French Quarter Fest lineup: Galactic, Astral Project, Ellis Marsalis, Delfeayo Marsalis, Bonerama, Rebirth Brass Band, more.

The French Quarter Festival in New Orleans is a nice alternative to the bigger Jazz and Heritage Festival: Many of the same great New Orleans & Louisiana artists, without the big pop/rock acts.

Admission is free, and the fest is held on stages spread across the Quarter and along the Mississippi River. Meaning: if you get a hotel there, you can walk to everything, and not  hassle with going to and from the Fair Grounds (as you do with Jazz Fest).

The festival will be held April 11-14. The lineup seems to get better every year and, yes, the four-day affair is more crowded than in the early years of the FQF.

astral project

Some highlights of the lineup, just announced:

Thursday, April 11 — Galactic, Jon Cleary, Chubby Carrier, Evan Christopher, Rebirth Brass Band, Tin Men, Sasha Masakowski

Friday, April 12 — Delfeayo Marsalis, The Iguanas, George Porter Jr., John Boutte, Alex McMurray, Leroy Jones, Little Freddie King, Papa Mali

Saturday, April 13 — Bill Summers, Cyril Neville, Ellis Marsalis, Leroy Jones, Paul Sanchez, Shamarr Allen, Walter Wolfman Washington, Jazz Vipers, Treme Brass Band

Sunday, April 14 — Astral Project (above), Bonerama, James Andrews, Dash Rip Rock, Rockin’ Dopsie Jr., Tuba Skinny, James Andrews, Jeremy Davenport

Check it the Offbeat story here.

Trombone Shorty Kicks Off Weekly Concert Series at Lafayette Square (New Orleans)

Wednesday at the Square, a weekly free-admission concert at Lafayette Square in New Orleans, resumes March 24 with a double-bill featuring Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, with singer-songwriter Mia Borders opening. The ongoing series offers loads of great performances by NOLA artists – jazz, funk, rock, folk, R&B, brass band and more.

Shows start at 5 p.m. and continue until about 7:30 p.m. Local restaurants will cater food and drinks (to benefit the city’s Young Leadership Council), and art vendors will also be on hand.

The schedule:

March 24th: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue + Mia Borders

March 31st: Cowboy Mouth + Creole String Beans

April 7th: Big Sam’s Funky Nation + Honey Island Swamp Band

April 14th: Jon Cleary: Piano, Bass & Drum + Lost Bayou Ramblers

April 21st: Amanda Shaw + Mark Adam Miller

April 28th: Marcia Ball + MyNameIsJohnMichael

May 5th: Junco Partners + Billy Iuso & The Restless Natives

May 12th: Dirty Dozen Brass Band + Happy Jack Frequency

May 19th: Irma Thomas + Threadhead Artists: Paul Sanchez, Glen David
Andrews, Margie Perez

May 26th: Bucktown All Stars + Benny Grunch and the Bunch

June 2nd: The Boogie Men + The N’awlins Johnnys

June 9th: Galactic + The Soul Rebels

For more information, visit the official Wednesday at the Square site.

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.

Offbeat Best of the Beat Nominees

Some of New Orleans’ finest musicians — of multiple genres — are among the nominees for 2008 “Best of the Beat Awards.” The awards, a labor of love courtesy of long-running Crescent City music monthly Offbeat, will be presented Jan. 31 at the House of Blues in NOLA.

Wanna participate? Click here to vote for your favorites.

A long list of first-rate musicians are for honors, including some artists — drummers Johnny Vidacovich and Stanton Moore; jazzers  Astral Project, Terence Blanchard and Christian Scott; roots-rockers the Iguanas and the subdudes; bassists James Singleton and George Porter, Jr. — facing off in the same categories.

And it’s encouraging to see home-grown label Basin Street Records so heavily represented.

A quibble regarding one odd quirk about the list: Why are record labels for some independently released CDs (those not affiliated with major labels) identified as “independent” and some identified by their actual names?

In the age of digital downloads and the decreasing relevance of major labels, why not just refer to the labels by the names their owners (in some cases, the artists) have given to them?

Cases in point: Paul Sanchez’s Exit to Mystery Street, one of the first two releases from Threadhead Records (created by folks who met online at the Jazz Fest’s chat board), is listed as an “independent” release. And yet others in the same category — best country/folk/roots-rock album — are also independent releases, but their label home is listed by its name. John Boutte’s Good Neighbor, also from Threadhead Records, and up for best traditional jazz album, is also listed as “independent” while other independent releases in the same category are accompanied by their official label names.

Here’s the list of nominees:

Best Blues Band or Performer
Tab Benoit
David Egan
Little Freddie King
Sonny Landreth
Irma Thomas

Best Blues Album
David Egan: You Don’t Know Your Mind (Independent)
Sonny Landreth: From the Reach (Landfall)
Eric Lindell: Low on Cash, Rich in Love (Alligator)
Kenny Neal: Let Life Flow (Blind Pig)
Irma Thomas: Simply Grand (Rounder)

Best R&B/Funk Band or Performer
Big Sam’s Funky Nation
Bonerama
Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen
Porter-Batiste-Stoltz
Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave.

