Irvin Mayfield’s expanding world

6 04 2015

Offbeat April 2015 

Irvin Mayfield debuts a new, permanent home for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, a massive coffee table book and a slew of new recordings this month, just in time for French Quarter Fest, where NOJO performs a different program of music each day on the mainstage. He and his partner in crime Ron Markham gave me the rundown on their spate of new projects for Offbeat’s April cover.

cover.0415.offbeat.hires_-300x384 Past a two-story wall of windows, up a wide set of  wooden stairs, and set back from the concert stage  at Irvin Mayfield’s newly christened New Orleans  Jazz Market sits a room the trumpet player  identifies as his office. There’s no desk in this office.  No computer, no phone and no trumpet—just two  places to sit and a chessboard. This is fitting  enough, given the amount of strategizing that went  into transforming an old Gator’s discount store into  what Mayfield hopes will become a shining new  beacon for jazz.

“Symbols matter,” says Mayfield on a Saturday afternoon in late January. Seated in the new office, he’s dressed in a navy blue T-shirt emblazoned with a fire department insignia—only instead of “NOFD,” the shirt bears the acronym for Mayfield’s New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, “NOJO.” He’s making a familiar argument to a reporter: New Orleans was “built on the DNA” of innovators like Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and Danny Barker, he contends, but “we haven’t really embraced that.”

“I mean, there’s a problem here,” he says. “Have we really not built a monument for the one thing we built as a city?”

The Jazz Market, Mayfield hopes, is a step toward filling that void. He asserts that it’s the first concert space in New Orleans ever designed exclusively for jazz.

It’s certainly the most ambitious. Billed as NOJO’s permanent new home, the 340-seat theater is poised to elevate the local profile of the big band. Meanwhile, its acoustic and conceptual customization for jazz makes it a potential magnet for major touring acts. Plans are also in the works to give the Jazz Market a community space vibe. The latest phase of construction involves building technological assets like touch screens connected to the New York Public Library’s jazz archive, a “digital STEAM” education zone (a visual curriculum connecting science, technology, engineering, art and math), as well as Wi-Fi access in the foyer’s Bolden Bar area. Daytime programming targeted for senior citizens and a growing selection of music-related works of visual art round out the vision.

Ultimately, though, the Jazz Market is a form of brand extension for Mayfield—and that’s where the strategizing comes in. In conjunction with the venue’s opening—a ribbon-cutting celebration is planned for April 2—this month marks a large-scale push to launch NOJO and its trumpet-wielding artistic director onto a higher plane of visibility.


Leading up to the ticketed gala on April 24 where the Jazz Market makes its official debut, NOJO is slated to perform every day of French Quarter Fest, which runs April 9-12. The sets showcase a wide range of repertoire, including the music of Stevie Wonder, the Beatles and the Grateful Dead in one set, the music of Led Zeppelin, Nirvana and Queen in another set, and an entire day devoted to children’s music. The last day will focus on the New Orleans songbook.

“As a general rule, we try not to have duplicate performances by bands at French Quarter Fest,” said French Quarter Festivals Entertainment, Inc. Entertainment Manager Greg Schatz in an email. “Irvin proposed the idea of four shows and assured the entertainment committee that each performance would be a unique concert with a completely different program [featuring] different guest artists.”

Mayfield pitched the French Quarter Fest series as a celebration of his new venue, but he’s simultaneously celebrating the one he opened in 2009 at the Royal Sonesa Hotel on Bourbon Street.

On April 7, Basin Street Records releases “Irvin Mayfield: Jazz Playhouse,” a 304-page coffee table book devoted to the trumpeter’s venue of the same name at the Royal Sonesta. The hefty, photograph and design-heavy volume comes with a seven-CD box set culled from a week of live performances at the Playhouse featuring a smaller NOJO ensemble along with regular club guests like Don Vappie, Shannon Powell and James Rivers.

Both the book and the music that accompanies it are divided into sections based on the days of the week, highlighted by essays, lists and other musings about Mayfield’s sources of inspiration.

“The reason I did this,” he says, gesturing at a galley copy of the book he’s placed on the chessboard before him, “was because I knew this was coming.” He motions towards the Jazz Market stage outside his office door.

“I wanted to put that business, which is my personal business, in a really safe space and really say what that space was and what it was about. When I first started doing the CDs and looking at that, I started feeling that that space was a lot more than just the four walls in the Royal Sonesta… We live out these moments there,” he says.

Somewhat less romantically, he adds: “I wanted to really write about brand extension from a venue through music.”

Meanwhile, Mayfield is gearing up for the August 11 release of “Dee Dee’s Feathers” (Sony Music) a collaboration with Grammy and Tony award-winning vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, who also serves as NOJO’s Honorary Chairperson and the namesake of the Jazz Market’s main stage.

Following a string of international tour dates with NOJO, Bridgewater will help program the Jazz Market’s inaugural fall season.

Having run through descriptions of the market, the book, the new music, the tour and the festival series, Mayfield leans back in a crisp white leather armchair.

“Did I mention the E-book? There’s an E-book, too,” he says, grinning like a mischievous kid.

“It’s a lot of shit.” The grin erupts into a giggle.

“The whole idea is that the Jazz Market is just a physical extension of what we have been doing. The CDs are the musical extension of what we’re doing. Then there’s the book extension,” Mayfield says. “Our work is about conveying truth, love and beauty—it’s a lot of stuff, but it’s really the same thing in different ways.”

Juggling multiple projects is hardly a new experience for Mayfield, who also helms a jazz education program (the New Orleans Jazz Institute at UNO) and sits on the boards of the Soledad O’Brien’s Starfish Foundation, the New Orleans African-American Museum and the Tulane School of Architecture, among others.

At times, his wide-ranging extra-curricular activities have raised questions about his methods and goals. As the newly-named chairman of the New Orleans Public Library system in 2008, he revamped budgets and staffing so drastically that the Times-Picayune ran a lengthy feature focused on the resignations, some of which were reportedly forced, that resulted from Mayfield’s leadership. (Writer David Hammer, Mayfield suggests, seemed bent on proving a musician had no place in library administration. “He’s doing investigative journalism on TV now,” Mayfield cracks, “and I think he’s enjoying that.”)

Asked why he feels the need to diversify the way he has, Mayfield says it’s a valid response to the music industry’s decline.

“If you saw Martha Stewart was on 12 boards, would you really be that shocked?” he asks. “You would expect she would be diversified.”

