Tag Archives: New Orleans

Music: Shotgun Jazz Band and Tuba Skinny (New Orleans)

Music is as fundamental to the character of New Orleans as red beans and rice, which is why I always stop by the Louisiana Music Factory whenever I’m in town. The place focuses on regional music, from New Orleans jazz and R&B to zydeco and early rock ‘n’ roll, and its multiple listening stations are an aural smorgasbord. Every trip unearths a few gems; here are a couple of my favorites.

Shotgun Jazz Band
Shotgun Jazz Band

SHOTGUN JAZZ BAND – Don’t Give Up the Ship

Much like “Johnny B. Goode” sounds as fresh in concert today as when Chuck Berry first recorded it in 1958, the Shotgun Jazz Band’s old-school jazz selections are infused with a vitality that belies their age. Indeed, tracks like Zilner Randolph’s “Old Man Mose”, the opening number on SJB’s 2013 album, Don’t Give Up the Ship, spring from a nearly century-old repertoire.

SJB sweeps aside the at-times too-cool-for-school jazz of the mid-20th century onward, and instead lunges straight for its roots in the New Orleans of Satchmo, the Kingfish, and Prohibition. The band’s “fairly consistent” core lineup – including Christopher Johnson (tenor saxophone); Michael Magro (clarinet); Peter Loggins (trombone); Justin Peake (drums); John Dixon (banjo); and Tyler Thomson (bass) – produces a tight sound that still affects the breeziness of an impromptu hootenanny.

But the proverbial ace up SJB’s sleeve is vocalist and trumpeter Marla Dixon, whose vibrant and soulful style at once recalls blues queen Bessie Smith (notably manifest in her interpretation of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”) and poet Dylan Thomas’s summation of novelist Flann O’Brien’s raucous 1939 masterpiece At Swim-Two-Birds: “This is just the book to give your sister – if she’s a loud, dirty, boozy girl.” (The sentiment applies to both band and book in the best possible ways.)

Other highlights include jaunty covers of Wooden Joe Nicholas’s “All the Whores”, Sam Morgan’s “Short Dress Gal”, the Harlem Hamfats’ “Weed Smoker’s Dream”, Bessie Smith’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”, and a few infectious originals, such as the title track and “Girl, You Better Use Your Head”. The album’s cover art (and title) draw upon Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s battle flag commemorating the dying words of Captain James Lawrence during the War of 1812.

 

Tuba Skinny

Tuba Skinny

TUBA SKINNY – Pyramid Strut

Fellow New Orleans jazz revivalists Tuba Skinny launch their latest full-length effort, Pyramid Strut (2014), with their take on Bunk Johnson’s “Big Chief Battle Axe” and from there throw an all-hours party.

As the Cramps famously did for forgotten garage and rockabilly, so Tuba Skinny resurrects obscure and long-forgotten tracks from the early days of jazz and blues, such as Victoria Spivey’s “Blood Thirsty Blues” and “Mean Blue Spirits”, a variation of Bessie Smith’s “Blue Spirit Blues”. The band’s line-up includes Todd Burdick (tuba); Westen Borghesi (tenor banjo); Jon Doyle (clarinet); Barnabus Jones (trombone); Shayne Cohn (cornet/fiddle, as well as the album’s cover artwork); Robin Rapuzzi (washboard); and Erika Lewis (vocals/bass drum), whose voice can conjure heaven, hell, and everything in between within the span of three minutes.

What’s more, the band is insanely prolific. While Pyramid Strut (Tuba Skinny’s fifth full-length record since 2009) was just released in early 2014, as of this writing (August 2014), the band’s website already reports the completion of its next album, Owl Call Blues.

While both bands amply demonstrate their musical chops, the music they play itself hearkens back to the bouncy simplicity of early-era jazz, much like the early days of rock and roll and Chicago blues, before both were overrun by dorm-room wankers and 12-minute guitar solos. Both albums are available through Louisiana Music Factory, or directly from the artists’ websites.

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Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

In 1994, New Orleans R&B legend Ernie K-Doe and his wife, Antoinette, opened the Mother-in-Law Lounge (named after the singer’s 1961 hit single). Located at 1500 N. Claiborne Avenue, in the city’s Treme neighborhood, they hoped the lounge would infuse new life into the singer’s career. It did just that, and the bar and music spot soon became a cultural hub of the community.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

Following her husband’s death in 2001, Antoinette K-Doe continued to own and operate the Mother-in-Law Lounge (which was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005) until her own death in 2009. The club closed the following year.

