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New Orleans Sojourn – Wk 5

This is a continuation of the previous two posts:

New Orleans Sojourn – Wk 1

New Orleans Sojourn – Wk 2

New Orleans Sojourn – Wk 3

New Orleans Sojourn – Wk 4

In my fifth and final week in New Orleans, I was joined by my friend Melodie, who came down from Montreal for the week. We checked out all the remaining on the NOLA bucket-list, like hearing a brass band (@ Kermit’s Treme Mother In Law Lounge), delicious BBQ (@ The Joint), going up to City Park, hearing King James and the Special (@ Saturn Bar) and a visit to Bourbon Street.

Here’s a little photo journal of the last week in town:

Maps

My New Orleans adventure took me to many places all over the city although this map of starred places might suggest I stuck mostly to the French Quarter.

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I had to pay tribute to my hero Louis Armstrong, so I went to his birthplace which is unremarkable – it’s now a city of New Orleans parking ticket office. The more impressive monument to Armstrong is at Louis Armstrong Park in the Treme. I’m not religious, but if I were, the music of Satchmo would be my worship music.

Praying at the alter of swing music in Louis Armstrong Park.

I biked even more that I expected this month: supposedly 176 Miles (!) Blue Bikes NOLA gives you a breakdown of how much you use their bikes:

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Alex Belhaj – Kindred Spirit

Of all the musicians I interacted with on this trip, I felt an instant musical connection with Alex Belhaj. Alex’s approach to music seems to be ‘less is more’. He plays melodies with great effortlessness and efficiency but when you zoom in on the voicings and phrasing he’s using, it’s delicate and balanced. I heard him play with a few groups in town and whether playing rhythm or lead, his playing was great. Thanks for your generosity of spirit Alex!

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Alex playing and singing on board the Natchez Steamboat with Steve Pistorius (piano) and Tim Laughlin (clarinet)
Alex Belhaj playing rhythm guitar with Marla Dixon’s band

Aurora Nealand – “not a lesson”

After one of her gigs with the Royal Roses (a band with some beautiful arrangemetns of both traditional and original music), I asked Aurora Nealand if she would be open to a lesson. She responded she didn’t know if she had “anything to teach” but would be open to getting together to play and chat about music. I went to her place for an hour to philosophize and chat about music and she reminded me a few times that this was “not a lesson”.

Aurora shared with me her approach to arranging music on the bandstand, how she gets inspired to compose, who her classical composer influences are, and a beautiful phrase about being a young musician in New Orleans trying to find your way: “you have to use New Orleans before it uses you.” Thanks Aurora for sharing your wisdom!

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Thanks to The Canada Council for the Arts for helping support the album that will come as a result of the inspiration I derive from this trip.

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New Orleans Sojourn – Wk 4

This is a continuation of the previous two posts:

New Orleans Sojourn – Wk 1

New Orleans Sojourn – Wk 2

New Orleans Sojourn – Wk 3

Photos with Noe Cugny

Noe Cugny and I arranged a photoshoot in the Marigny and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results of this session. Noe scouted some cool locations and had a good eye for how to capture the vibe of the city without producing photos that are too cliche.

Thanks Noe!

Second Lines

Each and every Sunday, a different ‘social and pleasure club’ of New Orleans organizes a Second Line Parade.

-A tradition in brass band parades in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. The “main line” or “first line” is the main section of the parade, or the members of the actual club with the parading permit as well as the brass band. Those who follow the band just to enjoy the music are called the “second line”. The second line’s style of traditional dance, in which participants walk and sometimes twirl a parasol or handkerchief in the air, is called “second lining”. It has been called “the quintessential New Orleans art form – a jazz funeral without a body”

The only way to really understand what these are about is to go ATTEND one. Here’s the schedule:  https://www.wwoz.org/programs/inthestreet

A few photos:

Busking in NOLA

Busking seems to be a rite of passage for musicians who move to New Orleans and want to break into playing the clubs. Since I sorta skipped that step on my last two trips to town (thanks in part to the generosity of John Saavedra), I decided to try my hand at it this week. Playing in the streets gives you a form of direct contact with the public. In some ways, it’s a great measure of how much your music appeals to normal folks (i.e. the people who happen to be walking down the street that day). Unlike ticketed concerts, the audience votes for how much they like the music with their feet (how long they stay to listen) and wallets (if / how much $ they decide to put in the hat).

