Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue May 6 10:59:33 PDT 2003

Will wonders never cease? The NY Times mentions Evan Christopher and
devotes 3 paragraphs to him at the end of this article. Good on ya,

Steve Barbone

May 6, 2003 - New York Times

Closing the Hipness Gap at New Orleans Jazzfest


      NEW ORLEANS, May 5 — Every visitor to the New Orleans Jazz and
Heritage Festival, which wrapped up its 35th edition on Sunday,
experiences the sensation of walking among the 10 outdoor stages and
hearing two overlapping sets at once. The funny thing is how often the
combined music fits together.

Soul meshes with zydeco, gospel with funk, brass bands with blues, and
Mardi Gras chants with jam bands. The festival everyone calls Jazzfest,
which features Louisiana musicians alongside visitors selected for
compatibility, is an annual reminder that musical boundaries are highly

The heart of Jazzfest, and of much of the music of New Orleans, is in
three self-renewing traditions from the city's poorest neighborhoods:
brass bands, Mardi Gras Indian tribes and the self-help organizations
called social and pleasure clubs. Every few hours there was a parade
through the fairgrounds that held the event: a brass band stepping out
along with uniformed, dancing social club members or a Mardi Gras Indian
tribe wearing larger-than-life feathered and beaded costumes, pounding
drums and tambourines and singing cheerfully belligerent boasts and

The parades continued, audibly and sometimes visibly, in the stage
performances. The brass bands' swinging march beat permeated New Orleans
jazz, old and new, and also showed up in rhythm and blues. The brass
band beat also slipped into zydeco music, gospel tunes and the New
Orleans blues of performers like Walter Wolfman Washington and Kipori
Woods. Meanwhile the Mardi Gras Indians' percussive call and response
echoed across the festival's jazz and funk bands.

The festival has helped support both traditions; its proceeds subsidize
police escorts for neighborhood parades through the year. Jazzfest has
also permanently changed the Mardi Gras Indian calendar. The Indians —
who drew their iconography from Wild West shows, hinting at solidarity
with American Indian resistance — used to unveil their handmade,
painstakingly beaded costumes on Mardi Gras morning and then disassemble
them. Now they hold on to those costumes through Jazzfest, and some
perform year round with their own bands.

The Golden Eagles, on Saturday, and the Wild Magnolias, on Sunday, were
by far Jazzfest's best-dressed performers of the weekend — there's no
arguing with a wall of feathers — and they were also strong contenders
for the funkiest. Funk has also ricocheted back through the brass bands.
While older musicians, like the jaunty Young Tuxedo Brass Band, hold on
to the marches and hymns of an older repertory, younger ones like the
Treme Brass Band or the Real Untouchables Brass Band are just as likely
to have their sousaphones playing funk vamps.

Like many other forms of roots music, brass bands and Mardi Gras Indians
have lately been embraced by the jam-band circuit. It's a mixed
blessing; there's a new audience for the music and its culture, but the
old style is heard through a standard scrim of guitars. Still, what has
really sustained both traditions is that the younger generation joins
in; there's no hipness gap. And in their offstage incarnation, brass
bands or Mardi Gras Indian tribes need no electricity to make the music

Jazzfest has been around long enough to redefine family entertainment in
dynastic terms. The Neville Brothers, whose work in studios and onstage
defined New Orleans funk, now span two generations, and Nevilles and
their associates were ubiquitous this weekend. C. J. Chenier and two
different Dopsies — Rockin' Dopsie Jr. and his brother Dwayne, both
bandleaders — carried their fathers' zydeco legacies. At Jazzfest, blood
binds while musical categories topple.

Into Byways of the Past

Clarence Frogman Henry happily told his audience on Thursday, "It's all
frogs tonight." He was exulting that he had been asked to sing only
songs from his own recorded catalog, not the cover versions that pepper
his regular sets for tourists. No promoter had ever asked him to do that
before, he announced. Mr. Henry was performing at the second annual
Ponderosa Stomp, a festival that in its own way was as ambitious as
Jazzfest. Where Jazzfest seeks out continuity and connections, the
Ponderosa Stomp plunges into the obscure byways of rock's past. It is
named for a single by the harmonica player Lazy Lester, who performed on
Wednesday night.

Held at the club called Mid-City Lanes or the Rock 'n' Bowl (the stage
is alongside a bowling alley), the Ponderosa Stomp was attended by a few
hundred people rather than tens of thousands. But its lineup of five
dozen musicians, performing from 5 p.m. to dawn for three nights, was a
dream for the kind of record collector who takes note of backup
musicians and cherishes regional hits and eclectic combinations.
Audience members surprised some musicians by proffering vintage vinyl
singles for autographs.

"It's like programming a jukebox," said Dr. Ike, the event's
pseudonymous organizer; he is an anesthesiologist, Dr. Ira Padnos. "To
have the Sun Ra Arkestra and Sam the Sham on the same bill — that makes
it all worthwhile."

Along with Mr. Henry, the Arkestra and Sam the Sham (singing "Woolly
Bully" and the blues), Thursday night's show included a azz set by
musicians who had backed up countless New Orleans rhythm and blues hits,
including the drummer Earl Palmer and the saxophonist Herb Hardesty. It
also featured an all-star revue of swamp-pop, the 1960's South Louisiana
phenomenon, with a superb band behind Phil Phillips singing his "Sea of
Love" and John Fred singing "Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)." And
musicians from the New Orleans modern-jazz alliance AFO ("All for One")
reunited with the singer Tammy Lynn. Wednesday's
show was a rockabilly summit, including both of Elvis Presley's longtime
lead guitarists, Scotty Moore and James Burton; Tuesday featured blues,
soul and funk.

Dr. Ike searches out musicians who have virtually disappeared from sight
and persuades them to resurrect their best material, not always the case
on the oldies circuit. He is willing to jog their memories when he finds
them, providing them with individually compiled CD's of their old songs.
He seeks out "everybody that lays a path or might have been ahead of
their time," he said. "A lot of these guys don't get credit."

Clarinetist in Demand

Evan Christopher, a clarinetist with a growing reputation in New Orleans
and beyond, was surrounded by well-wishers when he came off stage after
letting loose some sweet and swooping solos at Jazzfest on Friday
afternoon. He had been sitting in with the Newport All-Stars, the
hand-picked group led by George Wein, who heads Festival Productions
(which produces Jazzfest) and is an occasional jazz pianist. New fans
wanted to know where Mr. Christopher could be heard over the weekend.

But Mr. Christopher's regular Thursday night engagement at the club
Donna's was already past, and Saturday's gig was private, a wedding.
"I'm playing in a burlesque show on Sunday," he told them, echoing past
generations of New Orleans musicians; it's a recreation of an
old-fashioned revue at the Shim Sham Club. Mr. Christopher also sat in
on Sunday at Jazzfest with musicians from Martinique.

Mr. Christopher, who was born in California, moved to New Orleans
because it was the home of his favorite music, and it offered plenty of
work. When he got here, he found that everything from the climate to the
working conditions made a difference to the sound of the music. "You're
walking in the footsteps of ghosts," he said.

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