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This is our 17th annual Jazz All-Stars issue, in which we honor musicians who perform locally. The selections are divided into traditional and contemporary styles. These, plus those honored in the past, catalog the finest jazz talent to work in the city through the last two decades.
Detroit Brooks hails from another great New Orleans musical family – his sister Juanita joins him in this year’s All-Star edition, and his brother, bassist Mark, was inducted in 2002. His brother George and sister Barbara are also vocalists. “Gospel, that’s our foundation,” says Brooks, who began playing guitar with his father’s group, the Masonic Kings, as well as singing in church. He moved on to rhythm-and-blues, plucking bass with Arthur Johnson; he was still underage when he first played clubs. While at Francis T. Nicholls High School, the guitarist continued to be involved in both gospel and R&B.
After graduation, however, music took a back seat to his full-time job with a railroad. When a disability forced him to retire in 1994, he was able to pursue music again. Jazz became his new direction when his sister was hired by guitarist/banjoist Danny Barker (1990 All-Star) for a cruise. Brooks jumped aboard, playing guitar and singing. The follow-up was that the siblings were recruited for a cruise the next year. While traditional jazz trumpeters and trombonists abound in NewOrleans, banjoists are a rare commodity. In fact, trumpeter Gregg Stafford, who was also on the cruise with Barker, advised Brooks: “You need to get on the banjo.” Soon the fret-man was playing the instrument with band leaders including Stafford and clarinetist Michael White as well as the William Houston Orchestra. Brooks says he was greatly honored when he was presented with Barker’s guitar at a “Guitar Extravaganza” that Brooks produced. Since Katrina, Brooks has been living with his family in Baton Rouge and says, “Things happen to bring you together.” He’s taking the opportunity to venture into new fields playing with modern jazzmen and fellow Baton Rouge residents bassist Roland Guerin (1998 All-Star) and saxophonist Wess Anderson (2005 All-Star) as well as leading his own group.
Quotable: “I just take it one day at a time. I use every day for growth.”
When Gregory Davis was about 12, he’d sneak a try on his older brother’s baritone horn, blow a bit and carefully wipe it off so as not to be discovered. His experience with the horn along with hearing the organ in church where he was a member of the choir, ignited his interest in taking music at Andrew J. Bell Jr. High School. At first he wanted to play drums but was discouraged by the lowly practice pads. Then teacher Alvin Thomas suggested the French horn, but it was too cumbersome. Next he tried a cornet, akin to the trumpet he’s been playing for the last 35 years. Davis made quick progress in the band and by ninth grade became section leader. From there he attended St. Augustine High School, performing with the concert band and the legendary “Marching 100.” These years found Davis jamming on R&B and funk, and he was already playing gigs by around age 14 with the likes of vocalists Jean Knight, King Floyd and Johnny Adams. He attended Loyola University, majoring in music education, and during that time he started blowing with the Hurricane Brass Band – his first brass-band experience. He also played with the noted Dejan’s Olympia Brass Band. Then came the life-changing, music-changing revolution of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, which formed in 1977. The trumpeter and vocalist spent 21 years with renowned group, traveling the world and recording 20 albums. Davis, however, grew weary of the road, returned home to finish his education at Loyola receiving a degree in music industry. He accepted a job with Festival Productions, producing Jazz Fest’s Contemporary Jazz Tent, directing the educational workshops and coordinating performances by the brass bands, Mardi Gras Indians, social-aid-and-pleasure clubs, and high-school bands, as well as other responsibilities. He also teaches music business part-time at Loyola. While Davis always played local gigs with the Dozen, since Katrina he’s again hit the road with the innovative band.
Quotable: “I’ve always tried to follow this credo: ‘I have this gig today; I have to concentrate on how to get the gig tomorrow or next week.’ ”
Though Tom Saunders is from Michigan, he grew up with New Orleans traditional jazz. His father, a tuba player and journalist, collected classic jazz from the 1920s as well as revival artists such as clarinetist George Lewis.
His uncle was a bandleader in Detroit. Saunders began playing piano and then switched to tuba playing the big horn throughout his school years both in concert and marching bands. He received further training after winning a scholarship to attend a summer band camp at the University of Michigan. By age 13, he was already making professional jobs, blowing with classic jazz bands at bars. Saunders made his first trip to New Orleans as a teenager when he was sent down as a patient to a drug rehabilitation center.
