The fifth section of our interview on the 23rd February 2017 with Leroy Jones, Freddie Lonzo, Joe Lastie and Louis Ford at The Preservation Hall, New Orleans. (Missed part 4? Click here to read it.) Tom:… More
Laura: I’m interested to know, in the path of becoming an accomplished jazz musician, what some of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced along the way have been and how you’ve overcome them?
Leroy: I guess times when you don’t have a lot of work, and off the back in the old days, you were on a one or two week notice, so you’d get a week’s notice of two week’s notice, and then there’s another band coming in. But you’ll eventually end up working somewhere else, at least, that’s the way it was on Bourbon Street. You could tell, you’d have a feeling that you were going to get fired not for a reason, just because somebody else – the owner liked them more than you maybe, and wanted to give them a shot.
Louis: Another setback, you know, is that musicians unfortunately have this stereotype, you know, that they do this, they do that, you know…they have a bad rap. ‘No, I don’t want you dating this guy because he’s gonna do this and do that, you know. But that’s not true; all musicians do not do drugs, do not drink, etcetera… for example, dealing with finances, you know. Myself and Leroy, we had a very lucrative job travelling with an icon, perhaps you’ve heard of him, he’s called Harry Connick Jr. – and I walked in the bank one time to sign for a car. [The bank officer said] “Do you have a job?” and I said ‘yeah’, I’m sitting down with the bank officer and he’s ready to sign…”What’s you’re occupation?” ‘Musician’… “Oh…erm, excuse me for one moment.” you know, I was talking to the president of the bank… “I’m sorry, declined.” So then I decided, okay, well I’m going to go back to teaching, you know. Which was a hundred percent less what I was making when I was on the road with Harry – “What’s your occupation?” – teaching!
Louise: At least you could get your car!
Louis: Oh, not a problem! So that could be a setback.
Laura: I’ve had that with car insurance – they wouldn’t insure me because I was a musician, so I told them I was a teacher.
Louise: It’s kind of the same attitude in London towards musicians being debaucherous and not being able to pay.
Freddie: Look, if you can’t pay it off in two days, we can’t buy it!
Louis: They say being a musician is inconsistent, but that’s not true! Because we work every day. Actually, me and Joe, we’re in the band, we’re on our fourth cup of coffee right now, because we had four gigs last night! And I have three today, you know, and Joe as well – so we’re constantly working. But you can’t explain that to the bank. They look at you in one way, so that’s a setback.
Joe: And a lot of us need to put our kids through college!
Louis: Exactly, yeah, like he’s just said, my father played with Fats Domino, you know – I’m a fourth generation, and he had five kids, and my father sent those to parochial school – like Leroy mentioned to you, he went to a parochial school, Saint Augustine high school – I went to college, I got a degree in music education. My sisters went to college as well, you know, my brother as well, and all done by my father being a professional musician, you know. He worked seven days – seven days, none stop. Two or three jobs a day.
Joe: That’s true.
Louise: That’s amazing.
Leroy: And back in those days, the gigs that were along here, on this strip, on Bourbon Street, were six times forty-five minute sets.
Louise: Six? Goodness me!
