100 Years of Jazz: The Prohibition

Blog written by Louise Balkwill for The Becky Dell Music Academy

As what we have come to know as “Traditional Jazz” grew in popularity and spread from New Orleans across the whole of America, new inventions and political changes also began to shape the music.

The Prohibition in the United States of America (a constitutional ban on all alcohol in America between 1920 and 1933) kick-started the “Jazz Age” and made way for a new secret night life culture, where people would find any way they could to smuggle, brew or distil their own alcoholic drinks.

Hoagy Carmichael, one of the great 20th century composers, said that the prohibition..

“came with a bang of bad booze, flappers with bare legs, jangled morals and wild weekends.”

According to novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, during prohibition…

“The parties were bigger…the pace was faster…and the morals were looser.”

Jazz music became the popular music of the day among the young and ‘hip’ crowds, many of whom were at the forefront of the rebellion.

They would meet in secret clubs, “speakeasies”, to eat, drink and dance all night long to the ever-growing variety of live jazz music that had become an important part of the youth culture of the day.

Because jazz music became associated with seedy illicit bars, alcohol culture and crime, and because racism was still so rife, the white middle class saw jazz as a dark, rebellious and uncouth genre.

This didn’t stop the musicians of the 1920’s!

They continued to compose and play music that has since become timeless, shaping all popular music to follow it.

Check out this 1927 recording of “Potato Head Blues” by the great Louis Armstrong’s “Hot Fives and Sevens”

100 Years of Jazz: Traditional Jazz

Blog written by Louise Balkwill for The Becky Dell Music Academy

If you have been following this blog series, you have read about ragtime music – a genre of piano-based music played from sheet music for high society. You will have also heard some blues – heavily improvised music, used primarily as a form of expression among black slaves and musicians and frowned upon by the upper class white folk.

Now picture this – a story of the origins of jazz that I was told a couple of weeks ago in the birthplace of jazz by a pianist at the New Orleans Jazz Museum;

“You’re a black musician. It’s 1900, or thereabouts. There’s a gig this evening at one of the hottest clubs in the quarter, but the trumpet player is ill, or has taken another gig, or, for some other reason can’t make it, and has asked you to step in and do the gig instead…

At the time, “rags” were popular and had become more complex, with various written parts for various instruments that the musicians were expected to play. However, if you were offered a gig but your part was missing, you couldn’t afford to turn down the gig – you’d just have to make up the part!

And thus began improvisation in a band setting, using preconceived chord patterns and melodies.”

As time went on, new compositions were written in a way that supported this new improvisational style. To begin with, songs still felt very “arranged” and could have all manner of forms that sounded “rag”-esque. There were written melodies, chord patterns and some harmony parts, but the nature of being a busy musician in this era had changed; You had to understand the role of your instrument and be able to improvise in a band setting.

Roles of Instruments in a Traditional Jazz Band

If you wanted to play in a band in early 1900’s America, you had to understand how your instrument worked in a collective sense. You also had to develop technique and a good understanding of musical harmony.

Voice: Most instrumentalists would double as singers. The vocal chorus would appear in the middle of a performance instead of being the main feature of a song.

Trumpet/Cornet: `Frontline (plays the melody and solos)

Clarinet: Frontline (plays an agile countermelody/obbligato that weaves in and out of the melody. Also plays improvised solos)

Trombone: Frontline (harmonises with higher brass and fills in with scoops and slides)

Piano: Frontline & Rhythm section (plays “stride” but can also solo and play countermelodies)

Banjo/Guitar: Rhythm section (plays on the beat every beat – “chg-chg-chg-chg”)

Bass/Sousaphone/Tuba: Rhythm section (plays generally roots and fifths on the 1st and 3rd beats of each bar

“Dixieland”

The first jazz recording dates back to 1917, and was recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band:

“Dixieland” is, however, a controversial term. It was used by white musicians to describe their generally sped-up, “cleaned-up” version of the slower, more blues influenced traditional jazz music that was being played by black musicians. This term is not well received to this day amidst New Orleans’ traditional musicians.

The “Invention of Jazz”

Jelly Roll Morton was said to be the self-proclaimed “inventor of jazz”, although his actual words were quite different. He wrote;

“All my fellow musicians were much faster in manipulations, I thought than I, and I did not feel as though I was in their class.”

So he would write songs to be played at a slower tempo, leaving more room for flexibility when it came to improvising.

