After dinner, the Core DJ Retreat had another party, but it was at a strip club in South Jackson, and I don’t go to strip clubs, so I decided to head over to Hal & Mal’s, where the Southern Komfort Brass Band was scheduled to appear. I had heard this band at Underground 119 last year, and was quite impressed with them, as they are one of the few brass bands not from New Orleans to measure up to the standards of that city’s brass band tradition. I had not expected an opening act, but saxophonist Ryan Raziano proved to be a decent contemporary jazz musician, and his backing band was first rate indeed. Of course, the Southern Komfort Brass Band rocked the house, just as they had last year, and while they played some familiar brass band standards like “Do Whatcha Wanna”, they also played some tunes I have never heard done by a brass band, such as Sade’s “The Sweetest Taboo.” After a rousing set of music, they were followed by Jackson saxophonist Ezra Brown, who was celebrating his birthday. But I wanted to catch Dexter Allen at F. Jones Corner, so I headed out.
The TBC Brass Band hasn’t had a regular Sunday night gig since they ended their long run at the Blue Nile earlier this year, so I was thrilled to hear that they were beginning a new Sunday night gig at Groove City up on A. P. Tureaud in the Seventh Ward, nearly across the street from Bullet’s where the Pinettes hold forth on Fridays. As I have pointed out before, brass bands seem to come into their own when they play in neighborhood bars and clubs as opposed to the bigger tourist venues. There tend to be more second-liners, a more exuberant atmosphere, and a better interplay between the band and their fans. For a first night, there was a decent crowd, and great music.
When I had first arrived in New Orleans on Wednesday night at Celebration Hall, there were rumors about a second-line being held on the following Sunday. Ultimately, they proved to not be true, but the second-line activist Big Red Cotton sent me a Facebook message that indicated that there would be a Stop The Violence Picnic uptown at A. L. Davis Park sponsored by the Kings of Kings Social Aid and Pleasure Club, and that brass bands would likely appear. So after breakfast, I headed out to A. L. Davis Park, formerly Shakespeare Park, which is the scene of the annual Uptown Super Sunday at which the Black Indian tribes appear. I found that there was a picnic going on, with basketball under the pavilion, youth football games in progress, and a DJ, but no brass bands, perhaps because there was also a heat emergency, and the temperature was near 100 degrees outside. Still, some little kids were having fun playing football and basketball, or watching the others, and the event called attention to the problems New Orleans has been having this summer with street violence.
I had heard from friends in the TBC Brass Band that they were playing for some event at a place called Le Maison Creole in Harvey, a town on the West Bank, so when I left the Midsummer Mardi-Gras, I headed over there and caught up with them. I never could determine whether the event was a birthday party or a wedding reception, but the TBC band played for about 20 rousing minutes of second-lining and partying, and then headed back across the river to the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club for another gig at a party. Although it was nearly midnight, there was a fairly large crowd along Broad Street in front of the Zulu Club, and I was really quite excited. The Zulu organization, although called a social aid and pleasure club, functions more as a Mardi Gras krewe, and now I was getting to witness a party there for the first time. The band members started playing on the sidewalk in front of the club, and then we all marched into the clubhouse, which was already quite crowded with people. Perhaps because of the late hour, the TBC played a shorter set than they had at Harvey, but the crowd seemed excited nonetheless.
The event calendars for New Orleans showed something called the Midsummer Mardi-Gras that was supposed to take place at the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street far uptown, in the part of the city called Carrollton. I had imagined something like a little Mardi-Gras-themed summer block party, but what I found proved to be far more elaborate. Operating out of the Maple Leaf, and somewhat affiliated with it is an organization called the Krewe of OAK, which I soon learned stands for Outrageous and Kinky. The Krewe sponsors a regular Mardi-Gras parade through Carrollton during the Carnival season, but also sponsors one during the Midsummer Mardi-Gras in August, and this turned out to be quite an event. Several hundred people were already out in the middle of Oak Street in front of the bar when I arrived, and there were a number of marching units. The Krewe had hired the All For One Brass Band to play for the parade, and this was a band I had heard of, but never heard. They provide to be a fairly good band, and with a speech from the King and Queen of OAK from a balcony on Oak Street, the parade was soon under way. The New Orleans police had blocked off Carrollton Avenue, and I had assumed we would march up Oak Street to Carrollton and stop, but to my surprise, we turned up Carrollton Avenue and kept rolling. Crowds were everywhere, along both sides of the street, and in the neutral ground, and fireworks were being shot off from in front of an old mansion on a corner. It seemed we might roll all the way to Earhart Boulevard, but we ended a little sooner, turning into the main entrance to Palmer Park. Inside the park, another stage had been set up where a jazz band was already playing. They had a tuba instead of an electric bass, but they had set drums instead of the traditional snare, bass drum and cowbell rhythm section of the streets. As the parade arrived into the park, the All For One posted up near the entrance and kept playing until everyone had entered the park. It was now thoroughly dark, and brightly-colored lights were being projected into trees in the park. I decided to walk back toward my car, and soon found that there were still significant crowds on Oak Street. I grabbed an iced mocha from the Rue de la Course, and then continued on my way. The festive mood continued in the area, but I set out to catch up with my homeboys in the TBC Brass Band.
