Acme Jazz Garage — Ascending?

I seldom write about my own projects here, but thought I’d throw out a quick note about the CD recently released by my band, Acme Jazz Garage, on my Solar Grooves label.

relix review

Acme Jazz Garage is gaining momentum via national jazz-radio airplay, and good reviews in magazines and newspapers.

A few updates:


  • Our CD is in its fifth week of airplay on jazz stations across the US (check its progress on the JazzWeek chart).
  • It has aired on Tampa’s WUSF and WMNF; WFCF in St. Augustine, FL; KEWU in Cheney/Spokane, WA; WCLK in Atlanta, Ga.; WAER in Syracuse, NY; KSDS in San Diego, CA; Jazz From Gallery 41 in Berkeley, CA; WTJU in Charlottesville, Va.; WSHA in Raleigh, NC; WWSP in Stephens Point, WI; KRTU in San Antonio, TX; KCCK in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and KRFC in Fort Collins, CO, among other stations.


  •   Relix magazine critic Wayan Zoey calls the CD “a solid collection of revivalist funk and swing … influences are rooted in ’70s fusion, and the various contemporary pop styles that surrounded it … a much more enjoyable experience than your average ‘trad jazz’ album … a capable excursion through one of the most playful eras of America’s cultural history.”
  • Creative Loafing/Tampa just gave us a four-star review: “The 10-track set is not only fun but a rather excellent demonstration of what four vet musicians can accomplish with some quality time in the studio and a little help from their friends.”
  • Howard Mandel, president of the Jazz Journalists Association and a contributor to NPR, says the CD “mixes the best bits of the Meters, Santana, Robben Ford, Grover Washington, Anita O’Day, Joe Sample, Roy Ayers and Marcus Miller into a refreshingly breezy sound.”
  • “Some funky R&B, and straight-ahead jazz, and it coule be one of the outstanding local releases of 2016,” says Randy Wind, program director at WMNF in Tampa.
  • ” ‘Resonance’ immediately made me think of Steely Dan,” says Louis Maistros, New Orleans singer/songwriter and acclaimed novelist. “And (I hear) hints of the Crusaders. The rest felt like its own thing. This is really a hot little combo. Mission accomplished. It’s a damn fine record. Bravo!”

Acme Jazz Garage, the band’s debut full-length set of original compositions, features an eclectic mix of original jazz compositions played by the core quartet (Matt Swenson, guitar; Bryan Lewis, keys; Tim Diehl, drums; me on bass) plus special guests.

We were joined by conga master Gumbi Ortiz; who tours with Al Di Meola; singer Whitney James; saxophonists Jeremy Powell (Arturo O’Farrell Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra), Rick Runion and Austin Vickrey; vibraphonist Sam Koppelman; and trumpeter Ron Wilder. The music was recorded and engineered by John Stephan at his Springs Theatre studio in Tampa, and mixed in L.A. by Ruairi O’Flaherty.

The tracks:

^  “Mongo Strut” (Booth) — Latin-edged funk spiked with congas

^ “Resonance” (Lewis) — multipart contemporary fusion (some folks hear Steely Dan)

^ “Sandprints” (Booth) — a 5/4 piece inspired by Wayne Shorter, featuring Powell on soprano sax

^  “Last Call” (Booth) — a retro vocal tune (Manhattan-romance theme) with vocals, trumpet and vibes

^  “Acmefied” (Booth) — straight-up jazz funk

^  “Zag” (Booth) — straightahead, swinging jazz with two tenor saxes (Vickrey and Runion) and vibraphone

^  “Mr. G.P.” (Booth) — New Orleans-style R&B named for Meters bassist George Porter, Jr., with a tpt-tenor-bari horn section

^  “Rubberman” (Booth) — jammy-leaning jazz with flute (Vickrey) and tenor (Runion)

^ A bluesy version of “America the Beautiful” (arr. by Lewis) — think Ray Charles; perfect for airplay on the July 4 weekend.

To get your very own copy of the CD, as a physical disc or download, click here

For more information on the band, visit us on Facebook; go to our web site; or stop by Solar Grooves. Twitter: @acmejazzgarage




The Act of Creation

In recent years, I’ve become more involved in writing music, thanks in part to the fact that I co-lead a band, Acme Jazz Garage, that plays frequently and is quick to learn new originals (and often helps with arrangements).