When Jelly Roll Morton started recording his own compositions with his band, he could play to the strengths of his fine comrades. The music became faster (this was popular at the time as it was more fun to dance to) and more virtuosic.

This new style that he had suggested paved the way for a new generation of jazz musicians.

Check out this 1923 recording of “High Society” by King Oliver and his band – just listen to that clarinet go!

The reality is that the invention of jazz music cannot be accredited to any one musician. It is a genre that celebrates collective playing and improvisation and welcomes influences from a wide variety of backgrounds and influences.

A blog about this era is not complete without a glimpse of one of the world’s greatest musical heroes in the formative years of his musical journey. Here’s a treat for you – Louis Armstrong playing “Potato Head Blues” in 1927 with his Hot Seven!

Next time, we’ll be looking at how traditional jazz swung its way into popularity with the swing era – big bands, crooners, endless dancing and pioneers of the 21st century!

100 Years of Jazz: Blues

Blog written by Louise Balkwill for The Becky Dell Music Academy

Alongside the evolution of the music from Congo Square in the 19th Century, before the abolition of the slave trade in America, another type of slave music grew in the Southern plantations; Blues.

Blues found its origins in the Mississippi Delta, when slaves would sing about their sorrows while picking cotton and working in the fields. It was initially considered a type of folk music and was popular only among African slaves and their descendants, frowned upon by the middle and upper class Americans of European decent.

Early types of blues music included spirituals (religious songs using vocal harmony) and work songs. Work songs were structured in a call and response fashion and lyrics were largely improvised before any transcribed or recorded compositions arose.

Here is a short documentary on “Slave Songs”, possibly the first published book of work songs and spirituals sung by African Americans in the 1800’s. These songs evolved into what we know as blues, and the book most probably contains the first ever compilation of transcriptions of the genre.

 

As blues and jazz have similar origins, the two genres married perfectly when the aural traditions of both were passed from state to state among musicians and travellers. Jazz musicians all over the world still play what we have come to know as “jazz blues” .

 

The “Blues Scale”

Today, the blues is easily recognisable by its form (usually 12 bars, explained later on in this blog) and “blues notes”, otherwise known as “worried notes” – these are flattened 3rds, 7thand sometimes 5ths that give the music its melancholic, implied minor feel. These can be found in what is known as the blues scale, a scale that can be used as a good starting place to practise improvisation on the blues;

 

12 Bar Blues

The basic blues structure is made up of 12 bars (3 groups of 4 bars), like so: A great example of this is W.C. Handy’s 1915 composition, “Joe Turner Blues” – have a listen!

 

Other Blues Forms

Although most blues that we know today is constructed as above, there is also eight bar blues, sixteen bar blues, minor blues and other variations.

Check out Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s rendition of “Trouble In Mind”, an eight bar blues:

 

Give it a go!

Why not have a go at writing your own? Here are some blues lyrics by one of the 20thcentury’s best loved jazz singers, Billie Holiday. See how the first two lines are the same, and the last line rhymes with them?

My man don’t love me, treats me awful mean
My man don’t love me, treats me awful mean
He’s the lowest man that I’ve ever seen

Let us know what you come up with! If you need more inspiration, check out this blues composition by one of our amazing pupils, Tilda!

The History of Mardi Gras

A blog by Louise Balkwill

HAPPY MARDI GRAS 2019, EVERYONE!

Whether you’re partying it up in New Orleans or flipping sad pancakes in your London flat (we speak from experience), it’s great to know what the fuss is all about.

If you’re doing the sad pancake flipping thing and want to upgrade your Mardi Gras…Come down to Oliver’s Jazz Bar tonight (5th March 2019) to party NOLA style with us!

It’s no secret that New Orleans knows how to throw a party, and anyone who’s anyone knows that NOLA’s the place to be during carnival season! But when, where and why did it start?

 

Where did it come from?

The first North American Mardi Gras took place in 1699, but the tradition of Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years and may originally have been rooted in similar Pagan festivals such as Saturnalia and Lupercalia, celebrating spring and fertility. When Christianity became a hit in Rome, religious leaders liked the idea of these Pagan festivals (or rather, adopting them as new Christian traditions seemed easier than abolishing Pagan traditions altogether) and decided to invite themselves to the party.

Not the first time Christianity hijacked a pagan holiday, right? Ho ho ho…

The Pagan festival, Lupercalia – What a party!

