Congo Square Suite

I began in the aftermath of the Krewe Du Vieux Parade on Decatur Street. Beaming with nightlife, the serenades of satire and counter-culture themes make it one of my favorite Mardi Gras events. Walking past Check Point Charlie’s down to Frenchmen Street, I was greeted by beautiful brass bands illuminating the Crescent City sky with sounds of dance, love, and laughter. As I walked further, I was enchanted by the music seeping through open doorways of nearby nightclubs. Out of a smokey haze, I was greeted by a stranger dressed in full Victorian costume who, unprovoked and without a word, handed me a CD. At first, I assumed he was looking to sell it to me, so I shook my head. But he persisted by saying, “It’s Carnaval brah. You need this blessing”. That CD was Donald Harrison Jr.’s “Congo Square Suite”, an album that came into my life at random, in a most mysterious and beautiful way.

Big Chief Donald Harrison brings us a three-part musical journey with this latest release. At just over thirty-seven minutes, the opus showcases the Big Chief’s conducting and instrumentational genius, blending European influences with tribal, bebop, classical, and jazz fusion genres. The album is from the perspective of a New Orleans native, the Chief of the Congo Square Nation Afro-New Orleans Cultural Group, and a performer in the iconic band, the Jazz Messengers. At a tenure of forty years and counting, his career also includes an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music, and collaborations with artists such as Ron Carter, Billy Cobham, Miles Davis, Lena Horne, Eddie Palmieri, and the Notorious B.I.G. He is also a former tutor to his nephew, New Orleans native and critically acclaimed musician, Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah (Christian Scott).

Back home I sat with a cigar and a glass of Haitian rum accompanied with a lime wedge. Incredibly intrigued, I was ready to begin my journey with this magical gift from beyond. The album started to play, and the first track, “Movement I” (feat. Max Moran, Joe Dyson & The Congo Square Nation Afro-New Orleans Cultural Group) wisped me away to those Sunday afternoon drum circles in Congo Square. White dresses danced, sage burned, and ceremonies brought offerings for the ancestors. “Movement I” drew me into a trance with its pulsating percussion and repeated chants singing out “Congo, Congo, Congo, Congo Nation”. According to the description on Harrison’s Bandcamp page, “This movement is a chant composed by Donald Harrison for drums and voices. The drum and vocal performances showcase an example of the Afro-New Orleans offshoot culture, rhythms, and music forged in Congo Square. Harrison integrates elements of ancient African music kept alive in Congo Square with ideas he learned listening to tribal African field recordings. “

“Movement II”, originally written in 2015, is an epic orchestral performance by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra that was composed and orchestrated by Donald Harrison, Jr. I was quickly transported to another world by a revolutionary recording that completely changed pace with grace and complexity. A monumental achievement in fusion and classical music, it is a stunning cultural piece that implements chants and drum patterns. “Movement II” unifies Harrison’s experiences as the Big Chief of Congo Square with his sixty-plus years participating in Afro-New Orleans culture. I quickly jumped up from my chair, put my cigar down in the ashtray, and began miming conductor motions with my hand. I am not the most versed in classical theory, but the performance and direction given to me by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra was nothing short of robust. It delivered my imagination to a whirlwind of instrumentation, painting an energetic yet soothing picture. Sonically, it demonstrated some of the most innovative ways to incorporate genre mixing while remaining cohesive from start to finish.
With a freshly refilled cocktail, I paced around my apartment for a bit to reflect on my journey thus far. Then I returned to my stereo to finish this wonderful acousitcal quest. Rounding out “Congo Square Suite” is “Movement III”, a suitable closer that shapes together a hybrid of Congo Square tribal rhythms, contemporary Jazz, and classical orchestration. The foundation is set forth as a laid-back samba. Where Harrison’s saxophone dabbles a bit of attitude, Zaccai Curtis’ piano moves to-and-fro between several ostinato phrases, delivering a classic jazz civility. With the samba maintained and two-thirds of the track behind us, Harrison begins to break free with an improvisational style.

