Fritzel's Jazz Pub
New Orleans, Louisiana
March 5, 2009
Sadly, there are only two jazz clubs left on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Most have moved to Frenchmen Street just below the French Quarter in the Marigny section. But amidst the noise of rock bands and the fraternity-like atmosphere is a club that you might miss if you don't look up. Fritzel's was founded in 1969 and has become a destination for jazz lovers world-wide. It is a long, narrow room with a bar up front and a small stage in the back that is ringed with benches and small-long tables that put the audience right up front, in with the band. Decorated in posters and photographs over peeling paint, it is a perfect jazz joint in a European style. Fritzel's always has a crowd of regulars, tourists who stumble in, and a crowd of people speaking in foreign tongues who have come to New Orleans specifically to hear the jazz they love. They have reached their musical Mecca.
Fritzel's features jazz seven nights of the week. With its attentive wait staff headed by the lovely Kate, no cover, a mere one-drink minimum, and a tip jar that is passed at the end of each set, it becomes an inexpensive and entertaining night out. Under music director/bassist Brad Truby's guidance, Fritzel's features a variety of fine musicians each night, and things become extra fun when someone comes into town and sits in with the band. And if you are really lucky, Miss Helen Arlt, the 87- year-old Grand Dame of jazz dancers, will show up with her umbrella to lead a second line through the small club.
On this particular night, Tom Fischer and Friends were on stage leading the audience into a frenzy of the sort that Fritzel's is known for. With Fisher on clarinet, Truby on Bass, Richard Scott on piano, and Karl Budo on drums, the audience was treated to an exhilarating night of music. The music is traditional, and the playing is exceptional. Fischer and Scott carried the tune on "St. James Infirmary," which began as the sad song that it is and ended on a high note that had the audience cheering. Things really heated up as the band played a fast-paced version of "Shine." Scott moved up and down the key board with Truby in fast pursuit keeping up with the talented pianist.
Each member of the band then had the opportunity to shine as they played their solos. Fischer showed impressive dexterity on the clarinet, hitting both low and exceptionally high notes that brought cheers from the crowd. Scott was his usual formidable self as he flashed his full-faced smile at the audience in response to their cheering. Truby satisfied his fans as his fingers flew across the fret board on his solo and the audience cheered with passion, yelling his name "Brad!" as he finished his moment. Budo played a solo that showed that he knows exactly where to hit the drum to get the sound he wants. Aside from keeping the rhythm, Budo has a gift of knowing where to place an offbeat that enhances every tune he plays. This is one of those bands one conjures in their mind when they think of New Orleans jazz.
Having been to Fritzel's over a dozen times, I can attest that this night was typical for this small, locally renowned jazz club. Great bands, an intimate setting, good drinks, and a raucous, applauding, jazz-loving crowd make this the perfect setting for jazz in New Orleans. For anyone with a short amount of time in New Orleans, Fritzel's should be tops on their list for places to go in the evening. Just remember to look up. It would be easy to miss this oasis of jazz amongst the insanity and noise of Bourbon Street. And that would be sad indeed.