Live music in 2018 – (Some) of the best shows in New Orleans

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

To look over the live music presented in New Orleans in 2018 satisfies in several ways. It’s pleasant to recall and share memories and it’s important to remind folks of the many opportunities we have to hear some of the greatest musicians on the planet. What remains remarkable too is how many of the “best” shows on this list were free and during the day. We get that not everyone can spend big bucks on entertainment or stay out late.

The shows here that did have cover charges were worth every penny. One doesn’t get to hear the likes of the 14-piece Sun Ra Arkestra or internationally acclaimed saxophone master David Murray every day.

So this column is to urge everyone to go out and hear live music – it nourishes the heart and soul.

Dirty Dozen at the Joy: One of the best aspects of this show, which actually took place in late December 2017 and celebrated the Dozen’s 40th anniversary, was that it just kept rollin’. The Dozen took the stage immediately and guests like trombonist Big Sam Williams, the Treme Brass Band, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and bassist George Porter strolled in to mix it all up with their friends. It was like a reunion for some including drummer Benny Jones and Big Sam who were one time members of the Dirty Dozen.


Sun Ra Arkestra led by Marshall Allen at the Music Box: It was as if the Music Box, an outdoor performance venue in the Ninth Ward near the canal, was designed and specifically created for the Arkestra. It twinkled with lights overhead much like the sparkling outfits worn by the spirited members of the ensemble. An unusual element was that the brass section of the band performed from a wooden pavilion opposite the stage that held the rest of the group. Saxophonist Marshall Allen, the only original member of the Arkestra, directed both elements while standing between the two. It really worked.

Jamison Ross at the Little Gem Saloon: It’s natural that one might expect a tribute to the late great vocalist, pianist and composer Nina Simone to feature a female singer. This night in the intimate setting of the Little Gem Saloon, Jamison Ross showed that a heartfelt, emotional delivery was what it takes to put Simone’s hits across. With Ross simultaneously playing drums and pianist Shea Pierre and bassist Max Moran, the trio wowed the packed room.

Don Bryon Snug Harbor: Clarinetist and saxophonist Don Byron is often put in an avant-garde “box,” though he can and does play everything. A very animated musician, he and drummer Jamison Ross just danced through the night like a love at first sight romance. Byron threw in all styles in his repertoire and even into a single tune – the history was in his horn.

Stanton Moore Trio “With You in Mind” tribute to Allen Toussaint at the Joy: There’s something about the Joy Theater that lends itself to warm reminiscing so it was the right setting for the trio led by drummer Stanton More with pianist David Torkanowsky and bassist James Singleton to celebrate Toussaint and perform live many of the cuts heard on its release of the same name. Starring roles at the show and on the disc were vocalist Cyril Neville and noted saxophonist Maceo Parker, a legend of the James Brown Band.

David Murray at Snug Harbor: The collaboration between the Frenchmen Street club and UNO’s Jazz at the Sandbar series allows bringing in extraordinary artists like saxophone master David Murray to New Orleans. He fired up the stage blowing hard as usual driven by the drums of Herlin Riley.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah at the Contemporary Arts Center: This set excelled as the audience really got to hear Scott play some uncluttered, straight-ahead trumpet in quintet format. Often he heads larger ensembles and since he’s such a generous leader we don’t get enough of him.

The Free Stuff

Herlin Riley and Johnny Vidacovich at the George & Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center: This show represented the first time these homegrown drum masters played together. They are so different – Riley gregarious, Vidacovich cool – yet they were born under the same groove so the communication was always there. Hats off to Derek Douget for seemingly linking the two with his saxophone

Kenny Neal at the Treme Fall Festival: It probably was puzzling to some why guitarist/vocalist Kenny Neal was performing at this festival that primarily features New Orleans artists. Neal, who is the son of the late harmonica player Raful Neal and is primarily associated with the Baton Rouge blues scene, let folks know that he is a “Charity Hospital baby” and that his grandfather headed a church in the Treme. His Crescent City roots were on display with a band that included his two brothers.

Corey Henry & the Treme Funktet at the Creole Gumbo Festival: There was a time when a bunch of jokes prevailed about the trombone – it didn’t get a lot of respect. Times have changed as was apparent at trombone master Corey Henry’s outrageously strong set when as many as five trombonists raged on stage including a kid of maybe four or five years old. A solo by guitarist June Yamagichi just topped off the day.

BRW at the Creole Tomato Festival: This old school rhythm and blues group really knows what it takes to get a party rolling. The whole crowd was dancing on the grass and singing along to hit after hit. Too much fun.

Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra at the Creole Tomato Festival: Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis has created the first-ever brass band orchestra taking advantage of all the guys in the band who have experience on the street. He’s been out there too, ya know. Naturally, the horn players second lined into crowd.

This article originally published in the December 24, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.