“Doublewide” brings to mind images of those annoying “Oversize Load” trucks carrying what appears to be half of a pre-fab house down the freeway during afternoon rush hour. But to saxophonist John Ellis, doublewide has an entirely different meaning. Ellis grew up in a North Carolina town full of doublewide trailers, and he uses the term to describe the sound combination attained when an organ and a sousaphone are paired up. When he employed that instrumentation, he had to call his band Double-Wide for his new album, Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow.
As the name implies, Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow is a fun, lively record that embraces classic New Orleans funk and jazz, and for it he employed organ player Gary Versace and Ellis’ close friends Matt Perrine on sousaphone and Jason Marsalis on drums. Ellis holds it down on saxophone, bass clarinet, and ocarinas.
He admits his vision for the album shifted numerous times. His initial idea was for a tuba project after playing a gig with Perrine in New Orleans about 13 years ago. “I guess he was supposed to play bass, but he hurt his hand and ended up playing tuba the whole gig. It was ridiculous,” Ellis says admiringly. Then he shifted his idea again to an accordion-only album with a band capable of playing live in the streets, but the concept changed for good when Ellis liked how Versace’s organ complimented the other instruments.
The album was recorded in Brooklyn, New York, and this made it difficult to get the band together since most of them live in New Orleans. Jam sessions to get a feel of each other were not going to happen, and Ellis had to rush the group into the studio. “It wasn’t easy to experiment and see if it was going to work or not before we recorded,” says Ellis. “I was like, shit, is this going to work at all? But once we started playing, it was like even better than I imagined.”
As a current New York and former New Orleans resident, Ellis feels the time he spent playing and performing in New Orleans helped shape him as a musician. “I always feel grateful and sometimes a little surprised how much the city embraces me as an honorary local guy even though I grew up in North Carolina.”
John Ellis and Double-Wide play Thursday, May 1 at 12:15 p.m. in the WWOZ Jazz Tent.