My first stop was at the jazz showcase of Cutting Edge NOLA, which was going on at Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club on North Claiborne Avenue, a neighborhood venue that also serves as headquarters for the social aid and pleasure club known as the Black Men of Labor, whose logo is prominently displayed on the premises. Though not as well known as the city’s other jazz club, Snug Harbor, Sweet Lorraine’s proved to be a beautiful and spacious club for live music, with a large stage and a beautiful grand piano. The band that was performing was that of Jairus Daigle from Lake Charles, a young jazz violinist with two albums under his belt already who is about to head to the Berklee School of Music in Boston this fall. Many of his band members are family members, as the Daigle family name is well-known in Lake Charles for jazz, soul and funk. Although the jazz style Jairus performed was fusion and contemporary jazz rather than traditional, straight ahead jazz, I was still very impressed by the young man’s facile mastery of the violin.
The kickoff party for this year’s Cutting Edge NOLA Music Business Conference took place in the upstairs Ramp Room of the Little Gem Saloon at South Rampart and Poydras in the CBD of New Orleans. After a historical presentation about New Orleans’ community radio station WWOZ, there was a guitar summit sponsored by T-watt amplifiers, co-hosted by blues guitarists Jonathan “Boogie” Davenport and Guitar Slim Jr. Downstairs in the restaurant, a straight ahead jazz trio was playing, featuring the vocalist Nayo Jones. But Cutting Edge showcases were also going on at other venues in the city simultaneously, so after hanging out at the Little Gem for about an hour, I decided to head to other venues.
After the late afternoon listening session at Cutting Edge NOLA, I was in the mood for a burger, and after looking at all the various burger options, I decided to try Charcoal’s Gourmet Burger Bar uptown on Magazine Street. Charcoal’s is a large two-story restaurant on Magazine at Jackson, with a downstairs that seems to be a to-go location, and an upstairs bar for the dine-in customers. The upstairs bar also has balconies on its Magazine and Jackson Street sides, but the late afternoon had seen a line of thunderstorms, so everything was wet outside. The menu at Charcoal’s is interesting, and offers a choice between a number of predesigned specialty burgers, or the option to build your own . Meat choices include elk, antelope, turkey, bison, akaushi, shrimp, and even a vegetable burger for those who don’t want meat. There are also choices of cheeses, other toppings, Benton’s bacon, and freshly cut french fries. Prices are not cheap, but the charming space, attentive service and unparalleled burger options make Charcoal’s worth the price.
Charcoal’s Gourmet Burger Bar
2200 Magazine St
New Orleans, LA 70103
For 22 years, the Cutting Edge Music Business Conference has been going on in New Orleans, giving new artists and musicians an opportunity to showcase their music, and giving music industry professionals a chance to network and adjust to changes in technology and the climate of our industry. The first day was largely registration and panels, including a demo listening session where I was one of the judges. I was especially impressed by Jackson, Mississippi southern roots rocker Jason Daniels, whose song “You’re an Angel” had a definitive New Orleans aura, as well as the world-music/indie fusion group Pans Permia, from Miami, Florida who opted to perform an acoustic song for us rather than merely play a CD.
After breakfast at the Who Dat Coffee Cafe, I was already in the general vicinity of the Lower 9th Ward, so I decided to drive around that area and see if there was anything worthy of being photographed, and actually there was a lot. Of course, the Lower 9th Ward had been devastated by the flooding of Hurricane Katrina. Cut off from the rest of New Orleans by the Industrial Canal, the neighborhood is surrounded by water on three sides, and for many years was the home of two notorious housing projects, the Florida Projects and the Desire Projects, the latter of which was once said to be the largest public housing project in America. Both projects were wrecked by Katrina, and neither were rebuilt, at least not as housing projects. Mixed income developments are being built on the site. Business areas in the northern portion of the neighborhood were also devastated, and since people have not returned in large numbers, none of these shopping centers have been rebuilt. They are still ruins, covered with gang graffiti. But nearby, at a playground called Sampson Park, I came upon a beautiful mural done by something called “Project Future for the Youth”, containing a lot of wonderful and inspiring slogans and quotes, presumably painted and conceived by young people from the neighborhood, possibly even before the storm. The various tiles within the mural call for peace and an end to violence, and emphasize brotherhood, peace and even music. One section of the mural states, poignantly, “I know they watching…Ancestors watching.” Perhaps nothing more accurately sums up the unique culture of New Orleans, particularly the city’s Black neighborhoods…traditions that have died out in many other cities last years longer in New Orleans, perhaps because the young people know they are being watched by those who have gone on before.