Both Harrison and the Congo Square Nation act as custodians of culture while pushing boundaries through experimentation. Harrison assumes the position of master of ceremonies for celebration and meaning. The entire album of “Congo Square Suite” is cinematic, reeling the listener in further with its ability to evolve and morph into a style all its own. Whether you’re exploring the rich history of jazz, classical, tribal, or experimental music, Big Chief Donald Harrison Jr.’s work will be a satisfying, educational delight to the senses. I highly recommend setting aside some time to get lost in the soon to be classic oeuvre that is “Congo Square Suite”.
With my drink empty and cigar extinguished, I closed my eyes and began to dream about the fortunes I have come to encounter in New Orleans. Talks with strangers, new live music experiences, eating and drinking with friends, and unexpected events have become the fortunes I desire. Finding this album amid Mardi Gras festivities seeded sentimental feelings of how lucky I am to live and grow in a very deep-rooted musical and cultural city. Reminding me of the past, grounding me in the present, and brightening my future, I hope the journey of “Congo Square Suite” gives you a similar experience.

Author: Ryan McKern

Editor: David Trahan

From Congo Square Suite, released April 28, 2023
Donald Harrison: composer, orchestration, producer, saxophonist, lead vocals, percussion

Joe Dyson, drums
Zaccai Curtis, piano
Max Moran, bass
The Moscow Symphony Orchestra
Gerald French, percussion
Howard “Smiley” Ricks, percussion
Antione “Tuba Fats”, percussion
Bruce “Action” Jackson, percussion


Steve Mignano

Drab has rich soundscapes. There seems to be a thirst lately for bands with driving basslines whose guitars saturate the aural soundscape with lavish, soulful melodies. That may sound elementary, but the truth is that too many bands these days are trying to find the next direction with compositions that have shed elements of the tried and true. For me, Drab’s sound harkens back to an era when grunge rock was mighty. And music like I’m hearing from these guys was the tasteful counter to that movement that somehow found a way to compliment it simultaneously. It was anything but pop, super original, and slightly unpolished in its own right. A band like Drab is tipping its hat to this notion that there exists a space between extremes that does not lend itself to popularized conformity. In other words, you don’t have to commit yourself to either death metal or typified pop extremes to express a deviation from the norm. There’s a vein of rock that maintains an edge slightly left of center that is still respected by those that would normally find their comfort zone right in the middle. For his whole life, Steve Mignano has been able to move freely throughout these spectrums due to his lust for movement and change. And his ability to achieve accuracy amongst chaos affords listeners a guide through these waters. You can’t understand the plot if the acting sucks. And you can’t get a feel for a sound if it’s not in tune or on time. Now Garguts, Steve’s second project, pushes the division between what works and what doesn’t. They take the above notion of “unpolished” and kick it in the teeth. But again, Mr. Mignano embraces change here while feeling his way through at the top of his lungs. Because for this project, Steve isn’t holding a guitar. He’s strictly singing. Dylan Hemard (Green Gasoline) checks the axe for him, allowing him the freedom to roam. This band delivers the reassurance that can be sometimes felt in extremity. Because oddly enough, you can here a bit of Zeppelin in the beginning of their song Miller High Death. But then the kicking starts, giving listeners a bit of “oh yeah, I remember that” followed by “oh sh*t!” We will get into the line-up of this band later. But trust me, we’re all in for a wild ride with this one.

Originally, Steve is from Toledo, Ohio. His dad played guitar in bands and owned a guitar store in Westfield, Michigan. It always felt like guitar was his first language. But his eyes really lit up when he saw the movie Back to the Future. Seeing Marty McFly transform into a rock star at the high school dance struck a chord with seven-year-old Steve. Funny enough, he didn’t realize how deep that chord would carry at the time. But it was enough to get the ball rolling; well, that and countless air-guitar solos. His dad agreed to furnish him with lessons and Johnny B Good was the first. But unfortunately, a rambunctious Steve collided with a bit of attention deficit disorder and the guitar idea was soon shelved. By eleven, he returned though. And by fifteen, he had become serious, practicing daily. Being around his father and the musicians in his bands facilitated an accelerated learning rate. At this time, Youtube didn’t exist and real, human experiences still reigned. He would be at his father’s performances as a pre-teen and by the age of twelve, he was attending concerts. He recalls fondly being at shows for bands like Soundgarden and Megadeth. In a word, his sixteen-year-old self would say the Rage Against The Machine concert he saw at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit was…. intense!!