Best R&B/Funk Album
Big Sam’s Funky Nation: Peace, Love & Understanding (Independent)
Henry Butler: PiaNOLA Live (Basin Street)
Dr. John: City That Care Forgot (429/Savoy)
Joe Krown, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Russell Batiste, Jr.: Live at the Maple Leaf (Independent)
Walter “Wolfman” Washington: Doin’ the Funky Thing (Zoho Roots)

Best Rock Band or Performer
Theresa Andersson
The Happy Talk Band
The New Orleans Bingo! Show
Quintron and Miss Pussycat
Rotary Downs

Best Rock Album
Theresa Andersson: Hummingbird, Go! (Basin Street)
The Bad Off: Lady Day (Independent)
The Happy Talk Band: THERE there (Independent)
The New Orleans Bingo! Show: Vol. 2: For a Life Ever Bright (New Orleans Bingo! Show)
Quintron and Miss Pussycat: Too Thirsty 4 Love (Goner)

Best Rap/Hip-Hop Band or Performer
B.G. and the Chopper City Boyz
Fifth Ward Weebie
Juvenile
Lil Wayne
Truth Universal

Best Rap/Hip-Hop Album
B.G. and the Chopper City Boyz: Life in the Concrete Jungle (Chopper City)
Lil Wayne: Tha Carter III (Cash Money)
Truth Universal: Self-Determination (Independent)

Best Traditional Jazz Band or Performer
John Boutte
Tom McDermott
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Don Vappie
Dr. Michael White

Best Traditional Jazz Album
John Boutte: Good Neighbor (Independent)
Evan Christopher: Delta Bound (Arbors)
Tom McDermott and Connie Jones: Creole Nocturne (Arbors)
Seva Venet: Mens Working (Jazzology)
Dr. Michael White: Blue Crescent (Basin Street)

Best Contemporary Jazz Band or Performer
Astral Project
Terrence Blanchard
The Magnetic Ear
Jesse McBride & the Next Generation
Christian Scott

Best Contemporary Jazz Album
The Magnetic Ear: Live at the Saturn Bar (Independent)
Ellis Marsalis Quartet: An Open Letter to Thelonious (ELM)
Jesse McBride: Jesse McBride presents the Next Generation (AFO)
Christian Scott: Live at Newport (Concord)
Frederick “Shep” Sheppard: Tradition: The Habari Gani Sessions (Drumparade)

Best Brass Band
Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Free Agents Brass Band
Hot 8 Brass Band
Rebirth Brass Band
The Soul Rebels

Best Gospel Band or Performer
Electrifying Crown Seekers
Franklin Avenue Baptist Church Choir
Tyronne Foster & the Arc Singers
Trin-i-tee 5:7
Zion Harmonizers

Best Cajun Band or Performer
BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet
Feufollet
Lost Bayou Ramblers
Pine Leaf Boys
Cedric Watson

Best Cajun Album
Michael Doucet: From Now On (Smithsonian Folkways)
Feufollet: Cow Island Hop (Valcour)
Pine Leaf Boys: Homage au Passé (Lionsgate)
The Savoy Family Band: Turn Loose but Don’t Let Go (Arhoolie)
Cedric Watson: Cedric Watson (Valcour)

Best Zydeco Band or Performer
Jeffery Broussard and the Creole Cowboys
Leon Chavis and the Zydeco Flames
Geno Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie
Travis Matte and the Kingpins
Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience

Best Zydeco Album
Jeffery Broussard and the Creole Cowboys: Keep the Tradition Alive! (Maison de Soul)
Leon Chavis and the Zydeco Flames: Holla @ Me (Independent)
Travis Matte: Hip Hop Zyde-Rock (Mhat)
Earl “Washboard” Sally: Home Grown (Catfish Zydeco)

Best Country/Folk/Roots Rock Band or Performer
Susan Cowsill
The Iguanas
Paul Sanchez
The subdudes
The Zydepunks

Best Country/Folk/Roots Rock Album
Bobby Charles: Homemade Songs (Rice ’N’ Gravy)
The Iguanas: If You Should Ever Fall on Hard Times (Yep Roc)
Paul Sanchez: Exit to Mystery Street (Independent)
Amanda Shaw: Pretty Runs Out (Rounder)
The Zydepunks: Finisterre (Independent)

Best Emerging Artist
Antenna Inn
The Figs
Los Po-Boy-Citos
The Other Planets
The Vettes

