“There's only five of us but, man, it sounds like a freight train! It's really heavy, and because it's acoustic and the level of improvisation is really high, it's really fun, too.”
Marc Decho has always loved the music of New Orleans – its blues, its gospel, and, of course, its jazz. He's brought those musical strands together in his new band, the Sun Crescent Barbecue Stompers. It will have its third – and biggest so far – outing this Friday at Merrickville's Jazz Fest.
Earlier this year, the Wakefield-based bassist stumbled across a link for WWOZ, a jazz and heritage radio station from New Orleans. Since then, he said, the station's on-line live streams have been a constant companion – and an inspiration to form a band to play high-energy, full-blown New Orleans traditional music.
He got together four local jazz colleagues, and organized a single Sunday night show at Stella Luna, a small gelato store in Ottawa South, on June 1.
“That first show was so well-received – the whole band was ecstatic and we were so happy the way it turned out, and Stella was packed and there were people swing dancing, and it was crazy!”
Stella Luna quickly invited them back for a second show, on August 3, which was equally popular. For that show, Decho gave the band its current name – which has many antecedents.
The “Crescent” in the name refers to New Orleans, the “Crescent City”. “Barbecue” is a homage to one of Decho's favourite bands from that city, Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers. “Stompers” evokes foot-stomping, and the band's heavy groove. And “Sun Crescent” refers to the street Decho lives on.
And, most importantly, he said, the name is “a clear indication that this is definitely going to be a New Orleans-style fun party band.”
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Much of the band's repertoire is music Decho has “loved since I was a kid. When I was 10, 11, and 12, I was listening to the same stuff as my friends were [grunge like Soundgarden], but at the same time I would throw on gospel music. I loved Mahalia Jackson. I've been obsessed with her music since I was a kid, so I picked a lot of my favourite Mahalia Jackson songs.”
He's mixed that with some folk and blues standards, and with older jazz compositions by Duke Ellington and by Louis Armstrong.
Nothing harmonically over-the-top insane, just really simple, fun, easy stuff that we could explore and have a lot of fun with.
– Marc Decho
“When I was first getting into jazz, when I heard 'West End Blues' [Armstrong, 1928], it was like one of those 'Omigod, this is just amazing', so that was a source. And then I went back and dug into The Hot Seven and stuff to get some ideas. ... [It's] nothing harmonically over-the-top insane, just really simple, fun, easy stuff that we could explore and have a lot of fun with.”
The band's front line and main soloists are Ed Lister on trumpet, and Richard Page on clarinet and baritone sax, who have played together for many years and “complement each other perfectly.” Lister will be adding New Orleans touches with trumpet mutes – “a lot of speaking and talking stuff” – and Page's clarinet will add a Dixieland sound.
Page will also be featured on baritone in a piece by Stanton Moore, a modern New Orleans drummer and composer. Mike Essoudry first unearthed the piece several years ago for a septet show in which Decho played, and Decho remembered it. “I thought it would be a great idea to do it acoustically.” And with the baritone's deeper notes, “the tone is huge and it gives it another edge.”
The entire band – including Decho on double bass, Lucas Haneman on mandolin, banjo, and acoustic guitar, and Essoudry on drums – works together, Decho said, with a “heavy emphasis on collective improv”, rather than a long series of individual solos.
“These guys play off each other, so if someone's doing a head, then someone's doing a line underneath. It's always developing.”
It seemed like everyone could latch onto it, because it was fun to dance to and it was also fun to listen to.
– Marc Decho
“If you watch us live, we're laughing, we're smiling, we're having a great time. We're having too much fun! In the best possible way.”
And they want the audience involved, too: moving, clapping, and not just sitting still, Decho said. “Just at those two gigs at Stella, we had people in their 60s and 70s who were saying this is great! And people were in their early 20s, and kids were coming in, too. It seemed like everyone could latch onto it, because it was fun to dance to and it was also fun to listen to.”
It's also been a good change for Decho, who had been concentrating on electric music recently, including his jazz/hip-hop project 2React. “It's fun to go back to something acoustic.”
– Alayne McGregor
The Sun Crescent Barbecue Stompers perform at Merrickville's Jazz Fest at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, October 17, in the Goose & Gridiron Restaurant & Pub (advance reservations required). They'll be back in Ottawa in December, playing all four Sunday evenings at Irene's Pub in the Glebe.
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