There were three main radio stations where he grew up. Classic rock was on 104.7, Buzz 106.5 was an modern alt-rock station, and pop music played on 92.5. Classic and modern rock would escort him through his formative years. Bands like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Metallica, and Alice in Chains would not only influence him sonically, but furnish him with a sense of identity. Back then he also relied on tab books to further his music education. He would save up money to buy a book, learn the contents, then pass it around amongst friends. Nirvana’s In Utero, and Countdown to Extinction by Megadeth were a couple he remembers. He learned Nirvana, but he still struggles to this day with those Marty Friedman solos. There was also his parents’ album collection to help guide him down the neck of his path. He still has some of these records. His first love on vinyl was the blues master B.B. King. And he remembers how the haunting ballads like The Messiah Will Come Again and Sweet Dreams by Roy Buchanan sounded even creepier because that record had a slight warp to it. His father was into many styles of music. So, to appreciate different genres seemed natural to Steve. And this open mindset allowed him to see the similarities between the genres. While absorbing these sources; lessons, tab books, concerts, and records, Steve was playing in a garage band with friends. They would learn together, playing covers like Black Flag. One year, a band mate’s mom gifted him with studio time for his birthday. The band would record a two-song demo and instantly be famous in their own mind. The drum line at Steve’s high school would be his first experience performing publicly. They needed a guitar player for their rendition of Change of Seasons, by Dream Theater. He tuned his low E down to a low B so he could resemble the seven-string played originally in that song. Cranking up the amp and flexing his chops for a sizeable audience excited him so. He got to see the impact of loud guitar on his peers. Any fear quickly gave way to understanding within him. “It’s like when you’re standing in front of an abyss, and like there’s nowhere to go, you know, jump. And once you do it you begin to realize, oh well that’s not so bad. It’s not going to kill you. So, it gives you courage. It gives you more confidence. And you come back and you look at it. You can examine; oh I could do this better. This was awesome. This was my favorite part. Playing music is the most exhilarating thing in the world man. And um, it starts with a spark. But, you know, if you nurture that spark it grows into a fire. And, as I’ve gotten older, it hasn’t diminished at all man. It’s just gotten more complex. It’s like turning into this lotus flower of fire now”, Steve imparted.

He got good grades in school and was academically inclined naturally. But many of his friends in music would go onto vocational schools, leaving him a bit isolated. He resisted private school urgings from his parents, becoming more withdrawn and studying music during this time. He focused on listening to the elements contained within the music and began to think about what he wanted to do with his life. Music was the obvious vision. He also had an interest in film. He figured he could work in film while trying to launch a career in music. The day after he graduated high school, Steve packed all his stuff into his car and pointed the wheel toward Los Angeles. There was no plan in place or reason for that destination. But the town’s reputation for being a hot bed of cinema and ground zero for the recording industry was calling his name. This adventure, however, was short lived. He was in and out of bands while there. But he concedes his expectations were ridiculously high. And though he attended the Musician’s Institute for a semester, ultimately the cost of living would ground this flight. Steve would be back home in Ohio nursing his ego before he knew it. For the next three years, he worked in his father’s appliance parts warehouse. He would bring his guitar and practice every chance he could. Listening to records, transcribing solos, and trying to learn new chords kept the pilot lit for now. One day a friend reached out to him telling him about auditions happening nearby. The gig was with Johnny Reed, a Chicago style blues harp player. Steve was familiar with this artist through his dad’s record collection. The man’s stellar reputation made this proposition intimidating. But Steve muscled up the courage and went down to try out. He played two songs and was hired on the spot! For the next three years, Steve would tour the U.S. and Canada, playing counter to, and being coached by, Johnny. Though he had crawled many miles of paper in theory, nothing could prepare him for the techniques and methods involved in running with a band of this caliber. The experience would be the education. And he was cognizant enough to experience the revelation. He recalls, “I can’t remember exactly what festival we were at. But I remember it was on a large outdoor stage. And I remember listening to Johnny soloing. And what occurred to me is that he wasn’t just playing his harp. He was playing the whole stage. He was listening to the environment. He was listening to how his tone was coming through the speakers, how it was resonating. I remember being on stage with him and that occurring to me at that one moment. He was taking the environment and making it work. He was making adjustments on the fly to make sure his tone was cutting through.” Steve was coming to the realization that there was no one set of rules or standards for this. To show up at every performance, regardless of the venue, and play as you did at another time and location just wouldn’t have the same impact. What he witnessed was a musician making the stage resonate with his instrument. Through focused reflection, he’s been able to grasp these elements and affix them to his target as a professional musician.

