Is This the Strangest Collaboration on the Jazz Fest Lineup?

Unexpected musical collaborations have been part of the fabric of Jazz Fest since the beginning, and this year will probably be no different. While it’s impossible to know what surprise sit-ins will go down in the future, a few intriguing artist pairings are already listed on the lineup that was revealed today.

There’s Usher & The Roots, who first teamed up last year for shows at Philadelphia’s Roots Picnic festival and New York City’s Brooklyn Bowl. Then there’s Nas and New Orleans brass icons The Soul Rebels, who first joined forces at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival last summer. On top of that, there will be tributes to legends like Louis Armstrong and Buckwheat Zydeco that feature a wide variety of performers from across the musical spectrum.


James Williams and Alia Shawkat. Photo by Marc Pagani Photography.

But there’s one collaboration, in particular, that really caught my eye. Yes, I’m referring to Alia Shawkat and James Williams with The New Orleans Swamp Donkeys Traditional Jass Band.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with her work, Shawkat is a 27-year-old actress who is best known for portraying Maeby Fünke on the cult classic sitcom Arrested Development. She also currently stars in the TBS comedy series Search Party. Williams, on the other hand, is a trumpeter, tuba player and singer who co-founded The New Orleans Swamp Donkeys and performs with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra

You may have already known all of that, but you probably didn’t know that Shawkat is also a jazz singer whose grandfather was famed actor and New Orleans native Paul Burke. As it turns out, Jazz Fest will not be her first collaboration with Williams and the Swamp Donkeys.

According to an interview with Teen Vogue, Shawkat first joined up with the New Orleans trad jazz band while filming the horror-comedy The Final Girls. In fact, they even recorded an EP that was released earlier this week. The publication recounted her story in 2015:

“Last summer, Alia had the chance to spend an extended amount of time in her grandfather’s hometown when she was filming Final Girls in the neighboring city of Zachary. ‘When I went to do this film, I made it a point to take trips into New Orleans with the cast and immerse myself in the music scene,’ she says. During one of the cast’s routine trips to NOLA, Alia found herself at Buffa’s Bar and Grill, where she stumbled upon a jazz group called The Swamp Donkeys.

‘The guys were so good! I was really impressed. I spent an entire day with them and we became instant friends. I told them that I had sung jazz before, so one night we met up to sing a couple standards. We remained close after the trip and eventually their manager asked if I would come sing on their record. We met up in New York City and recorded some songs. It was a dream come true,’ she says of the chance encounter. Alia not only covers some Billie Holiday songs with the band, but also stars in their brand-new music video for ‘A Fine Romance.'”

In that case, maybe this isn’t as strange as I thought. After all, she sounds like a pretty talented singer on some of these collaborative tracks, which you can check out below. Who knows? Maybe Michael Cera will show up to support his love interest… I mean, cousin… I mean, um, castmate.

I any case, the fifth season of Arrested Development reportedly begins filming this month, so it looks like Shawkat has a busy 2017 ahead of her.

This music video—for the track “A Fine Romance”—was directed and produced by RaMell Ross and Maya Krinsky. It was nominated for a Best of the Beat Award in 2015.