So I’ve given more thought to a)what it takes to create a tune that appeals to audiences (still don’t have a clue) and b)the process behind creating something from nothing.

I have a background as a journalist, and I’ve studied creative writing, and written a few short stories, only one of which has been published (in the journal Florida English). That story, probably not coincidentally, had something of a music-oriented theme, as it’s titled “The Night Frank Sinatra Saved Pop’s Life.”

I’ve been thinking about the similarity between the two arts, in terms of the task of — again — taking a blank page, and putting words or music together that add up to something more than the sum of their parts.

In both cases (journalism/creative writing & composing), what I write has been deeply influenced by what I’ve read, or what I’ve heard, respectively.

For Acme Jazz Garage’s first “major” collection of original compositions, all penned by me (so far), there are two tunes that were directly inspired/influenced by others: “Sandprints” takes some cues from Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” while “Mr. G.P.” is named for bassist George Porter, Jr. of the Meters and inspired by that band’s swampy, funky old-school R&B, although the Acme twist on that sound also features a horn section (flugelhorn, bari sax and tenor sax). The title of the latter tune is a play on John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.,” itself named for bassist Paul Chambers,

For me, a song can start with a riff I hear in my head — once, I heard a tune in a dream — or something that I come up with while noodling on bass, piano or guitar. “Last Call,” the most jazz-oriented of the tunes we’re recording, actually is rooted in a little guitar progression I first messed around with 30 years ago or so.

The point of all of this, I guess: The act of creation is a mystery.

And there’s also that head-space conundrum to deal with, at least for me: Why would anyone care about something I write?

What I do know, for sure, is that the more I do it, the easier it gets for me to achieve the desired result — the more proficient I get at translating my ideas into stories or songs. Something similar happens when playing an instrument. When it comes to music, I’d be even better equipped if I had a stronger understanding of theory and harmony.

Will the end result of our creativity and hard work, a full-length recording, have an impact beyond our local fans, friends and family? Are the tunes any good?

Stay tuned.

Swingadelic, “Toussaintville” (CD review)

(originally published in JazzTimes)


Swingadelic, “Toussaintville” (Zoho)

Any tribute to the creative prowess and influence of Allen Toussaint, the New Orleans pianist and eclectic composer of great imagination, is always welcome. In time for his 75th birthday, New York little-big-band Swingadelic offers just such honors, taking a galvanizing tour through the land of Toussaint’s tangy rhythm music, tunes made famous by a wide variety of bigger names.

Swingadelic pianist and organist John Bauers is out front for much of Toussaintville, starting with the cascading brass and low-slung acoustic funk of “Night People,” the laidback, good-time feeling of the Glen Campbell hit “Southern Nights,” spiked with Paul Carlon’s soprano sax, and a loping “What Do You Want the Girl to Do.” Bauers’ inviting vocals are also heard on a blues-infused “Sneaking Sally Through the Alley,” a saucy rock hit for Robert Palmer, here bolstered by Jeff Hackworth’s tangy bari sax, and the classic Lee Dorsey track “Working in the Coal Mine,” livened with syncopated brass accents. Bauers contributes the CD’s sole original, “Mr. Toussaint,” a sentimental toast highlighted by Audrey Welber’s alto solo.

Other familiar gems abound, notably the pulsating anthem “Yes We Can Can,” associated with the Pointer Sisters; the Irma Thomas hit “Ruler of My Heart,” sung with much heart and soul by Queen Esther; a slamming “(Everything I Do) Gonna Be Funky,” featuring a raucous simultaneous-soloing section from the trombones and open space for drummer Jimmy Coleman; and a trad-jazz grooving “Whipped Cream,” popularized by Herb Alpert. Toussaintville is a great place to visit.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band, “That’s It!” (CD review)

(recently published in Relix)

pres hall pres hall

Preservation Hall Jazz Band, “That’s It!” (Legacy)

In order to broaden their once-traditional New Orleans music reach, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band have recently collaborated with everyone from My Morning Jacket to Del McCoury. 

That’s It!, co-produced by band leader Ben Jaffe and MMJ singer Jim James, finds the band making their first album of all original compositions. It’s still retro from the get-go, starting with the tumbling toms, thundering tuba and jungle-movie brass of the title track and the gospel-informed swing of “Dear Lord (Give Me the Strength).”