After playing with Johhny Reed, Steve would move to Denver. And before long, he landed another gig playing with Cassie Taylor, a native of Boulder and daughter of well-known blues musician Otis Taylor. From 2010 to just before 2013, Steve toured the U.S., Europe, and Canada with Cassie’s band on her neo-soul release, Out Of My Mind. Getting this gig was different than how he got the Johnny Reed gig. With Reed, the slot was one that had been filled many times before. The style of music was rooted in traditions of a certain vein and the phrases were already mapped out. With Taylor, he was given songs that lacked his part. It was up to him to find what fit. He pulled from the many years he spent studying theory. Knowledge of the language allowed him to become versed in this variety. He also drew from his time studying technique. The books from his dad’s shop were filled with the rudiments of this and did not adhere to any particular genre. A book by Pat Martino taught him chord inversions and chord voicings. The CAGED system (author Bill Edwards, 1983) also expedited his progress. Once he learned those patterns it became easy to learn scales and chord voicings all over neck. Steve would use the literacy to express his newfound creative freedom with Cassie. And if you look, you’ll find what author Andy Ellis of Premier Guitar said about his work to be commendable. “In guitarist Steve Mignano, Taylor has a perfect foil. His long, searing bends and snarling riffs wrap around Taylor’s latte voice like a well-worn leather glove. Tone for days, deluxe dynamics, spirited delivery—Mignano has it all.”  

While still touring with Cassie, Steve went on vacation to New Orleans and was struck by its indelible charm. He would ultimately move here on the conclusion of that tour. Absorbing the indigenous music and becoming a working musician in this environment satiated him. He was previously familiar with a reputation the city had amongst musicians. Of the territories surrounding this far-reaching microcosm, Steve says, “This is my favorite city in the world, man. I love everything about it. I love the food, love the people, love the music, love the atmosphere; everything. You know, I feel like it takes a particular kind of savage to live here. But I am that savage. I feel like it’s in my DNA in a way. Some of us belong here. And I feel like I belong here.” Together, with Casey Freitas on bass, Aaron Levy on drums, and Jacob Fitzmorris on guitar, Steve has formed Drab. They dropped a self-titled album in 2022. And their most recent single, Blacklight, is a dead reckoning for the grit between your toes. You know life put it there to disrupt you. But you begin to rub it around, and you come to like the sensation. Blacklight is evidence of the recent shift within the band’s sound. Casey Freitas was a newcomer on this imminent work. So, the inner mechanics of their line-up have changed as well. There is a new single on the way, Open Wound. But when this album drops, you’ll hear the movement toward a murkier, more malignant sound, doubling down on their freshman effort. With his second band, Garguts, Steve has set down the guitar to concentrate solely on testing the limits of his vocals. On indefinite hiatus, Green Gasoline’s Dylan Hemard (guitar) and Jon Castiex (drums) have aligned with Steve and Sterling Anderson (bass). Where Drab had become a comfortable grit, Garguts has created an annoyed flesh wound. Their sound penetrates while possessing the sensation of a rowdy garage band experiment. Rhythmic changeups, amp distortions, and effects quickly usher the listener into a chaotic bliss. This band will let our frustrations breathe. I do hope to see many of you tune into Steve’s podcast interview. As he and I discussed how these projects came about, how their first shows have been, and what the business end of these creations has taught him. And hearing him describe his experiences with Johnny Reed and Cassie Taylor was truly exhilarating. I thank you all so much for your continued interest.

