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The bright, inviting sounds of Basin Street and the French Quarter banished the cold and rain Thursday, October 15, as Merrickville's Jazz Fest opened its 5th edition with a show by the New Orleans Express.

Merrickville's Jazz Fest opening night band New Orleans Express got the audience parading through the ballroom with their “When the Saints Go Marching In”  ©2015 Brett Delmage
Merrickville's Jazz Fest opening night band New Orleans Express got the audience parading through the ballroom with their “When the Saints Go Marching In” ©2015 Brett Delmage
The seven-piece band, based in Pembroke, specializes in resurrecting traditional jazz written in the 20s and 30s, and played by jazz pioneers including Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Bix Biederbecke, Fats Waller, and Sidney Bechet. For more than 15 years, they've been playing a classic jazz repertoire based on original recordings – and with the verve and style of the originals, too!

“Cakewalkin' My Baby Back Home”, “Stevedore Stomp”, “I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None of my Jellyroll”, the “Ostrich Waltz”, and “Potato Head Blues” were among the songs they played. Bandleader and banjo player Dr. Ron Lloyd and trumpeter Gordon Tapp introduced each number with an explanation of when it was first recorded and by whom, and in many cases explaining where they first encountered it.

Their love of and knowledge of the music was clearly evident: for example, explaining how “The Mahogany Hill Stomp” was written in honour of a house of ill repute in the Storyville district of New Orleans and was originally recorded by Louis Armstrong and his Savoy Five in 1929. They noted that “this is pretty well exactly how they played it.”

Lloyd emphasized that the band deliberately looked for less-common songs, for a more “eclectic” repertoire than most Dixieland groups. Tapp talked about how he went back to original 78s, ignoring the hisses and clicks, in order to transcribe songs and arrangements not available as sheet music: for example, a 1926 Jelly Roll Morton number called “Sidewalk Blues”.

A highlight was “The Wrought Iron Rag” by Wilbur de Paris, played in the intense arrangement of the 1950s Queen City Jazz Band, and ending with an extended fanfare – followed by extended applause. The song's title comes from the fact that it quotes part of the Anvil Chorus from Verdi's Il Travatore.

Tapp also contributed his own original, “Riverwalk Stomp”, a sunny piece that nicely fit into the set. “Once you play this music for a while, it starts to rub off on you,” he told the audience.

With a front line of trombone, tenor sax, trumpet, and clarinet (alternating with alto and soprano sax), and backed by banjo, double bass and drums, the group made the Baldachin Ballroom swing. It was a tight, fast-moving presentation with some fine soloing, particularly from Ted Clifford on clarinet and Gordon Tapp on trumpet and mutes, as well as upbeat vocals on several numbers from Lloyd and from tenor saxophonist Dale Tapp. Gordon Tapp contributed a growling Louis-Armstrong-style vocal on Hoagy Carmichael's “Up The Lazy River”.

The ballroom was comfortably stuffed with smiling listeners, many tapping their toes or swaying to the music. The evening was the festival's sponsor appreciation night, open to those attending other festival shows.

During the brief speeches, Merrickville Mayor David Nash thanked the festival organizers and more than 60 volunteers. He said that, listening to the music, he could just imagine himself on Bourbon Street. “We're so blessed to be able to hear music like this in the village. To watch people in this room enjoying the music is such a treat for me.”

Festival founder and director Peggy Holloway announced that year's festival would be dedicated to vocalist Karen Oxorn, who has been one of the festival's principal organizers for several years, as well as previously performing there. “She's made such a huge difference.”

After two hours of full-out music, the band's closer was the rousing “St. Louis Blues”, which was greeted by strong applause and a partial standing ovation. Lloyd told the crowd “It's so nice to be playing at a jazz festival that's still listening to jazz.”

There were also many demands for an encore. So the band came back with “When the Saints Go Marching In” – and the audience paraded through the room led by Holloway, dancing to the marching beat. Twirling the umbrellas they'd brought for the rain outside and clapping their hands, they showed their enthusiasm for this infectiously-fun brand of jazz.

    – Alayne McGregor

Read other stories about the 2015 Merrickville's Jazz Fest:

All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2015