Leroy: Yeah. And some places had three bands a night, and so they’d have eighteen hours continuous music. And you know, you establish yourself. For one thing, musicians, I think…well you have to, for one thing, follow your taxes at the end of the year and have something to show that you’re in the system, legit, even though you’re self-employed. So you can itemise, so you can have deductions on stuff if you’re doing your taxes yourself. Or have a tax accountant do it – I have a tax accountant, because to me it’s very complicated if you’re going to go into that, doing that, the long form is when you getting ten ninety nines where you haven’t gotten…nothing’s been taken out, you’ve got all your money, but you have to pay, you know, you don’t have to, but you should! Not to mention the repercussions if the IRS decides to audit or…you know, same thing everywhere, I’m sure. And I know taxes are really high in the UK, because I’ve played over there and I know how it is for the local musicians, I have friends that I recently toured with over there and I know how it goes there. But here it’s the same, basically. And I think that, you know, it’s almost in America, it’s like your credit is worth more than your collateral. It’s almost like, if you don’t have good credit – you can have as much money as you want – you have a problem; the first thing they’re gonna look at is your credit. Credit check, credit check. I wanna pay cash for the car. Whatever. You know, because it’s all about, you know, they’re trying to make a profit off of you, so…but I think if you’re working a lot and you’re legitimately doing things right, it helps. Not saying you will, but just saying being self employed, performing artist – just to make sure that you keep your papers in order, as far as your taxes and stuff. And I think that can help you to not have to come into a situation where, you know, ‘okay well, we can’t give you this because you’re insufficient on credit or your job is not stable’, you know…whatever.
Louise: Yeah, if you can prove your job’s stable, you should be okay!
Louis: It’s like, you know where you guys are from, again, dealing with demographics, I understand with the music that you’re going to be majoring in – that’s going to be your profession. That area’s going to have to be willing to embrace that profession, you understand what I’m saying? Because, I mean, if I was living in Jamaica and trying to make a living playing traditional jazz, it’s not gonna happen! So, if you wanna focus on being a traditional jazz musician in London, you have to hope that there are going to be clubs there, hotels, that’s gonna embrace that and promote it for you so that you can make a living.
Louise: At the minute, I mean it’s kind of like an underground scene, isn’t it, traditional jazz.
Adam: Yeah, but it is definitely there.
Louise: There’s this kind of hipster revolution where all the kids want to go out swing dancing because, you know, it’s become… they don’t really understand the music or the culture or anything.
Martin: It’s like, films as well, when a new film comes out, like, is it La La Land?
Louise: Yeah like when La La Land came out and everyone was like…I work in a Jazz bar in Greenwich, London, called Oliver’s, which is an amazing place with live bands every night – but Monday to Thursday is pretty much dead; no one comes in. Since La La Land, this film, has come out, it’s been packed every single night! So I suppose…
Martin: It’s a good thing.
Louise: Yeah, I mean, it’s a great thing that that’s happened, but it takes that – it takes some kind of hype to get people involved. And then they’re interested for a couple of months, and then they go onto something else.
Louis: It’s a fad, then it just fades out.
Louise: Yeah, which is frustrating for us, obviously, because this is our life – this is what we care about and this is what we love and are passionate about. So it’s trying to inspire people to get on that boat with us, and I mean, at the minute we’re trying to get people involved and inspired and teach, and you know, I think the most important thing is to access young people and to inspire them, because they are the musicians of the future.
Louise: And the grown-ups of the future.
Leroy: And the audiences of the future!
Louise: And the audiences of the future, exactly!
Laura: I think it’s also – In England there’s been…unfortunately in Europe it feels like it’s all shifting more towards the conservative side again, which is really sad. And with that, in England now, the arts have been quite slayed, so, when I grew up you had art education, music education in the general curriculum, studying on the state, whereas now they’re removing the arts and all the funding, so…
Leroy: It’s the same thing has happened over here, I mean…and it was the first thing to go. When they’re gonna cut expenses, the arts are out the window. When I was growing up in the early-mid sixties through the seventies, a little boy to teenager, youngsters that didn’t have parents who could afford an instrument for them, instruments were provided at the school – I’ll never forget, York was the brand for brass, we were playing York. Cornets – you had the cornets, trumpets and trombones, you know, and kids could use the instruments throughout the year, school year, and take it home…I think you had to give it back at summer unless you were in a summer camp, but I mean, you had an instrument to take home and practise on. And your folks – many parents couldn’t afford to, you know…a good instrument is expensive, even more expensive today than it was. I mean, I remember my first new horn was a Bundy, a Selmer Bundy, and it was a great horn, a student model – it was $250 in 1969. $250 was a lot of money in 1969 for a new student model horn! Today, when you consider the fact that you get student models now – I’ve seen them now going for $899, $870, you know, so actually, in reference to that, the price has dropped for student model horns. Of course, if you’re talking about professional instruments and custom made horns, you’ve gotta think, you know, it’s like, ‘What’s your bid?’ you know!