Best Cover Band or Performer
Bag of Donuts
The Bucktown Allstars
The Top Cats

Female Vocalist
Theresa Andersson
Susan Cowsill
Irma Thomas

Male Vocalist
John Boutte
Marc Broussard
Clint Maedgen

Bass Player
Robert Mercurio
George Porter, Jr.
James Singleton

Guitar Player
Sonny Landreth
Jimmy Robinson
Walter “Wolfman” Washington

Drummer/Percussionist
Russell Batiste, Jr.
Stanton Moore
Johnny Vidacovich

Saxophone
Tony Dagradi
Tim Green
Donald Harrison

Clarinet
Evan Christopher
Tim Laughlin
Dr. Michael White

Trumpet
Trombone Shorty
Terence Blanchard
Irvin Mayfield

Trombone
Craig Klein
Mark Mullins
Rick Trolsen

Tuba / Sousaphone
Matt Perrine
Phil Frazier
Kirk Joseph

Piano/Keyboards
Henry Butler
Jon Cleary
Tom McDermott

Accordion
Steve Riley
Wilson Savoy
Terrance Simien

Violin/Fiddle
Michael Doucet
Cedric Watson
Linzay Young

Other Instrument
Dave Easley (steel guitar)
Don Vappie (banjo)
Washboard Chaz (washboard)

Album of the Year
Theresa Andersson: Hummingbird, Go! (Basin Street)
Michael Doucet: From Now On (Smithsonian Folkways)
Dr. John: City That Care Forgot (429/Savoy)
Irma Thomas: Simply Grand (Rounder)
Dr. Michael White: Blue Crescent (Basin Street)

Artist/Band of the Year
Theresa Andersson
Lil Wayne
Tom McDermott
Irma Thomas
Trombone Shorty

Early Christmas Present: New Orleans Jazz Fest Lineup Coming Tuesday

Christmas will come early for Jazz Fest fans — the full lineup  for next year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival will be announced this Tuesday, Dec. 16, according to a report published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

The roster for the 40th annual edition of the festival, April 24-26 and April 30-May 3, will be announced during a press conference scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. (Central).

The announcement of the full lineup typically comes in January or February. Why so early this year?

Blame it on the economy.

“With the general economic downturn likely to affect leisure travel and ticket sales, the early announcement also allows for extra time to market the festival,” according to Keith Spera’s story in the Times-Picayune.

Expectations are that the 40th anniversary lineup will be as impressive a lineup as ever. On the list of artists confirmed to play, or expected to do so:

4/24 – Wynton Marsalis, Jazz Tent; Ellis Marsalis; Amanda Shaw

Wynton Marsalis4/25 – Wynton Marsalis (pictured, right), Congo Square

4/26 – Paul Sanchez

Solomon Burke4/30 – Solomon Burke (pictured, below); George Wein 4oth anniversary band with Jimmy Cobb, Esperanza Spalding, and Anat Cohen; Anders Osborne

First weekend (unspecified date) – Don Vappie

5/1 – Esperanza Spalding; Washboard Chaz Blues Trio; Dr. John;

5/2 – O’Jays; New Orleans/Helsinki Connection

5/3 – Jimmy Cobb’s “So What” band (celebrating the classic Miles album) with Wallace Roney, Javon Jackson, Vincent Herring, Larry Willis and Buster Williams; Juke Joint duo (Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm); Radiators; Dash Rip Rock; John Boutte; Voice of the Wetlands

(Know of other confirmations or solid rumors? Updates? Corrections? Send ’em my way)

Here’s my pitch (hope) for the Jazz Stage: Why not tap Sonny Rollins, (IMO) the greatest living jazz giant?

Also promised for the 40th edition of the fest is “a new ticket package option.” Some fans have expressed hopes that that means something along the lines of a multi-day discount, or perhaps steep discounts for locals and/or kids. Others have suggested that the new “option” could mean another type of V.I.P. package.

Threadhead Records: New Susan Cowsill Project Kicks Off in January

Threadhead Records, a recently launched fan-supported label organized by devotees of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (and NOLA music, in general), is now accepting contributions to fund the new CD from Susan Cowsill.

Singer-songwriter Cowsill, most recently of the Continental Drifters, and most famously the youngest member of late ’60s family band the Cowsills (inspiration for television’s “Partridge Family”), is headed to the studio in January to record her second solo album. Susan Cowsill, on stage at the Louisiana Music Factory

Her first solo release, Just Believe It, recorded shortly after Hurricane Katrina, is being remixed and remastered for a January release on Threadhead Records. That 2005 disc, featuring guest appearances by Lucinda Williams, Vicki Peterson, and Adam Duritz of Counting Crows, generated loads of critical acclaim.

According to Cowsill’s entry in the All Music Guide: “Quite simply, debut albums are rarely as moving, as revealing, or as accomplished as Just Believe It, and while it may have taken Susan Cowsill nearly 35 years to get to this point in her career, the results are more than worth it — this is masterful music from a major talent.”

Threadhead Records is already home to new recordings by Paul Sanchez, John Boutte, and Glen David Andrews, and several others are in the works.

For more information on how to support Cowsill’s recording, or how to participate in other Threadhead Records artist projects, click here.

And check out the recent feature on the label in New Orleans music monthly Offbeat.