Some of his music-related ventures have faltered in recent years (the I Club at J.W. Marriott is now shuttered and the label Poorman Mayfield Music Group was scrapped last year). But there’s a palpable cohesion to his ventures these days.

Mayfield and his team also have the benefit of hindsight, having backed other recent jazz center proposals. In 2006, Mayfield, along with then-Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu and Mayor Ray Nagin, publicly supported hotelier Laurence Geller’s plan to build a $716 million jazz park downtown along Loyola Avenue. By 2007, Geller seemed to blame everyone around him for the project’s lack of progress, telling a Reuters reporter, “New Orleans is a study in ineptitude at every level.” A revised, smaller-scale vision for the park also failed to get off the ground. Two years later, Mayfield backed a controversial proposal to renovate the Municipal Auditorium into an entertainment center featuring, among other things, a jazz museum and a permanent home for NOJO. Again, the plan failed to launch.

“We weren’t completely in charge of those projects, we were partners,” Mayfield says. “It wasn’t 100 percent our project like this from the cradle to the grave. We built it. We designed it. This was my vision. It wasn’t a shared vision with any other institutions.”

But he did have help. Mayfield is prone to speaking in broad strokes and superlatives—a fair mix given his dual roles as artistic director and businessman. Ronald Markham, the President and CEO of NOJO—and a pianist who has been Mayfield’s best friend since childhood—has a way of filling in the blanks.

Mayfield’s explanation of the orange accents in the new theater, for example, involves a recollection of the sunset-inspired color scheme in Wynton Marsalis’ home. Mayfield says he borrowed the sunset idea for NOJO’s logo because it reminded him of the brilliant colors over Lake Pontchartrain at nightfall.

Markham, once a mechanical engineering major at UNO, recalls that the pair spent about 100 hours planning the building’s design. He says he sent the Atlanta, Georgia-based architecture firm Kronberg Wall examples not only of arts centers they liked, but also arts centers they hated in order to be as clear and detailed as possible about their vision.

“The warm tones, that’s Irvin’s dream,” Markham said in a phone interview. “The glass, concrete, clean lines, the modernity? That’s me.”

Markham oversees the nuts and bolts of NOJO’s projects, including the financial aspects of buying and opening the Jazz Market.

“We had to figure out a lot of very new things in a short period of time,” he says.

He points out that NOJO was only established in 2002, making it a young organization.

“But even for the most experienced person, putting together the financing for a multi-million dollar project, buying the building, certifying all the tax credits, getting all that in place, then building it in 11 months is hard,” he says.

“We bought the building in August 2013. It was very risky to buy that building because you had to have site control before you sit down and talk to anyone about putting millions of dollars into a project.”

Prospective lenders wanted to know what made the Jazz Market project special.

“When the response was, ‘We have an opportunity to build the first high quality space for jazz in the city that created it … they said, ‘Absolutely,’” Markham recalls.

“Then our job is to take that and figure out just how far we can stretch it and just how many opportunities we can create for people around music.”

Markham closed on an estimated $10 million worth of major financing with Goldman Sachs on Christmas Eve 2013.

“If anything says how complicated a new market tax credit is, the fact that I had to sign 600 pieces of paper on Christmas Eve should say it,” he says, laughing.

They broke ground on the project at 1436 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard in February 2014, by which time local realtors were already pitching the once bustling Central City corridor as New Orleans’ next big region for growth. Markham, who recalls playing piano at churches in the neighborhood with Mayfield when they were kids, was well aware that words like “gentrification” would come into play once they began developing the property.

“When I say, ‘I know that community,’ I’m not pandering,” he says. “I know pastors in the community. I used to play at Israelite. I played at Pure Light. I know all the guys over at New Home and New Hope. Same thing with Irvin.”

Markham and Mayfield both envision the venue as a way to bring new resources into the neighborhood, positing jazz as a fulcrum for community development. And because the project relied heavily on public money—particularly state historic tax credits and theater infrastructure tax credits—Markham points out the NOJO organization must deliver on its promises.

“Outside of music, we’re talking to partners about getting people in to do things like job fairs, a homework help center,” he says, adding that he’s working with the Jazz Market’s title sponsor, People’s Health, to bring a mobile health unit into the center. Discussions are also underway about hosting a farmer’s market, which would be a boon to one of the many neighborhoods in New Orleans where fresh produce is not readily available.

“The Jazz Market for us is a physical representation of the real power of this music to be a door opener.”

The plot of land at 1436 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard represented the opening of doors long before NOJO got there. The venue’s name refers in part to the Dryades Market that once stood in its place on the corner of what were then Dryades and Melpomene Streets. The busy, two-building cluster of grocers and other vendors served a mostly black clientele, though shop owners there refused to hire black employees for jobs paying better than janitorial work.

As Adam Fairclough details in “Race & Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana,” shoppers and civil rights activists (including future CORE leader Oretha Castle) banded together in 1960 and boycotted the stores that would not desegregate. Many stores closed, contributing to a generation of economic decline in Central City. But an estimated 30 jobs were created for black residents and similar boycotts followed in other parts of town. The protest is often cited as the first major Civil Rights action in New Orleans history.

On a Friday night in February half a century after that protest, a few hundred well-heeled philanthropists, arts administrators and local tastemakers took seats in an intimate theater space where vendors once sold meat, poultry and fish. NOJO had invited them to watch their first practice run on the stage, which opened with 15 minutes of stop-and-start bars of music as techs toyed with the adjustment of curtains and lobby doors to get the sound just right.

Once the room was tuned, the band launched into a high-energy concert, punctuated by a gut-rattling solo from saxophonist Ed “Sweetbread” Petersen, a warm and blues-drenched take on Stevie Wonder’s “The Life of Plants” and a stage-stomping rendition of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

It was the first time the entire orchestra had performed for an audience in their new home. They had just returned from a long tour, and as trombonist and NOJO Music Curator Emily Frederickson later recalled, seeing a New Orleans crowd respond to music they’d been playing for people across the country was “electric.”

More electrifying though, was to experience ensemble playing in a space created just for them. “It was the first time we were able to hear ourselves acoustically,” she marveled. “We weren’t used to hearing our own sound, which is strange and beautiful.”

Frederickson described the feeling it evoked as a mix of happiness and confusion. She was also proud, which is something her boss says he wants for all the musicians who perform in the new venue.

