Sousafunk master Kirk Joseph has been leaving his musical imprint on New Orleans for decades. From his start performing with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to his most recent project, Kirk Joseph’s Backyard Groove, Joseph’s name has become synonymous with the instrument he has revolutionized—the sousaphone. He has continuously raised the bar of creativity, but his focus at Jazz Fest this year is honoring one of his greatest influences, Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen.
“It goes back to when I was a young kid, maybe 13 years old,” Joseph recalls. “I was really intrigued by his style of play, how he played the sousaphone and made it sound like a walking bass.”
New Orleans jazz tuba player and band leader “Tuba Fats” performed jazz and blues for 40 years. Lacen passed away in 2004, but his musical influence is still alive with the help of Joseph. “He was very versatile in his style; he was a definite influence on my life.”
Joseph will perform with his multi-tuba ensembles, Tuba Tuba and the Sousaphone Symphony Parade. But a sousaphone quartet can prove to be more challenging than imagined. “It is hard work, but I think all the players are looking forward to this,” he says. “It’s going to be very diverse— things you can listen to and shake your butt to.” Joseph admits that although the feat has been done before, it’s never been done by a New Orleans group. The idea of constructing an all-sousaphone ensemble came to Joseph a few years ago at Jazz Fest.
“A few years ago, we did a show at Jazz Fest where it was five tuba players from New York and five sousaphone players from New Orleans. That kind of gave me the inspiration to get [the sousaphone symphony] going. If trombone players can do it, sousaphone players can do it too.”