Thursday, May 11, 2006

New Orleans local music legends

Attending the (just finished) Jazz and Heritage Festival for two days in New Orleans can take a lot out of you. Spending about 6-8 hours in the hot sun, running around to different stages and filling your face with all manner of seafood combinations that are a local specialty can take a lot out of you. I know, I know... it's a problem that most people wish they had, especially 1/2 of the local population who still haven't made it back to NOLA after Katrina.

But this yearly festival is by no means the be-all/end-all of the music to see and hear in NOLA. Other than the clubs scattered around town, there's a seven-block area down on Bourbon Street that's filled with bars, restaurants, strip joints and music clubs. If you wander towards the end of that area (where the residential area just about begins), you'll see two local legends.

Ryan Burrage is all of 31-years-old but has his heart set back in the '20's. The clarinetist holds court at Fritzel's European Jazz Pub (733 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA 70116; Ph. (504) 561-0432). There, along with a five or six piece band, he takes his turn letting out screaming solos. Some of the horn players look like they could be his grandfather while the pianist looks like he could be his son. No matter as you'll be hard pressed to hear wilder or more joyous music down the Bourbon way. Nowadays, the club has a cover to promote Jazz Relief, an organization that supports local musicians. For a $1 fee, it's well worth it. Also note that Burrage's 2003 CD, Toulouse Street Blues, captures a good part of the raucous interplay that he gets live. With all due respect to Preservation Hall, he's got the hottest jazz band in the area.

A few short steps away from Fritzel's is the Funky Pirate (727 Bourbon St; Phone: 504-523-1960). Though you can get all your buccaneer gear there (plastic sword, eye patch), the real attraction is well-named blues shouter named Big Al Carson.

It's hard to miss the guy, sitting at the end of the bar on a stool on a small stage, half of which he takes up so that one guitarist has to play near the bar: in all fairness, he himself should take up the name "Roomful of Blues." Because of his size, Al doesn't even bother to get up during their breaks- he just sits there and signs autographs for fans to come up to meet him. You'd probably imagine that a crane lowers him onto stage at the start and finish of the evening.

But this guy is proud of being 300 pounds of joy (as Wolf would say). Even stationary, he knows how to work up a crowd, saving his shouts for the right moment and using saucy (but good natured) stage banter for certain females in the audience and making eye contact and hand gestures to other people in the crowd to grab their attention. His set list is a good mix of Chicago standards (heard from where it probably originated) that he can make something out of.

Tipitina's is justifiably a legendary NOLA music haunt but music fans should also scout out Hiller and Burrage while they're down there especially to enjoy the small club atmosphere.

Speaking of NOLA, here's some news from the Blues Festival E-Guide:

"Starz Entertainment Group LLC will help bring music back to New Orleans with the premiere screening of its feature-length original documentary "New Orleans Music in Exile" on Saturday, May 13, 2006. The day-long event begins with a public screening at 11:45 a.m. followed by an invitation-only screening at 2:30 p.m. both at the Landmark Theatre in the Canal Place Center.

The day culminates with a private Benefit Concert Celebration at Tipitina's French Quarter at 5:30 p.m. featuring performances by famed New Orleans musicians including Irma Thomas, Kermit Ruffins, Theresa Andersson, ReBirth Brass Band and World Leader Pretend.

"New Orleans Music in Exile" will premiere exclusively on Starz InBlack at 7 p.m. ct. Friday, May 19, 2006, with an encore presentation on Starz, Saturday, May 20th at 12:00 p.m. ct."

A full schedule of showings is available at


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