But in January 2014, the Mother-in-Law found new life when it reopened on Martin Luther King Day under the stewardship of New Orleans jazzman and native son Kermit Ruffins. Today, with its vibrant exterior murals and predominantly local clientele (as well as a smattering of tourists), the Mother-in-Law is reaffirming its place in Treme, providing a venue and gathering point for a variety of area musicians.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

The renowned Treme Brass Band’s weekly Sunday gig happily coincided with my first night in town. So at the encouragement of Andy Rubin, a Baltimore-based friend and the Treme Brass Band’s General Manager, I set out on the mile-and-a-half walk from our digs at the French Market Inn on Decatur Street.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

The residential streets surrounding Esplanade Avenue, in Faubourg Marigny, are quieter, more empty, and within a few blocks of the Mother-in-Law it becomes evident that you’re no longer in the tourist-driven combine of the Quarter. The words “I told u who hold the fuckin power!” are hand-scrawled in black Sharpie across the warped clapboards of a nearby house. And then, farther up the street, the visages of Ernie and Antoinette manifest in the form of a colorfully loud mural. A bronze plaque beside the door commemorates the previous owners.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

Inside, the Lounge is comparatively nondescript (save for a flamboyant life-size statue of Ernie K-Doe), comprised mainly of two utilitarian rooms – the bar side and the stage side – separated by a cinderblock wall, patrons in the former dancing to the brassy strains emanating from the latter. Benny Jones, Sr., the Treme Brass Band’s leader since the 2012 passing of Uncle Lionel Batiste, and five or six other band members generate their signature sound with little, if any, amplification from the tiny stage, which is little more than a raised platform. Five or six patrons stand watching the band, their backs to the dividing wall; unlike the bar side, no one facing the music is dancing. Not in the corporeal sense, anyway.

For once, I don’t feel badly for sweating through my pressed, button-down shirt; in this climate, everyone does, especially in late June. I found the staff to be very friendly, and I downed a couple of reasonably priced beers during the roughly 45 minutes of the Treme Brass Band’s set that I caught. Despite its simplicity, the place exudes an identity, a sense of history and atmosphere, much more on par with the classic juke joints and gin mills of old than their more modern, sanitized corporate counterparts.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

The band wrapped up their set, and I dropped a few bills in the metal urn in front of the stage that serves as a tip jar. I bought a copy of their 2008 album, New Orleans Music, which the band members graciously signed to the attention of my 8-year-old son. From hard rock to hip-hop to traditional folk, he loves live music – the enthusiasm and energy – in all its forms. And the CD, by proxy, will hopefully tide him over until the day I can bring him with me back to see and hear and appreciate for himself the singular city of New Orleans, and the resilient, unvarnished character that appears nightly in places like Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge.

Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
1500 North Claiborne Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70116
P: (504) 975-3955

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kermits-Treme-Motherinlaw-Lounge/674959599217170

Napoleon House

Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana
Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana

Following their final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte on the plains of Waterloo, Belgium, in 1815, the British sent the former French Emperor into permanent exile on the South Atlantic island of St. Helena. But even a remotely imprisoned Napoleon remained the best bet going for many with a bone to pick with the Brits (and there were many).

Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana
Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana

Among these was one Nicholas Girod, a former New Orleans mayor whose cooperation with Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812 had as much to do with his hatred of the British as any pro-American sentiment. In 1821, Girod went so far as to offer his house at 500 Chartres Street in the city’s French Quarter as a residence for Napoleon pending the success of an alleged plot to break the exiled emperor off the rock and bring him back to New Orleans.  However, Bonaparte died before any such effort could take place.

Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana
Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana

But his would-be association with the house at the corner of Chartres and St. Louis Streets lived on; nearly a century later, in 1914, the Impastato family opened the Napoleon House Bar and Café in Girod’s former home. Today, Napoleon House remains a throwback to a twice-bygone era, where the white bust of the former French ruler that stands behind the bar holds court over the locals and tourists alike who are drawn to its decayed old-world ambiance.

Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana
Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana

The café serves Euro-Creole-inspired cuisine such as muffuletta, boudin, and a variety of salads. But the real draw, for me, is the bar’s house drink, the Pimm’s Cup. The concoction’s base ingredient is a gin-based, herb-infused liqueur that can be mixed with anything from lemonade and club soda to ginger ale or champagne, and typically served in a Collins glass garnished with a cucumber slice. It’s a most refreshing libation in the paint-warping heat and humidity of a New Orleans summer; to be sure, meted out, one might drink it all night long to maintain a pleasant buzz without ever feeling any adverse effect.

Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana
Napoleon House, New Orleans, Louisiana

If you’ve never had a Pimm’s Cup, Napoleon House is a great place to acquaint yourself. Indeed, over the years, it has become ritual for me, upon arriving in New Orleans, to drop my bags wherever I may be staying and head straight for Napoleon House to plot my next move over a Pimm’s (or three) within the peeling walls that once might have housed the man who first sold the city to America.

Napoleon House Bar and Café
Address: 500 Chartres Street, New Orleans, LA 70130
Phone: (504) 524-9752
Email: info@napoleonhouse.com
Website: http://napoleonhouse.com/

Hours: Monday: 11:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Tuesday – Thursday: 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Friday – Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Sunday: Closed
Bar Hours: Bar open till.

 

Tips for Going to Drag Shows

Photos were taken at Lucky Pierre’s on Bourbon Street. Performers are Arthur Severio/RebaDouglas, Kookie Baker, and Nicole Lynn Foxx.

Arthur Severio/RebaDouglas performing at Lucky Pierre's
Arthur Severio/RebaDouglas performing at Lucky Pierre’s

Do not go expecting to be a voyeur. Drag shows are participatory live art/theater and no two shows are alike. You may end up on stage. Personally, I can’t sing or dance worth a shit, but just looking like you are having a good time contributes to the vibe. And if you aren’t having a good time, leave. That’s right, I’m looking at you, scowling middle-aged guy; when you do that we all just think you are having stirrings in your loins you can’t control. If you are there to mock or be an asshole it is like blood in the water and you will leave humiliated.

Nicole Lynn Foxx performing at Lucky Pierre's
Nicole Lynn Foxx performing at Lucky Pierre’s

Bring plenty of $1s and $5s. You are expected to tip the performers and the waitstaff. Respect them; this is how they make a living. But remember, your sweaty $1 does not entitle you to a grab the tits or the tackle (or both), unless of course you are encouraged to do so.

Kookie Baker performing at Lucky Pierre's
Kookie Baker performing at Lucky Pierre’s

Do not make assumptions about the crowd. People are always surprising.

Arthur Severio/RebaDouglas performing at Lucky Pierre's
Arthur Severio/RebaDouglas performing at Lucky Pierre’s

Ladies, do not spent the whole show making deliberate physical contact with your boyfriend/spouse. You will not somehow keep him from liking boys dressed like girls this way. You look silly.

Kookie Baker performing at Lucky Pierre's
Kookie Baker performing at Lucky Pierre’s

Show some respect and it will be shown to you.

Nicole Lynn Foxx performing at Lucky Pierre's
Nicole Lynn Foxx performing at Lucky Pierre’s

Wear clean underwear. That is always a useful tip. Sometimes especially useful.

Proud Mary performed by Arthur Severio/RebaDouglas, Kookie Baker, and Nicole Lynn Foxx  at Lucky Pierre's
Proud Mary performed by Arthur Severio/RebaDouglas, Kookie Baker, and Nicole Lynn Foxx at Lucky Pierre’s

Above all, have fun. That’s what it is all about.

SOUNDTRACK: Southern Louisiana

The best music will evoke the most cinematic qualities from any landscape. The musical gumbo of southern Louisiana is infused with a variety of cultures, including French, Spanish, English, and Afro-Caribbean, to name just a few. Rock and roll, jazz, zydeco, New Orleans rhythm and blues – each speaks to the syncopated rhythm of life in a particular time and place.

