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.
| Struttin’! George Porter digs in.
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
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.
| NOLA funk royalty, Reggie Scanlan (left) and George French.
| Groovin' hands-free: Sam Price of Honey Island Swamp Band
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.
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.
he do that? B.B. King looks on as Reggie Richards gets
5-string Wyn in hand, JBlakk’s got your
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
“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.”