I want to help them understand the New Orleans music culture.
Educators like the late Alvin Batiste and Kerr didn’t just talk notes, scales or techniques. When they spoke of those things, they often included life lessons – thoughts on humanity, community, politics and history. McBride takes their lead in his approach to mentoring young musicians. “It’s a continuum of that thought,” he says. “Yeah, we’re going to cover a lot of music but inevitably, life is going to come into that. The Next Generation is a life perspective.”
McBride is presently a full-time professor at Tulane University teaching big band, combo and improvisation classes. However, eager, young jazz musicians often gather at his studio or home to soak in his knowledge.
“How it usually goes, is one or two of them will start shedding with me and they’ll tell their friends, ‘Hey, we’re learning something over here.’”
McBride calls the gig at the Prime Example a fun and festive environment. “The Next Generation is for the young cats to come out to play,” he offers. “If I haven’t met you, well come out because you might enjoy playing with some young, focused musicians.”
“The Next Generation is a door that never closes,” McBride promises.
Up Next – The “Dynamic Duo”
Thursday night’s show, June 5, at the Prime Example has been appropriately dubbed the “Dynamic Duo” with just organist Ike Stubblefield and drummer Herlin Riley onboard. These musical giants, who’ve worked together before though usually along with a guitarist, won’t have any problem filling the stage.
Stubblefield, an Ohio native and Atlanta resident has become a regular visitor to New Orleans – one of our adoptees. A master of the B-3, his impressive resume includes starting out playing Motown revues, moving on to play with legends like guitarists George Benson and B.B. King, lots of studio work and even performing with our own Johnny Adams.
“He’s one of a few old school artists who understands the groove,” Riley once said of Stubblefield.
On Friday, June 13, 2014, Julius Kimbrough’ Prime Example will be among the honorees at the Ladies in Red gala. Under the auspices of the Preservation Research Center, the Ladies in Red celebrate jazz greats and those who support cultural heritage programming. The gala takes place at The Cannery, 3803 Toulouse Street. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally published in the June 2, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.