And so it was that, still haunted by the first season of the HBO series TRUE DETECTIVE, we fled the Crescent City for the swamplands of Iberia Parish, the brassy strut of urban jazz soon yielding to dusty folk rhythms and the lonesome twang of a blues guitar…

The New Orleans Bingo! Show – “New Orleans”

 

Huey “Piano” Smith & His Clowns – “Little Chickee Wah Wah”

 

Ernie K-Doe – “T’aint It the Truth”

 

Earl King – “Those Lonely, Lonely Nights”

 

Ike & Tina Turner – “Too Many Tears in My Eyes”

 

The Handsome Family – “Far From Any Road”

 

Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks – “Southern Love”

 

Brian Tyler – “The King’s Highway” (BUBBA HO-TEP soundtrack)

 

Trailer Bride – “Porch Song”

 

Luna – “Bonnie & Clyde” (Serge Gainsbourg cover)

 

John Lee Hooker – “Unfriendly Woman”

 

Jo-El Sonnier – “Evangeline Special”

 

Boozoo Chavis – “Paper in My Shoe”

 

James McMurtry – “Hurricane Party”

 

Ray Wylie Hubbard – “Snake Farm”

 

The Rock*A*Teens – “Never Really Had It”

 

Kris Kristofferson – “Casey’s Last Ride”

 

Dr. C.J. Johnson – “You Better Run to the City of Refuge”

 

Gary U.S. Bonds – “New Orleans”

 

 

Best Meals: Louisiana Smells like Rain and Tastes Like Potatoes

Louisiana offered up multiple variations of two of the things I like best: potatoes and spicy food. The start of the trip was a work conference and the banquet and luncheon meals were everything I’ve come to expect as a vegan who cannot eat wheat. Apparently, this translates to, “OMG, she has no tastebuds, let’s give her the lukewarm roasted sawdust special!” Thankfully the rest of the trip did not seek to deaden my senses.

HERMES BAR

Soufflé potatoes at Hermes Bar
Soufflé potatoes at Hermes Bar

At Hermes Bar, a local friend introduced me to soufflé potatoes and a new friend introduced me to Chartreuse. Chartreuse is both powerful and beautiful and the only color to be named after a drink. As for the soufflé potatoes, my friend inquired of our lovely, southern gentleman waiter as to the vegan status of the dish before we ordered:

Friend: Excuse me, where are the soufflé potatoes prepared?
Waiter: Why, in the kitchen, of course.*

It was the perfect answer. Upon further clarification, we learned that Hermes cooks them in peanut oil alone. Soufflé potatoes are sublime puffed potato pillows and three plates were devoured in a matter of minutes.

*May not be exactly verbatim, I had already had a Pimm’s Cup and a chartreuse.

13 BAR AND RESTAURANT
In search of a decent dinner after a conference lunch of leaves and flavorless root vegetables, we found ourselves at 13 Bar and Restaurant. Their signature dishes include “tachos.” What are tachos you ask? They are the genius idea of tater tot nachos. They are served with or without cheese, vegan chili, jalapenos, and salsa. The red beans and rice was also vegan.

3 POTATO 4

3 Potato 4
3 Potato 4

On our way out of New Orleans we stopped at 3 Potato 4, which I had read about online prior to the trip. All vegan, gluten-free, and devoted to potatoes. This was close to a religious experience. The menu offers three kinds of baked French fries and a bunch of all-vegan sauces. I tried the Garlic Ketchup, Garlic Pepper Mayo, and Wasabi Ginger Mayo, as well as the vegetable soup. I would have had some coconut ice cream had I not snarfed up all of my fries and some of Patrick’s. Highly recommended.

COTTAGE ALONG THE BAYOU TECHE

Cottage on the Bayou Teche
Cottage on the Bayou Teche

We bought a few supplies at Whole Foods in Metairie before we drove out to southwest Louisiana. Among the items was a jalapeno-cilantro nut-based pesto. Damn, that was good. We had dinner and listened to the sounds of live oaks swaying and birds going to bed. While no potatoes were directly involved in the pasta, I was noshing on Earth Balance Cheddar Kettle Chips and Patrick had Haunted Ghost Pepper Tortilla Chips that made him cry.

THAI CUISINE

Singapore Slings at Thai Cuisine
Singapore Slings at Thai Cuisine

We drove 45 minutes in rush hour in the pouring rain and arrived at a most underwhelming strip mall in Lafayette, LA housing our destination: Thai Cuisine. I had found the place online and once we asked for the vegetarian menu we were set. The Singapore slings were perfect. The lemongrass soup was among the best I have ever had. They really know how to add heat without losing flavor. I know you are thinking, “Where are the potatoes???” Fear not, the garlic tofu came with several roasted potatoes that were cooked to perfection. The garlic tofu was somehow both moist and crispy. It was so good we went back the next day for lunch.