However, Mardi Gras celebrations were famously over-indulgent and debaucherous; One school of thought is that, to justify such raucous partying, Christian leaders coined Mardi Gras a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of fasting between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Another is that Mardi Gras celebrations were born to propagate anti-pagan rumours, favouring the Catholic Church’s pristine image of discouraging sex, consumption of meat and hedonism prior to Lent.

 

Will we ever truly know? Either way, the first Mardi Gras celebrations must have been a sight to behold. Mardi Gras followed Christianity as it spread through Europe and eventually boarded ships to America along with new European settlers.

 

The First North American Mardi Gras

So, the first Mardi Gras in North America must have taken place in New Orleans, right? WRONG! The city of New Orleans was founded in 1718, but the first North American Mardi Gras took place 60 miles downriver from NOLA’s future site almost two decades before on the 3rd of March, 1699. French-Canadian explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville remembered that it was Fat Tuesday back home in France, so named his camp Point du Mardi Gras and held a small gala.

As years went by, these Mardi Gras galas moved to Mobile, a newly founded city (now Alabama), and became more and more lavish, boasting massive feasts, masks, costumes and a lot of booze.

 

Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Mardi Gras caught on very quickly in New Orleans, and despite efforts from both the Spanish leaders (who ruled the city from 1762 – 1800) and the U.S. authorities (who ruled from 1803 onwards) to stifle the fun, ban the costumes and abolish the balls, the Mardi Gras spirit persisted.

By 1837, New Orleans had grown from a small settlement to one of America’s most hip and happening cities, and the first Mardi Gras street parade marked a further evolution of the tradition.

If you’re in New Orleans, don’t miss this year’s parades! CLICK HERE to see who’s where and when.

 

Krewes

Twenty years after the first street parade, a group of six men founded a secret society called the Mistick Krewe of Combus – New Orleans’ first and oldest krewe. Their parade, themed “The Demon Actors in Milton’s Paradise Lost”, turned the tides of Mardi Gras’ popularity and marked the beginning of the era of krewes in New Orleans.

It was only in 1992 that New Orleans City Council passed an ordinance that prohibited krewes from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation or national origin. Rex immediately pledged to proceed on a welcoming and inclusive basis but, sadly, Comus, Momus and Proteus chose to stop parading rather than invite black people to join them – a symptom of the racism that is still rife in North America.

Comus is yet to return to the streets, Momus became the Knights of Chaos and Proteus returned to the street parades in 2000 after signing the non-discrimination pledge.

~

So, that’s all for now, folks! We hope you have an amazing Mardi Gras, whatever you choose to do. But if you’re in London, you may regret not coming to tonight’s Mardi Gras gig for the rest of your lives, so you should probably do that.

See you at Oliver’s Jazz Bar (Nevada Street, Greenwich, SE10 9JL) at 9pm tonight…
WE HAVE KING CAKE!

Lots of love,

The Old Jelly Rollers xx

The Preservation Hall Interviews – Part 4

The fourth 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 3? Click here to read it.)

Tom: Can I ask something a little different? How do you feel the internet and globalization has affected like, the mass appeal of New Orleans music? And you know, I don’t think this kind of thing would have happened a few decades ago – do you feel like it’s kind of diluted traditions or do you like the fact that there’s now more of a, perhaps an appeal to it?

Leroy: Well, I like the fact that it has promoted it and it has exposed us more to the world. And you know what really helped, if you know about the series called Treme? That, after the levees failed, after Hurricane Katrina, I must say that that, if there was one series on TV, and this was of course HBO – one of the paid channels to watch it, now it’s on DVD but it brought focus on New Orleans in a way that we had not seen before, and also it exposed a lot of truths in a way, and showed how people, musicians, really, how we are here in New Orleans. How we speak in New Orleans, unlike some other attempts to capture that, like ‘The Big Easy’ and those things that tried to depict New Orleans – but it put us on the map, you know, and everybody got a chance, all the musicians, at least… I think everybody got to make an appearance in it, and if you had your original material, your songs played on it – you got licencing for that song, which is a fat pay check for that month, and then you get a little kick back in residual over time, according to how it’s distributed to other places, and overseas. But it gave everybody an opportunity – just about everybody in the city, the musicians at some point appeared in the series, and they made sure of it. And venues got exposure – this venue, the Palm Court jazz café…other venues around the city – there’s hundreds of venues that have music. Lots of different places around the city, each giving that to New Orleans. Live music. So it gave a nice opportunity in conjunction with the social media – facebook, twitter and…you know, all of those different things. And now it couldn’t be better! You can promote yourself without any absorbent fees, you know, and people are going there and looking for you. I think it’s great. Like, personally, I think it’s great.

