Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver and Sidney Bechet: these men are the Kings of the Crescent City, founders of jazz, and all have been inducted into Jazz at Lincoln Center's Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame, located in Frederick P. Rose Hall. They will be celebrated next month in a concert entitled "Kings of the Crescent City," with New Orleans native Victor Goines leading an ensemble that will have the house swinging at 8 p.m. in Rose Theater, January 11 & 12.
"What we're going to do is take that music and all these capable musicians that have come from New Orleans and give the people a program that reflects the history of the New Orleans tradition — with the wisdom of our collective studies, learned over the course of our careers," explains leader Goines. Ensemble members from New Orleans include: Goines (clarinet), Troy Andrews, a.k.a. "Trombone Shorty," (trumpet, trombone), Don Vappie (guitar), Jonathan Batiste (piano), Reginald Veal (bass), and Herlin Riley (drums). Marcus Printup (trumpet) and Wycliffe Gordon (trombone) may call home elsewhere, but they will join the New Orleans natives to swing as one. Crescent City born actor Wendell Pierce will narrate the event.
"New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz," says Jazz at Lincoln Center Curator and jazz historian Phil Schaap. "What happened there is the core foundation and essential to what happens now. Our mission is jazz. You can't eliminate New Orleans jazz from jazz without eliminating jazz. The core ingredients of jazz emerged from New Orleans: swing, improvisation, a wide range of repertoire, and, lastly, the advent of the solo."
Schaap says many of the founders of New Orleans jazz are now jazz royalty: Jelly Roll Morton, who brought the ingredient of repertoire to jazz as well as Spanish and Creole flavorings; King Oliver, a mentor to Louis Armstrong who developed the use of solo as the replacement of melody through improvisation; and Sidney Bechet, the dominant soprano saxophonist, who could perform wizardry on the instrument. "These cats were very soulful, creative minds," says Schaap, "and they're deserving a listen because their creativity is such a high level with a high range of emotion."
The city of New Orleans has deep roots for Goines, who started playing clarinet at the age of eight. "The music has always been around the city," says Goines. "I actually didn't get to play on Bourbon Street until I was about 17 or 18 years old, but I got to see the parades. Ellis Marsalis, Dr. Michael White and the generations before me, I got to hear a lot of them play."
Goines says the "Kings of the Crescent City" shows will include the basics of New Orleans music, which includes the rhythmic second line. Whether it began at funerals or parades, the second line tradition continues today. Goines explains that the history of the second line comes from the Mardi Gras parades, where African-Americans were not included inside the parade. "So what they would do is tag alongside the parade and dance and party and have a good time," says Goines. As a result, those people who would follow the parade became known as the "second liners." As they weren't officially allowed in the parade, second liners would follow for three or four blocks before being dispersed by police. They would congregate again four or five blocks further down the parade route and try it again.
There's no way you can listen to New Orleans music without getting up out of your seat and just plain shaking your tail-feather. Let's face it, the music is an uplifting, joyous celebration of life. It's good for the soul. It's an essential part of American history and must be preserved for future generations.
"Part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center philosophy and Wynton [Marsalis]'s philosophy as Artistic Director, is that all jazz is modern," says Goines. "We play it not only for the tradition but because it is a body of our work that needs to be played on a regular basis. Just as we play Gil Evans or John Coltrane or Miles Davis, it's just part of the entirety of jazz music that exists. It is a modern work of art."
"Kings of the Crescent City" comes to Rose Theater January 11 & 12 at 8pm. For tickets, call CenterCharge at 1-212-721-6500 or visit www.jalc.org.
Scott H. Thompson is Assistant Director for Public Relations at Jazz at Lincoln Center.