Allowed out once a week, he headed straight to Preservation Hall and got in free of charge because his father was a friend of owner Allan Jaffe. “That was really exciting for me,” says Saunders who even got to play with clarinetist Willie Humphrey. Saunders made another trip to New Orleans in 1982 to perform on the Mississippi Queen and finally made the move in 1984, called up by band leader Banu Gibson to perform at the World’s Fair and Bourbon Street bars. By this time the primarily self-taught musician – who had learned much from those with whom he shared the bandstands – had already mastered the New Orleans “slap style” on the upright bass. In 1990 he took up the bass saxophone, which he’s noted for with the Jazz Vipers, the popular swing band he joined in 2002. Saunders, who describes himself as a working musician, sideman and musically a “prewar person,” figures he’s performed with every traditional jazz band in town and is heard on some 50 or 60 albums. “I’ve been serious about music all my life,” says the record collector and jazz enthusiast. He used this expertise for 13 years as a traditional jazz programmer on radio station WWOZ-FM/90.7 and will bring these skills to WTUL-FM/91.5 in the late spring.
Quotable: “Jazz music should be natural. People shouldn’t try to pigeonhole it or classify it. The fact that it’s different is what makes it jazz.”
Born at 1226 Gravier St., Lawrence Batiste grew up around the sounds of brass bands and second-line parades, often walking along with his uncle, who was a member of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club. Nonetheless, Batiste says it was actually hearing all those marching bands in the Mardi Gras parades, which he watched with his mother in front of the Masonic Temple on St. Charles Avenue, that inspired him to play. After such a procession, he says he’d go home and beat on “tin tubs” with “chair sticks.” He got a “real” drum at age 13 and shined shoes all summer to pay off the $38 bill at Werlein’s. His first formal training was at McDonogh No. 41 under noted music educator Yvonne Busch. His schoolmates there included drummer James Black, trumpeter Porgy Jones and saxophonist Ralph Johnson. After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School in 1957, Batiste joined the U.S. Army, where he did a little jamming. After his return home, Batiste would hang out at Preservation Hall and watch greats including Paul and Louis Barbarin.
Because he needed to work to support his family, he didn’t play professionally. “The music was always in my heart and mind,” avows Batiste, who retired from his job as a refrigeration technician in 2000. He got back in the game in 1967 when Brian Finnegan hired him to play bass drum. The drummer started honing his chops and working on his style in part by listening to one of his idols, drummer Emile Knox. Batiste sees the job of a drummer as keeping the time and dressing up the band by adding accents to embellish a solo or a phrase. Soon, he met band leader Herman Sherman, who also hired him.
Batiste is known to move between the street beats of brass bands, where he carries the big bass drum, as he did for 12 years with the Riverwalk Brass Band, to club dates, employing a full drum kit, which he plays as heard at the Palm Court. Having lost his home to Hurricane Katrina, the ever-smiling Batiste says playing music has strengthened his spirit. “It’s been like medicine – it helps me.”
Quotable: “We’re all standing on other people’s shoulders – I know I do. They were the teachers; they taught you how to play, how to dress so that you could fit in.”
When Doreen Ketchens was a fifth-grader at Joseph Craig Elementary, she heard there was going to be a pop quiz. To get out of it, she was quick to respond to an announcement asking interested students to come and sign up for the band. The walls in the designated room were lined with photographs of instruments, and her first choice was flute. After many girls before her picked it, she opted for the clarinet. During junior high school, she lost interest in the instrument for a while, but after embarrassing herself with a poor performance in front of her classmates as well as a young man she had her eye on, she decided to practice. She found playing easy, and she participated in the marching and concert bands. Ketchens graduated from John F. Kennedy High School and the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts and attended the University of Hartford. The clarinetist focused on classical music and did an internship with the symphony. Her interest in jazz was sparked by her husband, sousaphonist Lawrence Ketchens, and she performed her first jazz gig with him at the 1987 Republican National Convention. After the two returned from school in Connecticut, Ketchens ran Doreen’s Sweet Shop, which sold plate lunches. One day, she was walking with Lawrence in the French Quarter. Passing some street musicians, he turned to her and said, “You know, we can do that.” Soon the duo was blowing tunes, including “When the Saints Go Marching In” at St. Louis and Royal streets, in Jackson Square and in front of Brennan’s restaurant. “Before we knew it we were jazz musicians,” Ketchens exclaims. “Love makes you do crazy things. I made more money on the streets than selling food.” It also led to the couple connecting with jazz lovers from all over the world, with job offers coming from Europe, Asia and South America. Selling CDs – the clarinetist has recorded 17 – on the streets and at her shows has also been lucrative. Since Katrina, Ketchens has been on the road a lot, her presence sought out in places where she enjoys business connections, friends and fans. “We’ve been blessed by getting more work” since the income from the street has evaporated, Ketchens says with gratitude. “The world would come to us; now we have to go to the world,” she philosophizes.
