Jazzgroup to perform in Blaine

Published on Thu, Jul 6, 2006 by Jack Kintner

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Jazz group to perform in Blaine

By Jack Kintner

An unusual eight piece group dedicated to historical, pre-1930 jazz kicks off both Blaine’s Jazz Festival and the Pacific Arts Association’s new concert season Monday evening, July 10, in the performing arts center.

Called the Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble (LRJE), the group is dedicated to recreating as faithfully as possible the popular music of pre-1930 New Orleans, when virtually every human experience was set to or expressed in music played by various kinds of small ensembles.

It was also fundamentally dance music, as complex and intricate as the lives and relationships of the people who played it. It emerged in the period roughly extending from 1890 through 1930, a period of social unrest nationally that began with increased racial tensions reflected in the sudden rise in racially-motivated lynchings in the 1890s and continued through WWI, the flu pandemic of 1918 and the roaring ‘20s, ending with the Great Depression.

New Orleans, by contrast, was an island of racial calm, principally because the music was heard, played and shared by a number of ethnic and racial groups like blacks, whites, a growing Sicilian community and the Creoles. Out of all that came jazz, a grass roots musical expression that is often described as the only truly American art form.

LRJE founding director Fred Starr, 66, is just old enough to remember a time when the old ensemble music was the heartbeat of what he called “the river towns – places like St. Louis, Memphis, Cincinnati as well as New Orleans. They have more in common with each other than they do with towns just 30 miles away but not on the river,” Starr said. He began playing the clarinet on riverboats and at the odd burlesque show when he was a 16-year-old kid in Cincinnati, giving him some direct experience with early jazz and the people who played it.

A professional historian, Starr traces New Orleans’ musical lineage back to the mid-eighteenth century when French missionary nuns arrived to teach young girls, using French popular music of the day to which they added religious lyrics.

When Starr, later president of Oberlin College, was hired as vice-president for academic affairs at Tulane University in New Orleans in 1980, he and others began gathering weekly to play early jazz in ways that were faithful to its early expression, as opposed to later watered down commercial and broadcast versions of the same thing.

Though they use similar instruments, LRJE is not old men in arm garters and straw hats playing in an ice cream parlor. Louis Armstrong was both a part of and a product of the era that Starr’s group concentrates on.
According to Armstrong’s website, his training as a cornet player began early in the century when he picked one up as a young boy at a New Orleans orphanage. By the age of 19, when Oliver left New Orleans for Chicago, Louis took his place in Kid Ory’s band and started traveling widely. He worked on trains, riverboats and in street parade groups before joining Oliver in Chicago in 1922, playing for mixed black and white audiences at the famed Lincoln Gardens ballroom.

Tickets for Monday night’s concert are $20 and can be purchased at the Semiahmoo Resort Gift Shop, Steamer’s, Pacific Building Center, Smuggler’s Inn and the Visitor Information Center in Blaine or at Village Books in Bellingham. A second concert, A Musical Tour of Post-Katrina New Orleans, is free and will be held on the Fairhaven Village Green Tuesday night July 11 at 7:30 p.m.

A festival of talent

Fred Starr: clarinet, tenor sax
A founding member of the ensemble, Dr. Starr played the Mississippi riverboats and is the biographer of New Orleans’ premier composer, Louis Moreau Gettschalk
David Boeddinghaus: piano. Classically trained under Hans Graf, James Tocco, and John Ogdon, Boeddinghaus is a graduate of Indiana Conservatory and performs with Leon Redbone and Banu Gibson. In addition to regular appearances in New Orleans, he frequently plays major halls in Europe and Asia.

Lew Green: cornet. A fourth generation American bandsman, Mr. Green grew up in New Orleans playing with pioneers Lil Hardin Armstrong, George Brunis and Natty Dominique.

John Joyce: drums. A Juilliard-trained musicologist, veteran of Pete Fountain’s band, Joyce is editor of The Jazz Archivist at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Fred Lonzo: trombone. A veteran of the Young Tuxedo and the Olympia Brass Bands, Mr. Lonzo is the leading exponent of the New Orleans “tailgate” style of trombone playing.

Joe Muranyi: sax, clarinet. Mr. Muranyi formerly played with the Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars and The World’s Greatest Jazz Band.

Walter Payton: bass, helicon
A widely recorded presence on the New Orleans jazz scene for 30 years, Mr Payton is the father of Grammy Award winning trumpet star Nicholas Payton, also a veteran member of the ensemble.

Willie Singleton: cornet, trumpet. A Baton Rouge native, “Sweet Willie” performed with the Count Basie and Duke Ellington orchestras and appears frequently on Mississippi River boats.