Author: David Trahan


David McBurnett

David McBurnett has always been a music enthusiast like the rest of us. One of the ways his direct involvement influenced our local scene was the time he produced a tribute to Fats Domino on national television. But let’s back up to the beginning. As a child, David grew up in Connecticut with an older sibling, Dean. From his mother, he would pick up playing piano. He was something of a child prodigy, learning the compositions of Bach, Beethoven, and Rachmaninoff. And from his brother, he would be introduced to the music of David Brubeck. But at some point, instability would rupture his household sending him to boarding school. In the future, he would pick up the guitar. But he hasn’t played the piano since. After boarding school, David would reunite with his brother in Boston, where his brother roomed with Andy Pratt. Andy was/ is an experimental rock musician who, by now, has amassed thirty albums. Back then, his most notable hit was “Avenging Annie”. David would take work with Andy as a stagehand. And so, his immersion professionally into the music scene began. He was dedicated to the world of music then, even scoring Andy his second record contract, which was with Columbia Records, following his debut on Polydor Records. He also worked with a Scottish rock band by the name of Cloud. From there he would soon befriend Duke Edwards, a vocalist and drummer for the 60’s supergroup, Rhinoceros. And the two would form a travelling musical commune called Papa Dukie and the Mud People. David played guitar on stage with Duke and others. This is how he came to live in Louisiana.

Two school buses were purchased, equipped to serve as living space and painted white, and driven down to Wallace, Louisiana, where Duke (a.k.a. Papa Dukie) had family. There, they were able to set up camp, putting on shows on land that lied between the levee and the river, known as the batture. The mobility of their set-up was important. Because the Mississippi River would flood this area seasonally. When Duke’s grandmother died, David accompanied him to her services. He was able to witness, firsthand, the services at a Baptist church. The melodies and incantations made his jaw drop. The rhythms, chanting, and call-and-repeat style revealed to him where a lot of our music comes from. I don’t believe he was ever the same since. The musical commune would eventually disintegrate. And David came to settle in New Orleans, befriending and working for Jed Palmer. Jed owned Jed’s University Inn on Maple Street and later, Jed’s on Oak Street across from The Maple Leaf. “Jed’s was just the place for music. That’s where Professor Longhair played before Tipitina’s opened. That’s where (Paul) McCartney came crashing through our back door to come listen to Professor Longhair. It’s where everybody would come after the big shows were over at three or four o’clock in the morning. It could be anybody; from Willie Nelson, to Paul McCartney to (Bruce) Springsteen. It didn’t matter, you know. Cause where do you go late night? Well, we were the place.” For David, Jed’s was not only a deep dive into live music, but it also gave him an education on the music business. He would use these lessons while being involved in production, finance, and logistics for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in its early stages, as well as The Celebration of Life, a rock festival held in McCrea, Louisiana in 1971. In the coming years, David would take on responsibility for a slew of star-studded productions for television. These television specials would span over a decade and include people like Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Paul Schaeffer, Jerry Garcia, Linda Ronstadt, the Neville Brothers, Dizzy Gillespie, and Herbie Hancock. David’s present-day company, McBurnett Productions, encompasses all the music and videos that David McBurnett has created or collaborated in over the last 55 years as well as his concert productions, festival productions and logistics work. He maintains ownership of several past shows, including three shows for HBO. David served as executive producer, producer and is the copyright holder. The way he depicted these artists at their craft established an immeasurable amount of credit. “I’m still on that credit to some degree. And that credit was like, with musicians. Musicians, yeah, they want to get paid. But what they really care about is you treat their music well. And some of the other producers of television were ok with that. It was business though. No, I’m only going to spend twenty grand on post-production. I’m not gonna spend fifty. I’d spend the fifty. I’d put the money into the mix. You know, and not just slap together a hot edit. Well, visuals most people pay attention to. Not so much the sound. I always… because I was a musician, it mattered to me. I had been on that stage. Not on the stages those guys rose to. But I had been on a stage in front of people, right? And it mattered. That was what was important, was the sound. And that’s carried me to this day.”