In another part of the neighborhood was an attractively colorful building which proved to be a bike shop. All kids love bikes, but bikes are not just for kids in New Orleans, which is a bike-friendly city in the extreme. Young people in inner-city neighborhoods even have customized bikes, sometimes rigged with lighting and sound systems.
Down on Claiborne Avenue, I came across a tire shop that has evidently had a problem with neighborhood crime, and decided to deal with it through a blunt sign: “No cat selling, No crack selling, No loitering…NOPD Will Be Called.” It’s hard to imagine anyone trying to sell drugs or love at the neighborhood tire shop, but evidently someone did. Nearby, a recently poured sidewalk gave a group of 9th Ward kids an opportunity to immortalize their names in concrete. They listed their names along with their ward, and the designation “The Crew”. Here’s hoping that they and their peers in the 9th Ward have a bright future ahead.
The To Be Continued Brass Band (or TBC Brass Band) plays every Wednesday at Celebration Hall on St. Bernard Avenue in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans, but their performance on Wednesday August 20 was special, as it coincided with the birthday of the band’s deceased saxophone player Brandon Franklin. Any TBC performance is spirited, but this night was especially significant, and they opened with a traditional reading of “Just Over In The Glory Land” as a tribute. It was a steamy hot night, the musicians covered with sweat by the second tune, but nothing stopped the second-liners and buckjumpers on the dance floor in front of the stage. Aside from members of another local brass band (without instruments) talking smack during the intermission, it was another one of those memorable New Orleans nights.
There’s not a great deal of reggae activity in Memphis (perhaps because our city has very few Caribbean residents), but we do have one really good reggae and dub band known as the Chinese Connection Dub Embassy, so when I saw that they were playing on the outdoor stage at Handy Park downtown on August 15th, I called my homeboy Otis Logan and he and I went down to check them out. Early in their show, they provided the backing for former American Idol participant Lil Rounds and for the rapper C Beyohn, but it was on their own set of songs that I was most impressed. After an original opening, they launched into a reading of the Dramatics classic “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get’, followed by a ska classic instrumental known as “Rockfort Rock”, and finally with the timely political original “Tyrant”, which the lead singer skillfully connected to the recent police shooting of Michael Brown and the militarized police response to peaceful protesters in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite that somewhat grim reminder, the vibe of the evening was good times and good fun.
I knew that live music went on at Brinson’s in downtown Memphis, but it had been years since I had been there, so when I read that the Concrete Soul Band would be playing there, I decided to drive down and check it out. Concrete Soul proved to be a very funky, tight band, playing both smooth jazz and some neo-soul, and after the intermission, we got a special surprise as former Memphian Arean Alston came on stage to perform. Alston had been in Memphis all week, and had performed elsewhere, but it was great to see her in the city again.
The Cooper-Young Gazebo in front of Strano Sicilian Kitchen has seen a lot more live music activity this summer than in past years, and a great deal of it has been neo-soul, which is a refreshing change. Whereas music at the gazebo last summer was largely restricted to Thursday nights, this summer has seen live music pop up there on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as well as Thursdays. The other night, when I was enjoying an outdoor deck dinner at the Slider Inn, I saw a tweet that indicated that Memphis neo-sooul singer Apollo Mighty was performing at the gazebo in Cooper-Young, so as soon as I was finished eating, I headed straight over there. I had heard Apollo Mighty once before, at a Memfix party in South Memphis, but there he had been by himself, performing without his band. On this particular night, he had the full band, including his drummer, who recently moved to Memphis from Nashville. They are a first-rate group of musicians, and Apollo is a young but gifted singer with a lot of future potential. I was especially impressed that he didn’t do strictly covers as so many Memphis singers do, but also some of his original compositions as well.
My bass-playing friend Monte Butts had asked me to come down to Tupelo and play a gig with him at the Linc Center, and when the gig was over at 9:30, I didn’t just feel like turning around and driving back to Memphis. So I used my Hangtime app on my phone, and saw where a band called the House of Funk was playing at Woody’s Steakhouse on Gloster Street. I had always thought of Woody’s as an upscale steakhouse, and not the sort of place to book a band with a name like House of Funk. But I dutifully headed over there anyway, and discovered that far in the back of Woody’s is a place called the Captain’s Den Lounge, with a stage area for bands, and there the House of Funk was, playing a delightful mix of soul and rhythm and blues, with a room full of their fans in the bar. They took an intermission, but only a brief one, and soon returned with a fiery latin instrumental, and then performed a couple of vocal originals that were actually really great songs. I was actually disappointed when their performance ended for the night.