April 27, 2012
New Orleans is an old southern port city. Mysterious, charming, and rich in cultural heritage, it sits pretty on Lake Pontchartrain. It has inspired some of the most soulful and rabblerousing music to come out of the US. On August 23, 2005, the 11th named storm of the season, Katrina, was gathering strength in the Bahamas. By August 29th the storm made landfall, crossed Southern Florida, and whipped through the Gulf of Mexico straight at The Big Easy, now a large category three storm. Katrina ultimately flooded 80% of New Orleans, causing 75 billion dollars in damage, making it the costliest hurricane in US history. 1,417 people died because of Katrina. Boulder Symphony Orchestra’s Chamber Music presentation series hit a big score with “Katrina, Katrina,” a concert created and directed by Matt Leder (trumpet, ‘natch) and his Jazz Sextet. The exceptionally talented musicians included Jon Braddy on the trombone, Brian Dean at the piano, Josh Skinner on bass, Jonathan Campbell on sax, Tohbias Juniel on drums and (let the trumpets sound here) Hazel Miller’s vocals.
The concert was dedicated to the soul of New Orleans (and the souls lost in Katrina), with a hope for the re-emergence and continuation of the vital musical history that has contributed in vast measures to American music. Hazel Miller ran a commentary through the show, which included a multimedia backdrop, remembering Katrina and the music of New Orleans. Her singing voice was astonishing. Whatever made us think Joni Mitchell and Mariah Carey were the first to hit those notes? This was a voice both unlimited by definition, jazz, blues, pop, gospel, and yet the very definition of jazz. Hazel Miller doesn’t sing jazz, she is jazz. She sang; they called it jazz. Her voice is so rich and sensual it bordered on embarrassment to watch her sing. Matt Leder is the kind of guy, you can just tell, if he were invited to be among the first to go live on Mars, he would have to know if there was jazz there before committing. Directing the band through tunes like “Bourbon Street Parade,” “What a Wonderful World,” and “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” Leder is a born star. Leder received his master’s in music from the University of New Orleans—courtesy of The Louis Armstrong Foundation. He speaks highly of the foundation: “While it doesn’t necessarily look the same (as the practice of a wealthy patron fostering one’s career)—a foundation rather than an individual is doing the sponsoring and there is some serious vetting before an award is made. It’s gratifying to know that art and artists, ever the enduring form, are still from time to time taken under wing . We need these artists; they provide an undercurrent of beauty and creativity in life.” Leder lived in New Orleans when Katrina reared her ugly head and was displaced, slung far and wide along with scores of others. He landed, along with several of this tribe, in Rhode Island. Currently, he is a Doctoral candidate at the University of Northern Colorado. He holds a BM in Jazz Performance from East Carolina University. Leder also served over eight years as an Active Duty Navy Musician and is currently a member of the ANG Music Program. He has studied with such greats as Ellis Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Irvin Mayfield, Clyde Kerr, and many others. His performance experience ranges from professional big bands to various brass quintets, including concert bands, rock bands, jazz combos, and Dixieland groups. (By the way, the sextet’s other member’s achievements are just as voluminous.) An avid educator, Leder has appeared as a guest artist and clinician throughout the United States and is Jazz Faculty for Blue Lake International Music Camp. He has held Adjunct Faculty positions at Brown University, Community College of Rhode Island, UC Denver, SPCC, and St. George’s School. He is also an active member of the Jazz Educator’s Network, College Music Society, and the International Trumpet Guild. Phew. Are we worthy? Let’s assume so. Musicians living in New Orleans now include Terence Blanchard, Irvin Mayfield, Nicholas Payton, Harry Connick, Jr., one or more members of the Marsalis family, and many more. Too many to count. As plentiful as oysters in the Gulf. The only complaint about this show was that it wasn’t made clear just how the music of New Orleans has changed since Katrina. But that hardly detracted from a grand performance. Leder’s smooth presentation is that of showman. Perhaps a little too smooth for our humble little crowd, but you watch, this guy will be in front of thousands one day and until then, practice makes perfect. The show closed with a joyful rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The entire audience was on its feet dancing through the church pews. If you made it to this performance and you didn’t already dig jazz, you do now. If Leder and his band give us another opportunity to see them, Lord, how I want to be in that number. .