The line in front of the world-famous Jazz Bar began to form 45 minutes before the Tenement Jazz Band played the first tune of the evening. Nobody seemed bothered by the wait, only excited to hear the 6-month old band play. The speakeasy atmosphere of the venue was evident after stepping through the threshold and amplified with each step down the stairs. The basement was filled, portraits of jazz legends were hung high, the band began to play.
Although New Orleans jazz was created to dance, the partially seated venue leaves no room for a dance floor. Everyone is focused on the band. Patrick “Paddy” Darley on the Trombone is the adorably awkward elected historian, educating the audience on who did what and when between every song that they play. The audience not only get to listen to very talented and evidently passionate musicians—John Youngs on the guitar and banjo cannot stop grinning with every note—but also examine the origins of that music. You wouldn’t even know the band has been together for only six months by how in-sync and natural they played.
Jazz provided young people in early 1900’s New Orleans with excitement. The Tenement Jazz band maintain that legacy with an upbeat and fun performance. Charles Dearness on the trumpet and Tom Pickles on the soprano saxophone break through with a powerful and enthusiastic sound. Simon Toner on the bass provides an elegant backdrop for the brass instruments that are oh-so-well known as jazz essentials. Mike Kearney’s charismatic energy become apparent as he fluidly travels between the banjo and the piano.
Together, the band explore the roots of jazz, as exclaimed in the title, from ragtime through the jazz age in the 1920’s. The profound contributions of people of African heritage to the genre, although not explicitly explained, are not forgotten. Jazz emerged as a result of a musical revolution. It is a mix of ragtime, blues, spirituals, marches, and the Manhattan Tin Pan Alley music. There is no doubt of African-American influence. The Tenement Jazz band play the tunes and tell the stories of many African-American musicians, like Charles “Buddy” Bolden, who formed the band that would pioneer New Orleans jazz, to Louis Armstrong, whose story was too long to be detailed—but the band jokingly recommend the audience google Armstrong after the show if they don’t know who he is.
The band seem threatened when asked why it is important for white musicians to understand and teach the roots of music potentially tied to a social and racial struggle. Paddy Darley eventually explains that it is important to know where music comes from, but time is too limited in their one hour show to talk about the social boundaries and whitewashing that early New Orleans Jazz musicians might have faced.
All in all the Tenement Jazz band show make for a wonderful evening of happy, upbeat music mixed with some important history. Perhaps they should work on their public speaking skills, but their jazz sure is sharp.
1895-1927 in New Orleans: The Red Hot Roots of Jazz
The Jazz Bar
Photo Credit: Allan Ferguson Photography