These days, David has several productions in development. “There Will Be Dancing: Got to Love It” seeks to embrace and expose the incredible strengths of New Orleans; from the food and music to the culture, beauty and history. His love of music will lend a special focus on the interconnectivity of musicians to different music settings, as well as paint a picture of why every major musician in the world comes to New Orleans to learn. “Deva & Miten” will be an exclusive documentary on the life of a world-famous musical, spiritual duo. The two have fifty-one albums and, in 2024 alone, will be on the east and west coast of the U.S., in Canada, Mexico, Australia, England, Scotland, Germany, France, Italy and elsewhere. His third production in development will be major artists playing music for children and parents, entitled Not Just For Kids, NJFK.

Author: David Trahan


Justin Curry

Born in Madison, Ohio, Justin Curry basically kept to himself as a child. His father was a drummer based in Houston and wasn’t around much. But his mother and aunt were. And both could sing; his aunt even performing on stage. Though violin wasn’t the first instrument he picked up, it was the first one chose of his own volition. In high school, where there was no orchestral program, he played trombone and could manage basic piano and guitar. With a laugh, he recalls how the music teacher told him he would never have a career in music. To all my budding new instrumentalists out there, this story will show that you should never let another dissuade you from your dreams of becoming a musician! Having not yet found the instrument that resonated with him the most, Justin’s true talent was not yet apparent. For that teacher and all his classmates, this would not come to light until his solo violin recital in high school. I’ve always maintained that underestimation is the greatest gift anyone could ever give. And Justin took full advantage of this, surprising everyone at that recital. He received a standing ovation for that performance. He would again surprise everyone when he became student council president. He would also amaze them by graduating a year early. His pursuit of becoming a professional violinist was a fervent one. He took lessons from a private tutor and was a student of the classical music genre. He realized if he wanted to make it in music, he would have to leave his hometown. Throughout the nineties, Madison’s live music scene experienced a whitewashing of sorts. Such to where the town was overrun with generic dive bars when all was said and done. Although Ohio had music education programs available at the time, it was becoming apparent that one would be hard-pressed to make it as a local musician financially. So, while taking lessons on the violin, Justin planned his move for years, unbeknownst to anyone.

He would continue in this vein, honing his craft in private. But once he left high school, he began performing publicly in and around Cleveland. Though jobs were scarce, he did prefer to play in restaurants as opposed to bars. He found that in bars, the music was secondary to the focus of socializing and libation. Whereas in restaurants, a musician’s performance was more central to the atmosphere. At one particular restaurant, he enjoyed a residency as well as their high-end client base. He started to notice his presence bringing in more and more customers. But when he approached the owner about an increase in pay, he was unfortunately shunned. Influenced by his hometown’s whitewashing of bars as well as this disheartening experience, Justin was prompted to form his own perspective on the venue philosophy. And in his opinion, many bars and restaurants have been involved in a “race to the bottom”. Whereby the caliber of services and features are gradually reduced while the price point persistently rises. And I agree that the competitive essence of many businesses these days seems to result in a reduction in quality. With long-term vitality being sacrificed for the sake of short-term profits, returning patronage suffers. Conversely, I understand that quality over quantity is a characteristic of maturation. Where may the two converge comfortably though? Justin says that a society centered around pop culture is afraid to appreciate finer arts. And while venues following suit is a direct result, it should not be tolerated, much less rewarded. 

