“Laissez les bons temps rouler!”
Since Mardi Gras is this week, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to share a little history behind the holiday and music. So get ready to let the good times roll!
Tomorrow, the carnival season will culminate with Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, which is the last day of the celebration leading up to Ash Wednesday, and is called “Fat” Tuesday, as it’s the last day to eat rich, fatty foods before the Lenten holiday of fasting. Believed, by some, to have begun with Roman pagan celebrations of spring and fertility in 133-31 BC, Mardi Gras was brought to the States as a French Catholic tradition in the late 17th century. Holiday traditions vary in the States nowadays, with larger celebrations taking place in cities with French settlement ties.
The place that most often comes to mind with regards to Mardi Gras is New Orleans, a city that’s been holding Mardi Gras parades since 1837, and a place where the traditions and celebrations were soon enjoyed by residents beyond just the Catholic and French population.
Celebrations, balls, and parades have all become synonymous with Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and music is a key element to the festivities, especially as the residents of New Orleans tend to treat most life events as celebrations, from birth to death to everything in between!
The music of Mardi Gras is a mix of sounds, rhythms, and styles, similar to the melting pot that is the city of New Orleans. While jazz is not the only music played during this time of year, it is part of the mix, as New Orleans was its birthplace. Elements that stand out include tunes that will encourage dancing, Afro-Caribbean chants, spontaneity on the bandstand, second line, call and response, and beats like the heartbeat of the city.
Last year, we had the great fortune of celebrating this fabulous holiday with our concert “The Big Easy Meets the Northcoast – It’s Mardi Gras Time.”
One of the tunes we performed was the “King Porter Stomp,” by ragtime and jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader, Jelly Roll Morton, who claimed to invent jazz. And while he wasn’t the inventor, he was one of jazz’s first arrangers. Check it out: “King Porter Stomp”
At that show, we also shared selections from Duke Ellington’s New Orleans Suite, which really envelops the listener in the atmosphere of the city. From that work, here is the movement “Second Line”.
More music to set the mood!
A key New Orleans musical figure was Professor Longhair, who was a pianist and singer famous for New Orleans Blues, and his music incorporated sounds from R&B, traditional jazz, and Afro-Cuban elements. Here is a song that he recorded in 1949, and that has now become a key part of Mardi Gras celebrations, “Go to the Mardi Gras”.
We can’t talk about Mardi Gras and New Orleans’ jazz without mentioning Louis Armstrong, one of the most figures in jazz. Let’s listen to him perform “The Mardi Gras March”.
A melting pot of sounds…
The Meters is a funk band that started in 1965, and they incorporate a variety of influences in their work, including second line. Musician, songwriter, and producer Allen Toussaint, who was a fixture in the New Orleans Blues scene, helped them get their start. Check out “They All Ask’d For You”.
Another album produced by Allen Toussaint was The Wild Tchoupitoulas, which was a group of Mardi Gras Indians, and their sound celebrates a mix of African-American, Caucasian, and Native American Heritage. Performing another iconic Mardi Gras tune, here is “Hey Pocky A-Way”.
There’s nothing like a great brass band to start up a parade, so we’ll leave you with the Rebirth Brass Band, mixing the traditional NOLA brass band sound with jazz, soul, funk, and hip-hop. This song sums up the theme of Mardi Gras, “Do Whatcha Wanna”.
Were you able to catch the livestream this past weekend? It was great to be back at the Bop Stop, and we were delighted to share the stage with Dominick Farinacci and Jamey Haddad!
We’ll be back with the Little Big Band for more livestreams – stay tuned to our website for more details!
In the meantime, here are a couple other Bop Stop shows to check out (where you might see some familiar CJO faces):