Joe: I think it’s great too, because I hate it when people come up to me and say you know, well, traditional music is dying. So through social media and stuff, people know like, hey, not in New Orleans! And like, y’all youngsters, interested in this traditional music – I mean, come on, where’s it going?

Louise: Yeah, as long as people are constantly accessing it and loving it then it’s never going to die. I think it’s really sad when people say that. It’s one of those depressing things, isn’t it – like, my own mum, she is a classical musician and an actress, and she said to me ‘Why are you playing jazz?’ you know, ‘Jazz is dying’…MUM. No.

Hannah: You can say the same about classical music though, too. I mean, it’s very hard to get people along to classical concerts and pay for it, you know. Especially, like, we see that a lot in the Royal Festival Hall – there are just so many empty seats, and not many people I know my age at all, except on my course, listen to classical music. I know a lot of musicians doing the classical course who don’t even like listening to classical music. That’s the extent of some of it.

Martin: Same with Scottish trad as well, like, Scottish trad is going downhill now because of people [not supporting it]

Leroy: I mean, recently I was up in Royal Festival, and Lockerbie, you know, in Scotland, and places where they’re strong on traditional jazz there. You know, and up in Edinburgh there’s a nice jazz fest, and it’s jazz, you know, it’s not like Parliament and Funkadelic, which I love, like George Clinton and the P-funk and all that stuff, you know, I like good music, period. So I’m not biased against any…I love great classical music, I mean, we have a great Symphony out here in Louisiana Philharmonic, and then there’s societies that support the symphony, so those people are on salary. And fortunately – it’s like with the Opera, you know, I’ve been going to the opera lately with George, we’ve been going to sit in the operas, we get the tickets – they’re more reasonable than trying to go and see The Lion King at the Saenger, where the cheapest tickets are eighty bucks per person! And twenty-three dollars to sit up at the back, got your binoculars for the opera, and the symphony’s playing and it’s, you know, famous operas and great…and the music is great, the acoustic, and you know, if you wanna look closely, you put your binoculars on like them movie folks over there, and you can see…and it’s wonderful. It’s a wonderful musical experience, and it happens here. I mean, it’s full! There are people here, probably societies too, that support the music that’s considered not popular. And fortunately, thank God for those people, because then the symphonic musicians and so forth – they wouldn’t have a job. And, of course, they can teach, and then you could, I mean…*sighs*…I think every player wants to play, and it’s great to…and we’ve all, I mean I know I have, and he (Louis) does more than anyone, teach. There’s a lot of teaching. And I’ve given private lessons to trumpet students and teach people. But my forte, what I enjoy most, is performing and composing and making music – you know, getting together with cats to make some music together. So it’s, you know, I think that it is a pity that there is a lack of appreciation overall because there’s a certain norm of pop music that’s supposed to be popular. It may not be so good as far as having artistic merit, but it’s popular.

Louise: And I suppose I think that that’s one of the ways that the internet has affected music and jazz – People have access to so much music that it’s easier for most people (who aren’t musicians and don’t understand music) to listen to what’s on the radio and what their friends listen to and never even hear jazz because there’s so much music out there now.

Laura: It’s about exposure and what you’re lucky enough to cross paths with.

Freddie: Yeah, definitely.

Laura: Popular culture, driven by capitalism is ramming out loads of generic, ‘lesser’…well, I wouldn’t say lesser but of musical merit, for me personally, lesser quality music. It’s about the exposure you’re fortunate enough to meet.

Louise: I think everyone sees that one gig, don’t they, that inspires them, or meets that one musician, or hears that one song and then that’s is – and it’s about having access to that.

Click here for part 5

The Preservation Hall Interviews – Part 3

The third 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 2? Click here to read it.)

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?

Joe: …Life!

*laughter*

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.

Laura: Unreliable!

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.

Leroy: Sure.

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!

Click here for part 4

The NOLA Diaries – Day 2

(Missed Day 1? Click here to read it)

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.

Click here to read the interviews

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!

To Tremé

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!

 

Evening antics

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.