“I Think I Love You” spotlights octogenarian reedsman Charlie Gabriel on lead vocals and James on backup with driving Caribbean rhythms, while the laidback “August Nights” is bolstered by steamy tenor and muted trumpet lines. That’s It! —that old feeling, once again.

SUNDAY JAZZ JOURNAL: French Quarter Fest or Bust

FRENCH QUARTER FESTIVAL - 2013 posterHow’s it possible that this one-time regular attendee of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival hasn’t visited the Crescent City in three years?

I was last in New Orleans in 2010, for my fifth consecutive trip covering Jazz Fest for national music mags — I’ve attended the fest, and covered it, umpteen times, but not all those years consecutively.

Why wait to return? The delay wasn’t intentional: Life, family, work obligations, band playing all got in the way, I suppose. In the interim, I’ve also had the opportunity to travel to other fests, including the Montreal Jazz Festival, and three fests at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in north Florida — Bear Creek, Spring Fest and Magnolia Fest.

I’m very excited to be returning to New Orleans this week, to cover the 30th annual edition of French Quarter Fest, April 11-15. I last attended that fest for its 20th annual edition.

(I previewed Jazz Fest and French Quarter Fest in a piece recently published in the Tampa Bay Times; it’s here)

Back in 2004, FQF felt like a smaller version of Jazz Fest, with most of that event’s NOLA and Louisiana acts but none of the big national acts who brought the enormous crowds.

French Quarter Fest, now significantly larger than it was a decade4.1.1 ago, still has a similar flavor (no BNAs) and it’s still a free event. As always, it’s a combustible mix of traditional and modern/mainstream jazz, blues, NOLA R&B and funk, gospel, cajun, zydeco, and world-music flavors.

Nearly 600,000 people are expected to attend performances by more than 1,400 musicians on 21 stages spread out all over the Vieux Carre. The majority of musicians are homegrown; among the few exceptions are European bands playing trad jazz.

There’s way too much music to catch everything, of course, but as of now I’m zoning in on some of the below acts. For the full schedule and additional details on the musicians, visit or check out the helpful app for iPhone and iPad.

FQF posterIn addition to all the great music, the fest is presenting a series of music-related films, a lecture series, children’s activities and fireworks. For more info, click here.

And did I mention the bazillion varieties of crawfish, and other regional delicacies, on offer at the festival, provided by some of the city’s best restaurants?

Stay tuned in this space for some coverage of the fest.

(You’ll notice that I’ve suggested some shows that are taking place at the same time as other shows; like I said — some hard decisions ahead)


walter wolfman washingtonThursday: Joe Krown, Walter “Wolfman” Washington (left) and Russell Batiste, 12:45-2 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Sunflower City, 2-3:15 p.m. (WWL-TV Stage); Irma Thomas, 2:15-3:45 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Walter “Wolfman” Washington and the Roadmasters, 4-5:15 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Susan Cowsill, 4:30-5:30 p.m. (Absolut Louis-Louis Pavilion Stage)

Friday: Marc Stone, 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. (Woldenberg Riverfront Park); Dr. Michael White, 12:30-1:45 p.m. (WWL-TV Stage); Waylon Thibodeaux Band,  12:30-1:45 p.m. (Chevron Cajun/Zydeco Showcase); Lionel Ferbos and the Louisiana Shakers, 2-3 p.m. (WWL-TV Stage);  Masters Series featuring Victor Atkins, Steve Masakowski, and Ed Petersen, 2:30-4:30 p.m. (Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Showcase at the Royal Sonata); Alex McMurray, 4-5:30 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); The music of Jelly Roll Morton, James Booker and Professor Longhair presented by the Piano Professors, 5-7:30 p.m. (Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse at the Royal  Sonata); Amanda Shaw, 5:30-7 p.m. (Chevron Cajun/Zydeco Showcase); New Orleans Nightcrawlers, 5:40-7 p.m. (Capital One Bank Riverside Legacy Stage); Stooges Brass Band, 7:15-8:45 p.m. (Capital One Bank dirty dozen brass Riverside Legacy Stage); Brian Stoltz, 7:15-8:45 p.m. (Absolut Louis-Louis Pavilion Stage); Papa Grows Funk, 7:30-8:45 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Dirty Dozen Brass Band (right), 7:30-9 p.m. (Chevron Cajun/Zydeco Showcase); Trumpet Summit featuring Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown and Friends, 8-midnight (Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonata)

