Friday, November 30, 2012

Offbeat Podcast: Alex McMurray’s Inner Vision

“The people that drive you crazy — the only people that can really drive you nuts are the people that love you,” a soft-spoken Alex McMurray tells host Zachary Young in this week’s episode of OffBeat’s Look-Ka Py Py Podcast. “They’re going to be the ones that help you,” he goes on to reveal. Here, McMurray’s describing the theme of “Diamonds in Your Hand,” the song that seals his recent release I Will Never Be Alone in This Land.

Alex McMurray, press photo

For the singer-songwriter/guitarist, uncovering the subtle truths that belie such paradoxes has become an art — an unheralded attribute that has underscored his musical sensibilities since the mid-Nineties when his then outfit Royal Fingerbowl stirred the Frenchmen scene and stole a fleeting wink from the public eye.

But as the saying a fool’s paradise is a wise man’s hell goes, after a short-lived brush with the national spotlight, McMurray followed his instincts, honing his craft and finding his calling on the streets of St. Claude. On I Will Never Will Never Be Alone in This Land, never before has McMurray’s telltale Chilton-esque wit and wisdom shown more brightly. And, as the story would have it, with a bevy of New Orleans’ best such as Jon Cleary, John Mooney, Ben Ellman, Matt Perrine and more than a dozen others along for the ride, never before has a record of his sounded more New Orleans — “[not] like red beans and rice… maybe some other kind of lunch special,” he muses. Hear how it came to light:

Listen: DJ Davis' original song "I Quit", as fictionalized in Treme

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Preview Alex McMurray's new album

“People tend to speak tenderly of songs, but for me songs are like old friends that owe you money– they are very comfortable in your house, go through the fridge and borrow your tools. They just don’t seem to be there when you remember you need them. They keep telling you: as long as they owe you, you will never be broke.” 

“So I have been tricking the songs–offering them coffee and snacks and quietly locking all the doors and windows. Now the house is crowded with these deadbeats talking over one another and getting dirt all over the furniture. The sink is full of their dishes and the neighbors are starting to complain. The cats are getting nervous. All I need is to take their picture and then they can be on their way.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

Upcoming: Preservation Hall Jazz Band @ City Winery

Preservation Hall Jazz Band - 2/28

Thursday, February 28 2013 6:00pm Doors / 8:00pm Start 


Bar Stool$35.00
buy tickets

 The PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND derives its name from Preservation Hall, the venerable music venue located in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter, founded in 1961 by Allan and Sandra Jaffe. The band has traveled worldwide spreading their mission to nurture and perpetuate the art form of New Orleans Jazz. Whether performing at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center, for British Royalty or the King of Thailand, this music embodies a joyful, timeless spirit. Under the auspices of current director, Ben Jaffe, the son of founders Allan and Sandra, Preservation Hall continues with a deep reverence and consciousness of its greatest attributes in the modern day as a venue, band, and record label.

The building that houses Preservation Hall has housed many businesses over the years including a tavern during the war of 1812, a photo studio and an art gallery. It was during the years of the art gallery that then owner, Larry Borenstein, began holding informal jam sessions for his close friends. Out of these sessions grew the concept of Preservation Hall. The intimate venue, whose weathered exterior has been untouched over its history, is a living embodiment of its original vision. To this day, Preservation Hall has no drinks, air conditioning, or other typical accoutrements strictly welcoming people of all ages interested in having one of the last pure music experiences left on the earth.

The PHJB began touring in 1963 and for many years there were several bands successfully touring under the name Preservation Hall. Many of the band's charter members performed with the pioneers who invented jazz in the early twentieth century including Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, and Bunk Johnson. Band leaders over the band's history include the brothers Willie and Percy Humphrey, husband and wife Billie and De De Pierce, famed pianist Sweet Emma Barrett, and in the modern day Wendall and John Brunious. These founding artists and dozens of others passed on the lessons of their music to a younger generation who now follow in their footsteps like the current lineup.

Upcoming: Aaron Neville: My True Story (PBS Filming) @ Brooklyn Bowl

Aaron Neville: My True Story

A Special Live Concert Taping for PBS

Wed, November 28, 2012

Doors: 6:00 pm / Show: 8:30 pm


This event is 21 and over

This show will be filmed live by PBS. By attending you are agreeing to be filmed as part of the audience and are consenting to allow PBS to videotape, record, and broadcast your picture, likeness, voice and statements.

No cameras, photos, or videos will be allowed.

