Just like this column, New Orleans native Andrew Baham has one foot in modern jazz and the other in brassy street beats. While a few musicians wander into the two genres, the talented 24-year-old trumpeter dedicates equal energy to both styles.
“Actually they work really well together,” assures Baham, who as leader just released his second, fine straight-ahead album, From Whence We Came. The trumpeter, who began playing with the Kennedy High School marching band and graduated from the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) in 1998, also regularly blows with Royal PlayersBrass Band. He jumped into the hot brass scene in 1996 as an original member of Lil Stooges Brass Band and is heard on the Stooges’ new release, It’s About Time. In the late 1990s, he also performed with the Soul Rebels brass band and recorded with the group on No More Parades.
“Brass bands helped me develop more of the primitive sense of harmony and sense of camaraderie,” Baham proclaims. “The thing that prevents other cats from applying some of the stuff they’ve learned in modern jazz to brass bands or vice versa is just the fact that they don’t have an open mind. The one thing my mother and father always taught me was to look at everything from both sides of the coin.”
Baham’s close musical family influenced him in many aspects of his life and career. His father was a record collector who played percussion in high school and his mother, a flautist, graduated from Dillard with a music education degree.
The passing of his father and sister in 2002 and his grandfather’s death in 2003, led to the making of From Whence We Came. Composing and recalling his kin through music became an outlet for Baham’s grief.
“Being in that funk, sometimes inspiration kinda hits you,” Baham relates. “I started hearing all these melodies and grooves that characterized the great things about my family. We were a family who still sat and ate together at the dinner table.”
Baham chose to kick off the disc with Donny Hathaway’s “Flying Easy,” a favorite of both his father and sister. “It’s a remembrance of them,” says Baham. The tune is one of three non-originals with the remainder coming from Baham’s smart pen. They are performed by the trumpeter, drummer Adonis Rose, bassist Edwin Livingston, pianist Brian Coogan and saxophonists Darryl Reeves and Derek Douget. This group will celebrate the release and Bahams’ birthday at the Funky Butt on July 22. His July 11 date at Snug Harbor punctuates the rhythm with the teaming of Rose and percussionist Kenyatta Simon along with Livingston and pianist Ernest Turner.
The trumpeter, who attended both Dillard and the University of New Orleans, recently returned from two semesters at the Berklee School of Music. He plans to head back to the noted institution in January 2005. In a rather reverse of the perceived notion about employment for musicians in New Orleans, Baham says that he came home for the opportunity to make more money. Helping that cause is his three-nights-a week gig with the Royal Players at Harrah’s.
“There’s just a whole bunch of musicians in Boston and there aren’t that many clubs,” Baham explains citing educational institutions like Berklee, the New England Conservatory and the Boston Conservatory plus universities as luring musicians to the area.
“I like to see myself as a person who has taken in everything that New Orleans has had to offer,” says the brass band and modern jazz trumpeter. “I just love the music.”
MUSIC IN THE OAKS
Old School 102.9 and Praise 94.9 radio stations again offer a much-appreciated summertime lift presenting their popular music series in City Park. Every other Sunday through Labor Day (this month July 4, and 18) a gospel act, followed by a jazz group and a brass band performs from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. in front of the Popp Pavilion (the refreshment stand near the playground and across from the tennis courts). A few of the artists on tap for July are trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, violinist Michael Ward, trombonist/trumpeter Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, and the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church Choir. Man, the place literally smokes with families and friends lighting up their barbecues on the periphery while refreshments and libations are also available for purchase.
New Orleans enjoyed a special connection to one of the greatest drummers of all time, Elvin Jones. The remarkable and well-loved drummer passed away on May 18, 2004 at the age of 76,
Jones, of course, was linked to all modern jazz as a hugely influential and innovative player both as a leader and behind giants like saxophonist John Coltrane and scores of others. The drummer’s association with New Orleans came into fruition as a number of this city’s musicians—trumpeter Nicholas Payton, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis, saxophonist Greg Tardy, flautist Kent Jordan and transplant bassist Neal Caine—joined the ranks of Elvin Jones’ Jazz Machine.
“He was such a masterful musician—so very consistent,” says Payton, who played with Jones’ band from 1992 until 1994 and acted as its musical director for one year. “When I came in the band [at age 18], I was obviously very nervous—I was so in awe of him. So I was just amazed at how much he was listening to what I was playing. I figured Elvin Jones was a real powerhouse of a musician—a strong drummer—he was just going to roll over me. He was so strong but very responsive. He would just elevate the bandstand. He said very little but he led by example and really allowed us the creative force to do what we wanted to do.”
Delfeayo Marsalis blew trombone with the Jazz Machine at Jones’ final performance in Oakland, California just last April. The trombonist, who was in Louisville, Kentucky working on his master’s degree, got a call informing him about Jones’ deteriorating health and flew out to join the band. “Elvin lived to play,” says Marsalis, who did two stints with the Jones, 1994-1997 and 2001-2004. “He always played with a certain amount of joy—joy to the audience and the bandstand that totally flowed at all times. He wouldn’t take off from his job—not for a beat. You’d hear that mythological warrior—that was Elvin.”
About seven years ago, Jones was looking for a different sound and wanted a flute player. Both trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and Payton recommended Kent Jordan for the job. “The greatest gift he gave me was hearing him play every night on the bandstand,” remembers Jordan, who was in the Jazz Machine for a year-and-a-half. “The thing that is over-looked, is that he came from a family of musical intellectuals,” reminds Jordan, speaking of drummer and his brothers, pianist Hank Jones and trumpeter/arranger Thad Jones.
“He had so much rhythmic independence of all four limbs it was like each one was an individual drummer,” recalls Payton with awe still remaining in his voice. “It was like playing with a whole village of African drummers.”