Saturday: Donald Harrison, Jr., 12:45-2 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Washboard Chaz Blues Trio, 1:45-3:15 p.m. (Rouses Stage); Tom McDermott and His Jazz Hellions, 2-2:45 p.m. (Cabaret Stage); Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers, 2:15-3:45 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Treme Brass Band, 2:30-4:30 p.m. (Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta); Little Freddie King, 4-5:30 p.m., (Abita Beer Stage); Shannon Powell and His Traditional Allstars, 4:15-5:30 p.m. (French Market Traditional Jazz Stage); Irvin Mayfield (below) and the Jazz Playhouse New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival 2009
, 5-6:30 p.m. (WWL-TV Stage); Hot 8 Brass Band, 5:30-7 p.m. (Capital One Bank Riverside Legacy Stage); Bill Summers and Jazalsa, 5:45-7 p.m. (Ford World Music Stage); Davell Crawford, 5:45-7:15 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Brass-A-Holics, 7:15-8:45 p.m. (Capital One Bank Riverside Legacy Stage); Glen David Andrews, 7:15-8:45 p.m. (Absolut Louis-Louis Pavilion Stage); Bonerama, 7:30-8:45 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience (Chevron Cajun/Zydeco Showcase); Leroy Jones Quintet, 8 p.m.-midnight (Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta)

Sunday: Don Vappie and the Creole Jazz Serenaders, 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. (WWL-TV Stage); The Tin Men, 12:30-1:45 (Popeye’s Esplanade in the Shade Stage); The Mercy Brothers, 1-3 p.m. (House of Blues Stage in the Voodoo Garden); New Orleans Jazz Vipers, 1:15-3:15 p.m. (Where Y’at Magazine Stage); Paul Sanchez and the Rolling Road Show, 2-3 p.m. (Absolut Louis-Louis Pavilion Stage); Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band, 2-3 p.m. (Chevron Cajun/Zydeco Showcase); Preservation Hall Jazz Hounds featuring Gregg Stafford (The Advocate New Orleans Edition Stage); Treme Brass Band, 2-3:30  p.m.(Capital One Riverside Legacy Stage); Shannon Powell Trio, 2:30-4:30 p.m. (Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta); The Dixie Cups, 2:15-3:45 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Rockin’ Dopsie and the Zydeco Twisters, 3:30-5 p.m. (Chevron Cajun/Zydeco Showcase); Jeremy Davenport 3:30-4:45 p.m. (WWL-TV Stage); 
delfeayoDwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers
, 3:30-5 p.m. (House of Blues Stage in the Voodoo Garden); Eric Lindell, 4-5:15 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Russell Batiste and Friends, 3:45-5:15 p.m. (Popeye’s Esplanade in the Shade Stage); Delfeayo Marsalis (left) and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra, 5-6:30 p.m. (WWL-TV Stage); Raw Oyster Cult, 5:30-6:45 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet, 5:30-7 p.m. (Chevron Cajun/Zydeco astral projectShowcase); Astral Project (right), 5:30-7 p.m. (Popeye’s Esplanade in the Shade Stage) Honey Island Swamp Band, 5:45-6:45 p.m. (Absolut Louis-Louis Pavilion Stage); Glen David Andrews, 7-11 p.m. (Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonata)

“Treme” Third Season Finale Loaded With Tons O’ Great Players

Has there EVER been a television drama that has given as much respect to musicians as HBO’s “Treme,” in terms of screen time, playing time, and genuine appreciation for musical art, not to mention insights into the day-to-day reality of working musicians?

I think not.

Sunday’s third-season finale, a prelude to the truncated Season “3.5,” wrapped up — or pointed in the direction of wrapping up — a ton of story strands.

In one, fiddle player and singer Annie (Lucia Micareli) sees her band’s debut CD released and enjoys a rather too speedy rocket ride to a national stage, with her manager planning a launch party in New York City. The script even works in a reference to New Orleans’ long-running music monthly: “This ain’t about Offbeat, darling,” he says. “It’s about Rolling Stone and the New York Times.”