 This event will feature iconic Soul/R&B vocalist and multiple Grammy Award-winning artist, Aaron Neville performing songs from his Doo-Wop inspired album, My True Story. An incredible array of musicians and guests will join Neville, including: Greg Leisz on guitar (Beck, Sheryl Crow, Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams), George G. Receli on drums (Bob Dylan, James Brown), Tony Scherr on bass (Bill Frisell, Norah Jones, Rufus Wainwright), Charles Neville on saxophone (Neville Brothers) and also featuring Michael Goods on organ/piano and Joel Katz, David Johnson and Earl Smith, Jr. on background vocals.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Times Pic: Alex McMurray explains the Valparaiso Men's Chorus

 By Dave Walker, | The Times-Picayune

In Sunday’s (Nov. 4) episode of “Treme,” reporter L.P Everett blows off some steam by attending a late-night Mardi Gras performance by the Valparaiso Men's Chorus, an all-star aggregation of New Orleanians who regularly gather to sing sea shanties.

vaplaraisomenschorus .jpg  

Here’s an edited email interview with Alex McMurray, who leads the group in song in the scene.

Q: Who are you and what are you and your friends doing on “Treme?”
A: I'm Alex McMurray and we are the Valparaiso Men's Chorus.

What are you doing on the show?
Making a hellacious racket I hope.

When and why was the Valparaiso Men’s Chorus first convened?
The VMC was first convened on Nov. 29, 2004, to record a CD of sea shanties and to make a film of that process.

Is it an expression of your personal interest in maritime work songs?
I was employed at Tokyo DisneySea theme park in 2002 to sing sea shanties for guests in the park. The stuff grew on me and now we do it for fun.

What’s up with the name?
Valparaiso, Chile, was a major stop for whaling and merchant vessels before the age of steam and the construction of the Panama Canal. Ships would stop for water and provisions. Guano and nitrates, too.

What’s up with your costume in the scene?
I have not seen the scene, and do not remember. They told us it was Mardi Gras night, and we assumed our costumes would be somewhat ragged.

Who are some other notable members?
Washboard Chaz, Matt Perrine, Carlo Nuccio, Joe Cabral, Matt Rhody, Greg Schatz, Dave Rebeck, Rick Trolsen, Andy Bizer, Bill Malchow, Charlie Brown, Chris Lane, Christian Trosclair, D.C. Harbold, The Rev. Spooky LeStrange, Erik Paul Corveau, Fayard Lindsey, Gabe Soria, George Ingmire, Henry Griffin, Jay Holland, Jeff Treffinger, Jeffrey Damnit, Dr. James Paton Walsh, Jonathan Freilich, Luke Allen, Michael Mehiel, Rob Schafer, Robert Starnes, Troy Thibodeaux.

Who comes to your shows?
Thirsty people who love to bellow.

Who buys your CDs?
Those same people, I guess.

Where does the group find its repertoire?
Books mostly, but there are more and more sea shanty records coming out all the time.

Capturing a spirited performance like this can be tricky from a production perspective. What was it like shooting the scene for Sunday’s episode?
It was in the morning, which is different for us. And we were sober. Or we were supposed to be. It was hard to mime for the cameras. Our blood was up.

I presume you got to meet Tim Robbins. How cool was that?
Very cool. He's a fan of the genre and came to a show of ours a little while later. He's a good director because he's taller than everyone else.

Any upcoming appearances, either by you in other settings or the chorus, you’d like to plug?
We will be at the Saturn Bar the Saturday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 24). We also have a new CD out called "The Straits of Saint Claude."

Monday, November 12, 2012

RIP: Bob French

Bob French, longtime Original Tuxedo Jazz Band leader and WWOZ deejay, has died

By Keith Spera, | The Times-Picayune


Bob French, the longtime leader and drummer of the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band and an outspoken, at times controversial, WWOZ-FM deejay, died on Monday, Nov. 12, after a long illness. He was 74.
new_orleans_jazz_fest_Bob French.JPG

Mr. French last performed with the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band in the summer of 2011. Afflicted with dementia and suffering from diabetes-related complications, he then moved into an assisted-living facility.

Mr. French grew up immersed in the traditional sounds of New Orleans. His father, banjo player Albert "Papa" French, took over the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band in the 1950s after the death of Oscar "Papa" Celestin, who founded the group in 1910.

As a young man, Mr. French rejected his father's music in favor of rhythm and blues. His first gig in 1954 included Art and Charles Neville and piano wizard James Booker. One day, Papa French recruited his son to fill in for the Original Tuxedo's ailing drummer. Bob French was so mortified by his sloppy performance that he committed himself to a proper study of traditional New Orleans jazz.

