A web of living links unites New Orleans with its musical past. When members of the LOUISIANA REPERTORY JAll ENSEMBLE went to Lafayette Cemetery for the jacket photo for this album, the man who unlocked the gate for them was the son-in-law of clarinetist Alphonse Picou. Descendants of other early jazz greats turn up constantly at performances of the Ensemble, people with names like Robichaux, LaRocca, and Dodds. They're proud of their heritage and their pride is enough to keep any musician on his toes.
Yet in spite of these ties with the past, classic jazz in New Orleans by the 1970's had come to resemble a crumbling Creole mansion in the Vieux Carré. Important original features were long since destroyed. Inappropriate additions had been tacked on and were even being mistaken for the original. And over it all were daubed coat upon coat of gaudy colors.
What remained underneath, however, was timeless and very much worth preserving. For two decades Preservation Hall has been reminding the world just how priceless is this musical legacy of New Orleans. The LOUISIANA REPERTORY JAll ENSEMBLE was founded in 1980 to further this work. Its goal is to recover the heroic era of classic jazz and to restore it to its original lustre. Its method is innovative: to assemble first-rate jazzmen from the New Orleans scene, people steeped in the music, and to get them to reexamine systematically the art of the pioneer generation of hot musicians. With this concept, a new phase in New Orleans' musical life began.
The materials for such a reexamination are readily at hand. Surviving old-timers are frequently consulted and offer helpful critiques of the Ensemble. Rare early recordings are also studied. Still rarer written music, both published and in manuscript, is exhumed from the Jazz Museum at the old U.S. Mint in New Orleans and from the William Ransom Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University. The latter has proven so useful that the LRJE has affiliated itself with the Archive and contributes financially to its programs.
The LRJE's search for classic New Orleans jazz has been rich with surprises. During its first season the Ensemble broadcast a syndicated weekly program over radio station WWNO. After one such session devoted to the music of Armand J. Piron, Fred Starr, LRJE's clarinetist, received a call from an elderly New Orleans matron. Her purpose in telephoning was to report that between 1916 and 1922 she had frequently hired Piron's Society Orchestra for private dances. "You all sound just like them," she stated, "but Mr. Piron played far more schottisches and waltzes than you do, and so did Mr. Joe Oliver." Further investigation proved that she was right. So the band turned its hand to waltzes and even a schottische.
It is thrilling work, for as each later accretion is peeled away the original music appears all the fresher and more exciting. At first the project was nothing more than the private passion of a few professional musicians and dedicated amateurs. Then, in the autumn of 1980, the band burst into popularity. In addition to the radio broadcasts, several nationally televised feature programs on the band brought it to the attention of fans who could not get to the Crescent City. Performances in Chicago, Houston, San Francisco and Washington introduced the Ensemble to still more jazz lovers. Finally, a concert tour of France and broadcasts on European television in 1982 brought the LRJE to international notice.
But the Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble remains basically a neighborhood band, rooted in the same area of uptown New Orleans that nurtured many creators of the art in the first place. Wherever else it may perform, the LRJE holds forth every Wednesday at the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street. Even during the steamy months of summer, the dark old hall is packed with sweating dancers, oblivious to the absence of air conditioning.
The Ensemble's home neighborhood is filled with musical memories. Buddy Bolden's band roused the crowds at Lincoln Park on Carrollton Avenue back at the turn of the century. In the same years one of the greatest jazz bassists, George "Pops" Foster, was growing up on nearby Adams Street along with his neighbor, the pioneer clarinetist Leon Roppolo.. The talented Dutrey brothers, Honore, Jimmy, Pete and Sam, had a pressing shop a few blocks away on Cherokee. The neighborhood boasted so much music that when Olympia Hall at the corner of Oak and Carrollton was booked, the local youths, who called themselves "jellybeans," would convert nearby dairies into dance halls between milkings.
The LRJE's direct link with this world is through its seventy year-old bassist, Sherwood Mangiapane, who grew -up around the corner from the Maple Leaf. Mangiapane, incidentally, played for years with Tom Brown, leader of the first band advertised as playing "jass," in 1915. Other links are through John Chaffe, who learned his banjo from Lawrence Marrero, Edmond Souchon, and Johnny St. Cyr; Freddie Lonzo, veteran of the Olympia and other brass bands; and John Joyce, who studied drums with Paul Barbarin and Josiah "Cie" Frazier and performed frequently with Emile Christian and Harry Shields.
What insights come from these various channels into the past? For one thing, they suggest that it is impossible to imagine classic New Orleans jazz without dancers. It was the dancers who demanded the distinctive rocking beat, who wanted hard-driving ensemble playing rather than solos, and who cared more for the right overall "sound" of a band than for its technical niceties or pyrotechnics.
Guided by such notions, each member of the LRJE set to work. For trumpeter Leroy Jones it meant concentrating on only a part of his vast range. For pianist John Royen it meant shifting to slower tempos. For Fred Starr and Curt Jerde it even meant playing different instruments, the old style Albert system clarinet and the extinct helicon.
The musicians on this recording have many decades of professional experience among them. They are concerned to recreate lost styles of early jazz but they are not mere imitators. Each member of the Ensemble has his own distinctive manner as an improviser. More than that, the band as a whole has developed a musical personality that is very much its own. THE LOUISIANA REPERTORY JAZZ ENSEMBLE speaks with a fresh voice, but strictly in the classic language of New Orleans.
- JOHN CHAFFE: BANJO, GUITAR, MANDOLIN
- LEROY JONES JR.: TRUMPET
- JOHN JOYCE: DRUMS
- CURTIS JERDE: HELICON (nos. 4 , 6 , 9 , 11 , 14 only)
- FREDERICK LONZO: TROMBONE
- SHERWOOD MANGIAPANE: BASS (all except nos. 4 , 6 , 9 ,11, 14)
- JOHN ROYEN: PIANO
- FREDERICK STARR: CLARINET, SOPRANO, C MELODY SAXOPHONE
- NEW ORLEANS WIGGLE (A. Piron and P. Bocage) - 2:46
- SWEET LOVIN' MAN (L. Hardin and W. Melrose) - 3:10
- GEORGIA SWING (F. Morton) - 3:05
- YAMA YAMA MAN (F. Morton) - 2:25
- SNAKE RAG (J. Oliver and A. Picou) - 3:53
- JUNGLE BLUES (F. Morton) - 3:31
- WEST INDIES BLUES (E. Dowell, C. and S. Williams) - 3:11
- NEW ORLEANS JOYS (F. Morton) - 3:06
- BUDDY'S HABIT (A. Nelson) - 3:27
- CAMP MEETING BLUES (J. Oliver) - 2:59
- TIGER RAG (Anon. [J. Morton?]) - 3:05
- IN THE UPPER GARDEN (Anon.) - 2:05
- BOGALUSA STRUT (S. Morgan) - 2:35
- SIDEWALK BLUES (F. Morton) - 2:38
This recording was only released on vinyl. Two copies are available on Amazon.com.
Other recordings by The Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble:
- Hot & Sweet Sounds of Lost New Orleans
- Hot and Sweet Sounds of Lost New Orleans
- Moods of Old New Orleans
- Golden Age of New Orleans [Live]
- uptown jazz LP
- Uptown Jazz
- Marching, Ragging, and Mourning Brass Band Music of New Orleans 1900-1920
John Royen also appears on: Solo Tradition: Stride Style Jazz Piano