At the Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street, site of a benefit concert, and elsewhere, Tons of great NOLA players play and/or get speaking lines, including trumpeters Kermit Ruffins, Irvin Mayfield, and Shamarr Allen; funk/R&B bass master George Porter Jr. (the Meters), keyboardist Ivan Neville, drummer Johnny Vidacovich, guitarist Little Freddie King and, in an intimate duo, singer John Boutte and pianist Tom McDermott.

At one point. four-trombone band Bonerama and series mainstay Antoine Batiste  (Wendell Pierce), a trombonist, are joined by TroyTrombone Shorty” Andrews and Big Sam. “Trombones rule the world,” Antoine says. Indeed. For extra measure, singer-songwriter Jill Sobule (Not from NOLA) joins the low-brass confab for “When My Ship Comes In.”

For fans of New Orleans music & culture “Treme,” while imperfect, is the ship that finally came in, an antidote to other TV series set in the Crescent City. I’ll be sad to see its voyage come to an end.

New Orleans: Serious About Its Identity As a Music Town?

But of course: New Orleans is a music town, one of the greatest on earth, and in many respects the heart and soul of American music.

It’s the birthplace of jazz, and it would be darn near impossible to gauge how great an impact the city and its indigenous arts culture have had on other forms of musical Americana, including R&B, blues, funk and soul.

And yet because of pesky political obstacles or a lack of imagination, the city’s fathers have never quite been able to capitalize on NOLA’s music/arts culture, which encompasses everything from still-vital brass bands to Mardi Gras Indian groups, great modern jazzers, traditional jazzers, amazing funk/rock groups, inspired singer-songwriters, and soul singers — artists like the Dirty Dozen, Rebirth Brass Band (in photo), New Orleans Nightcrawlers, the Wild Magnolias, Ellis Marsalis, Astral Project, Kermit Ruffins, Trombone Shorty, Galactic, Paul Sanchez, Alex McMurray and Irma Thomas, just to name a few.

By capitalizing, I mean spending the time and energy, and devoting the appropriate funding and resources to help leverage New Orleans’ amazing music scene — from Frenchman Street to the Uptown clubs — as an essential element driving visitors from all over the world to the city.

No, I don’t mean handouts, although expanding the available arts grants would be entirely appropriate. I’m talking about consistently creating opportunities for musicians to demonstrate their art, and pushing even harder to get that message out to potential tourists from the U.S. as well as those in Canada, Europe, South America, and elsewhere.

Other American cities have accomplished that task more effectively, and two of those cities are in the South – Austin, which has effectively branded itself as “the live music capital of the world” and  Memphis, where blues haven Beale Street does big business.

What would it take for NOLA to become known worldwide as “the home of American music” or “the heart and soul of American music” or something similar, and for hundreds of thousands of additional music-loving tourists to come to the city year-round, not just for the wonders of Jazz Fest?

These were among the topics discussed in a mayoral forum held Monday at Loyola University. Five of the candidates vying to succeed (the largely incompetent) Ray Nagin for the city’s top job met to share ideas during  a gathering sponsored by Music Swings Votes, an organization comprising local music industry professionals.

“The music and cultural community want to be sure that we are recognized by the next mayoral administration, taken seriously, and that we can actually get the mayor to achieve some agreed-upon goals,” said OffBeat magazine publisher Jan Ramsey, an organizer of Music Swings Votes, according to a piece written by Times-Picayune music writer Keith Spera. “We want to emphasize that this is important and they need to include it in their platform and their administration.”

I don’t live in New Orleans, so I’m not familiar enough with the local issues — including those having to do with racial politics — to weigh in on which candidate is best qualified to lead a city still reeling from hurricane devastation. But I will say that Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu (photo, left) has consistently worked to elevate the music and music industry of New Orleans and the entire state, which also boasts regional musical treasures zydeco and cajun.

During a Jazz Fest press reception several years ago, I spoke with Landrieu about his efforts to promote Louisiana music. I’ll link to that piece here as soon as I can track it down.

“The music community stepped up to remind everybody that New Orleans is the soul of America. … I want to trumpet it, no pun intended, to the rest of the world,” Landrieu told the crowd, which included New Orleans-born trumpet great Terence Blanchard.

Boosting the public profile of the city’s music/arts culture would be of huge benefit to all of the city’s people, not  just for the musicians and other artists. A dramatic increase in tourism would help everyone in New Orleans survive, and again thrive, to regain its footing as a major American city.

Here’s hoping that the city’s next mayor possesses the inspiration and determination to make that happen.