Down Low in NOLA: Scenes from the 2013 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

July 25, 2013

 Struttin’! George Porter digs in.
THE BASS STORY OF THIS YEAR’S NEW ORLEANS Jazz & Heritage Festival came from some unexpected places, a few familiar faces, plus one usual Suspect in a relatively new situation.

For 33 years, Reggie Scanlan anchored the swamp-rocking Radiators, which traditionally closed Jazz Fest until breaking up in 2010. In 2013 Scanlan found himself in the unfamiliar opening role—or as he called it, “the breakfast set”—with his nearly two-year-old super-group, the New Orleans Suspects, including longtime Neville Brothers drummer “Mean” Willie Green. Imagine Prestia-like precision locked with second-line grooves—tight! Scanlan got primal when he played again later with the Mardi Gras Indian Orchestra, improvising on hypnotic one-chord grooves behind the colorful Indians while they chanted out traditional tunes such as “Iko Iko.”

 NOLA funk royalty, Reggie Scanlan (left) and George French.
 Groovin' hands-free: Sam Price of Honey Island Swamp Band
BP rendezvoused with Scanlan at the Suspects’ home haunt, the Maple Leaf, and then we bumped into local bass legend George French across the street at the coincidentally named Frenchy’s art gallery. Scalan was excited to talk about “Handa Wanda,” a single that French cut on bass with Zigaboo Modeliste on drums for Big Chief Bo Dollis & the Mardi Gras Indian Band back in 1970. “It’s one of the most amazing bass parts ever,” beamed Scanlan. “Everyone should listen to it, but it’s impossible to really learn because it’s just stream-of-consciousness with him and Zig reacting throughout the whole song. Incredible.”

Swamp-funk stalwart George Porter Jr. has been sidemanning around the country a lot lately, so it was awesome to see him lead his longtime local group, the Runnin’ Pardners. He relished the opportunity to stretch out, incorporating copious thumbing and strumming, although he actually seemed happiest encouraging the other Pardners to push their solos further and further.

B.B. King bassist Reggie Richards was an absolute fingerstyle freak who favored plucking with his middle finger, walked all over his 5-string’s fingerboard, and followed every nuance of King’s endless expressiveness. There was a lot more going on bass-wise than one might have anticipated for a blues band.

 How’d he do that? B.B. King looks on as Reggie Richards gets down.
 With 5-string Wyn in hand, JBlakk’s got your back!
The hottest jazz band BP caught was saxophonist Joshua Redman’s quartet, featuring Joe Sanders on upright. Sanders held the middle ground onstage, and he kept the ensemble centered NOLA funk royalty, Reggie Scanlan (left) and George French. With 5-string Wyn in hand, JBlakk’s got your back! How’d he do that? B.B. King looks on as Reggie Richards gets down. as it veered vigorously this way and that like a school of fish reacting to each other’s dynamic and harmonic movements.

Jerry “JBlakk” Henderson played huge with Big Sam’s Funky Nation on the hip Congo Stage, as the band featured several songs from its upcoming CD, Love on My Side. Henderson explained how he handled his business on the big gig: “You’ve got to know your gear on a gig like Jazz Fest,” advised Henderson, toting a beautiful bubinga- and padauk-topped Wyn 5-string, “especially a few backline amps that work for you. I choose a Gallien-Krueger Fusion 550 head through a pair of G-K 4x12 cabinets. It was raining, so I didn’t use my effects. It’s best to keep it simple in bad weather, including very hot, sunny weather.

“It’s best to play big on big gigs—it’s what I call ‘playing to the chest,’” he continued. “That means more quarter-, half-, and whole-notes, and less intricate stuff that nobody is going to be able to decipher anyway. By the time it gets to the audience, it’s a beat late. You’re better off playing straight.”

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