Quotable: “Everything to me is a gift from God. A successful performance or good news, I say, ‘Thank you, Father.’ ”
The church has been the foundation of Topsy Chapman’s musical experience. As a child she played piano for choirs and used her talents teaching harmonies to vocal ensembles. While attending Kentwood High School the vocalist joined six choirs and acted as choir director. She took a similar position in front of the choir at O.W. Dillon Elementary School, leading the ensemble in a secular repertoire. At 17, Chapman moved first to Baton Rouge and then to New Orleans. She remained deeply entrenched in church music and could be heard in the Gospel Tent at Jazz Fest. She headed the gospel group the Chapman Singers before expanding into other styles. A turning point in Chapman’s musical activities came when director Vernel Bagneris asked her to perform in his musical “One Mo’ Time.” She told him she wasn’t an actress and wasn’t qualified for the role, but he persisted, saying, “Just try it.” So in 1977, she went into rehearsals to play the part of cocky Thelma. She was a cast member for four years, then she quit for a year, but later returned. She was featured in another Bagneris production, ” © And Furthermore,” which toured overseas. Chapman brings an air of refinement as leader of her group Solid Harmony that includes her daughters Yolanda Windsay and Jolynda Phillips as well as Wendy Myles. The ensemble moves easily from traditional and modern jazz to blues and gospel.
Much of Chapman’s work has been overseas working as lead vocalist in front of traditional jazz groups led by Lars Edegran and Butch Thompson. More recently, she’s traveled on her own to perform at theaters, clubs and festivals.
Quotable: “I’m just a family-oriented person. My music thing is basically working with my daughters.”
While Stanton Moore is most recognized for laying down the funky rhythm with the renowned group Galactic, he wears many musical caps. That accounts for the hugely talented drummer getting the call from the queen of New Orleans Soul, Irma Thomas, as well as the metal group Corrosion of Conformity and the traditional Preservation Hall Jazz Band. From the time he was an infant, Moore’s mother took him to Carnival parades, where the drums caught his interest. He would go home and beat on pots, pans and Tupperware. To save the Moore kitchen, his mother gave him a drum at age 9. He played drums at St. Catherine of Siena Elementary School and chose Brother Martin High School because he knew it had “a killing drum line” and to study under band director Marty Hurley. Meanwhile, he mixed it up, performing with school friends, and played his first gig at age 16 at Muddy Waters. Moore earned a degree in music and business at Loyola University, where he studied and met fellow drummers Johnny Vidacovich (1990 All-Star) and Russell Batiste. He honed his traditional jazz chops and learned the New Orleans standards playing with bassist Joe Simon’s band. It also gave him the opportunity to dig into playing at low volume and to perfect his brush technique.
The drummer got a taste for the road when he headed out with the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars. Moore’s yen for traveling definitely was fulfilled through his work with the successful group Galactic, which formed as Galactic Prophylactic in 1992, and which regrouped and began touring by 1996. At one point the band was playing as many as 170 gigs around the country in a year. But Moore, eager to pursue other projects and to have time to compose, cut back to about 80 dates last year. He played with pianist David Torkanowsky in the James Black Tribute Band, with saxophonist Donald Harrison in a musically multifaceted project, and with Charlie Hunter in “eclectic jazz-oriented” explorations. “Most of what I do has people dancing – it’s groove,” Moore says. He has released two instructional DVDs that highlight the New Orleans approach to drumming, both modern and traditional, plus a book that was released last fall. Via Galactic’s Web site, students around the country can also set up private lessons with Moore when the band visits their towns.
Quotable: “I try to take the lineage and heritage of New Orleans music and drumming and bring it into other arenas. I’ve always wanted to be diverse but keep it in the New Orleans tradition.”
