Music die-hards with enough energy left after a long day at the Fair Grounds will want to check out New Orleans’ music clubs. Besides the many special events the clubs will hold during the Fest, you can get a taste of the great music New Orleanians get to hear year ’round, so much so that we often take it for granted. And as the Festival has almost grown out of its britches and the night shows sell out, the local clubs offer a viable alternative to get your fill of Louisiana music.
Those of you who wish that the Jazz and Heritage Festival had more contemporary jazz will definitely want to check out the Sandbar. Located on the University of New Orleans campus, the Sandbar is a student wine and beer pub that plays host to the best jazz New Orleans has to offer, from the traditional sounds of the Adams Brothers Trio and the Rebirth Brass Band, to the very modern sounds of Blue Note recording artist Rick Margitza and Tony Dagradi’s Astral Project. The Ellis Marsalis Sextet plays the best in modern bebop. Marsalis reunites with guitarist Steve Masakowski in a duo format after five years apart for one special show on April 30. Saxophonist Alvin “Red” Tyler’s Quartet plays one night, and will feature the dynamic jazz vocals of Germaine Bazzle on May 2.
Bazzle will also perform opposite Charmaine Neville and jazz singer Shawn McGee, for the “Ladies of Jazz” night on the Creole Queen Riverboat on May 3. The Creole Queen will be sailing for two shows on performance nights, the first time in three years the Festival has live music on a riverboat. Stages are set up on the bottom and middle decks, with bands playing simultaneously, with the top deck open for romantic moon gazing. The Queen is featuring some top notch rhythm & blues shows, including an evening with Irma Thomas and Eddie Bo on April 26, and “The New Orleans Revue on the River” with the excellent blues and jazz guitarist Deacon John and the legendary Ernie K-Doe with singer Barbara George on April 27. Also, there is the “Hot Zydeco on the River” show featuring Terrance Simien and the Mallet Playboys and Rockin’ Dopsie (please pronounce it Doopsie or you’ll give yourself away as a tourist) and the Zydeco Twisters, who were featured on Paul Simon’s Graceland album. The Creole Queen will be leaving port, so don’t miss the boat!
For those fans looking for Storyville, alas, it has seen better days. Between management and money problems, the club has closed down. Better luck next year…know anybody who wants to buy a French Quarter club?
For traditional jazz, of course there’s always Preservation Hall, which must be on some kind of “list of places all tourists are supposed to go to.” The line will be long, and the club will be dark, dingy, hot and uncomfortable, but it has a lot of history and a lot of character. The musicians go way back to first and second-generation trad jazz in many cases, including the famous Humphrey Brothers.
On the other side of Canal Street is the Louis Armstrong Jazz Club, located in the lobby of the ritzy Hotel Meridien. French clarinetist Jacques Gauthe plays almost nightly with the Creole Rice Yerba Buena Jazz Band or his trio. The setting is cozy and elegant, quiet enough to talk and loud enough to listen. Large black and white pictures of old time local jazzmen adorn the walls. The band will have fun even if you don’t.
Fill your ears and your belly at the recently expanded Palm Court Jazz Cafe, serving reasonably priced food in the midst of a veritable traditional jazz museum. Founders George and Nina Buck are some of the foremost traditional jazz historians around. Much of their extensive rare record catalogue is available for sale in the restaurant. Performers include the legendary banjoist Danny Barker, Percy Humphrey, Pud Brown, Thais Clark, and special shows with European clarinetist and saxophonist Sammy Rimmington. On May 3, Butch Thompson performs (he did the music to the movie Eight Men Out, and was a regular on the Prairie Home Companion public radio show). Late all-star jam sessions will accommodate the many musicians in town for the Fest. The Cafe is also featuring rhythm & blues, including Fats Domino’s saxman, Irving Charles Jr. The history of jazz is alive in these traditional clubs, so check out the old-timers while you still can.
Snug Harbor is New Orleans’ foremost modern jazz club of late. With nautical decor and dark-wooded atmosphere, it is separated into a restaurant, bar and music club. You can expect the best of New Orleans modern jazz or rhythm and blues. Ellis Marsalis and David Torkanowsky, two of New Orleans’ best piano players, will perform during the Fest. Saxophonist Victor Goines performs with his quartet, and the Louisiana Jazz Federation presents a jazz all-stars night. Charmaine Neville is a regular. An energetic performer, she crosses the R&B and jazz lines.
On the funkier side of the jazz world is Pampy’s Tight Squeeze. This out-of-the-way bar leans toward the casual, mature crowd. It’s a small place with the band crammed in the corner, but you should be able to find some room to shake your groove thang. Singer Ed Perkins and violinist Michael Ward lay down some jazzy New Orleans blues, or the Aces play soulful funkified stuff, Grover Washington-style. They have an extra funked-up bass player and a blowin’ sax man.
If you must stumble around Bourbon Street, be sure to drop by the Tricou House to wish Al Broussard a happy 85th birthday. Al radiates warmth with a smile and a song as the roly poly old guy strokes the keys and sings with a gruff but warm voice. Sit at the bar and relax to the piano sounds of Al and a host of others, including Doug Duffey and Nora Wixted.
