Category Archives: Writings

Interview: Fred Hersch In Paris

How is it for you to come play in Paris?

I love playing in Paris I wish this time I had more time. The last time I was playing at La Villette, Cité de la Musique, big concert. Playing at the Duc des Lombards is nice but it’s not a 9-foot Steinway in a beautiful concert hall,  it’s a different experience. I’ve been coming to Paris for years, since I was a teenager. My very first European tour, we spent a lot of time in Paris in 1979. So I’ve been trying to make Paris a place to play. It’s interesting,  I’ve gotten a lot of awards, Grand Prix du disque etc. But there are so many French pianists that it’s very hard to get in to France. But I think I have some big festivals coming up, Coutance [Jazz sous les Pommiers], and maybe Nice and some other ones that will come next week. So I think my visibility is starting to go up a little bit, so that’s good.

Do you prepare your sets?

No. I just get up there and play.

Do you remember a specific jazz record that was the first one to click for you ?

Yeah, I heard some jazz in high school. I mean I was a piano player so I had a Dave Brubeck album and a Ramsey Lewis album, some albums I picked at yard sales for 25c. But once I started playing I thought ‘ok this is something maybe I can do’ and started inching my way into being a jazz pianist. The records that really sold me, there were three of them : one was Miles Davis’ Friday and Saturday night at the Blackhawk.  Wynton [Kelly]’s playing is so great, the way he plays with Miles… And I love the sound of the album, you feel like you’re in the club and it’s very nice. Then there was a Mingus album, Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, with orchestrations and everything that is just so remarkable. And then an album by Ellington called Ellington Uptown. But particularly the Miles record really made me wanna say ‘okay, I can do this. I know I can do this. I’m gonna commit myself.’ I dropped out of school, started playing in clubs and really went for it. After I heard that.

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Hot 8 Brass Band Performs with Youth Music Program in Paris

As part of their tour in France, the Hot 8 Brass Band joined forces with a local New Orleans-themed brass band and members of a youth music program for a performance at the Festival Villes des Musiques du Monde in Aubervilliers, outside of Paris on Sunday, November 6.

In 2013, the documentary The Whole Gritty City shed some light on the positive effects that youth music programs and brass band culture have had in various communities around New Orleans. With the film traveling internationally, and New Orleans brass band music exploding in popularity abroad in recent years, community leaders have been inspired to replicate the phenomenon at home.

Wilbert Rawlins, Jr. directs French music students during Hot 8 Brass Band performance in Aubervilliers. Photo by Noé Cugny

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Henry Lipkis Completes Second Line Mural

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Artist Henry Lipkis’ second line mural, located at Saint Claude Avenue and Franklin Avenue,  is now complete after nearly a year of work.

Henry Lipkis puts finishing touches on the mural. Photo by Noé Cugny.

The massive art piece, titled “Third Line,” covers a 150-foot-long, 35-foot-tall wall. It depicts members of the community who all play different roles in a traditional New Orleans second line.

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Jazz Fest 2016: First Weekend Reviews

Jason Marsalis, Christian Scott Put The Jazz In Jazz Fest Opening Day

Photo by Kim Welsh
Photo by Kim Welsh

Every now and again you hear a grumpy jazz-head complain about the Jazz Fest not really being about jazz anymore; and with main headliners including The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Snoop Dogg, J. Cole and Flo Rida, there’s a case to be made there. Yet on its big opening day, the festival has proven again that it is still a prime event for jazz listeners.




Mo’ Jazz At The Fest

Photo by Willow Haley.
Photo by Willow Haley.

The 2016 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has reached its middle-point. And on its third day of music, the Jazz Tent turned out to be a highlight of the festival.

Festival goers gave a warm welcome to New Orleans’ own Herlin Riley, who brought home to the Crescent City a group of young cats particularly well-versed in the post-bop groovy style that New York city was crawling with in the 1960s.


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Boz Scaggs Rocks The Blues Tent

Photo by Kim Welsh.
Photo by Kim Welsh.

Guitarist, singer/songwriter Boz Scaggs has been recording and performing steadily since his debuts with the Steve Miller Band in the 1960s. And judging from his set under the Blues Tent on the second day of Jazz Fest, he doesn’t plan on slowing down.

Scaggs charmed the crowd early on with his mellow rendition of Willy Deville’s “Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl,” only to switch gears and introduce a heavy road blues.


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Interview: Béla Fleck Opens Up About His Duo With Chick Corea

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On Saturday, April 16, the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans opened its doors for a unique show, welcoming the Chick Corea & Béla Fleck Duo. A couple of days prior to the show, I had the opportunity to speak with Béla Fleck on the phone.


BelaChick-30Béla Fleck is one busy musician. The 16-time Grammy Award-winner banjoist still runs his 20-year-plus old project Béla Fleck & the Flecktones with bassist Victor Wooten, tours in a bluegrass banjo duo with his wife Abigail Washburn, and for the past 8 years has recorded and toured with jazz pianist Chick Corea.

Corea, major figure in the development of the electric jazz fusion movement after his brief passage in Miles Davis’ band, is an expert in the art of the duo. With classic collaborative albums like his grand releases aside vibraphonist Gary Burton, his more recent piano face-off with Japanese virtuoso Hiromi, or yet live duo sets with his friend and former Return to Forever bandmate, bassist Stanley Clarke, Corea seems to enjoy the challenges of one-on-one conversations in music.

