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Live Reviews

A N'Awlins Grammy Evening

By Published: January 25, 2004
Looking for an evening of exceptional live jazz while you’re in New Orleans on February 7, 2004? Here’s a tip – go to church. While this might sound like unusual advice, the widespread affection New Orleans feels for its native musical language is evidenced as St. Peter Claver Catholic Church hosts an impressive line-up of award-winning musical talent at its 5th annual Jazz Extravaganza – Economy Hall Revisited.

This year’s theme, “A N’Awlins Grammy Evening” brings together Grammy-award winners saxophonist, Donald Harrison, Jr., vocalist Lady “BJ” Crosby, a special cameo appearance by trumpeter Nicholas Payton and Grammy-award nominated trumpeter Irvin Mayfield in a fund-raising event designed to benefit the parish school in this historic neighborhood. According to event chairperson, Mary Elizabeth Andry, the first seeds for this now annual event were planted approximately seven years ago with inspiration from the church’s pastor, Fr. Michael Jacques.

“We were looking to put together something that was uniquely New Orleans – something the entire community could embrace,” Andry said. “This event is all about the children of the neighborhood and it’s priced not to be a burden to anyone.”

With its Treme neighborhood roots, St. Peter Claver Catholic Church is located in one of New Orleans most historic and musically fertile environs. It is not unusual for brass bands, jazz funerals and marching clubs to take to the streets in celebration in this largely African-American neighborhood that lies adjacent to its more popular cousin, the French Quarter.

Few stages anywhere can boast a line-up as impressive as this one. First is Jazz Messenger alum, Donald Harrison, Jr. a post-bop altoist whose exploration into traditional New Orleans second-line and brass band music has taken modern jazz into uncharted territory. His work is unique, his playing full of energy and his creativity boundless.

Grammy-nominated trumpeter and director of the Institute of Jazz Culture at Dillard University Irvin Mayfield continues the New Orleans trumpet tradition that can be traced back to the earliest years of jazz music. This tradition has included the likes of Buddy Bolden, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard to name but a few and Mayfield continues the tradition in a big way. His work with Los Hombres Calientes was recognized with a Grammy nomination, but his most ambitious and recent work is the Strange Fruit Opus, a powerful 90-minute composition that chronicles the subject of lynching in America. Recently performed at Dillard University featuring the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and the University’s award-winning choir, it is believed to be the first jazz piece of its kind commissioned by a University.

BJ Crosby is no stranger to New Orleans’ audiences as she performed for years around the local jazz scene. However, this Grammy-winning (Smokey Joe’s Café) vocalist has made her name in recent years on Broadway with roles in Dreamgirls, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, One ‘Mo Time and Ain’t Misbehavin’. Her voice has been described as “a million angels whispering in your ear,” and her incredible talents will be showcased in this setting with the St. Peter Claver Jazz Orchestra, a group that includes local favorites bassist Chris Severin, Wendell Brunious on trumpet and reed-man Clarence Johnson among others.

In a special cameo appearance, Grammy-winner Nicholas Payton will also perform. Payton’s music has ranged from the traditional to the newest of the new with his latest release, Sonic Trance (another Grammy-nominated release on Warner Brothers). Reminiscent of the classic Miles Davis Quintet featuring Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter, this new music shows that Payton is not content on playing within his comfort zone and it incorporates the varied textures and colors of reggae, hip-hop, jazz, rock and funk. This is fusion at its best.

Other talents performing at the annual fund-raiser include Kermit Ruffins, the city’s leading ambassador of New Orleans traditional music and trumpeter Frank Minyard, Jr. – the city’s coroner (Yes, New Orleans is a indeed a musical town!). And in a special recognition ceremony, Irma Thomas , the Soul Queen of New Orleans, will receive this year’s Living Legends Award. Ms. Thomas, whose Time is on My Side became the first hit of the Rolling Stones, continues to perform today.

After five years, this annual event enters the big time with talent worthy of any international setting. And while the music is reason enough to attend, the fact that it benefits local education is in another of New Orleans’ finest traditions and that is the concept of laginappe (just a little something extra).

For ticket information, contact St. Peter Claver Church at (504) 822-8059 or at

Until next time, see you ‘Round About New Orleans.

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