All That’s Jazz in NOLA
by Aurora Nealand
Jazz musician and composer Aurora Nealand has been based in New Orleans since 2004. She currently plays saxophone and clarinet, and is a vocalist with her group The Royal Roses.
I found my way to New Orleans while I was on a bike trip that went from San Francisco to the East Coast. I had one friend who was living in New Orleans, and I went down to visit her thinking I’d maybe stay for six months while I worked on applications and a portfolio for Grad School. Then, like so many people, I just ended up staying.
In New Orleans, in particular, there has been a resurgence of young players wanting to learn and play more traditional jazz (from the eras of 1910-1940). Right now, there has been a migration of young musicians and dancers who are digging deeply into the tradition — studying the music of Jelly Roll, King Oliver, Baby Dodds, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet — and learning about the spirit of this music. We are all learning from our elders here in New Orleans (the guys at Preservation Hall, and other places around town), as well as pushing each other to learn more about it.
The older recordings are amazing – Clarence Williams, and Johnny Dodds, and George Lewis. The bands are so tight, and the arrangements are bizarre and surprising and fresh. So, I would say, in NEW ORLEANS, the state of TRADITIONAL jazz (not really modern jazz, as much), is seeing a bit of a revival period. Walk down Royal St. during the day or Frenchman St. at night, and you’re very likely to hear one or two very fine bands, and see some amazing swing dancers.
I’m inspired by all types of music. In college I studied Composition and Installation; (it dealt with contemporary classical and experimental/electronic music). I’ve been going through a huge Shostakovich phase for instance; his solo piano pieces are incredible. I’m a huge fan of Bjork, I think she is amazing and innovative as a composer and performer. I also really love the work of Laurie Anderson. I’ve spent a fair amount of time listening to Brass Band music from the Balkans; that stuff is beautiful and so fun to dance to.
But the biggest influences for me right now are, honestly, my peers and fellow musicians in New Orleans. I’d even say that some of the players are my heroes. My favorite horn player in town is Bruce Brackman. (He plays with the Cottonmouth Kings, Palmetto Bug Stompers, Treme Brass Band, and a handful of other bands). He plays things on the clarinet that are both traditional and totally innovative at the same time – and no one else sounds like him, you’d be able to recognize his playing from a block away.
Tom McDermott, Matt Perrine, James Singleton, Mark Braud, Leroy Jones, (the list could go on and on). They’re all monster players living and working in New Orleans and sooo inspiring to listen to.