‘The Art of Music’ at NOCCA

Music is an integral part of the New Orleans experience. In older parts of the city, jazz is the right soundtrack to accompany the sight of ironwork and the soulful aroma of gumbo. In newer parts of the city, bounce is the right sound for getting down with life-affirming booties and grilled hot sausage. In more suburban areas, R&B is the right sound for an afternoon by the lake with a take-out shrimp po-boy, dressed.

The confluence of music and other arts was highlighted Thursday during “The Art of Music,” a special program presented by the Faubourg Quartet at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.

The Faubourg Quartet with Michel Varisco's "Currents" at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013.

The Faubourg Quartet with Michel Varisco’s “Currents” at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013.

The idea of looking at multiple arts as one is far from new. In the 1800s, the concept of “correspondences” emerged, referring to the relationships among the senses and between the senses and the arts. “Harmony, value, theme, motif” are “employed equally by musicians and painters,” the critic Camille Mauclair wrote in 1902.

The NOCCA program opened with a performance of the first movement of Claude Debussy’s sole string quartet, “Anime et tres decide,” which premiered in 1893 and reflects the Impressionistic outlook of the time with tonal shifts in place of rigid structure.

The quartet fast-forwarded about a century to its next piece, String Quartet No. 4 (Buczak) by Philip Glass, which had its premiere in 1989. “Currents,” a video by Michel Varisco, played as a backdrop to the musicians, with watery images reflecting the floating, interweaving passages of the music.

Next up was “Hellbound Highball,” the fifth movement of “At the Octoroon Balls” by Wynton Marsalis. The music evokes the forward motion of a train, and the energy was reflected in an Alphonse Smith video depicting the creation of the painting “Motive” by Ayo Scott.

Dance and drawing were incorporated into the performance of “Lento doloroso, sempre cantabile (‘to my father’),” the second movement of Four Pieces for Violoncello by Tania Leon. In front of Ron Bechet’s large charcoal drawing “For my Fathers,” six dancers floated and bowed with the sounds of Jee Yeoun Ko’s cello, joined by Luther Grey’s drumming.

Finally, pianist Ellis Marsalis was joined by Ko for a rendition of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” dedicated to his friend John T. Scott, an artist best known for his large woodcut prints and for his African-Caribbean-New Orleans-inspired kinetic sculptures.

After the performance, Ko coaxed Marsalis back on the stage to share some remembrances of Scott. He told of a time when the two gave a presentation on improvisation for teachers from the New Orleans Recreation Department. Scott illustrated how cabinets full of materials are not required to create art, bending a wire coat hanger into the shape of a horse as he talked to the teachers.

Similarly, Marsalis handed each of the teachers a stick of scrap wood and told each to strike a beat in turn, keeping a steady rhythm. Then, with the same rhythm in mind, he invited each one to skip a beat at will. Soon enough, musical patterns emerged, with teachers able to anticipate what those before them would do. With only the most basic materials, he taught them to make artistic use of space, of silence, of the space between beats.

A NOCCA alumni exhibit will open Sept. 12 at the Kirschman Art Space at the school, 2800 Chartres St.


Jazz at the Sandbar at UNO nourishes a community of sharing

Stella Edwards traveled an hour from her home in the community of Lucy, between Edgard and Killona on the west bank of St. John the Baptist Parish, for Jazz at the Sandbar at the University of New Orleans on Wednesday night.

Ellis Marsalis, Emily Fredrickson and Tanarat Chaichana, Jazz at the Sandbar, University of New Orleans, Oct. 3, 2012

Ellis Marsalis, Emily Fredrickson and Tanarat Chaichana perform at Jazz at the Sandbar, University of New Orleans, Oct. 3, 2012

Certainly the opportunity to see master jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis perform for a $5 cover charge was her primary motivation. But once there, she was rewarded by the embrace of a community that shares her delight in America’s classical music.

“It’s become a tradition, and we love traditions in New Orleans,” Jason Patterson, jazz producer for Snug Harbor, said in announcing Marsalis’ participation in the initial performance of the 2012 fall season of Jazz at the Sandbar. The performance series, established in 1990 when Marsalis was chairman of the jazz studies program, pairs UNO student ensembles on the bandstand with established jazz professionals.

Performing Wednesday night was the UNO Jazz Combo under the direction of Victor Atkins III. The players were: James Partridge, tenor saxophone; Emily Fredrickson, trombone; Brian Murray, trumpet; Jordan Baker, piano, Tanarat Chaichana, bass; and Peter Varnado, drums.