Ever since he was a child, Justin took a peculiar interest in Japanese culture. Their ways stood as a sharp contrast to what he found himself surrounded by in Ohio. He could appreciate how both art and discipline were revered there. In Japan, it wasn’t as common to find a musician with two to three jobs because their art was more appreciated and thus would provide sufficiently. Following his dreams, he travelled there and enjoyed a successful career as a musician. His first stint was for four and a half years. It was from that time, when he returned to the states, that he found himself in New Orleans. Many of his guiding principles still held true here, like avoiding bar performances and contending with pop culture and low pay. But a big part of him was drawn to the city’s rich cultural heritage and musically significant history. And certain lagniappes like busking could help to subsidize his venue-based income. This may come as a surprise to some. But the amount of foot traffic a tourist destination supplies occasionally makes performing on the street a more viable option. And for Justin, it has proven to be of greater profit than playing in most venues. He does have his own strategies when it comes to busking. “Be respectful of where you are. Clean up when you’re done. Be good to the people around you. Because doing this is just as much a people skill thing as it is a musical thing. But on top of that, be good at making music. Because if you’re not good, you’re going to make nothing. It’s one of those things, sink or swim.” He continued by pointing out that adding to your environment is paramount. And by this he meant that getting to know the surrounding shop owners and neighbors shows them that you care, that you are a part of the community. He’s busked in places like New Orleans, Los Angeles, and New York City. And according to Justin, busking in Los Angeles can bring in twice what he sees in New Orleans. But I would attribute that to an overall higher cost of living. He contributed the fact that disposable income levels are lower here and that, unfortunately, the “city of drinking” narrative is pushed more than the “city of the arts” perspective. He maintains that New Orleans will always hold a special place in his heart. And he considers its appeal as a second home a significant one. But for now, he’s looking once again to explore his geographic options in hopes of finding himself surrounded by a healthier social ethos; one with greater emphasis on art and culture.

Justin’s third album will be coming to streaming soon by the name of “Between Worlds”. It is a live album that was recorded during his recent performance at the Marigny Opera House in New Orleans. The best way to view a complete list of all his relevant links (there are many) is on his Facebook page: I interviewed Justin in the foyer of The Saxon House at 536 Royal St. The location is steeped in the New Orleans cultural history for which Justin is so fond. It is a two hundred plus year old dwelling owned by New Orleanian Louis Dufilho Jr., who was America’s first licensed pharmacist. It was also owned and renovated by Lyle Saxon, a local resident and six-time author on New Orleans and Louisiana history. Whom, through multiple purchases and renovations, is credited with making the French Quarter “more art colony, less an underworld.” Justin assured me that while the abode is both warm and inviting, it is definitely haunted!

Author: David Trahan


Steve Staples

As I sat down to write this, I was immediately taken back to an old track that you may be familiar with, Grandma’s Hands, by Bill Withers. It’s a sentimental tune that captures the essence of the matriarch as perceived by a young boy. Though Steve Staples of The Iceman Special will tell you he doesn’t quite remember that far back, he began with a story of how he used to sit on his grandmother’s knee while she played piano. Those hands would produce melodies at home and at church that ingrained music into his being. Of his singing, she would say he could carry a tune by the time he was two. Steve and his mother had moved from Oklahoma to his grandmother’s house in Oakdale, Louisiana immediately following his father’s calling to the 38th parallel to fight in the Korean War. But his first memorable encounter came in 1955 when his family bought a television. He still remembers how Waylon Jennings looked with his guitar and that slicked back hair. Not too long after that, his next-door neighbors would purchase two Fender Esquire guitars and two Fender Pro amps. They would sit on the porch and play. And a young, curious Steve was inexplicably drawn to the sound. How peculiar are the seemingly minute happenings in a child’s life that bear the most impact. Because sitting at the core of Steve Staples, these two moments coupled to ignite a passion that would never be extinguished.