“If you can imagine New Orleans as a person, I’m just trying to help New Orleans feel good,” Mayfield says. “Because if New Orleans feels good, there are a lot more possibilities.”

Delfeayo Marsalis: Humanity & Humility

8 01 2015

DownBeat February, 2015

cdelf “The Last Southern Gentleman” marks Delfeayo Marsalis’ first full recording with  his dad, Ellis Marsalis. And as Delfeayo explained to me over a few weeks of  conversation, he didn’t arrive at the title lightly. The idea behind the album is that  warmth and human connection — elements valued by antebellum southern society  — are losing their foothold in contemporary jazz. Delfeayo wants to bring them  back.

Check out the full feature here on Downbeat’s website (and apologies in advance  for the PDF): Delfeayo Marsalis: Humanity & Humility.



Best of the Beat Awards honor Roger Dickerson for Lifetime Achievement in Music Education

2 01 2015

Offbeat January 2015

Two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, composer and educator Roger Dickerson reflects on his music, teaching and lifelong friendship with Ellis Marsalis.

Photo courtesy Elsa Hahne

Photo courtesy Elsa Hahne

It wasn’t long after a teenaged Terence Blanchard began piano and composition lessons from Roger Dickerson, Sr. that Blanchard experienced the holistic nature of the composer’s teaching style. “He asked me what I wanted out of music,” Blanchard recalls in the book,Contemporary Cats: Terence Blanchard and Special Guests. “He planted the seed for me to really deal with being an artist.” More than three decades later, Dickerson—the recipient of this year’s Best of the Beat Lifetime Achievement in Music Education Award—is still helping young musicians open their minds to unlock their creative spirits.

“My philosophy of teaching is to get the person to discover their own creativity and how they work,” Dickerson says from his Algiers Point home, where a centrally located piano and writing desk, along with numerous paintings and books, seem designed to stimulate the imagination.

“The key is being able to find something that the person has experienced themselves,” he explains, “because then [the music] makes sense for them—they have some kind of reference. It’s like playing instruments: each instrument has its own specific characteristics. … We are, as individuals, instruments, too.”

At 80, Dickerson is primarily recognized as a classical composer and pianist with a love for jazz. He often credits accolades such as his Pulitzer Prize nominations (for the 1972 Louis Armstrong requiem, “A Musical Service for Louis,” and 1976’s U.S. Bicentennial-commissioned “New Orleans Concerto”) with his experience studying at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, Austria on two Fulbright scholarships. But when discussing the evolution of his work as an educator and music lover, he comes back repeatedly to his long-standing friendship withEllis Marsalis, whom he met at Sunday school when they were children in New Orleans.

“This conversation [about music] started then and it’s still going on,” says Dickerson.

In addition to sharing a love of jazz, Dickerson says he and Marsalis felt a common “seriousness” about their art and, eventually, about their work as educators.

“There’s only one truth about it,” Dickerson declares. “It’s never really been what it should be and that’s the truth of education, period, not just music education. That the things that we should have, we’ve never really had them. What you did as a student and as a serious teacher, you did in spite of the situation or despite the situation … and you transcended the contradictions. And of course this is not limited to any one group. The contradictions are in the heart of the society.”

Recalling the experience of growing up during segregation in New Orleans—“blatant American apartheid,” as he aptly terms it—Dickerson says he and Marsalis discovered together that their “love for learning and for the music” yielded “great joy” that allowed them to deal with the daily ugliness of institutionalized racism.

Meanwhile, teaching at Xavier, Dillard and Southern University of New Orleans (SUNO) provided an outlet for his own continuing education.

“You learn a lot from students,” says Dickerson. “That’s a great thing I loved about university teaching was that they gave you energy. They gave you new perceptions of things across this chasm of years and age.”

Dickerson retired from his post at SUNO in 2002, but his composition class at the Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong Jazz Camp remains one of the program’s mainstays.

“No matter how old a student is, Roger believes they should start thinking about writing early on,” says the camp’s co-founder Jackie Harris. “He works one-on-one with each student on each of their pieces. He takes students who start from, ‘I want to be able to play this song,’ to a point where they can express themselves musically and culturally.”

In that respect, Dickerson’s approach to education runs parallel to that of his compositions, many of which deal specifically with the strengths and legacies of real New Orleanians like Henriette Delille and Armstrong.

“It has to do with a basic feeling that I have about my work: That it is an expression of devotion and freedom, the kind of thing Ellis and I shared, the kind of thing that really combines the love of the music with human relationships—and [with] coming out of New Orleans,” he explains.

That fascination with marrying relationships to art also bleeds into the less traditional forms of education Dickerson has also pursued. When he evacuated during Hurricane Katrina to Roswell, New Mexico (via the Superdome), for example, he found himself living in a community that, despite welcoming him, had very little going on, jazz-wise. He worked quickly to change that, and today the Roswell Jazz Festival he helped found is heading into its 10th season.

“It’s a real education as to what music can do for a community,” he says. “They’re finding out that music is about more than music: It’s about getting people to celebrate themselves, coming together, discovering things, working together in harmony—the same kind of thing musicians do on the stand.”

Dickerson believes there are always new ways to perceive the world around us, which means there’s always room to learn more.

“Generally when we talk about education we’re talking about formal education in a classroom,” he says. “But I don’t keep it locked up in a building on a campus somewhere.”

James Singleton finds beauty in complexity

3 12 2014

Offbeat December 2014

A centrifugal force of the New Orleans music landscape (and by landscape I mean improvised jazz, rock, funk, punk and the occasional trad) for decades, bassist James Singleton has laid low, studio-wise, for the past few years, despite his prolific gigging habits. On Dec. 7, he releases Shiner, an improvisational masterpiece recorded with Mike Dillon, Larry Sieberth and a combination of horn players including Skerik, Mark Southerland and the late, great Tim Green. The album release comes to Snug Harbor Dec. 7. Check out the new Offbeat cover story to hear what this project means for James and how he defines his artistic development at this stage in his career. Alas, I did not ask him enough about his sartorial style. Luckily Offbeat’s art director Elsa Hahn picked up my slack with the photo shoot — a good reason to check the story on their pretty new site.

jamessingleton.rococo.elsahahne-392x778Sporting twin ponytail poufs atop her head, her 6-year-old brow creased with determination, Ruby Singleton lays out the details of a Harry Potter-inspired mission for the sidekick she’s met at a grown-up party. Ruby’s father, bassist James Singleton, has come here with his family from an afternoon spent helping Sarah Quintana build shimmering improvisations made of purrs, low-bowed growls and high-pitched ululations for a blindfolded audience at the Marigny Opera House’s Sunday Music Meditation. Now, he keeps a watchful eye on his daughter as she opens up her imagination and shares it with an adult guest.