Corea’s collaboration with Fleck is one that was achieved consistent success over the past eight years. The project brought about two recordings. 2007’s The Enchantment captured the raw voices of a very fresh connection, with Corea and Fleck finding their way around one another’s playing on a record that was made in less than four days.

Two (Live), the two-CD set they released last September, was compiled from various live recordings from the 55 shows the pair played in the seven years that followed The Enchantment. It includes massively-reworked tunes from the previous release, as well as new titles, that display the playful complicity that developed between the two musicians during their years on the road.

Today, Fleck and Corea are on the road again, and will take their duo to the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans on Saturday, April 16. I caught up with Béla Fleck over the phone, as he was preparing for another show in Worcester, Massachusetts.




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Trumpets Trump Drumpf

(Photo by Caitlyn Ridenour)

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Musicians and protesters gathered in front of the Lakefront Airport on Friday, March 4, to speak out against the Donald Trump Rally.

Protesters met in the area before starting a second line that led the group down Stars and Stripes Boulevard to the airport. Different activist groups joined the “Trumpets Trump Drumpf” movement, including union workers, Black Lives Matter activists and more.

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New York to New Orleans: John Ellis talks Music

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Saxophonist, clarinetist and composer John Ellis has been based in Brooklyn for close to twenty years since he moved out of New Orleans after coming here to learn the music. But he maintained a strong relationship with New Orleans, specifically through his hybrid band Double-Wide, composed of organist Gary Versace, trombonist Alan Ferber and New Orleans’ own Jason Marsalis on drums and Matt Perrine on sousaphone.

This Thursday, Ellis will lead this line-up in presenting the music of Double-Wide’s last release, Charm, in two sets at Snug Harbor at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.


How do you sustain the relationships that makes these projects possible, with musicians of a band living in different cities ?

I’d be lying if I said it was easy. It takes a lot of effort. I love to come to New Orleans for reasons separate from this project. I lived here a couple times and I love being here. So I come here a couple times a year, at minimum. If I can come here more, that’s great. This band is something I’ve always loved doing and it definitely gives me an excuse to keep coming here.

But basically everything about this band is impractical, first for geographical reasons. There’s a sousaphone and a B3 organ in the band, which you can imagine is impractical for logistical reasons, to tour with those instruments… It’s better to have a clarinet, a washboard and a guitar.

There’s a lot of reasons why it doesn’t make sense to do this. But you know, I never really made anything that made sense I guess. I get a great deal of satisfaction from doing it. There’s really no other reason to do it. I’m not getting rich doing it, it’s costing me a lot of money to do it. It’s just something I really love to do, and it’s kind of hard to stop.


It sounds like it’s important to you personally to preserve that New Orleans part of your life.

Yeah. One way or another, with this band or not, there’s some kind of continual relationship with New Orleans that I plan to have for the rest of my life.

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Offbeat: Russell Welch Hot Jazz Quartet


Fresh off Mardi Gras 2015, Frenchmen Street came alive again on Saturday, February 21, as the Louisiana Music Factory hosted an in-store performance by gypsy jazz connoisseur Russell Welch.

The Mardi Gras Indian songs were still resonating through the walls of the Louisiana Music Factory and the funky vibrations were slowly dissipating after an opening performance by the 79rs Gang when  Russell Welch and his Hot Quartet prepared to present their recent release, Mississippi Gypsy.

A pair of straight-laced shoes on his feet, a colored feather stuck in his bowler hat, and a guitar in his hands, the kid from Jackson, Mississippi, kicked things off with an avalanche of notes, backed by Molly Reeves on the rhythmic guitar, Josh Gouzy on the upright bass and Dr. Sick on the violin.

The record, Welch’s third release, is a continuation of his work in the tradition of gypsy jazz and of his fascination for the music of Django Reinhardt, which has spread through the world and has seen a certain revival in recent years.

But Mississippi Gypsy reflects the guitarist’s spirit and character better than any previous projects. It exhibits Welch’s chops as a young composer writing songs that respect the heritage of Django, while looking to find a new voice and paint a different portrait.

“We had brilliant people with amazing microphones and beautiful studios helping to make every instrument sound right,” said Dr Sick about Richard Burton at Jazzology Records and Eric Heigl, who handled the final mix at The Parlor Recording Studio.

In the process of recording the song “Explaining Places,” Dr. Sick committed a harmonic mistake.

“I was not very happy with what I had played,” the violinist remembers. “Russell looked at me and said ‘I want you to do that, four times.’”

The result is a confusion in the chord changes that only adds to the composition’s mood.

“It sounds rock’n’roll. It sounds right,” Welch said.

Russell tells the tale of a city we know in a language old as the hills, and yet born again each day.

Improvisation, central to this art, serves as the ultimate tool of expression and embellishment for this group of gifted musicians to complement Welch’s compositions, which are simple in nature but not devoid of charming intricacies that make the story of these streets unravel as a fable.

Welch belongs to a generation of young musicians who bring new ideas and modern influences and yet make sure to maintain comfortable place for tradition and heritage in their music.

Check out the Hot Quartet performing “Explaining Places” live in the Louisiana Music Factory.