|By: Geraldine Wyckoff |
New Orleans musical family dynasties put out and made out in the CD department in 2010. Most of the top albums this year, all of which make for excellent gift-giving opportunities, were released by members of the (in alphabetical order) Andrews, Harrison, Neville and Marsalis families. Other contenders for this year best releases come from the likes of Dr. John and Kermit Ruffins, who one could argue, are dynasties unto themselves. This makes a strong statement about the longevity and continuance that is at the heart of the New Orleans music tradition.
While new styles might dominate or often come and go in other locales, in this city they are more apt to be absorbed and become a new aspect of the heritage. For example, many local hip-hop artists do embrace some of the rhythms and nuances of the music that surrounded them in their childhoods. And, of course, brass bands in particular turn to rap for a modern sound as do funksters and even jazz artists.
That brings us to Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews. The trombonist/trumpeter-/vocalist, who is related to a long line of musicians including his brother, trumpeter James Andrews, grandfather, vocalist Jessie Hill (of “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” fame) and a myriad of cousins, boasts a Grammy nomination for his excellent album, Backatown (Verve), in the Best Contemporary Jazz Album category. It also stands at the number 10 position on Billboard magazine’s Jazz Chart. While some may question whether the music on the disc represents modern jazz – the material mainly digs into funk, R&B and rock realms – his improvisation and technical abilities speak of his jazz background.
“It’s in me and I think it’s all over the album,” Andrews explained in an interview earlier this year. “On most of my solos you can hear my jazz training. I just took a different approach.”
The blending of styles, musicianship and some killer tunes such as Allen Toussaint’s “On Your Way Down” and the unique “Something Beautiful” make Backatown a CD for all ages. Trombone Shorty and his kicking band Orleans Avenue perform at the House of Blues on Christmas night.
Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John, also had a great year. The pianist and vocalist will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at a ceremony to be held on March 14, 2011 at New York’s Waldorf Astoria. He is, remarkably, only the third New Orleans musician to be inducted into the institution in the “performer” category with Fats Domino and Lloyd Price making the grade in previous years.
Dr. John is also nominated for a Grammy for his 2010 album Tribal, a disc that encompasses the pianist and vocalists many sides. It's at once retro, in that it musically reflects back to his classic album Gris-Gris, voices his take on social issues, holds a certain spirituality – “The tribal plan is for every man” – then gets funky and hits on some old-school New Orleans R&B. Tribal, which was recorded with Rebennack’s working group, the New Orleans-heavy Lower 911, stands as another release that can be enjoyed by, as the “The Christmas Song” says, “kids from one to 92.”
Kermit Ruffins’ album, Happy Talk, hit Billboard’s Jazz Chart immediately upon its release in late October 2010. The disc, for which the trumpeter and vocalist assembled an ace band including drummer Herlin Riley and guests such as clarinetist Michael White, finds Ruffins backed and swinging with a big band on six cuts. The album lives up to its name though one might wish for another go-round of the again timely “A Saints Christmas” – “All I want for Christmas is the Saints in the Super Bowl...” – from last year’s release, Have a Crazy Cool Christmas.
It’s interesting to consider when or if a father and son have each released an outstanding album in the same year – or, perhaps, even in the same era – as have Aaron and Ivan Neville. Aaron’s CD, I Know I’ve Been Changed, which reached number 18 on Billboard's Gospel Chart and is climbing, finds the heavenly vocalist backed minimally by a tasty combo that includes pianist Allen Toussaint. Meanwhile, his son, organist/vocalist Ivan, also surrounded himself with great, simpatico musicians – including his cousin, guitarist Ian Neville (Art Neville’s son), bassists/vocalists Tony Hall and Nick Daniels and drummer Raymond Weber. With Ivan at the helm, they are Dumpstaphunk and the album is Everybody Want Sum, which, as reviewed, “funks from top to bottom.”
Since the mid-1980s, it's been rare that the Marsalis name hasn’t appeared on a year-end, “best of” list. For only the second time, all of the musicians in the family – patriarch/pianist Ellis, saxophonist Branford, trumpeter Wynton, trombonist Delfeayo and drummer/vibraphonist Jason played together for a performance that was captured live. The event took place at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center and resulted in the fine album Music Redeems. Logically, it was released on Branford’s label, Marsalis Music. Its strength stems from outstanding musicians playing solid material and performed with a mutual admiration for each other and jazz music. Also, in 2010, and for the first time in the 29-year history of the National Endowment for the Arts, the prestigious institution named not an individual artist but all four of the musical Marsalises as its Jazz Masters.
Saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., the son of Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr. of the Guardians of the Flame Mardi Gras Indian gang, grew up with the sound of tambourines ringing. His father was also an avid and knowledgeable jazz fan. On the saxophonist’s 2010 release, Quantum Time, Harrison, who mentored his now highly acclaimed younger cousin, trumpeter Christian Scott, embraces his musical experience and the music’s past, present and future.
As is realized on these albums, New Orleans musical families remain at the core of this city’s spirited sound. Then again, it isn’t absolutely necessary to have music in one’s bloodlines, just having it in your soul works too.