Ruby summarizes key points of play (the location of enemy lines, who has which special powers) then she and her new cohort push off through the din of party chatter, embarking on their mission, which transforms repeatedly over the course of 10 minutes, growing more complex at every turn. With each new challenge, Ruby improvises into the story; she shows her mettle as an intrepid New Orleans version of Hermione Granger. Her DNA is pretty easy to read, too.

Over the past six years, bassist, composer and multi-instrumentalist James Singleton has maintained a roster of working bands that would dizzy most performers. In addition to his quartet, he performs regularly with theIlluminasti Trio, DVS, 3Now4, James Singleton & Bluebelly, Astral Project, Stanton Moore’s trio, Brad Walker’s redrawblak, Joe Cabral’s trio, the Helen Gillet/James Singleton duo, the Orleans 6—the list goes on. His main gig, though, has been Ruby.

On December 7, Singleton releases Shiner, his first album as a leader since his daughter’s birth in 2008. As he points out a few days before Ruby’s house party-staged Hermione expedition, she’s dramatically impacted the way he makes music. While Ruby’s playtime skills indicate she inherited her dad’s creative curiosity and affection for exploration, he credits her with inspiring, among other things, a new degree of openness in his work. These days, he muses, he may write the beginning of a tune but has learned it would be “presumptuous” to write the end when he has such strong collaborators at his side.

“Parenthood has been an intense deepening agent for my work,” says Singleton, seated in a mostly empty room upstairs at Fairgrinds, his neighborhood coffee shop, the day after his 59th birthday. He pauses to take a gulp of the large black iced coffee before him.

“It’s added urgency to my process and depth to my performance.” He also picked up the trumpet, his first instrument, for the first time in 35 years after Ruby arrived.

Despite these boons, Singleton admits somewhat sheepishly that it’s taken three years to get the album out. The multi-year span reflects the fact that he had to learn a new approach to making an album—one that wouldn’t involve spending large periods of time focused on the record at the exclusion of other aspects of life.

Figuring that out caused some bumps in his process. He recorded a pair of studio sessions before ditching them for live material, though the studio work may appear on a future recording. Sequencing the album took a year, in part because he enjoys his dual responsibilities of booking agent and artist. “The booking agent in me wants the first song to be two minutes long and unbelievably intense and, ‘Yes, we want your band,’” he explains.

Ultimately, though, the final product underscores a lesson well learned.

Recorded during three Snug Harbor performances with Mike Dillon on vibes, tabla and percussion, Larry Sieberth on piano and a rotation of Skerik, Mark Southerland and Tim Green on sax, Shiner encapsulates the reciprocal energy that thrives between Singleton and each of those artists—then magnifies that by four.

“DVS,” Dillon’s eponymous anthem for his punk-meets-funk improv trio with Singleton and Vidacovich, benefits from an added layer of orchestration courtesy of Sieberth.

“Larry is a one-man orchestra on piano and he can play the entire history of Western music in one song,” marvels Dillon.

“In some ways, this is my ultimate band,” Singleton muses, his eyes twinkling behind the frames of his glasses. “Everybody’s a great composer and everybody’s a great melodist and everybody’s strong rhythmically, texturally. And at any point I can fade out or lay out knowing that something amazing is going to happen. And they provide space for me to do the same.”

In this ensemble’s hands, “Lento,” which appeared on Singleton’s 2008 string quartet album Gold Bug Crawl, morphs into something more wistful but also more angry, as the unsteady skittering of a bow and the foreboding growl of percussion meet a high-register piano assault that sets upon Skerik’s horn lines like an agitated swarm of bees. Green’s contribution comes in the form of a 19-minute suite comprised of five tunes that play as one. Casting the piece as an “essential … odyssey,” Singleton says it’s “a great example of the depth of our connection.”

It’s also a prime example of how, like Ruby’s approach to game-building, Singleton’s music follows a path that prioritizes evolution and challenge above resolution.

“Most of the pieces on my project start one place and end up someplace completely different, and to me that’s a huge victory and something I’ve been waiting for,” he says. “I’ve been involved with various forms of traditional improvising for 40 years and typically the music starts in one place and there’s some solos and it comes back to that place. My music reflects the complexity of my experience more if it starts in one place and goes somewhere else and never comes back.”

Despite being as expressive verbally as he is musically, the bassist does not elaborate on Green’s unexpected death earlier this year, implying, if unintentionally, that in this case, the music can communicate more.

He’s less reserved when it comes to analyzing his own work.

“I want my music and my career and my personality to drive the musical discourse towards adult complexity,” Singleton says in a measured cadence. “And you don’t have to be an adult or even smart to appreciate it, because I want my work to reflect the complexities that get me excited about life.”

That philosophy lends itself well to a career that’s spanned as wide a range of genres and forms as Singleton’s has. Before he began pioneering new concepts about rhythm with Astral Project, before he recorded albums with Johnny Adams and Alvin “Red” Tyler, before he started working regularly with the likes of James Booker, James Black, Nat Adderly and Bobby McFerrin, Singleton paid his dues at clubs all over New Orleans.

Having bailed on college after three semesters each at Boston’s Berklee School of Music and North Texas State University, he moved to the Crescent City in 1976 on a tip that guitarist Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown needed a bass player. The audition, detailed in David Lasocki’s history-stuffed 2010 biography,James Singleton: Rhythm Crusader, taught Singleton he had some learning yet to do.

Piecing together oral histories, reviews and news stories from throughout Singleton’s life, Lasocki draws a rare and valuable map of the club scene in New Orleans from the late ’70s through the ’80s in the process of telling his subject’s life story. (Lasocki, Singleton notes, “was the tenured music librarian at the University of Indiana” who specialized in Renaissance woodwinds but started writing about the members of Astral Project after developing a jazz obsession. “He’s a Brit and he’s a New Age healer,” Singleton says. “He’s just a total weirdo. My kinda guy.”)