I have heard some ‘elitist’ musicians in the world talk about how they would never play music in the streets and that their music is too serious to be showcased on a mere street corner. I’m very happy for them and respect their decision to not play in the street. But I think it’s a great way to share music with the public, learn new tunes in a casual environment and put music out in an accessible and open way. Reminds me a bit of the experiment where they had Joshua Bell busking in a subway station and hardly anybody noticed.

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A Musician’s ‘Place in society’ in New Orleans

In New Orleans, musicians occupy an important place in society. Music is so interwoven into the cultural fabric of New Orleans that it’s impossible for me to imagine this city without music in it. There are hundreds of customs, holidays, rituals etc that all involve music in a deep way.

Carrying an instrument case around is almost like a badge of honour – I feel like people here treat me better when they learn that I’m a musician. I also don’t need to explain what it means to be a musician to anybody in NOLA because they seem to just ‘get it’.

Last week, a repair person came to fix a leak in the roof of the house I’m staying in. He came to fix the leak at around 11am so when I answered the door all sleepy like, he noticed the instruments in the house and said to me and Andrew Willens (my bass playing house mate): “Thanks for waking up early! I know y’all are musicians and probably stay up late performing!”.

A few more photos…

 

 

Thanks to The Canada Council for the Arts for helping support the album that will come as a result of the inspiration I derive from this trip.

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New Orleans Sojourn – Wk 3

This is a continuation of the previous two posts:

New Orleans Sojourn – Wk 1

New Orleans Sojourn – Wk 2

Austin, Texas

I took a 3 day “vacation” from New Orleans to visit some dear friends, Will Dickerson and Pauli Kufner, in Austin. Coming from New Orleans, where most of the swing music is so… swinging… I wasn’t sure what to expect from Austin’s jazz scene. I was impressed to hear a group called Rent Party at Stay Gold. The group was fronted by Sarah Ulloa (Vocals / Drums) and Jamey Cummins (Guitar / Vocals). Guitarist Jake Starr was subbing out that evening to Will Dickerson but you’d never know it for how tight the band’s arrangements were!

The weather in Austin was stunning! It felt very HOT to my Canadian skin, but all the locals were talking about the sense of relief over the cool evenings having finally arrived.

 

The main highlight of my trip to Austin was playing music again with Will. Will and I played a lot together when we were both living in Montreal. We formed a group in 2016 called Swing Theory. We had a bit of a reunion this weekend in the form of a trio hot jazz gig, and a little recording session of two new tunes: an original of Will’s called Blues for Denis, written for Denis Chang, and an original of mine called Gulf Coast Waltz:

Back to New Orleans…

Another exciting music filled week! The weather was rainy in NOLA so I did a lot of jamming with friends, listening to Eddie Lang recordings and going to concerts than bike exploration of the city.

 

Russell Welch and Leo Forde – New Orleans gypsy jazz

If you want to feel the pulse of the Django scene in NOLA, Russell and Leo are where it’s at. Both of the bring a distinct New Orleans flavour to the Django tradition, both in the repertoire they call and the way they play.

Russell (Mississippi born) and Leo (Scottish), although not from here, really represent the New Orleans culture of generosity and openness. Both of them have been generous in inviting me to jam at their respective places, borrow gear and check out gigs in cool places. Thanks y’all!

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Hot Jazz Jam

Nahum Zdybel runs a great hot jazz jam at Starlight Lounge on St Louis Street. Every Wednesday night, the house band sets up and plays some of the greatest 20’s and 30’s jazz I’ve heard. Nahum strikes a great balance in this jam: he’s welcoming of all musicians, regardless of stage/ability and also keeps the tunes genre-appropriate.

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Nahum Zdybel, host of the hot jazz jam

Eddie Lang

I’ve been digging into Eddie Lang’s way of playing since I got here. Today was a rainy day so I sat down as close to the rain as I could without getting wet to record this version of April Kisses. Thanks to Russell Welch for loaning me his Trigg New Yorker archtop guitar.

Thanks to The Canada Council for the Arts for helping support the album that will come as a result of the inspiration I derive from this trip.

