The New Orleans Nightcrawlers brass band began innocently enough in 1994 as a writer’s workshop founded by pianist Tom McDermott, sousaphonist Matt Perrine and trumpeter Kevin Clark. “We really just wanted to practice writing and arranging for a more modern, harmonically complex jazz band,” recalls Clark. Now, after 17 years of albums and gigs all around the world playing mostly original material that pairs advanced harmonies with the beloved New Orleans street beat (think Dirty Dozen more than Soul Rebels), the Nightcrawlers are at the peak of their game for French Quarter Fest.
Though the lineup has shifted around over the group’s relatively long tenure, this particular show will feature five original Nightcrawlers members. “I’m back, plus we have Rick Trolsen on trombone,” says Clark. “And Snakebite (Ken Jacobs) is flying in from San Francisco. So French Quarter Fest will pretty much feature the original band from years ago.”
While the members have individually served as sidemen for everyone from Harry Connick, Jr. to Clint Black, Dr. John to Aretha Franklin, all of them play top dog here in the city. “Everyone in the band is a bandleader,” says Clark. “So when we first started playing out in our 20s, we were admittedly all jockeying to be out front. But now we’re all older, each established in our own ways and no one is trying to flex. We all realize that the music is what’s most important. It’s a lot looser and more fun now.”
After a long period of infrequent gigs, the Nightcrawlers have taken up a Tuesday night residency at Chickie Wah Wah. “We were always about the writing mainly, and have remained very prolific with new material,” says Clark. “Threadhead Records released our album Slither Slice in 2009, but we are pretty much ready for our next record.” Meaning the band will play more than a few new songs for French Quarter Fest. “Most of the other brass bands there will play the top 40 Dixieland tunes,” says Clark. “But we always try to stay modern and innovative, so we’ll serve as sort of a diversion from the rest of the fest.”
At French Quarter Fest: Friday, April 7, 9:30-11 a.m. Opening parade in Jackson Square.