First off, who’s in the band and do you change your repertoire for this gig?
Tom Hook on piano, Richard Moten on the bass, Gerald French on drums and Roderick Paulin on saxophone. I try to keep a high level of musicians because I just do all kinds of stuff and you have to have the people who can do that. We try to keep it as dance music, older style music, swing and things like that. Anything from Louis Armstrong like ‘Dinah’ makes people get up and want to have fun.
What is your favorite aspect of the Nickel-A-Dance?
We’re actually playing for dancers. We can do swing or we can do something like ‘La Vie en Rose’ and watch people embrace and be close up and friendly with each other. It’s a great concept. It’s just small enough to be intimate.
You’ve played both as leader and sideman in the series dating back to when it was held at Cafe Brasil. What’s the difference?
As a sideman, I try to do what I’m told. Being from New Orleans, we just do our best. That’s who we are. As a leader, I have control over what tunes I’d like to play and mix up the keys. There’s an old saying, ‘A good leader is a good sideman.’ As a sideman, you have to support the leader—‘Yeah, bro. go get ‘em.’
How much of your style and repertoire has changed since your recently reissued 1986 album, In the Tradition, was recorded?
My repertoire has changed quite a bit. I learned more tunes, I got more experience, I just grew musically and learned more styles. Before I did that record, maybe I hadn’t played with somebody like [guitarist] Leo Nocentelli. Now I’ve played with him quite a bit so I kind of know what I do with him or whoever. Even at that time, I did songs that weren’t necessarily profiled as New Orleans or in the tradition. There are many traditions to be in.
I learned a lot from trumpeter Clifford Brown’s album Clifford Brown with Strings and recommend it to my students. My dad, John Brunious, who was a great musician, would always say, ‘If you can’t play it slow, you can’t play it.’
So what else is up?
I’ve been teaching one class a month at NOCCA through the Trombone Shorty Foundation. I have so much fun trying to help those young guys.