Filed Under:  Entertainment

Live music in N.O. – (Some of) The best of 2017

26th December 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

It remains remarkable just how much great live music is available on a nightly and often daily basis in New Orleans. Even perhaps more extraordinary is the number of the shows on this “best of” column are free and also welcome children. The music-loving people who visit the Crescent City are continually blown away by the number and variety of offerings. Yeah, we’re spoiled — in a good way.

What is a totally real New Orleans musical experience? That question was answered near the end of December 2016 (too late for inclusion in last year’s wrap-up) at the Prime Example. Trumpeter and vocalist Wendell Brunious gathered a group of old friends, most of whom had played together in various configurations through the decades, for a night of great music and much hilarity. The ensemble included saxophonist Roderick Paulin, drummer Shannon Powell, bassist/vocalist George French, pianist Thaddeus Richard and trumpeter Percy Williams. Just seeing all those names in one sentence offers the flavor of the night. To top things off, trumpeter/vocalist Kermit Ruffins strolled in the North Broad Street club, sat in and then proceeded to use a beer bottle rather than his fingers to push down the valves of his trumpet. The band and the audience went wild.



Okay, another question could be, “What’s a totally real Treme musical experience? Well, yeah runnin’ the streets on a second line with a brass band will do it. The free 10th Annual Congo Square Rhythms Festival, held in March 2017, was another way with bands led by two of New Orleans’ Tremé-born and bred musicians, James Andrews and Corey Henry.

Trumpeter/vocalist Andrews, the ultimate showman, invited two of this city’s finest vocalists — Treme icon John Boutte and the energetic Sharon Martin — to kick it up a notch. The next day trombonist/vocalist and oh-so-solid Corey Henry also augmented his Treme Funktet with the soulful organ of Ike Stubblefield and the amazing guitar of June Yamagishi.

Members of the audience at Tipitina’s for guitarist/vocal-ist/bandleader Deacon John’s celebration of his 60 years in the music business definitely got their money’s worth. Deacon, who boasts a mammoth repertoire, played and sang an amazing variety of styles during his two sets with his band, the Ivories. There was no warm-up group required this night at the historic club that was full of friends and well-wishers. Deacon kicked off at 9:30, took a short break, and kept the place jumpin’ until almost 2 a.m.

OffBeat’s Best of the Beat’s 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award was given to drummer Johnny Vidacovich and he obviously couldn’t resist getting in on the action when the band, filled with his longtime musical associates, played in his honor at the party. He, Brian Blade and Stanton Moore started switching off at the drum seat and at one point all three were playing at once. The climax of the show was Vidacovich and keyboardist David Torkanowsky enjoying an extended, mid-stage slow dance — hilarious.

Torkanowsky and Vidacovich were again in on the fun at one of the Jazz & Heritage Center’s free programs. With Detroit Brooks on guitar, the special guest this night was noted bassist Christian McBride who not only played immaculately but obviously dug the free-wheelin’ atmosphere.

The Jazz & Heritage Foundation’s Blues & BBQ Festival is considered by many to be the jewel of its “community” series. Guitarist and vocalist Robert Cray just killed his set that included longtime bassist Richard Cousins. The soul and blues man moved from material from his latest album to end with favs from his earlier works including his deftly written “Strong Persuader.” He proved he is like no other. On a simpler note at the fest was guitarist John Mooney’s excellent, straight up blues set with Tom Worrell on keys.

Pianist/vocalist Davell Crawford seemed especially inspired by the presence of his father and Uncle Charlie in the audience at his solo gig at Snug Harbor. He offered the full range of his stylistic genius including material from his release Piano in the Vault – Vol. I.

On the same stage, the always-spiritual and intriguing organist Dr. Lonnie Smith was already going strong with regular sidekicks saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., drummer Joe Dyson and guitarist Detroit Brooks onboard. The set then exploded when trumpeter Nicholas Payton jumped in. He does that.

Other memorable moments include some extraordinary jazz with pianist Jon Cowherd with drum master Brian Blade and the always-imaginative bassist James Singleton. On the traditional side, clarinetist/saxophonist Louis Ford really opened up some ears to his full-range of abilities during his energetic sets at one of those fun Nickel-A-Dance shows.

That Kermit Ruffins sure knows how to throw a party. What would be a normal Tuesday afternoon in most places in America, turned into his birthday/Christmas bash in the side yard of Kermit’s Mother-In-Law Lounge. The big band, some 16 pieces, kicked in at 1 p.m. on what turned out to be a beautiful, warm, sunny day. Ruffins had some fun blowin’ and singin’ with the ensemble and as master of ceremonies and man of the hour, Ruffins told jokes and messed around in typical Kermit style.

Many thanks are also in order to the social aid and pleasure clubs and the brass bands that set the beat throughout the year. New Orleans wouldn’t be New Orleans without their dedication to the second-line tradition. “Do whatcha wanna…”

This article originally published in the December 25, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Readers Comments (0)

You must be logged in to post a comment.