Rhythm Crusader illuminates less commonly known aspects of Singleton’s life like his decades-long love affair with traditional New Orleans jazz and his experiments with transcendental meditation—as well as other, less legal forms of consciousness shifting. It also paints a picture of the bassist as being perpetually hungry for new musical inspiration and information, a picture that rings as true in 2014 as it did in 1976.

Recalling his New Year’s Eve arrival in New Orleans that year, Singleton says the first music that made an impression was a pair of duo performances.

“One was Johnny Vidacovich and Angel Trosclair and I was thinking, ‘How can they think of playing without a bass?’ And then it sounded so good I realized well maybe I should just shut up and listen. And then I heard James Booker with Cyril Neville on drums and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, he’s playing all the bass with his left hand. I don’t know what I would add to that.’ And then finally hearing the Meters and thinking, ‘Wow, I had no idea what funk was. I’m starting from scratch. School’s in session.’”

From that point on, he began to see that the New Orleans music community itself is an education system for those willing to take advantage of the opportunities it holds. (By the same token, he refers to his post-Katrina years in Los Angeles as his “mid-life sabbatical” from the grind of constant gigging.)

It’s not a far leap from there to his notion that music should be something an audience can connect to regardless of their maturity, experience or even intelligence. That philosophy also comes in handy in a town where boisterous and booze-centric club environments are more common than the kind of focused listening that rooms like Snug Harbor are able to foster.

One Saturday night in October, Singleton and Vidacovich joined Dillon upstairs at the Blue Nile’s Balcony Room for a double-header gig of DVS and Mike Dillon band repertoire. The room filled quickly with a mixed crowd that encompassed a range of types, from the weekend-on-Frenchmen-Street characters to faces familiar at Jeff Albert’s often-experimental Tuesday night Open Ears music series. Twenty minutes into the first set, Singleton plunged into a bass solo, alternating deep, rhythmic plucks with percussive rapping on the body of the bass. He locked eyes with Dillon, who turned to his tablas and improvised a motif so melodic it sounded like he’d added a tabla tarang to his rig.

Singleton grinned. He swayed. He looped verbal warbles. He scrunched up his face in gritty, enthusiastic wonder.

“His wild streak to me is that he has the enthusiasm of a 4-year-old, or of his daughter, Ruby,” Dillon later said. “James has been able to maintain a childlike thing with his playing. He’ll just be so enthusiastic. A lot of the guys who are his age or my age, they’ve seen it all and they’re just bored and cynical.”

Dillon and Singleton began sharing the stage after Katrina, often with Skerik. One of the first times they played together, Dillon felt compelled to interact with Singleton’s energy and his willingness to break the rules in service to innovation.

They were playing a blues, the vibraphonist recalls. “Most guys will sort of stay on the blues and stay very true to the form. And it may seem minor to those of us that hear it all the time but all of a sudden, he cranked up his distortion and he just started hitting his bass as hard as he could. I remember thinking, ‘This is awesome,’ and I just started playing a punk-rock beat with him. And now we do that all the time. But when it first happened I was like, ‘This guy’s got the spirit.’”

Sieberth, who’s been improvising with Singleton since the late ’70s when they both worked in Gatemouth’s band, echoes that sentiment, pointing out that the most challenging aspect of improvising is “letting go of what you know.”

“There are sometimes forms in Jim’s music, but even those forms are subject to transformation or [to] letting go of what is expected,” Sieberth says. “Part of the joy of playing with Jim is that you have to be on your toes at all times. Part of it is to expect the unexpected.”

With Shiner’s release date just around the corner, Singleton settles down once more in a quiet room at Fairgrinds. In one hand, he holds a small black notebook full of thoughts on music; in the other, a large black iced coffee.

“Ugly beauty, that’s Monk’s title,” he says, pondering one of the themes he’s jotted down in his journal. He connects the idea to street art that’s simultaneously beautiful and hideous, and references an art exhibit called “Pain” he once saw in Berlin.

His thoughts shift back to music—specifically, to pianist Thelonious Monk’s waltz, “Ugly Beauty,” which he performed, sans harmony, with Dillon and Vidacovich at the Blue Nile’s Balcony Room.

“Did you think the record was dark?” he wants to know.

Layered with color and texture, prone to bouts of punk rock-inspired fury and shot through with unexpected riffs on joy, yes. Dark? Not exactly.

“During the post-production I thought this was the darkest record I’ve ever made,” he counters. “I thought this just reflects the ruin of my [previous] marriage and my life and then recently I started saying, ‘No, man, this is very beautiful and uplifting.’”

The truth is probably closer to an assertion Dillon made: That music can be all of those things simultaneously.

“Sometimes looking deep into the soul, you’re gonna find some darkness, but that’s where you find the beauty to keep going,” Dillon says. “In this culture, we need more darkness to see the real beauty. James is one of those artists who’s not afraid to go anywhere. That’s what I like about playing with him. You start at one place and he’s so wide open to the music and letting it go where the music wants to go, not where he wants it to go.”

Singleton sits back in one of the hard, wooden chairs that circle the room at Fairgrinds. They’re arranged in such a way that they seem ready for either a second grade glass or an AA meeting.

Shifting his weight, he returns to the ideas he’s listed in his notebook.

“Forgiveness,” he says. “And I don’t know how or if that comes through my music.” He sits quietly before noting that improvisation requires forgiving oneself in the moment so that you can move forward, musically.

“It might be the next step.”

A brief history of modern New Orleans brass band arranging

3 12 2014

stooges_hi-res1Will Smith, Walter “Whoadie” Ramsey and Lumar Leblanc explained the basics of arranging for New Orleans brass bands to me so I could share ’em with you, via Jazz Times’ 2014 education guide … and this PDF, since they did a much nicer job with the layout than I could hope to cut and paste into a wordpress site. Click here to check it out: Make a joyful noise: A brief history of modern New Orleans brass band arranging

Before and After with Kermit Ruffins

6 10 2014

Kermit Ruffins JazzTimes, October 2014

 Jazz Times’ take on the blindfold test gives musicians a a chance to respond before  and after they’re told what’s being played for them — this is from the magazine’s  October 2014 brass issue.

For more than 20 years, trumpeter Kermit Ruffins’ name was synonymous with the  raucous, legendarily late-night Thursday gigs he performed with his BBQ Swingers at  Vaughn’s in New Orleans’ Bywater neighborhood. Since retiring from that residency  last summer, he’s proudly courted a quieter lifestyle, sticking to early set times and  focusing more on the traditional New Orleans jazz he fell in love with as a teenager.