After a good night’s sleep and surprisingly un-jetlagged, we rose with the glorious southern sun to our first full day in the city of dreams. By daylight, we could truly appreciate how lucky we were to have landed such a stunning hotel with pool-side rooms and a waffle machine to boot, and couldn’t resist having a little warm up (and a massive breakfast) before hitting the town.
Stuffed full of waffles and at risk of losing Tom to the streets in his excited state of urgency, we made our first day-lit steps towards the French Quarter in search of The Preservation Hall, where we would later be interviewing four of the most celebrated jazz musicians in New Orleans.
To the French Quarter!
The streets were even more beautiful than we had imagined; marvelous French architecture beaming with colour and life, bars pouring out music on every corner, mule-drawn carriages and more Mardi Gras beads than you could imagine in green, purple and gold hanging from every balcony.
Luckily, The Preservation Hall was only a short walk from our hotel, so we had ample time to bide. In the distance we could hear the faint sounds of a brass band, so took a stroll down the street towards it.
The music just so happened to be coming from Jackson Square, just outside St Louis Cathedral, where we sat for our first glimpse of NOLA street music. They called themselves The Jackson Square Jazz Band, and were playing all of the New Orleans traditionals that we had been learning prior to our trip such as ‘Lil’ Liza Jane’, ‘Oh When The Saints’ and ‘Bourbon Street Parade’.
This first taste of the music-and-culture-rich NOLA that we had been dreaming about was the perfect aperitif to whet our appetites in anticipation for what the week before us was to hold; The sun was shining, the music was swinging and everybody was smiling.
After singing along with “Oh When The Saints Go Marching In” at the top of our lungs, we headed over to The Preservation Hall to begin our interviews with jazz legends Leroy Jones, Freddie Lonzo, Joe Lastie and Louis Ford.
The Preservation Hall Interviews
As we entered The Preservation Hall, we were overcome with excitement – our first engagement in New Orleans, and it just so happened to involve interviewing some of our heroes! This was also a little nerve wracking at first, however; what should we expect? We stepped in awe into the room where those at the centre of traditional jazz revival inspire hundreds of people every day – Leroy, Freddie, Joe and Louis greeted us with enthusiasm and warmth. We had attempted to prepare by forming a list of questions which provided comfort at first, but as we got into the interviews the conversation flowed from one topic into the next and we all felt at ease. More than anything, we were delighted and relieved to discover that despite being greatly celebrated musicians, they were humble and honest people too.
Out on swing-patrol
After the interviews, and with a 5pm Preservation Hall Band show penned into our diaries, we headed out onto the street where were lucky enough to be greeted by our first glimpse of Second Line Parade;
After being handed our first Mardi Gras beads by a group of kids who were following the parade, we decided to walk down to the river to soak in the views of the Mississippi before hunting down more musicians. Most probably in typical British tourist fashion, we burst into a gleeful chorus of “Down By The Riverside”. It had only just turned midday on our first day in the Crescent City and we had already seen and done so much.
We headed back over to Jackson Square in search of some NOLA local cuisine only to find the Jackson Square Band still playing in front of St Louis Cathedral. This time, we were invited to play with them! We had not yet sussed out whether or not rocking up and joining in with the local musicians was the done thing, but it soon became apparent that the street musicians all over NOLA were more than happy to collaborate with us – a bigger band draws a bigger audience, after all!
After an hour or so of jamming our favourite tunes, we squeezed into a taxi and headed over to Tremé in search of The Mother In Law Lounge, where we hoped to meet Kermit Ruffins for another interview. Unfortunately, we were informed by the bartender that Kermit was playing at The Blue Note in New York and must have made a mistake with his diary – we did, however, get to have a brief glimpse of another part of town and unmanageable quantities of some much deserved food!
