In 2008, I watched the Democratic Convention from the lounge of the hospital NICU unit that was my newborn son’s home for the first month of his life. (He was born 8 weeks early; he is and has been perfectly healthy.)
Back then, we were all poised for an election that we hoped would signal the birth of a new moment in this country.
And back then, I was worried about whether New Orleans—the birthplace of Allen Toussaint (who wrote this tune), and the focus of my work at that time—would survive.
I remember that feeling. Continue reading “Your Campaign Theme, Courtesy of Allen Toussaint”
Donald Harrison—alto saxophonist, composer, bandleader, occasional singer and drummer, and Big Chief of The Congo Square Nation Afro-New Orleans Cultural Group—understands the history of jazz, the culture of New Orleans and the flow of African American music in general better than nearly anyone alive.
His version of “Old Town Road” is no gimmick.
When he convened drummer Thomas Glass, pianist Shea Pierre and bassist Chris Severin in a New Orleans studio for an acoustic jazz version of the song, he was inspired by the 2018 recording by Lil Nas X, which “had a serious groove and a clear idea,” he said, and by the remix for which the rapper was joined by country-music star Billy Ray Cyrus, which, for Harrison, “brought worlds together in a moving way.”
As the above video shows, Harrison was inspired to play, to dance and to think about the connection between playing and dancing. We spoke about all of that recently.
What hipped you to this song?
On a recent Sunday afternoon, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis led his Uptown Jazz Orchestra in a live-streamed online concert—a “Double Nickel Birthday Bash,” he called it, marking his turning 55 and, more importantly, the launch of the new non-profit organization he spearheaded in his hometown—Keep New Orleans Music Alive (KNOMA).
“My dad dedicated his life to growing and promoting New Orleans musicians,” Marsalis said of the patriarch of his celebrated musical family, pianist and educator Ellis Marsalis, who succumbed to Covid-19 on April 1, at the age of 85. “Today, the global health pandemic presents a threat to New Orleans’ culture bearers like none before.”
Despite such a dire statement, Marsalis’s band exuded joy more than anything else, as it has on Wednesday nights at the Snug Harbor club on Frenchmen Street—that is, until the lockdown came. The same can be said of “Jazz Party,” Marsalis’s seventh album as a leader. That suave and smart release showcased the tight big-band Delfeayo leads, including some the Crescent City’s best players, exemplifying an approach to music that involves updating traditional New Orleans repertoire with modernist touches as well as playing modern-jazz classics in a hometown style aimed first and foremost, he says, “to make people happy.” With his big-band, Marsalis revels in the culture in which he was raised yet also flashes adventurous urges.
Delfeayo and I talked on the phone recently about his new initiative, the legacy he inherited from his father and his city, and making people happy even in the direst of times.
Have you been in New Orleans through this whole pandemic? Continue reading “COVID CONVERSATIONS, Number 8: Delfeayo Marsalis”