TRUMPET MAFIA: FRIDAY, APRIL 28—WWOZ JAZZ TENT, 1:40 P.M.
“We grow up hearing that trumpeters blew down the walls of Jericho, that Gabriel’s trumpet announces the will of God…”
—Wynton Marsalis, Sweet Swing Blues on the Road
“It’s gonna be heavy—so don’t come expecting to hear some tender ballads,” Ashlin Parker laughingly warns of the Trumpet Mafia’s Jazz Fest set.
Parker calls himself a facilitator rather than the leader of the Trumpet Mafia, which brings together some of New Orleans finest trumpeters. He has also invited visiting artists to join in on the unique collaborative experience.
At last year’s explosive performance in the Jazz Tent, there were a dozen trumpet players onstage along with special guest the incredible Nicholas Payton. What a joyful noise.
“The whole thing is a practice group—that’s what the Mafia is,” Parker explains. “The practice form has basically expanded into a threshold for creating knowledge. The whole point is that I really feel that individual learning sucks. Group learning is the only way to do it. I think learning is a social phenomenon.”
The Trumpet Mafia actually grew out of Parker and some of the guys from the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra’s trumpet section getting together regularly to shed. Other trumpeters heard about it and started showing up. A unique twist is that a visiting trumpet player from Russia inspired the band’s name when he remarked that there were so many trumpeters in the room that it looked like a trumpet mafia.
Those who perform with the ensemble do change—some, like Payton, have other obligations and can’t make the date while new musicians frequently join the club. “Who’s not going to be there might be the better question,” says Parker while mentioning a few names: Jason Butler, Chris Cotton, Eric “Benny” Bloom and John Michael Bradford plus the rhythm section of drummer Julian Addison and percussionist Weedie Braimah. “This thing is never going to be the same every time and we’re not the same musicians when we’re beside our colleagues. When we’re there and we’re pushing the guys next to us, we’re teaching each other how to learn together. You’re going to see that in a musical form—people who have learned together, who have taught each other.”
The Mafia will feature former New Orleans resident and fav, trumpeter Maurice Brown. The group will present several tunes off his brand new, hot album, The Mood, including the rhythmically exciting “Moroccan Dancehall.” It happens that percussionist Braimah is heard on the cut and is in the Mafia so they’ll be ready to fly on this one. “Maurice has been to all of the performances,” Parker says. “He’s a hardcore constituent of this band.”
“The cool thing about the Mafia is that it’s a group of like-minded musicians with the same mission—to spread the music and uphold the tradition of the trumpet,” Brown offers.
Parker will also contribute several of his own original compositions as well as a number of original arrangements. “I’ve never seen this thing as a platform to get my original compositions off,” he says. “I felt like one of the biggest things that we could do was to preserve trumpeters’ legacies.
There will be a special guest at this, the Trumpet Mafia’s third Jazz Fest appearance. It’s a position held first at the festival by Leroy Jones and then Nicholas Payton. Parker, who seems to enjoy elements of suspense and surprise, remains tight-lipped about who that might be. “There will be no shortage of excellence,” he assures.
Parker, describes the Trumpet Mafia as three-tiered. “I have my colleagues—my friends, my contemporaries—my mentors and the kids I’ve mentored,” he explains. “I’m between legends and the next generation—I’m like the middle man. I’m not even the leader of my own band. For instance, I would never lead Nicholas Payton if he was in the band. When somebody like that is there, the hierarchy sets itself.”
The youngest trumpet player to take the bandstand with the Trumpet Mafia is Leon Brown Jr., the son of Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown. The now eight-year-old goes by the name Chocolate Jr. or Deuce and has wowed the crowds with his confident blowing. “He was there from the beginning and he gets out every time,” says Parker, who hopes he’ll return this year. “He’s our secret weapon.”
There is a sense of drama as well as humor that goes on within the jazz–meets–hip-hop Trumpet Mafia. Last year, half of the trumpeters stood on one side of the stage and the other half on the opposite side. Blowing, they slowly started moving towards each other culminating with a show down or face off at center stage. The crowd roared.
“That was totally improvised,” Parker informs. “The first year at Jazz Fest we had guys playing the valves of other guys’ trumpets. You never know what’s going to happen—but there will be some tricks. We’re going to pull out all the stops. Every Cuban musician is welcome on my stage,” Parker enthusiastically proclaims. “I want those trumpet players so bad.”