Last year, he released an album of early jazz classics. Eschewing his usual addition of funk and R&B elements, he played straight-forward versions of tunes like “All of Me” and “When the Saints Go Marching In” with some of the city’s top traditional jazz players. (He also reigned in his proclivity for clowning around – except for the jokey title: “We Partyin’ Traditional Style.”)

Ruffins — who co-founded the Rebirth Brass Band in 1983 before quitting a few years later to play more traditional music — is currently working on plans to record a new album with the Louisiana Philharmonic. We met for this listening session on a storm-soaked summer day at his Treme club, Kermit’s Mother-in-Law Lounge. Revitalized and renamed for its new proprietor following the deaths of its original owners, R&B singer, Ernie K. Doe, and his wife, Antoinette, the club’s sound system was pumping out soul grooves for a handful of patrons when I arrived. We conducted the session in a rental apartment above the club, where Ruffins dipped into a bucket’s worth of ice cold Bud Lights and sang or scatted whenever a tune moved him.

1.) Dr. John and the Dirty Dozen, “When You’re Smiling,” from “Ske-Dat-De-Dat …The Spirit Of Satch.” Dr. John, piano, vocals; Gregory Davis, trumpet; Roger Lewis, baritone sax; Kevin Harris, tenor sax; Terence Higgins, drums; Efrem Townes, trumpet; Kirk Joseph, tuba. Recorded in 2013.

BEFORE: Who is that? “When You’re Smiling” with a Latin groove. There’s a lot of wah-wah. I have that song on my list for my next CD with the symphony. That’s not James Andrews? No it’s not James. Dr. John. Who’s that playing on trumpet? Is that the tribute to Louis CD? I played at BAM with Dr. John and I played on his last record.

AFTER: I should have figured that out. Couldn’t tell. That trumpet solo doesn’t sound like any of the Dirty Dozen. It had to be Efrem [Townes]. I’m doing that song with the symphony on my next record.

2.) Preservation Hall Jazz Band, “Love Song of the Nile,” from “Jazz at Preservation Hall, Vol. 2,” from the “Preservation Hall Jazz Band 50th anniversary box set. De De Pierce, trumpet; Louis Nelson trombone; George Lewis clarinet; Billie Piece, piano, vocal; Papa John Joseph, bass, Abbey Chinee Foster, drums. Recorded in 1962, re-released in 2012. Anniversary Collection.”

BEFORE: That sounds traditional. Beautiful clarinet there. I’ve heard this lady sing 1,000 times on WWOZ. Old-school, that’s that doghouse music. Sounds like Preservation Hall. Nobody plays like that but the Hall. That’s a funky band, too. It sounds old but it sounds modern. A lot of that good stuff always sounds like it was made yesterday. The drummer sounds so fresh as far as the recording.

AFTER: It’s my favorite music, for sure. I’ve been going in that direction because I know I’m getting older. I’ll make 50 this year and I don’t want to record nothing that’s real hot because when I get older I’m not gonna be able to play it. So I’m recording all traditional stuff, stuff that I grew up loving first. I would have never guessed DeDe Pierce. That was way before my time. I never met those guys. I would go see the Olympia Brass Band on Sundays with Tuba Fats. The lady piano player and her husband, he’s a trumpet player. I thought it was another tune. But I can listen to that stuff all day. I wake up to that stuff every morning, listening to WWOZ. That’s my getting stuff done music.

3.) Miles Davis Quintet, “Basin Street Blues” from “7 Steps to Heaven.” Miles Davis, trumpet; Ron Carter, bass; Victor Feldman, piano; Frank Butler, drums; George Coleman, tenor sax. Recorded in 1963.

BEFORE: That’s Miles. I saw Miles twice in Nice. Beautiful. Is that the intro for “Love for Sale?” [Singing] Dab dobo dee. I’d have to hear the bass on that again – if I don’t hear the bass I don’t have the slightest idea what’s going on. I wish I had the patience to play like this. The guy is just so patient. “Come Rain or Come Shine?” No, it keeps fooling the hell out of me.

AFTER: Wow. He’s playing the rrrrreal “Basin Street Blues.” It’s sad we can’t find this late-night anymore, somebody playing like this, midnight til three. It would be great if somebody would reinvent that. Boy, it would be nice if someone would start at midnight and stick to this groove. It’s so hard to get people out nowadays that late that’s true to the music. You get a bunch of knuckleheads, no real jazz players. This is how it would sound – real laid back nightclub, midnight to three. That’s Miles’ style. I know he was living that life, too. All the musicians back in the days would go on at midnight and refuse to stop. They stayed so true to the craft.

I’m hearing it now. Basin Street … is the street … It’s funny, I remember when Wynton Marsalis tried to walk onstage in Nice while Miles was playing, Miles stopped the band and said, “You can’t just walk onstage like that.” I think that was the first time I met Wynton. And then, I think it was at North Sea, I remember Dizzy Gillespie came out of the elevator and just fell down on the floor for about five minutes. Everybody was like, “Dizzy! Oh my god!” Then he jumped up! And he was like, [Kermit throws his hands up above his head and screams] “Aahh!” I’m like,“What is going on this lobby?” I didn’t know those cats were so hilarious.

3.) “Take ‘Em To the Moon, Rebirth Brass Band from “Move Your Body.” Phil Frazier, tuba; Keith Frazier, bass drum; Derrick Tabb, snare drum; Stafford Agee, trombone; Gregory Veals, trombone; Derrick “Kabukie” Shezbie, trumpet; Chadrick Honore, trumpet; Vincent Broussard, sax. Recorded in 2014.

BEFORE: That sounds like one of the young brass bands. That sounds like some stuff I started. The Rebirth. When we came along we changed the whole style of brass bands. That’s the Rebirth – once I heard Derrick Tabb in there. That’s one of the tunes I never remember hearing though. Old Stafford [Agee] on trombone right here. That’d be Chad [Honore] on trumpet. Sounds like at least two trumpet players trading eights or something. Yeah, I heard that on the jukebox downstairs just the other day, it’s all coming back now.

AFTER: It’s badass. Sounds like Derrick Tabb wrote that one and Kabukie [Derrick Shezbie] made the front part. I think Derrick Tabb invented the ending. I think the trumpets were trading, you take four measures, I take four measures, you just go around the solo then it saves the trumpet players’ lips. Makes the gig a lot easier – that’s what they do a lot on the road a lot when they have a lot of tunes and solos, they’ll start trading just to save lips.