Steve Suter might have been a trumpet player like his grandfather, who performed with the WWL radio house band, if his brother hadn’t grabbed the horn first. As it was, he began playing trombone around age 10. Suter credits his grandfather for teaching him proper fundamentals, which were later built upon through private study with Jim Kraft. His father, who was a schoolteacher and played bass on the side, also encouraged his interest in music. “So I came by it honestly,” Suter says of his becoming a professional musician. At Archbishop Rummel High School, the trombonist participated in the marching, concert and jazz bands, and during his junior year played in a big band primarily at weddings and dances. While attending Loyola University, where he graduated in 1984 with a degree in music performance, he played with the New Orleans Symphony as first-call trombonist.
“I’ve always played everything,” he declares. He went on to Northwestern University to earn his master’s degree and gigged in the area playing in jazz combos and big bands. He also worked for live theater productions and continued with them from 1988 until 1992. A call from the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra in 1992 brought the trombonist back to New Orleans, and over 10 summers he hit the road with the Tommy Dorsey Band. A casual meeting of fellow trombonists “looking for something to do” sparked the creation in 2000 of the hugely popular band Bonerama, a hip/jazz/funk, rock ensemble that put the trombonist’s horn in yet another arena. While he’s blowing hard and funkin’ it up with Bonerama, Suter also performs with a multi-faceted chamber trio. Overseas he’s been heard in such diverse settings as opera orchestras and in the horn section with guitar wizard Gatemouth Brown. Suter moves around as an adjunct professor at University of New Orleans, Xavier and Southeastern Louisiana universities, and Delgado Community College, and as a private instructor.
Quotable: ” ‘Never take the council of your fears’ ” – ‘Stonewall’ Jackson.
Frederick Sanders began playing cello by performing with a string orchestra while in elementary school. His attention turned to the piano while studying composition in high school where his schoolmates included the renowned trumpeter Roy Hargrove and vocalist Erykah Badu. By his senior year, Sanders had joined the jazz band and following graduation, he attended Texas’ Weatherford College. In 1990, the pianist came to New Orleans for the International Association of Jazz Educators convention, and he moved here two years later. “I got bit by the bug,” he admits. Sanders met saxophonist Wess Anderson, who told him that studying with clarinetist Alvin Batiste at Southern University at Baton Rouge was the place to be. Batiste not only became Sanders’ teacher but also his employer. Batiste hired the pianist, leading to Sanders’ first European tour, and Sanders can be heard on the master’s album Late. Naturally, Sanders regularly headed to New Orleans to spots such as Snug Harbor and Kaldi’s. “It was a vibrant scene,” he recalls. “Everybody was hungry [to blow] and there were lots of creative, strong players.” Sanders returned to Texas and attended Texas State University from 1992 until 1994 majoring in performance. During this time, he was gigging in Texas as well as making the long haul to New Orleans for dates. He tired of the back-and-forth and decided to finally set up shop in the Crescent City. Sanders taught both in Texas and in the Baton Rouge school district and even worked at Delgado. He planned to teach at Tulane University, but Katrina interrupted instead. Presently, he is living in Mandeville and on focusing a lot of his energy on his family, church and offering private lessons. He uses his musical talent in his involvement with the Church of the King’s Worship Arts Ministry. The pianist continues studying and composing with an eye, he says, to “broadening the things that are with me.”
Quotable: “Katrina just came to show us that the world is a lot bigger and smaller than we thought. Our neighbors are actually our friends, our family. I am my brother’s keeper.”
Rob Wagner hesitates before explaining how he ended up a saxophonist. Then he admits that it was simply because as a kid he saw a picture of an owl playing a sax, and he liked it. “I think I made the right choice, though,” he offers. Wagner, who actually began playing piano at age 5 and then sax at 9, was encouraged to take up an instrument by his parents, who believed it important for their children to study music as a part of their education. In elementary school, he played in the concert band and by high school. Wagner took advantage of the hot free-jazz scene in Chicago while attending college at DePaul University. He spent time at Fred Anderson’s noted Velvet Lounge and got to play with that legendary creative jazz saxophonist as well as giants such as bassist Malachi Favors. This period certainly influenced Wagner’s musical approach both as a player and composer as heard on his recordings, in club dates and his affinity with the noted progressive drummer Hamid Drake. The saxophonist graduated from DePaul with a degree in music composition and was encouraged to move to New Orleans by former classmate, bassist Andy Wolf. On his arrival in 1993, he primarily dug into the New Orleans music scene by checking out brass bands and heading to the Treme neighborhood, where he hooked up with trumpeter Kermit Ruffins at the Little People’s Place. For jazz, he’d get together with musicians attending the University of New Orleans, including bassist Neal Caine and trumpeter Antoine Drye. Though he’s thought of mainly as a leader, most of Wagner’s traveling has been with the Klezmer All-Stars and recently with flamenco star Antonio Vargas. Since Katrina, Wagner has traveled back and forth between New York and New Orleans gigging in both cities.