With our bellies full of seafood and buffalo wings, we headed back to the hotel to take a breather before heading over to The Preservation Hall once more for their 5pm show. The band play several shows every day, all of which are open to people of all ages. When we got there, we were invited to sit on a row of cushions right at the front – they had been incredibly generous and had put us on the guest list!
We sat in anticipation as the band entered, and were delighted to see that Freddie Lonzo, Joe Lastie and Louis Ford would indeed be playing, joined by Gregg Stafford on trumpet and Steve Pistorious on piano. The gig was a fully immersive experience that got everyone clapping, singing, laughing and literally following Freddie in and out of the room in a conga-line like fashion!
After the show, alive with inspiration, we decided to brave the streets for the first time by ourselves as a group of street musicians. We found the perfect spot on the corner where Toulouse Street met Royal Street and began to play. We quickly gathered an enthusiastic crowd, and the joy of playing jazz at the top of our lungs at 7pm on a residential street and being congratulated for it was one of the most warm and welcoming feelings that we could imagine; It was a far cry from being moved on from a public walkway in Greenwich for busking in the middle of the day because street music ’causes an annoyance’. Freddie Lonzo himself even passed by and stopped to listen for a while! We knew that New Orleans had a rich musical culture, but were not expecting to be so readily and immediately accepted as musicians there ourselves.
Our busking session was promptly followed with our first daiquiris (frozen cocktail slushies!) and the rest of the evening was spent jamming with the house band in Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub.
Who knew that so much fun could be had in one day? Keep your eyes peeled for our next diary post to find out what we got up to on our third day in New Orleans.
Laura: When did you start playing trombone, how old where you?
Freddie: I started when I was thirteen years old.
Laura: And how did you start? What was your, sort of, journey?
Freddie: Let me see if I can make this quicker – I had an older brother and he’s a trombone player, okay – and basically he used to practise at home. But it’s kinda crazy, what he used to do to me is basically he’d lock me out of the room because he didn’t want me to come in and watch him play trombone! It was kinda like, I always said, a forbidden fruit, you know. So when he graduated from high school, he went away to a junior college, and this school only had vocal – they didn’t have any instruments, only vocals. So we were renting a horn at the time and we were going to send the instrument back to the music store. When I found out that he was going and the horn was staying, that was my chance – I scooped it up! I said no, leave it here, I’ll mess around on it!
Laura: What trombone was it? What kind?
Freddie: It was an old King, I can tell you – I feel like it was a Liberty, it was a student horn, yeah, an old Liberty. And basically my brother left it there and I just kinda jumped on it, you know.
Laura: Did you have lessons or where you exploring it for yourself?
Freddie: Well basically it was like in the middle of the year, so what happened was the beginners’ class had already started in the school, so they stuck me in the advance class which, I mean, I had no business being in, I have to be honest. But the teacher would take some time out – she’s come and spend some time with me. She’d stick me in the practise room, you know, kinda sound proof – not completely sound proof – and she’d come in, because she’d put me in the classes with the trombones, the tubas, all the French horns and the baritone – that was all in the same class. So she’d come and spend some time with me and she’d send me to the practise room. It wasn’t completely soundproof so while I was trying to play what she was showing me, I was also listening to what was going on outside. So it was kind of ear training in a sense and what she had presented to me in the books. Erm, I’m going on and on because I’ve lost myself! So basically, I tell you what, I’ll back it up a little more – I was in a woodwind class, so actually I flunked plywood so they wouldn’t let me in, they would happily send me out of that class because I was going around doing all kinds of crazy stuff, so they were glad to get me out of that class, you know “Yeah, you go and play the trombone!” Like I said, I flunked plywood.
Leroy: So you did have private lessons when you started playing trombone?
