This past weekend New York was treated to a wonderful sampling of New Orleans music. No part of the Crescent City’s rich musical heritage was skipped over as the audience at the Brooklyn Academy of Music was provided with a wide array of jazz, R & B, and funk by some of the greatest living representatives of the Big Easy itself. Curated by the newly Grammy-nominated Trombone Shorty, Red Hot + New Orleans was the latest installment of the Red Hot Organization’s annual AIDS benefit concerts, with some of the proceeds going to the New Orleans NO/AIDS Task Force.
Troy Andrews (Trombone Shorty) did a brilliant job bringing us on a journey through New Orleans past, present, and future, along with some help from other acclaimed artists such as Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Kermit Ruffins, Ivan Neville, Mannie Fresh, and Marc Broussard, as well as members of the Rebirth and Dirty Dozen Brass Bands, not to mention Andrews’ own backing band Orleans Avenue. While all of these artists are well known and revered within New Orleans, many of these names may also seem familiar from featured and recurring roles on the HBO series Tremé; which also happens to be the birthplace of Andrews.
The night was kicked off in the aisles of the theatre, with a parade leading up to main stage which was beautifully adorned in oversized Mardi Gras beads and accompanied by projections of New Orleans old and new. The soulful Irma Thomas was the first guest of the night, providing us with a few older classics such as “It’s Raining” and “Ruler of my Heart.” After a few songs Mac Rebennack, also known as Dr. John came out to take us through his uniquely New Orleans blend of blues, jazz, and a little bit of voodoo with hits such as “Right Place, Wrong Time” and “Walk on Guilded Splinters,” the latter of which featured Ivan Neville on the Hammond organ.
Kermit Ruffins came out shortly keep the party going, inviting all of the ladies in the front rows on stage to join him. Ruffins then provided his best Louis Armstrong impression for a beautiful take on “What a Wonderful World.” After that; a nod to another New Orleans legend was provided by Ivan Neville who took us through Professor Longhair’s “Go to the Mardi Gras.” He then jumped another generation and performed a medley of funk classics from the Meters.
Yet another side of New Orleans music was on display when Mannie Fresh came to the stage and showcased some of the HipHop that he has produced with Cash Money Records. The latter portion of the nearly 3 hour set was focused primarily on Trombone Shorty, one of the Crescent City’s quickest rising stars. Touring since the age of 6, Andrews has a natural stage presence to accompany his enormous amount of talent on the trombone as well as trumpet. His major label debut “Backatown” just earned a Grammy nomination for best jazz album and he is to be featured on upcoming CDs by Eric Clapton, Galactic, and Lenny Kravitz. Although Trombone Shorty and the Orleans Avenue were present for the entire night, they really shined in their own segment which fuses funk, hip-hop and rock in a cohesive package that had the entire venue on its feet.
It was only fitting that the show came to a close with all of the musicians involved in the night coming back on the stage, following the lead of the Rebirth and Dirty Dozen Brass Bands for a medley of New Orleans anthems kicked off by “When the Saints Go Marching In” interlaced with the now ubiquitous “Who Dat” chants. This medley was capped off with the theme song from Tremé to end the show.
It just wouldn’t be a New Orleans party without an after party though. The music hall flooded out next door into the BAMCafe where another emerging Trombone presence took the hosting duties – Big Sam Funky Nation. And in case that weren’t enough funk for one night most of the musicians featured crossed over to Manhattan to join former Meter, George Porter Jr. during his set at Sullivan Hall. A CD highlighting Red Hot + New Orleans two night performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music will likely come out soon to raise more money for the cause; of course there is one other place where you can catch many of these artists throughout the year though, and nothing quite compares to hearing these sounds in their natural environment.
By Jesse Zryb