Last week began with a wonderful concert at Jazz Bistro from Denielle Bassels and her stellar band.
The joint was jumpin’ to see Deneille…and the audience included some other wonderful singers including Barbra Lica, Ori Dagan and Alex Pangman. Everyone agrees Denielle is a rising star on the local music scene…her EP is out now and features some incredible original music! Speaking of Alex Pangman, I got to see her this past week as well. She plays the first Thursday of the month at Reservoir Lounge (7-9pm) with her Alley Cats and on this occasion did a set filled with songs from New Orleans. (There were many donors –including her mom Connie– who where joining me for an excursion to New Orleans the next morning.)
The Reservoir always feels like home and the staff is like family. I can’t always take my jazz safari there because they are now so popular it’s not always possible to bring in my 22 guests!
I wear several hats at JAZZ.FM91 in Toronto and one of my greatest pleasures is hosting jazz safaris. I take our generous donors on tours of jazz clubs…both in Toronto and Internationally. Locally, it’s called “The Classic Jazz Safari” where I take up to 24 people to four or five clubs in a night. Internationally, we’ve taken 20-40 people to places like New York, Chicago, San Francisco/Monterey, Havana and Panama City. I love them all for different reasons but if asked what my favourite city is for international safaris, it has to be New Orleans!
Last Friday I took 34 donors to New Orleans and after checking into the gorgeous Omni Royale Hotel in The French Quarter we hit Emerill’s NOLA restaurant.
Then a bunch of us went to The Little Gem Saloon which is a rather large art deco jazz bar that opened just a year ago. The place has amazing ambience and on this night featured a terrific band: Mesichya Lake and her Little Big Horns. I met a guy at the bar from Ottawa who played banjo in a bluegrass band. He couldn’t believe I knew all of his friends…uh, neither could I…including his banjo mentor, Chris Quinn who was working at Yuk Yuk’s long before he played in a jug band.
I suggested the guy check out Fritzell’s for some trad jazz and then decided to take my own advice and headed over with some of my safari crew in tow. As always, Barry Foulon one of the best-loved banjo player in the South, got me up to sing a song with his quintet.
The next morning a large group of us took the ferry boat to Algiers Point to hit Toot De Suite which is a breakfast joint that reminds me of Mr. Hooper’s General Store from television’s Sesame Street.
Everyone is sweet and friendly and there is always a musician in the corner playing music for tips. This time it was Sarah Quintana who was as friendly as she was beautiful and talented. After brunch we found out there was a Mardi Gras Parade that was just for the people of this cozy little neighbourhood. Wagons and bicycles were covered in ribbons and lights…it was so cute! Saturday night was the official night of the Jazz Safari. We had a deluxe coach take us to three jazz clubs in various parts of New Orleans…starting with Snug Harbour. This is one of the most reputable jazz clubs in the world with a booking policy second to none.
At any time a Marsalis can pop up on the stage unannounced, and on this occasion it was a different “Royal Family”…award-winning trumpeter Christian Scott, the nephew of the great saxophonist Donald Harrison wowed the packed house with his brand of hard bop and cinematic jazz: Heavy stuff!
Then, we headed over to Preservation Hall where we were allowed for the first time, entry without waiting in a line-up for half and hour. Preservation Hall Jazz Band played all manner of vintage jazz with various members singing at different times. The octet and the ambience was timeless! After their brilliant set we made our way to our last stop: Treme.
The Ooh Poo Pah Doo Bar in Treme looks like something right out of the TV show that was named after this friendly but sometimes dangerous neighbourhood. As we arrived we saw a car upside down on the middle of the road.
We missed the crash, apparently seconds earlier…a very small crowd gathered as two guys crawled out of the broken window of the upside-down car, grabbed a large bag out of the trunk…and ran! (I assumed they were late cooking their grandmother dinner and had to get the groceries home before the ice cream melted. Bless them!)
Later that night, as I walked my pal Meaghan (who lives in New Orleans) to her car, I passed guys puffing a joint, a guy being serviced in a car and a deal going down across the street. Living near Parkdale in Toronto, I felt right at home.
Anyway, I told my guests to do directly into the club…they did…and it was the friendliest scene imaginable! Everyone danced together to Guitar Slim Jr. and James Andrews. James (Trombone Shorty’s brother) was hugging everyone. His aunt, Miss Judy, the owner, loved our visit saying we were the first busload of tourists they’d ever had…she even admitted her club is so new (she bought it only a few months ago) that she hasn’t mastered serving on a tray yet so she ran back and forth serving four drinks at a time. Since there was no cover, I passed the hat and raised a bunch of money for the band. A drunk hooker kept blowing smoke in my face, smiling and saying: “You da big cheese! You da big cheese!”
The music was great everywhere on this trip but the hospitality of Ooh Poo Pah Doo and the people of Treme was the thing I will remember most about this trip!
Sunday we hit House of Blues for their Jazz Gospel Brunch. Then I beelined to a club on Frenchman Street; which is where most of the best clubs are, not Bourbon Street – (except for Fritzell’s, Bourbon Street is for party monsters, not jazz fans) and hit a wee club called Three Muses to see Tom McDermott play solo stride piano. Meaghan Clark and her son Keller joined me on an excursion out of town into swamp country where friends had moored their tall ship. Now the story gets weird: Just after Hurricane Katrina, I headed down to New Orleans with my then-girlfriend, Dawna M8rix, Tim Rivers and Gary Magwood.
The four of us stayed on a tall ship that belonged to Caravan Stage Company. Paul and Nans have been travelling the world since the 70’s on this ginormous ship, producing theatre that is somewhere between Godspell and Cirque du Solei…they had just returned from Europe and I hadn’t seen them in about 8 years so the timing was incredible.
After a tour of the ship we talked business…I want to help them get a sponsor (about thirty grand) so the ship can come to Toronto and do a free show. Whether it’s at the Portlands, Harbourfront or Toronto Island, I think it would be a shame to know they could get from Italy to New Orleans to Kingston, Ontario…but didn’t get to Toronto! Stay tuned…hopefully August 8-10 the Amara Zee will sail into Toronto harbour! At night, I strolled the streets and counted eight jug bands and four big brass bands, among other assorted street performers!
Monday, I dropped by WWOZ in New Orleans for a quick visit and then did one more tour of the French Quarter. I picked up some souvenirs for friends and a new “pimp” suit for me. I also had one of the best meals of the year in The French Market!
It’s funny that a tiny food stand with paper plates and plastic cups has a five-star chef in the mini-kitchen. MEALS FROM THE HEART CAFE …when you go to New Olreans…don’t miss this: You can thank me later!
The minute our plane landed I bee-lined to the Jazz Bistro to see Adam Makowicz play solo piano. It was a tribute to Gershwin and the place was completely sold out. His playing is often compared to Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson and/or Errol Garner. While his virtuosity massaged my brain I enjoyed a delicious meal, perfect cocktail – and thanked my lucky stars that my life has come to this: parties and adventures with a killer soundtrack at all times!
This week I host three local jazz safaris so I’ll have plenty of photos and stories next week. Also, don’t forget – Don Francks performs at Lula Lounge on his 82ndbirthday, February 27th…one early show…doors at 6:30, done by 9:30. Dinner reservations? Get ‘em now – this is going to sell out. Info at www.lula.ca