Freddie: Yeah, she spent some time with me, you know, as much as she could because she had a whole class to deal with. So I mean, if you want to say that’s private, yeah – she had to deal with everybody, but not really one-on-one, nah I never really had that in that sense.
Tom: What about any of you other guys?
Leroy: Well, I started playing when I was ten and my parents rented a cornet for me because the school I was going to had a band programme and the headmaster was Sister Mary Hilary who was Orleans parish, she covered like, Dominican high school, Catholic schools, and she had also St. Leo the Great and uptown Lady of Lourdes. So I wanted to play cornet because Louis Armstrong played cornet and I mean my ears were open to music even before I picked up a musical instrument. Actually, the first instrument I played was guitar and I taught myself before I had a horn, and fiddled around on the guitar until I was about eighteen but I started taking lessons, private lessons, every once a week. I took private lessons for about four years. I became involved with a brass band called the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band, a Christian marching band that was in essence formed by Danny Barker, who you’ve heard of probably, and Danny Barker was a member of the Fairview Baptist Church. The pastor at that time was Reverend Andrew Darby who asked Danny to recruit some young people to complete this band because there were not enough youngsters among the congregation playing instruments appropriate for brass band. There were a few, but not many, so that’s how I got involved with that, even though I was going to St. Leo the Great school and taking lessons and so the first two years I was not involved with the brass band thing, with the age old tradition of brass band music in New Orleans, which is something that I had been exposed to growing up in the city and going to be part of the Second Line and not to mention too far in to details about that, you know, that proposal of things that were put on by the social aid and clubs, these black organisations that have, they go back a hundred years or more and they were organisations that helped African Americans who didn’t have money for, say, a burial or a funeral, they were helping each other you know. It was a benevolent organisation, and it’s still around today, and they do a parade every year, so I started playing gigs when I was twelve, so I still was in school.
Tom: And that was on the cornet?
Leroy: On the cornet, not long before I switched to trumpet. Everybody played the cornet back then, even the elementary books would be like, for cornet 1, cornet 2, you know, it was cornet parts, as opposed…as far as what I remember when I first started playing in band, and you were playing symphonic music mostly – all classical pieces. Marches, John Phillip Sousa marches mostly and a few other things we did that were related, but I played in band, and it was a sort of a wind ensemble. And later I played in a high school that this young man went to after me, Saint Augustine. They had a bigger organisation – a big marching band, a hundred and twenty five piece marching band and the music got a bit more difficult, it was a bit more advanced. I played with that band, I played with the symphonic band, then we played classical pieces and some arrangements of music for our peers, like pop music that was popular during the 70’s when I was at high school. And from there I went to Loyola for one year before they got the fancy building, I spent a year at Loyola on jazz studies, aspiring to be a performing artist and other circumstances caused me to drop out and end up joining the union, and I ended up working a gig on Bourbon street at a place where this man (Joe Lastie Jr.) is working at The Maison Bourbon, my first jazz gig back in 1978 – and I haven’t stopped since! I was sixteen years old actually when I decided – his (Louis Ford’s) father was a great saxophonist, clarinettist, musician that I had an opportunity to learn from as well, we played together. And when I say learn, when you get on the bandstand and stand next to, like, his dad Clarence Ford was a master, and associated peers Ed Frank, a piano player – these men are deceased now but those are just mentioning two that I learned how to play jazz, the concept, how to develop a proper concept of improvisation so, you know, because jazz is a language with many different dialects, so you know, I chose that one, with a mixture of what I had been exposed to before I started playing what I would define as jazz or swing music. I knew I wanted to be a professional musician when I was sixteen. So that’s it in a nutshell, you know. Fifty nine now and I still love it!
Martin: Do you feel the classical music background helped?