4.) “Magnolia Triangle,” Stanton Moore from “Conversations.” Stanton Moore drums, David Torkanowsky, piano; James Singleton, bass. Recorded in 2014.

BEFORE: It’s a hot piano player but I can’t figure it out. It wouldn’t be Davell [Crawford] playing that straight-ahead. I love that timing though. Sounds like they’re switching time. It goes from 4/4 for a minute then switches to 6/8 but it might be deceiving though. That Herlin Riley? Shannon Powell? It’s so smoky. I know that’s not Adonis [Rose], Adonis is a lot faster than that. This is so precise. It’s not fallin’ off anywhere. Most drummers will fall off – just for one second except for Herlin.

Herlin’s the only cat I know that don’t fall off, just stays right there. Zero change when it comes out to Herlin he’s like a machine. It’s scary. I can’t tell if the piano or the drummer is the leader. Goddammit.

AFTER: Stanton! Oh I should have known that was Tork. I couldn’t figure it out. Tork played on so many gigs with me and so many CDs. But I would have never figured Stanton because I kept thinkin’ about brothers for some reason. Sounds like a brother [laughs]. Tork is always badass. He’s one of those guys that just is always super, it’s never to the point where, like some days I got good days and some days I just can’t play that damn trumpet to save my life. If I have a good day I try to repeat everything I did that day – the way I slept, what I ate, what I drank, the time I started drinking … Tork he’s always hot. Stanton is a badass.

5.) Shannon Powell, “Powell’s Place” from “Powell’s Place.” Shannon Powell, drums and percussion; Jason Marsalis, vibraphone; Roland Guerin, bass. Recorded in 2005.

BEFORE: Oh, that’s gotta be Herlin. Jason [Marsalis]? So melodic. Is this Shannon? Yeah, Jason on vibes. Is that the Ray Charles album? Is that an original tune?

AFTER: Shannon’s badass with the rim shots. He does that shit constantly. I can see his face without even being there. I love Jason too. When Wynton Marsalis played at the Saenger about a year ago, I hired Jason to get Wynton to come over there. But Wynton never made it [laughs]. I thought, “I’ll get his little brother to play at my joint right after the show is over,” but he went to Snug Harbor. That’s where his dad plays every Friday.

6.) “Black, Brown and Beige: West Indian Dance,” the Duke Ellington Orchestra from “Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, the Treasury Shows, Vol. 2.” Recorded in 1945.

Before: Oh, this is my kinda shit right here. Old big bands. Is that Duke? I was so hooked on black and white videos of big bands for a long time. That stuff’s amazing. That’s what I need to be doing now, to recap, come back and play that stuff nice and loud, watching get right back into the groove. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Commodores and Lionel Richie.

AFTER: Duke Ellington – that song sounds like he’s on a train ride. That’s how he traveled. They asked him, ‘Why do you travel on the train?’ He said, ‘The President travels on the train.’ And he was a hell of an arranger. There’s nothing like that today. That tune would be right for a Broadway show or something. And that is one well-rehearsed ass band I tell you. Jeez. Those trumpet players are so precise — and the sax.

7.) “Whistle For Willie,” Jason Marsalis from “In a World of Mallets.” Jason Marsalis, vibes, whistle, glockenspiel, marimba, tubular bells, xylophone; Will Goble, bass; Austin Johnson, piano; Dave Potter, drums. Recorded in 2013.

BEFORE: Whoa, is that a wooden flute? That’s nobody I know. That is beautiful. I want to Pandora that, see what the hell comes up then. I love his breathing, too. He’s suckin’ in –my whistle is better when I’m suckin’ instead of blowing out. I’m gonna try that one time. He’s humming in the background too, that is crazy. They call that body huffs when you’re playing the trombone, a lot of saxophone players do it too. Same type of playing but going a step or half a step above, where you play the horn at the same time you go ’woo’ with your vocals. It’s an incredible sound. That’s some bad shit, who was that?

AFTER: Jason? No goddamn way. I would have never guessed Jason. That’s what I get for not listening. It reminds me of one of my favorite musicians, Eddie Jefferson. The way he was hitting those riffs and that style of the band. He took the solos of Miles, Coltrane and others and put words to them. He did stuff like, [Ruffins sings] “Come reminisce with me, and think about the Bird. Remember everything he did and all the things you heard. Now don’t it just amaze you, get you down inside. To think of how he had to live and then the way he died. Life was so unkind, ‘cause now could have been his time.”

He’d take that horn solo and put words all the way through. [Singing] “There is a tune that really grooves you. here is a tune that really moves you. Oh yessiree, yessiree, I heard the word” … Crazy. Nothing can beat Eddie. There’s Louis and there’s Eddie. I mean that is just the most incredible stuff ever. The only way I know Miles Davis’ solos all the way through is because of Eddie.

8.) “Buzzin Around with the Bee,” the Lionel Hampton Orchestra from “Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra, The Complete Lionel Hampton 1937 – 1941.” Lionel Hampton, vibes and vocals; Cootie Williams, trumpet; Lawrence Brown, trombone; Mezz Mezzrow, clarinet; Johnny Hodges, alto sax; Jess Stacy, piano; Allen Reuss, guitar; john Kirby, bass; Cozy Cole, drums. Recorded in 1937.

BEFORE: Lionel Hampton. I love the old timers. I’m stuck on that. I’ve watched Lionel Hampton so much on old videotapes and then I saw him live in Nice. It was a blessing that I was young enough to really get out there and see everybody.

AFTER: Beautiful. I had a gig with the orchestra here in New Orleans and Lionel Hampton was on the date with me. He was real old, you know. It was a tribute to Louis, I think. Anyway, Lionel didn’t know what he was gonna play. And I had like three songs, “Sleepytime Down South,” “What a Wonderful World” and something else, I don’t remember. And Lionel heard me play – “What a Wonderful Wold” I think — and he came out of the dressing room and he said, “I’m gonna do that song.” So I no longer was doing that song [laughs]. It was a privilege to me you know, Lionel Hampton stole my song. That was the good old days. Lionel could get that.

9.) “Basin Street Blues,” Louis Armstrong from “Young Louis Armstrong, 1930 – 1933.” Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocals; Ellis Whitlock, Ziner T. Randolph, trumpet; Keg Johnson, trombone; Scoville Brown, George Oldham, alto sax; Albert “Bud” Johnson, tenor sax; Teddy Wilson, piano; Mike McHendrick, banjo; John Bill Oldham, tuba, bass; Yank Porter, drums. Recorded in 1933.

