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The wonder of Stevie meets the wonder of Petersen

29th October 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

The New York Times critic Nate Chinen complimentarily targeted saxophonist Ed Petersen for his “barking fervency” at the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra’s recent performance at Carnegie Hall. That’s how Petersen, a professor at the University of New Orleans, does it. He’s a humble man of great talent, wisdom and passion. When he moved here from Chicago in the mid-1990s, people from the Windy City were upset. “Man, you’re getting Ed!” they despaired.

As a part of the ongoing New Orleans Jazz Institute’s Masters Series, presented by the non-profit extension of NOJO and the University of New Orleans’ jazz curriculum, Petersen was commissioned by Irvin Mayfield, its artistic director, to delve into the works of the great musician and composer Stevie Wonder. His take on the master can be experienced on Tuesday night at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse.

“I have loved a lot of his music for a lot of years and I loved the way he did it,” says Petersen, whose innovative adaptation of Wonder’s material, as heard at his quartet’s recent performance at the Old U.S. Mint, made apparent. “In fact, some of his tunes I just sort of opted not to do because they just sound so good – pop tunes that I didn’t even really want to turn into jazz.”

So no, listeners won’t hear Wonder’s greatest hits like “Superstition” or “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” They might not even recognize, though they should appreciate, Petersen’s and his very capable sidemen’s – bassist Jason Weaver, pianist Andrew McGowan and drummer Darrian Douglas – take on the outstanding material from the icon’s album “The Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.”

A certain temperament and respect links Petersen to Wonder. There’s an optimism that certainly gave rise to the super star’s legendary status and Petersen has the ability to carry that exuberance to another musical realm. The saxophonist’s take on “Ecclesiastes” from the “Journey…” album was breathtaking.

“It was a cheesy synthesizer doing Beethoven,” says Petersen of the tune that he and his quartet brought to another, jazz level. With some regret, the saxophonist mentions, however, that he wasn’t able to include the fine lyrics to this and some of Wonder’s great compositions.

That Wonder was in the house could be felt at the Mint in Petersen’s adaptation of the composer’s now-lilting “Another Star” that he describes as originally being in the realm of Latin disco.

“I know that he was one of the greatest songwriters,” offers Petersen, “up there with George Gershwin and like that.”

This segment of the NOJI Master Series concludes with pianist Victor Atkins’ take on the Beatles at the Sound Café, 2700 Chartres Street, at 5 p.m. on Friday, November 2.

“I think Irvin and Ron (Ronald Markham, president and CEO of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra) are doing an amazing job of giving all of us all sorts of work and making all sorts of things happen,” Petersen says. “Irvin is really committed to supporting creativity. He really believes in it. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers
Been Good To You
(Sound of New Orleans)

Dwayne Dopsie, the youngest of eight children born to the legendary Alton “Rockin’ Dopsie” Rubin, might look like a rebel yet the accordionist and vocalist stays close to home of the zydeco tradition. At 33, he’s a muscular man with a shaved at the sides, modern hairstyle. He’s also kind of ferocious when he pumps the big, keyboard style accordion that he’s been playing since childhood. His musical roots, which he acquired from his father, remain in evidence as heard on his latest CD, “Been Good to You,” on the Sound of New Orleans label. It opens with a pure and simple zydeco stomper, “You Pretty Little Girl.”

That’s not to say that time has stood still in Dopsie’s approach to the music. A fun tune with a richness of vocal harmonies, “Where Did My Baby Go?” suggests the sway of reggae in the tempo. Dopsie even offers up some Jamaican style rap known as “toasting.” He really works out on his accordion during his solo giving much, quite hip gusto while staying true melodically and rhythmically to its flavor.

That is, perhaps, what sets Dwayne Dopsie apart. He changes things up and offers different tonalities and rhythms to every song, every solo. This isn’t your run of the mill Zydeco that non-believers say all sound the same. Dopsie’s got soul, passion and a ton of imagination to bring uniqueness to every turn.

He’s well supported here with the very compatible Shelton Sonnier on guitar and vocals and guest artist Tom Fitzpatrick on tenor saxophone. Drummer Kevin Minor, rubboard and vocalist Alex MacDonald and bassist Dion Pierre hold down the beats.

But “Been Good to You” all comes down to Dwayne Dopsie, a wild lookin’ guy with a warm heart beatin’ in the swamp. His rhythm ‘n blues influenced, big accordion sound, carries on the tradition of his father who steamed many a foot-stompin’ joint.

All Saints Day –
A New Orleans Tradition

For a dozen years, the Backstreet Cultural Museum has added a new celebration to New Orleans unique observance of All Saints Day. In this city, more than any other in the United States, November 1 has stood as the day for people to actively participate in remembering those who have passed. Primarily, this meant visiting cemeteries to put flowers on and clean up and repair gravesites. Many families even prepared picnics for the occasion.

The Backstreet Museum, in accordance with its mission of “Keeping Jazz Funerals Alive,” presents a parade to pay tribute to the culture and remember its perpetrators. The procession, led by the Treme Brass Band, begins at 3 p.m. on Tuesday at the D.W. Rhodes Funeral Home, 1716 N. Claiborne Avenue. It boasts two stops, the first at Charbonnet Family Service, 1615 St. Philip Street and the second at Little People’s Place on Barracks Street (which is once again open!) before heading to the museum for a presentation and refreshments.

This year, the Backstreet Museum will honor John West, the president of the Valley of Silent Men and second line regular, who died this year.

Clarification: Last week, in which my column featured Jazz Master and saxophonist Kidd Jordan as well as reggae vocalist Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, we omitted giving photo credit for their pictures to Demian Roberts.

This article originally published in the October 29, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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