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New Orleans Sojourn – Wk 2

The inspiring journey continues. This week, I tried to keep my inspirational fire lit and stoked by:

  • Listening to New Orleanians’ stories about life here – their experience of the city, what they suggest I listen to, where they suggest I visit
  • Going to as many live music events as possible – mostly trad jazz and swing shows, but a few straight ahead jazz gigs, a Brazilian show, a country night
  • Interviewing musicians here about their experiences of being a musician in New Orleans (stay tuned to the Podcast section of this site where I will eventually be posting these interviews)
  • Playing gigs in the French Quarter
  • Going to bars, cafes, galleries and restaurants
  • Writing and drawing in my journal about what I’m experiencing
  • Taking photos of what’s speaking to me

Catching The Wave

There are so many incredible musicians playing beautiful music here. On any given night, it can be difficult to decide what to check out. My housemate Andrew Willens suggests I use the “catch a wave” method. The same way that surfers will head up the coast looking for a great wave and ride it to see where it takes them, I will head to a venue early in the evening and jump on board with the people at that venue. Inevitably, I stumble upon a new band, or a new venue or a new group of interesting people.
“Catching the wave” led me to an improvisation workshop led by New Orleans legend Wendell Brunious at The US Mint. It led me to see a backyard film screening of the brilliant animation “Over the Garden Wall” chez Nahum Zdybel and Molly Reeves. It led me to hearing Meschiya Lake playing some original arrangements of new material at Carnival Lounge. It led me to witnessing the original jazz compositions of Steve Walch at the Hi Ho Lounge. It led me to busking with some new friends in front of Cafe Rose Nicaud.

Gentle Giant

Of everything I’ve experienced since I arrived in New Orleans, I need to shine a light on the times I heard Aurora Nealand play. One critic wrote that “Whatever style she is playing, she becomes the Music”.

I heard her in two completely contexts and each was uniquely inspiring. At the Spotted Cat, Aurora Nealand and the Reed Minders played a mix of traditional music and modern music. The group was made up of bass, guitar, drums and two reed players. Aurora commands the attention of her audience in a gentle way. She does it by telling musical stories charged with intensity and intrigue. Her singing is soulful and smooth so when she picks up her clarinet or soprano saxophone to play it can knock the wind out of you – her sound is fierce and exciting. I have yet to hear her play one note that isn’t packed full of meaning and intention.

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Aurora Nealand and the Reed Minders at The Spotted Cat

Later the same week, I heard her play at The Maison with her group Aurora Nealand & The Royal Roses. I’ve been inspired by this band ever since Michael Bourgeois put me on to them when he showed me Aurora’s original composition “Ferry Man” (The LookBack Transmission, 2014). For all the excitement I get out of listening to the recording of this group, the live show was twice as moving! The Royal Roses are a well oiled musical machine who endeavour to take risks with the music and push one another to play with ferocity. I’m writing a song right now about Aurora called Gentle Giant because I see Aurora as a Gentle Giant of the musical world in New Orleans.

Performances

I had a great time playing gigs this week at a few venues around town. On October 11 I played alongside the New Orleans Swinging Gypsies -at Maison this band has a great book of tunes spanning trad jazz, Django jazz and be-bop repertoire. Their arrangements are a lot of fun to play!

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from L to R – Connor Stewart, Matt Rhody, John Saavedra, Nobu Ozaki, Andy Mac

On October 12, I played with Giselle Anguizola at Frizel’s European Jazz Pub; the music was fantastic and Giselle is a great bandleader… but I still don’t understand what’s ‘European’ about it.

On October 16, I played alongside guitarist Leo Ford and sax player Connor Stewart at Bamboula’s. The afternoon was low key but Leo and Connor are two incredible players in their own rite – check them out!