Leroy: Yeah, as far as from a technical stand point, what the teachers had, they were giving me pointers on how to properly manipulate the instrument I mean, you know, any trumpet player can tell you, any wind instrument player will know that the instrument is demanding – you can’t just say “Okay, I’m gonna play” one day and then put the horn in the case and leave it for two or three days. I mean, you can, but it makes it rough when you come back and have to deliver with precision if you really, you know – so yes. I would say so in as far as the reading aspect as well, although there’s a misconception about New Orleans musicians, a lot of people think that New Orleans musicians all just play by ear; many of them do, but they also read music. I mean, we all read music. All these bands, we had marches and we had a guy, there were certain people wo – Adrian Morgan is a guy who was phenomenal, underrated – he wrote arrangements for the bands we played for in high school, and the hundred and twenty five piece band would play, like, say a tune like Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On’ or something like that, and it sounded just like the record because this man had transcribed parts that fit for each various instrument – low brass, upper brass, reeds, everything was just like that, and so when we would march up the street, like during carnival, we played all the parades, the band sounded like a mobile jukebox. Seriously!
Tom: Thanks so much for agreeing to do this, I’ve wanted to come here and see you guys and listen to you all for a long long time, so thanks so much! The first thing I’d like to ask is when are your gigs between now and the 1st of March when we have to leave, have you got anything that we could come and see?
Freddie: Well, I’m here today from 5 ‘til 7 at The Preservation Hall, and then I’m down at the Maison on Bourbon. And then tomorrow I come back here again at five. Then on Sunday I’m at The Jazz Playhouse.
Tom: Is that with Shannon Powell?
Freddie: No, Tim Laughlin.
Tom: Have you (Leroy) got any gigs over the next couple of days?
Leroy: Tomorrow there’s an annual greasing of the poles over in front of the Royal Sonester Hotel which is where the Jazz Playhouse is – inside there. And between 10 and 11am tomorrow they do what they call the greasing of the poles, where they have some celebrity guests on the front poles of the hotel putting lard on the poles, and you know, on Mardi Gras day some crazy people like to climb up to get to the balcony, so if all that grease is on there then they can’t climb up! So we play this brass band thing, bring ‘em out, it’s very brief. And there’s the football team, the New Orleans Saints cheerleaders all there – some of the members of the Zulu Krewe are there and maybe a couple of other guests, local and celebrity guests. So that’s happening tomorrow.
Tom: At 10am?
Leroy: Yes, 10 until 11. And then I’m playing Saturday night at The Bombay Club from 8:30 until 11:30pm and that’s on Conti, up this way between Bourbon and Dauphine, and it’s in the Prince Conti Hotel. But if you google The Bombay Club, it’s like a British pub actually! *laughter* That’s all until after Mardi Gras, so…because this is the big weekend coming up!
Louise: We’re all stupidly excited, this is our first day!
Leroy: And the weather’s great, too!
Louise: Well, Hurricane Doris has just hit England, it’s like 11 degrees there.
Laura: Yeah, we’re lucky to be here in the sun!
Louise: So, we wondered about all of your early influences and what led you to where you are today?
Joe: Well, I’ve got a question for y’all.
Joe: You said something at the top of the conversation about in London, trying to learn jazz, and my question is, which jazz?
Louise: Well, I suppose in London, the route if you want to be a musician is to study, do your grades maybe and then go to conservatoire where you’re basically told what you’ve got to learn to pass your course. At the beginning, certainly for me, when I went I was excited to learn and to play and to sing but you kind of come out having been a little bit squeezed into a mould.
Joe: Well, what kind of genre?
Adam: It’s mainly focussed on Bebop.
Tom: Yeah, it’s very harmony orientated at the conservatoires. But there are a lot of great musicians that have stayed clear of the conservatoires and just been really good and been on the scene and worked their way up. But the nice thing is that it does just give you a community where you can form bands like this.
Joe: What kind of songs do you learn?
Freddie: So basically it’s very academic, not as…not sure if that’s quite the right word.