While the Cutting Edge NOLA hip-hop showcase was going on at Cafe Istanbul, a music industry mixer and showcase was also going on a few blocks away at Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club, so I stopped by there after I left the Istanbul. The next band to go on stage after I arrived was led by a young drummer named Jamal Batiste, whom I had seen play a couple of years ago with trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and percussionist Bill Summers’ at Mayfield’s second jazz club at the W Hotel. His band this year included members of the Yisrael Trio, a really talented contemporary jazz group that I had seen during last year’s Cutting Edge when they played at a club called Mojitos. Not surprisingly, this group sounded really good indeed. But I had intended to drive further up to Louis Armstrong Park, because the New Orleans South African Connection (NOSACONN) was supposed to be sponsoring some sort of second-line from the park to Sweet Lorraine’s, and I had originally planned to park the car and get it in. But it was outrageously hot, and when I neared the park, I saw that the second-line had only a few musicians and buckjumpers, maybe about 10 in all. So I decided to go uptown and grab dinner instead, and then maybe head to something called the Mid-Summer Mardi Gras that was listed in the event calendars.
After dinner, I drove over to the Seventh Ward, to a neighborhood sports bar called Bullet’s, where the all-girl Pinettes Brass Band has a weekly gig on Friday nights. The Pinettes won last year’s Red Bull Brass Band competition in New Orleans, and gets a lot of attention, as female brass band members are the exception rather than the rule. Bullet’s is the kind of neighborhood joint that you would miss if you weren’t looking for it, but I should have noticed the oil drum cooker out in front of it, which is a common site at New Orleans community bars. Inside was already packed, with an NFL preseason game on the big screen, but one by one the Pinette musicians arrived, and soon the club was rocking. The Pinettes are a decent brass band, with good arrangements, and a loyal following that soon filled the dance floor. While they played a lot of tunes unique to them, they also played some songs I recognized from the TBC, like “When Somebody Loves You Back” and Deniece Williams’ “Cause You Love Me Baby”, which I have never heard outside of New Orleans, but which is immensely popular there. After a brief intermission, the Pinettes played a rousing second set, and then everything wound to a close at midnight. By that point, cars filled the median on A. P. Tureaud.
Vaughan’s is an out-of-the-way neighborhood bar in the Bywater neighborhood just across the Industrial Canal from the Lower 9th Ward, and the last time I was there, the great Kermit Ruffins himself was playing on a Thursday night to a standing room only crowd. Ruffins gave up that gig not long after, and Vaughan’s has tried a succession of different bands and groups since then on Thursdays, which is the only night that the bar features live music, but Ruffins’ shoes are hard to fill. However, Travis “Trumpet Black” Hill, though hardly as well-known as Ruffins, is a brilliantly-gifted trumpet player with the mastery of his instrument and the self-assuredness to attempt to fill the slot, and does a good job at it, ably backed by his band, known as the Heart Attack. Hill’s repertoire is younger and less traditional than Kermit’s, but in some ways, that’s a good thing. After my arrival, his first set included a funked-out version of the brass band standard “Always There”, and a far more traditional reading of the classic “Backatown Blues”. Such versatility should stand Hill in good stead, and I suspect we’ll be hearing far more from him going forward. As for Vaughan’s, unsuspecting tourists should not be fooled by the signs out front. The bar does not offer po-boys, although they do have red beans and rice on Thursdays.
The To Be Continued Brass Band (or TBC Brass Band) plays every Wednesday at Celebration Hall on St. Bernard Avenue in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans, but their performance on Wednesday August 20 was special, as it coincided with the birthday of the band’s deceased saxophone player Brandon Franklin. Any TBC performance is spirited, but this night was especially significant, and they opened with a traditional reading of “Just Over In The Glory Land” as a tribute. It was a steamy hot night, the musicians covered with sweat by the second tune, but nothing stopped the second-liners and buckjumpers on the dance floor in front of the stage. Aside from members of another local brass band (without instruments) talking smack during the intermission, it was another one of those memorable New Orleans nights.
When the jazz mass at St. Augustine’s Church finally ended, the Treme Brass Band came marching out of the church, and the second-line, which had already lined up outside, got underway. The Treme Brass Band was at the front, with the Baby Dolls and Zulus behind them, and then I walked with the TBC Brass Band, who were marching with the Sudan Social Aid and Pleasure Club, and behind us came the Fi Ya Ya Warriors with their chief and their drummers. We marched first down to Rampart Street, past a couple of hotels where tourists were cheering from the balconies, and to the entrance of Louis Armstrong Park, which was entirely appropriate given the purpose of this festival. From there, we headed back down Rampart to Esplanade, and down Esplanade toward the old U.S. Mint where the festival stages were located. Although I had imagined the second-line as something of an artificial thing scheduled for tourists, I was pleasantly surprised to see it pick up second-liners and buckjumpers as it proceeded down Esplanade. By the time we passed through the festival gates at the Mint, there was hardly room to move. I had meant to hang out at the festival, but I soon found that all of my homeboys in the TBC were leaving out to walk back up toward the Treme, and I was tired too. It took every bit of strength I had to walk back up to the Treme Center where I had parked my car.