Art gallery by day, music club by night, Café Brasil sits on the far edge of the French Quarter down the road from Snug Harbor and draws the most eclectic mix of audience and performers. A regular crowd of Bohemian artistic types hangs out indoors, and outside there’s plenty of room for street-side listeners. Cafe Brasil is a bar cum coffee house, and is adorned with neon sculpture and South American artifacts. The club regularly features a jazz jam on Mondays, latin music on Tuesdays, and reggae, jazz, gospel, rhythm & blues, rock & roll, bluegrass, theater, video. Basically anything. During the festival, catch New Orleans’ most underrated, should-be-discovered band, Tribe Nunzio, an art rock, rhythm & blues hybrid with a lively stage show. Also catch rising stars the Shepherd Band, New Orleans’ best reggae with sweet vocal harmonies.
For a slice of Acadiana in the city, check out Mulate’s restaurant. Bring a large appetite, or work one up on the dance floor, because the portions are generous, prices in the $8 to $14 range. This is one of three of the famous restaurants from Cajun country. It’s a huge restaurant with a good-sized dance floor. Lots of two-steppin’ to the fiddlin’, washboard strokin’, accordion wailin’ sounds from the heart of Cajun country. On the walls hangs the humorous art of Rodrigue, of “Blue Dog” fame. Performers include the legendary Basin Brothers and Bruce Daigrepont. You only need know enough French to get you slapped.
Congo Square fans will want to groove to the rhythms of Kilimanjaro. With a neon, slick atmosphere of pink and green, dance upstairs or down to the DJs or live bands, featuring reggae, world-beat, and rap music. Downstairs is a large lounge area, and upstairs a dance floor and a large outdoor patio. One look around and you’ll see that world-beat is fashion and music for the young stylish crowd.
For some down-and-dirty blues, downtown gives you the Absinthe Bar right on Bourbon Street, with guitarist Bryan Lee and the Jump Street Five givin’ it to you true. Bryan makes that guitar cry and always has an excellent backing band. Uptown will leave you at Benny’s. In true New Orleans spirit, Benny’s is a real hole in the wall that looks like a condemned building in daylight. With no cover charge and an extremely casual atmosphere, everyone gets down real loose like in an all-out jam session format. Please slip the band a bill, cause they’ve been playin’ real hard for ya. J.D. Hill is back with the Jammers blowing the harp as mean as ever. The Iguanas rock the house with their style of Tex-Mex blues, or salsa with balls.
Don’t believe that all the action is on Bourbon Street. The Carrollton area has a wealth of music clubs in close proximity. Jimmy’s is one of New Orleans’ most popular hot spots, featuring the best local bands and the occasional big name act. It’s a large club with plenty of room for the masses to shake their bones. During the festival you can see Leo Nocentelli, the Meters guitarist, who just can’t help but be funky. Fish heads can catch the Radiators, and Cyril Neville is on his own with the Uptown Allstars reggae band. The Mighty Sam McClain returns for a show, and New Orleans ex-patriots the subdudes play acoustic rock and roll with the world’s only virtuoso tambourine player.
Right across the street is Carrollton Station, a smaller neighborhood bar with Guiness on tap and locally-brewed Abita beer. Watch swamp-rockin’ bluesman John Mooney play the hell out of his guitar, slide in hand, for the liveliest one man band around. Lil’ Queenie and Amasa Miller do their show the following night.
A few blocks away is Muddy Water’s, featuring the best in local music. One of the few clubs in town that regularly allows newcomers on the scene a showcase for their talent, it’s a medium-sized bar with a grill and a good sized stage. Muddy’s will feature some excellent blues shows during the fest, including Alligator Records’ 20th Anniversary Party with the biggest names in the blues biz, plus Gatemouth Brown, Marcia Ball, Marva Wright and Snooks Eaglin. George Porter, Jr. and the Runnin’ Pardners play sophisticated funk.
A stone’s throw away is the Maple Leaf Bar. With a bar, a dance floor and an outdoor patio out back, the Leaf has a loyal following of regulars for their rhythm & blues and Cajun and zydeco shows. Rockin’ Dopsie (remember, that’s Doopsie), the new king of zydeco, is a regular here. So is R&B man Walter “Wolfman” Washington, who plays better guitar licks with his teeth than most can play with their hands. Also performing is the Grammy nominated “progressive” Cajun band, Beausoleil. Don’t be afraid to two-step, it’s easy and anyone will be happy to show you how.
Tipitina’s is by far the most popular music club in town, immortalized in song by Professor Longhair. Many albums have been recorded here as of late, and all the best locals and many national acts play here. It will be jam-packed, upstairs and down, so loosen up, because it will be warm and many sweating, dancing people are liable to want to share your space. Tip’s has big shows every night of the festival season, including the funk-you-to-death Meters, the Neville Brothers, and the lap-top guitar progressive blues of Jeff Healey.
One of the hottest spots in town lately has been, get this, a bowling alley! The Mid-City Bowling Lanes is out of the way, but well worth the detour. A newly-painted mural of a 1950s New Orleans street scene gives it even more of an old-fashioned bowling alley feel. No cover (except during some Fest shows) for some of the best music in town, and cheap draft beer, including our own Abita. Whether you’ve got on your bowling shoes or your dancing shoes, Rock and Bowl is a good time. The New Orleans Blues Harmonica Showdown on May 1 brings together some of the city’s top harp players for the first time and promises to be a real low down good time.
Gospel Tent fans should look for the Friendly Travelers at Kaldi’s Coffee House. The Travelers bring you the good message with tight vocal harmonies, a groove-ridden rhythm section, and a big guy on guitar who plays like George Benson.
Whatever brings you to Jazz Fest you can find in the clubs around town, so after a day in the sun, step out into the moon and check the rhythms of the streets, or you can’t really say you’ve been to New Orleans.