BEFORE: Louis. Yeah, Louis. I stole so much stuff from Pops. That’s just so classy. That true American artform. It was just so classy at the beginning you know? You could only pray and wish for that stuff to still be here – played like that and felt like that. That soul, for one, it’s just not here no more.

AFTER: It must have been tough for guys to feel like that, like Louis, in those days, and then play so incredibly well like he does here. It’s almost like how can you make such great music during those times? At the same time, it’s almost like he had to prove a point, like he’s saying, “hey we’re just as good as you,” without even saying a goddamn thing. A lot of those guys were excellent players and excellent human beings. What’s our motivation in today’s world? It’s there but it’s not something you can compare to those guys to be able to produce something so spiritual. To take some European instruments and invent something that’s so spectacular is amazing. My level of words just can’t even describe what my heart and soul feel when I hear that music.

Any jazz musician would love to come up in those times without all the pain that was going on for them back then. Because jazz was the shit. And now, today we have all this other music – there’s a lot of competition. But any jazz musician would kill to come up in the 30s and 40s with the attention and the popularity that jazz had at that time. At the same time, nobody would want to go back to the racism that was happening in those days. That music brought this country together when they were down. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis? That was the beginning of, “Hey man, let’s stop all this bullshit about a superior race.” People like Frank Sinatra started saying,

“We’re not gonna perform here if Sammy can’t come in. We’re not staying at this hotel if Sammy can’t come in.” Music is one of the things in life and history that brings people together and makes people realize that we all are one. It’s important. I just wish that music could do what it did for the United States for the rest of the world right now.

Prospect.3 brings sound-oriented pieces to New Orleans

6 10 2014

Nu_animal_hi Offbeat, October 2014

“Who are we? What are we? Where are we going?”

These are some of the questions curator Franklin Sirmans hopes to tackle through his  selections for Prospect.3: Notes for Now, the third incarnation of New Orleans’  international art biennial. Founded by Dan Cameron in the years after Hurricane  Katrina, this year’s exhibition runs from October 25 through January 25 at venues  across the city and features more than 60 artists.

As Sirmans explained at a press conference this spring, the work comprising P.3 tackles issues of identity and the search for self, themes he sees reflected in a variety of elements of New Orleans culture, from literary classics such as Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer to works by painter Paul Gaugin housed at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

“It’s a conversation that will in some ways be specific to New Orleans, but will also relate to the way that contemporary art is discussed in other environments,” said Sirmans, who serves as the contemporary art curator for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “Music,” he added, “plays a big part in the exhibition.”

While music is obviously a cornerstone of New Orleans culture, sound in general plays an important role in how we as humans define ourselves and relate to others. Some of P.3’s most compelling sound-oriented pieces combine those two aspects, identifying local points of departure from which to explore more global and far-reaching constructs about identity, like the relationship between who we are and where we call home.

A current of that idea runs through Subterranean Homesick Cumbia, the P.3 contribution from Los Angeles-based audio/visual artists, Los Jaichackers (Julio Morales and Eamon Ore-Giron). Their two-channel video installation focuses on the accordion’s historical migration down the Amazon and the Mississippi rivers, using footage of the instrument floating down the Amazon in Peru and entering New Orleans through the Industrial Canal.

Together, the images are meant to reflect what Morales called a kind of “cultural flow” in which the same instrument traversed the Western Hemisphere’s largest rivers and, from there, played central roles in two distinct forms of regional folk music: cumbia, in Latin America, and zydeco in North America.

Morales likened the piece to “a fever dream” in which the accordion “ends up taking on an animal form when it’s floating in the river.” And that visual representation of something alive, traveling along its two versions of home, makes a deeper statement about connections between the Americas.

Peruvian videographer, photographer and sculptor David Zink-Yi’s video installation, Horror Vacui,looks at the folk music of Latin American cultures from a different perspective. By combining footage of a Latin band rehearsal with that of various Afro-Cuban musical rituals, Zink-Yi’s piece explores connections between musical self-expression and moments of religious uplift with a specific focus on how negative space or breaks in music create individual sounds and collective polyrhythms.

Among Prospect.3’s most global riffs on music culture is a piece by Christopher Myers and artist collective the Propeller Group.

“We’re working to create a second line of sorts that draws from the jazz-inflected funerals of Saigon as well as the long traditions in New Orleans. To that end, we are designing and filming a procession that starts in the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and ends in New Orleans,” Myers wrote in an email. (The installation had yet to be named at press time.)

“The exciting thing about New Orleans, and this incarnation of Prospect, is that it’s international, but in a local way,” Myers added. “The world has traveled through New Orleans, and leaves bits of itself behind, making the whole place—the culture, the people—a document of world history and culture.”

It’s also true that New Orleans is uniquely, well, New Orleans. In some ways, our very insularity is part of what makes us exciting and different. There’s a place for that aspect of the city, too, inProspect 3. A satellite program dubbed P.3+ shines a light on the work of local artists while cultivating a relationship with the New Orleans art community.

Slated to go on view at the former St. Maurice Church in the Lower Ninth Ward, Space Ritescombines visual art and music with a community-oriented vibe that extends beyond the local art scene. It’s the brainchild of New Orleans Airlift, the folks who created the Music Box, a village of musical houses in the Bywater in 2011. Like that project, Space Rites is designed to encourage sound-oriented community interaction—in this case, via artist Taylor Lee Shepherd’s “altar” of oscilloscopes.

An oscilloscope is an instrument that visually displays non-electrical signals like sound in electric waveform. Shepherd’s oscilloscopes are made from reclaimed television sets that have been wired to broadcast voices or instruments in the form of light, creating a visual accompaniment to the sound being made by the performers or visitors. “I think of it as painting,” says Shepherd. “You can use big, gestural strokes and washes of color and light with sound. It’s responsive, real-time.”

In addition to inviting local musicians such as Rob Cambre to perform through the oscilloscopes, Airlift has arranged to have Rev. Charles W. Duplessis of Mount Nebo Bible Baptist Church, whose congregation was displaced by Katrina, deliver his sermons through the installation on Sundays.

“Having made a bunch of friends in the community,” says Airlift Artistic Director Delaney Martin, “it’s a good time for us to shine together.”


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