Quotable: “I try to make music that is physical, emotional and intellectual setting up situations where the musicians can express themselves and the audience can experience the music on many levels.”
When you see a tuba bouncing and spinning to the music as it moves down the street, chances are Phil Frazier is manning the big horn. The co-leader and co-founder of the mighty Rebirth Brass Band, Frazier is renowned for his energy and sense of fun, whether he’s blowing in the neighborhood or in foreign destinations around the world. He says this stems from the spirit he experienced singing in the church choir and his mother’s influence as a gospel pianist. “I like to have the music hit me like the Holy Ghost,” he explains while mentioning his mentors, Anthony “Tuba” Fats Lacen (1999 All-Star) and Kirk Joseph (1991 All-Star). Frazier began playing the trombone in the fourth grade and moved to sousaphone at Joseph S. Clark High School in the musically rich Treme neighborhood. His big horn and big sound were employed in the band at Grambling State University, where he majored in music and physics. But it was while attending Clark that he met trumpeter and soulmate Kermit Ruffins, and the two founded the Rebirth Brass Band. “Me and Kermit have this brotherly love,” says Frazier, who along with Rebirth reunited with their former bandmate on 2005’s Throwback. The now internationally renowned group played its first professional gig in 1983 at the Alpine Restaurant. In summer 1983, the guys could regularly be found playing in the French Quarter for tips. “That was our practice spot,” Ruffins remembers. It was also that year that Rebirth played its first social-aid-and-pleasure-club parade, taking to the streets with the 6th Ward Highrollers. Twenty-three years later, Rebirth continues to jump on the streets at Sunday-afternoon second-lines. People began to really take note of the young band, Frazier says, because it would play 20 songs in a row without stopping. Just a year after its formation, Rebirth released its first of 10 hot albums, 1984’s Do Whatcha Wanna, and began round-the-world travels that included a 1993 trip to Africa. “It was like going back to my roots,” Frazier says of the experience. Enjoying widespread popularity and large, enthusiastic crowds, Frazier says nowadays “the name Rebirth is bigger than the band itself.”
Quotable: “It never rains on the ReBirth Brass Band. We try to be the people’s band.”
It’s all in the family when it comes to music and Juanita Brooks, who, like her brother Detroit (2006 All-Star) began singing and traveling with her father’s gospel group, the Masonic Kings. Her big moment, she says, was when she was around 10 years old and was featured with the ensemble singing “Old Rugged Cross” on WYLD radio station. Naturally, she also sang in the St. Daniel’s Spiritual Church choir as well as school choirs at Joseph Cohn Jr. High School and Francis T. Nicholls High School. Talent shows were the rage during this era and Brooks’ fine voice won first place. “Music always fascinated me,” says Brooks, who added R&B to her repertoire with a group called TCB. Her music career took off when she was about 18, with a group called the Explosions that opened shows featuring David Lastie’s band and vocalists such as Johnny Adams and Walter “Wolfman” Washington. “That’s a lot of history,” she exclaims. She went to college to study nursing but hit the road in 1973 with piano man Eddie Bo. She returned to school in 1977, taking music and business administration courses at Southern University of New Orleans. But traditional jazz entered the picture after the vocalist met guitarist/banjoist and vocalist Danny Barker. Brooks headed to Europe with Barker and his wife Blue Lu (1997 All-Star). The next stop for Brooks was the theater as part of the touring company cast with Vernel Bagneris’ “One Mo’ Time.” She spent about five years with the company and went on to perform in that producer’s production “Staggerlee.” Her jump into modern jazz stemmed from performing on the S.S. Norway with legendary artists such as Milt Jackson and Tommy Flanagan. Locally, she’s often heard on the modern jazz scene with noted pianists such as David Torkanowsky and Larry Sieberth, and abroad she’s ready to go in any style desired. Lately, she’s even returned to her gospel roots.
Whatever the style, Brooks says she has one goal: “I like to entertain people.”
Quotable: “Never let anyone be nicer to you than you are to them.”