Leroy: Well it’s the same with the university curriculum here, if you want to be a music major, you know you’re going to have to have theory and you’re going to have to study a certain way jazz was at a certain point in time, which excludes before Coltrane and before even, sometimes, before Charlie Parker. But Bebop is traditional now, because it’s over 60 years old. So I’m saying that’s not what you would call modern jazz but at one time, that’s what you’d say that’s modern jazz. But what they don’t teach, I’m sure in London like here for example – well, in New Orleans, we have some of our institutions like the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, I think the kids there are getting a little bit of everything, am I right? Because the musicians who are professional performing artists there are also showing them the New Orleans tradition, which you are definitely not going to get in any university! And so they are being exposed to that, as well as getting the necessary things to obtain a degree in whatever, in theory or harmony or whatever – or performing art, and of course, the classical aspect is there as well, if you care to venture in that direction, but it’s the same. It’s the same here. But I think in New Orleans it’s better in that if you might be going to uni and studying there to get a degree at Loyola, they have a conservatory at Loyola university, but also you have these opportunities to come and learn like this, like we do, you know. Many of us have various levels of musical education but great degrees of musical education when it comes to growing up in this city and listening to the musicians who were our mentors – and many of them have passed on but you can kind of feel on one hand that they’re still around, they have inspired us and taught us.
Freddie: To elaborate on what Leroy was saying, being fortunate that we’re from New Orleans the music here is ancestral – it’s been passed on from generation to generation. Just recently we had what, about 25 Japanese students, actually they left today, that came in town. And their sole purpose was to come in and listen, study and play along with us and the unfortunate thing is that they’re not accustomed to that in their own demographics. Here, we’re surrounded by that and we grew up with that, you know, so it’s in our genes.
Louise: I mean, to wake up, walk out the hotel and to hear an absolutely swinging band playing down in Jackson Square was just, you know, a dream come true! If only we could step out our front door in London and hear that
Laura: What you’re describing is like, essentially growing up in a context cultivates a certain attitude that you know, you’re not necessarily going to acquire in a conservatoire where you’re learning formally, because music is experiential and if you’re embedded in the culture from square one and are exposed to your mentors then you’re going to have a different attitude.
Louis: I wouldn’t say it’s easier for us – yes, it’s somewhat, but we do have to work at it, but those that are not from here really have to work hard at it.
Laura: Well, it’s more natural if you’re conditioned from square one.
Louise: I suppose it’s like if your family always listens to classical music and then you learn the violin, you’re going to be much better at it than if hadn’t.
Joe: I wanna answer that again and think about it, you know; You said it, I grew up playing in church – the same songs we play in church, we play in traditional jazz, so I come up playing and having that feeling, watching my elders and in fact both my grandfathers played drums in church, with my cousin, so I was born into it at a very young age in church. I’m sure some of these guys grew up playing in church too.
Louise: We’re really interested in having a listen to the music in church and going to church to listen to it but do you think we’ll be out of place if we just rocked up at a church?
Joe: No, I don’t think, to answer your question, we’re really not that.
Freddie: Well here’s another thing too, I mean everybody’s pretty much said the same thing you know, for example there’s Thursday… Thursday, Monday, Tuesday, you know, there’s always music somewhere in the city someplace, pretty much you know like you said, you step out of the hotel. I mean, this is the neighbourhood outside of the quarter where a lot of people wanna go – almost any day at any time, you might see some musicians. You know, sometimes you walk downstairs and you see them all alone, you know, they’ve got trumpet or tuba, trombone – I’ve been sitting at the station, bus stop, waiting to catch a bus I see students just hanging on the corner. So this is a kind of crazy city – not crazy – a little different. I mean it’s…I guess people are not shocked when they see one or two guys standing on the corner playing, you know, ‘cause that’s how it’s always been here, as far as I’ve been here, you know.
If you’ve been following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, you’ve probably seen the photos of our big trip. Now we’re back, we’d like to share our memories and the valuable lessons that we learned in NOLA, right from day one. So, here it is! The NOLA Diaries. Enjoy!