The Cove was built in 1973, and reopened in December 2011 after Hurricane Katrina repairs and renovations. It’s a lovely venue, opening onto a courtyard landscaped lushly enough to create a sense of separation from nearby, convenient parking lots. When the weather is pleasant, as it was Wednesday, two wall panels are drawn up like stylish garage doors and the music room and courtyard merge. Burgers and fries, and beer and wine, are available for purchase, and the room is long enough to allow conversation in the back without disturbing the music listeners in the front.

The UNO Jazz Combo’s first set Wednesday included “The Soulful Mr. Timmons,” by James Williams, a pianist who performed with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers as well as his own ensembles; “Footprints” by Wayne Shorter; “Emily” by Johnny Mandel, which was first performed by Julie Andrews in the 1964 movie “The Americanization of Emily”; andd “Teo” by Thelonious Monk. Student pianist Jordan Baker played on the first two of these, and Marsalis on the rest.

The second set included “Wheel Within a Wheel” by Bobby Timmons; “Have You Met Miss Jones,” by Richard Rodgers; “Cherokee” by Ray Noble; “Girl from Ipanema” by Antonio Carlos Jobim; “Invitation” by Bronislau Kaper; and “Proclamation” by Geoff Keezer. Baker played piano on “Wheel Within a Wheel” and “Cherokee” and “Proclamation,” and Marsalis on the others.

All Jazz at the Sandbar performances this fall are on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. The schedule of guest artists is:

“Jazz at the Sandbar” is presented by the UNO Jazz Studies Program with support from the UNO Student Government Association, WWNO Public Radio, Nate & Priscilla Gordon, The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, the UNO International Alumni Association and the New Orleans Jazz Celebration.

All proceeds go to the George Brumat Memorial Scholarship Fund. For more information, call the UNO Music Department at 504.280.6039.

My kind of happy hour

The National Park Service doesn’t serve beer. But Tuesday’s late-afternoon jazz performance at its elegant stage on the third floor of the Old U.S. Mint fulfilled the happy-hour role of reawakening pleasure receptors numbed by the frustrations of daily life.

Oliver Bonie, Dominic Minix, with Jesse McBride at Old U.S. Mint, New Orleans

Oliver Bonie, alto saxophone, and Dominic Minix, guitar, perform with Jesse McBride and The Next Generation at a National Park Service event at the Old U.S. Mint in New Orleans on Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Oct. 2 performance by pianist Jesse McBride and The Next Generation was billed as a tribute to pianist Ellis Marsalis, but the musicians decided to shift their attention to the work of drummer James Black, who performed on the New Orleans modern jazz milestone album “The Ellis Marsalis Quartet – Monkey Puzzle,” as well as funky R&B favorites from Eddie Bo, such as “Hook and Sling.”

Performing in The Next Generation band were recent UNO jazz studies graduates Oliver Bonie, alto sax; Nick Hughes, drums; and Jasen Weaver, bass; along with Loyola University freshman Dominic Minix. All of these also attended the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, immersed since their teens in the compositions being performed. Since these young professionals brought fewer years of personal experiences to the music than their elders might, the focus of the music was squarely on the compositions, which were presented with skill, gratitude and respect.

The set started off with “Magnolia Triangle” by James Black, followed by “Swingin’ at the Haven,” an Ellis Marsalis composition in which Black’s drum work was an integral part. Next up were “Little Boy Man,” and then “All Blues,” which McBride acknowledged had nothing to do with James Black other than segueing nicely from the final chord of “Little Boy Man.” The set concluded with “Dee Wee” (McBride said he understood the title to refer to being a little drunk), “All the Things You Are” by Jerome Kern and “Jasmine,” a sweet, sad James Black composition.

Some National Park Service events bringing guest musicians to the Old U.S. Mint stage this month are:

  • Trumpeter Leroy Jones with a 5-piece traditional jazz band, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2-3:30 p.m.
  • Pianist Tom McDermott infuses traditional jazz with South American rhythms, for the Latin tinge Jelly Roll Morton would have appreciated, Wednesday, Oct. 10, Oct. 17 and Oct. 24, noon-1 p.m.
  • Drummer Barry Martyn and pianist John Royen perform and discuss traditional New Orleans piano styles, Friday, Oct. 12, 2-3:30 p.m.
  • Pianist Victor Atkins in a jazz tribute to the Beatles, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 1-2 p.m.
  • Saxophonist Ed Peterson in a jazz tribute to Stevie Wonder, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2-3 p.m.
  • Guitarist Steve Masakowski in a jazz tribute to the Grateful Dead, Thursday, Oct. 25, 1-2 p.m.

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