When Papa French died in 1977, his son took over the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band. Under Bob French’s leadership, the band expanded its repertoire during an itinerant existence around town. He restored the Original Tuxedo to Bourbon Street in 2009 via a Monday night residency at Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse in the Royal Sonesta Hotel. That he would work at a club owned by Mayfield, whom Mr. French occasionally bashed on the airwaves, caught some observers by surprise. "I love to play music, and I love money," Mr. French said by way of explanation. "And I get both of them there."
After his retirement in 2011, his nephew, Gerald French, took over the drum chair and leadership of the band.

His blunt talk, strong opinions and force of personality earned him detractors; an altercation with a fellow WWOZ deejay reportedly got him booted off the air. But he also had his fans, including Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis. Both appeared on Mr. French’s 2007 CD, "Marsalis Music Honors Bob French," issued by Marsalis' namesake record label. Both stars also joined him for a performance in the Jazz Tent at that year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell.
Thanks to Connick's and Marsalis' involvement, that CD was the most prominent of Mr. French’s 50-year career. It was smartly produced and played, beautifully packaged and distributed around the globe. Across 11 tracks, the drummer and his band revisited well-traveled standards, including "When the Saints Go Marching In," which Mr. French generally declined to perform onstage.

In the fall of 2006, Marsalis served as guest editor of the glossy jazz magazine DownBeat, and put Mr. French on the cover. It was a rare turn in the national spotlight for a musician who was more familiar with the six sets a night, six nights a week grind. He spent years at the now-defunct Crazy Shirley's at the corner of Bourbon and St. Peter streets in the French Quarter, where patrons included a young Quint Davis, the future producer of Jazz Fest.

As a bandleader, Mr. French took his father's lessons to heart: Charge a higher fee than competitors. Dress sharp. Most important, be on time. None of his father's rules apparently forbade drinking on the job, as Mr. French liked to sip between songs.
"I'm not an alcoholic," he sometimes joked. "I'm a drunk. There's a difference."
From behind his drums, Mr. French kept a watchful eye. He did not permit fans to videotape his shows, and he did not tolerate musicians who made mistakes.
After Hurricane Katrina, he used his position at WWOZ as a bully pulpit to berate elected officials he believed let the city down. Both on air and onstage, he returned to similar themes. "In God we trust, all others pay cash" was a favorite expression. He often referenced red beans as an indicator of his economic status or as an inducement for fans to buy CDs.

His radio vocabulary was much milder than his off-air speech, which he peppered with f-bombs in all their permutations. His broadcasts functioned like a live-action Blackberry. He'd address the likes of Charmaine Neville or Dr. John over the airways: "I need a phone number. Call me back. It's important."

During one two hour-session on the air in the summer of 2007, he lobbied former WWOZ deejay Michael "Mr. Jazz" Gourrier for a free lunch; expounded on singer Tricia "Sista Teedy" Boutte's sore throat and good looks; chatted with in-studio guests Cyril and Gaynielle Neville; commented on the romantic limitations of advancing age; bashed the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Mayor Ray Nagin; and spun a diverse program of mostly traditional, mostly local, jazz. His radio playlists favored the likes of Louis Armstrong, Dr. John, trumpeter Lionel Ferbos, pianist-composer Matt Lemmler, hot jazz singer Ingrid Lucia.

"This show gives me the chance to play what I think is cool," Mr. French once said. "Some people call and say, 'You're not playing any traditional jazz.' Well, it's my show. I can do whatever the f--- I want.' "

Mr. French could sometimes work against himself. During a Los Angeles taping of the now-defunct NBC-TV show "Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip,” he ran afoul of the show’s producers. He was cut from the scene that featured Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and other New Orleanians.

In the mid-2000s, the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band’s Monday night residency bounced around to several clubs, including Donna's, Ray's Boom Boom Room, Cafe Brasil and d.b.a., after his relationship with each club’s proprietor soured.
Privately, Jazz Fest staffers complained about his demands, attitude and bluster. He was not surprised. "I cuss them out," he once said. "I'm not afraid of Quint. I have to fight for every dollar I get.

"(Losing) one gig is not going to hurt me. Two gigs is not going to hurt me. I'm older now. Thank God I get a check every month from Uncle Sam and from the musicians' union. I live alone. I can cook a pot of red beans and eat off of it for three days.
"I don't have to kiss nobody's ass. I'm at the point in my life where I can do what I want. All my children are married and gone, and I'm home alone. When I've eaten, everybody has eaten."

Of his tenure at WWOZ, he said, "I do a lot I'm not supposed to do, but nobody stops me. I think it's good that somebody can do something that's not automatic. I'm not a robot; I'm a human being. And I've always been opinionated. Ask both of my ex-wives."