Saturday, April 13, 1:30p
Dow Chemical Stage
From Sun Ra’s cosmic explorations to Preservation Hall’s traditional New Orleans jazz, Carl LeBlanc travels the sonic universe. He’s a jazz guitarist, a banjo player and a multi-genre singer-songwriter. LeBlanc’s sideman credits include Fats Domino, Sun Ra, Allen Toussaint, Bo Diddley, Ellis Marsalis, James Rivers, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Blind Boys of Alabama.
And whether he’s working his Sunday gig at Bamboula’s, his Wednesday duet with Ellen Smith at Dos Jefes Uptown Cigar Bar, or Thursdays at the Pontchartrain Hotel, LeBlanc always puts his audience first. He’ll focus on traditional New Orleans jazz when he plays April 13 at the French Quarter Festival.
LeBlanc’s repertoire runs from his George Benson–inspired take on “On Broadway” to the spiritually minded songs on his latest album, Those Who Have Ears. “When people ask me what kind of music I play, I shy away from that question,” he said. “There’s two kinds of music—good music and the other kind.”
LeBlanc lives in the same New Orleans neighborhood he grew up in. “Where I live, here in the Seventh Ward, music was all around me. I could walk from my house to three or four different clubs in a three-block radius.”
But seeing the Beatles’ American television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show inspired LeBlanc to ask his mother for a guitar. “Anything that could have all those girls going crazy over you,” he said of the instrument’s initial appeal.
After a month of lessons, LeBlanc didn’t play the guitar again until a few years later, when a band of high school musicians recruited him for their soul and rhythm and blues group, the Sonics. In 1969, LeBlanc and some musicians his own age formed Stop Inc. “In the ’70s, we played for everybody’s prom,” he said.
Stop Inc. later recorded the Mardi Gras standard “Second Line,” but LeBlanc had moved on by then to music education studies at Columbia University in New York City. During summer break after his sophomore year at Columbia, LeBlanc attended a neighborhood concert performed by saxophonist Kidd Jordan and his Southern University students. The performance convinced him to transfer to SUNO.
Jordan, a former member of Sun Ra’s band, recommended LeBlanc to the avant-garde bandleader and Afrofuturist pioneer. A one-off gig with Sun Ra at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival evolved into eight years with Sun Ra’s Arkestra. The many things LeBlanc learned from Sun Ra include “how to make the music true to the African-American experience,” he said. “That whole trend now, Afrofuturism, that’s from Sun Ra.”