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Interviews

This week, I was fortunate enough to conduct interviews with some wonderful musicians! For each of the interviews, we did about 30 minutes of talking before playing a tune or two together.
Guitarist Georgi Petrov
Saxophonist Connor Stewart
Violinist Matt Rhody
Guitarist Alex Belhaj
Bassist Andrew Willens
Guitarist Russell Welch

Photos

As usual, I took photos along the way to document what was inspiring me. Here are a few from the roll:

 

Thanks to The Canada Council for the Arts for helping support the album that will come as a result of the inspiration I derrive from this trip.
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New Orleans Sojourn – Wk 1

I cannot believe it has been a week since I landed at Louis Armstrong Airport – time has a way of melting through one’s fingers here. And rightfully so – it’s been a balmy 95 degrees most days, and hovering in the 80’s at night (for Canadians: 35C most days, 25C+ most nights). In my first of five weeks in New Orleans, I acquainted myself with some of the customs and rituals of this fine city… mostly listening to /playing music and eating great seafood. Each day, there are no less than about 50 live gigs to chose from(!!)

The sole reason for this trip is to become inspired by the music, people and culture. After my five weeks in NOLA I will head to the Banff Centre for a two week musician’s residency and compose music for an album of original swing music. I start each day by listening to traditional New Orleans jazz, practice guitar in the early afternoon and venture into the French Quarter to listen and play in the evening. I’m fortunate to have been hired by New Orleans guitarist John Saavedra and the New Orleans Swinging Gypsies for a string of weekly gigs at Maison, Bamboulas and Fritzel’s.

While I’m down here, I want to listen to as many of the “old guard” musicians as possible: musicians who grew up here and have a deep perspective on what it means to live and play here. There’s something truly special about the energy in the way these musicians carry themselves and approach the music.

New Orleans has attracted it’s fair share of world class musicians from abroad who bring with them their own unique culture – this culture mixes with the local culture to create something new and exciting in its own rite. I hope to also listen to and interact with these musicians while I’m here.

I’ll be interviewing musicians to get their take on the music down here. The first edition of this little project is an interview with Chris Butcher:

Episode 1: Chris Butcher

I’m living in a shotgun house with fellow musicians Andrew Willens (bass) and Albanie Falletta (guitar) for my time down here – two truly generous, humble and delightful humans. (They’re also great cooks!)

I’ve taken a few snaps along the way to document what strikes me as inspiring – there is no shortage of inspiration for the eyes, ears and tastebuds down in New Orleans Louisiana!

 

Thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts for supporting the album that will be recorded after this inspiring sojourn in New Orleans.

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Médina Social Club: Cultural Hub

In September, 2018, I went to Morocco for a three week trip. I walked the ancient Médinas, ate copious amounts of couscous, swam in the ocean, went to a hamam (traditional Islamic bathhouse), hiked with the monkeys, and drank many Moroccan mint teas.

Of the 7 cities I visited on this trip, Fès was a highlight. Fès has the oldest walkable médina in the world (!) Walking through the twists and turns gives you the feeling that you could walk forever and not find your way out – an enchanting feeling that does not easily arise in the grid-like cities I am used to. The pace of life in the médina is both fast and chaotic. Motorcycles, donkeys, wagons, locals and tourists move through the cobblestone streets with a frantic energy. There are goats, chickens, spices, leather shops, street food vendors. You’ll breathe in more aromas in ten steps here than in an entire city block of Montreal! If there is chaos at the ground level, the rooftops are an oasis! Up on the roof, looking out over the city gives a sense of stillness and calm. I watched a few stunning sunsets from the roof of Médina Social Club.

In the heart of the Fès médina is the exquisite but unassuming Medina Social Club: a rare hybrid of hotel and hostel. For about €10, you can stay in one of the well-kept dorm rooms. Of, if you prefer more of a hotel experience, (€20 each), you can get a private shared double room.  When I first walked through the entrance, I was impressed by the precise attention to detail in the design. The floors are covered in small tile and the clay walls lead to an open sky. There’s a sculpture water fountain in the centre of the terrace surrounded by trees and plans.

Video by Médina Social Club © 2018. Stock audio: unknown source.

As the name suggests, there are great social vibes at Médina Social Club. You’ll find couches and comfy chairs tucked into nooks for reading and chilling and a huge rooftop terrace with a great view of the city. These social vibes are curated in part by the venue’s cultural coordinator, Makki Bensdira. Makki programs concerts, and other cultural events and these events are the cultural heart beat of MSC.

When I played at Medina Social Club, it was alongside German singer Anna Stockbauer and Moroccan guitarist Ilyas Nova. We played a concert of jazz manouche and bossa nova repertoire. Some photos from the concert:

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