After a 6am wake-up call and a hearty breakfast (not to mention the 5 months of pre-planning…) we finally took our first steps on our big adventure to the Crescent City. Despite the big build up, the reality of our venture had still not quite settled in until we arrived at Heathrow airport.
After a 9 hour flight, countless films and ample plane food (and wine!), we arrived in Atlanta, ready to make our final transfer to New Orleans.
Finally, at around 9pm local time, we arrived in New Orleans – with no real idea of how to get from the airport to our hotel!
Luckily, the locals were very helpful and helped to guide our sleepy heads over to the French Quarter, where we caught the first glimpses of our rather splendid hotel, The New Orleans Courtyard Hotel on North Rampart Street…
But we couldn’t hit the hay until we had ventured into the French Quarter to get our first taste of the local cuisine. Just a few minutes down the road from the hotel, we found Buffa’s, where we first encountered the glorious flavours of New Orleans with Shrimp Creole, Gumbo and red beans and rice.
Finally, bellies full (and at serious risk of losing Hannah to sleep deprivation), it was time to get some sleep, excited to see what adventures tomorrow would hold. Nighty night, Old Jelly Rollers!
In the two days prior to our departure, we had the pleasure of working with Malcolm Earle-Smith in two group mentoring sessions. Malcolm is a multi-faceted musician with ample experience and expertise in playing (and singing) traditional jazz, among other disciplines.
We began the mentoring session by playing some of our best known songs, looking to Malcolm for advice and inspiration. He gave us the following tips to pursue a more authentic sound:
- Don’t get too attached to the melody – Malcolm pointed out that once the instrumental head has been played, the singer does not necessarily have to adhere to the exact melody of the song, even in their first chorus. The role of a singer in a traditional jazz ensemble is quite different to that of a contemporary jazz singer, and the voice should be viewed more along the lines of a horn. You need to project to be heard unamplified over a large ensemble so must be economical with note choices and focus on rhythm and energy.
- Slow down – Many of the tempos that we are comfortable with as contemporary jazz musicians would be considered unnecessarily fast in traditional or second line jazz. Does it swing better 20bpm slower? Probably!
- Play more collectively – After four years of essentially studying Bebop and post-bop, we have become acclimatised to the idea of soloing and queuing up for solos; in traditional jazz, the music is largely about the more collective aspect. Riffing and interacting as an ensemble throughout a song is key.
- Include other influences – No matter how hard we try to create an authentic sound, we have all grown up in 21st century Great Britain. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it just means that we will all inevitably have had other influences throughout our musical (and non-musical) lives. Malcolm suggested not to shy away from these and to try to be open to include other influences in our music.
- Just let go! – Traditional jazz and second line music is all about the feeling and the joy of playing music with your friends, peers and contemporaries, so don’t be afraid to mess it up. Just let loose and play!
Our mentoring left us feeling much more comfortable in the genre and excited to have the opportunity to submerge ourselves in the real thing down in the Crescent City – Thank you, Malcolm!
Have a listen to our final moments of mentoring below.
Although our band rehearsed for the first time on the 7th October 2016, we began as a concept for a module of our studies at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance; ‘CoLab’ is a two week long study period in the middle of February, in which students and teachers partake in collaborative projects with students from other departments.
Each project is allocated a performance slot – we were allocated a site specific performance on Friday 17th at he Laban premises.
We began our performance in the foyer with ‘Bourbon Street Parade’, a New Orleans traditional, before parading around the building for a further ten to fifteen minutes playing songs such as ‘Just A Closer Walk With Thee’, ‘Lil Liza Jane’ and ‘Down By The Riverside’. Our performance ended with a further stationary performance in the foyer.
Despite having not yet had the input of our mentor, Malcolm Earle-Smith, we had already developed a strong rapport and a good understanding of the music. This, combined with our excitement to be leaving to New Orleans only a few days later, made for an enthusiastic and energetic performance!