It wouldn’t be until he turned thirteen that he would start playing his own guitar, an acoustic. The following summer, his grandmother bought him an electric guitar and he would put this one to use on stage. Steve fondly recalls, “Myself, Mike King, Ricky Hall, Brian Collins, and Johnny Baker just made up a band for that performance called The Gonks. And we played in our junior high school auditorium about four or five songs that were British invasion kind of songs. And the girls went crazy. I mean, they were all up and dancing in the isles. They went crazy! That was it…. I told Brian, I’m going to do this for the rest of my life!” Though The Gonks were somewhat of a fictitious band, being that they were only formed in name for that show, Steve’s mind was made up. Disbursement would soon affect two popular local bands, The Twilights and The Gaunga Dyns. And through a series of shufflings amongst those members and Steve’s friends, he would finally be in a real band. “There was a band called The Twilights. And there was a band that formed called The Gaunga Dyns, simultaneously. I wasn’t in either one of them. He went on further to say, “We didn’t like our bass player that much. And we liked the bass player in The Gaunga Dyns. And The Gaunga Dyns were going to break up because the two guitar players and singers were going off to college. That was going to be the end of that band. But they were good. So, we broke those two bands up and formed one band, what we called The Gaunga Dyns, not the Twilights. And we had Neil Lundgren and Beau Breamer were singing. And they could sing like the Everly Brothers. I mean they could really sing. They were both super talented. And that was the Gaunga Dyns for a while. And it got real popular really quick.” Neil would leave the band soon after to pursue his own musical interests. But The Gaunga Dyns would go on to record at Cosimo Recording Studio on Gov. Nichols Street, in the French Quarter. Steve laughed as he mentioned that they were on the national charts for about a week or so at number ninety-nine. They had a formula that fit the time, touching on some British invasion tunes, and covering rock and soul genres as well. Steve and Mike King would do the writing for the originals. But a slight change would spell trouble further down the line. Their bass player, Bobby Carter, would end up moving to Connecticut when his father pursued a job opportunity there. And the band would turn to Steve to play bass and sing. He did oblige, but with hesitation. Because he knew this to be a daunting task. When the band called a song on stage that he didn’t feel well-rehearsed enough to play, he walked off. The Gaunga Dyns would kick him out the next day.

At home things were touch-and-go. Steve loved his father but viewed him as silently seething most times. He knew early on in life that his father wanted him to be a lawyer because his father told him so. But this path wasn’t in Steve’s sight. And as time went on, the rift would grow between them much like the separation between his father’s ideals and Steve’s intentions. But there were the occasional touches of sanguinity from time to time. At sixteen, without any warning, his father presented him with a really nice guitar. Which was bizarre considering he had never come to see his son play; not even once. One can only imagine the opinion a rugged war veteran might have had of “musician” as a career path. Ironically, his father had originally wanted to be a painter. Looking back, Steve acknowledges the existence of a softer side. But being a soldier instilled a toughness that made revealing this both obviously difficult and sporadic. The fracture in their relationship may have begun while he was still in school. His father had hopes of Steve joining the R.O.T.C. But Steve would instead choose to go off to college. Later in life, when Steve was quitting his job and turning to the road in pursuit of his desires, his father’s disapproval was more than apparent. He told Steve outright that he was throwing his life away. But again, intermittent gleams of positivity would shine through at times. On the day following this argument, for instance, his father called and said, “You’re right. Go do it.” Though his father’s hopes for him never quite seemed to align with his own, and the support wasn’t always apparent, his father would evidently have a change of heart from time to time. There was another instance where things were already not going as planned for Steve, who was on a path that surely wasn’t set out for him by his father. But he surprised Steve, giving him a van to help him along. The messages always seemed mixed. And it would take years until the relationship with his father would be resolved. Today Steve concedes that the instability between them was answered with his own alcohol and drug abuse.

After the fall out with the Gaunga Dyns, Steve would move with his family back to Oakdale in time for his Senior year of high school. He played guitar in the orchestra there. And get this… he played the string bass too! Life would find him amongst friends and musicians at Louisiana State University that following year. He sold that electric guitar his father bought him, a decision he regrets to this day. But the singer/ songwriter era was in full swing and he used the money to buy an acoustic guitar. Artists like Paul Simon, Van Morrison, and James Taylor owned the day in the late sixties. And Steve was anxious to make his contribution to the art. He would spend his idle time playing and singing with guys on the common ground. One day, he saw a post on a bulletin board in search of a songwriting partner. Through this he would meet and begin working with Quentin Powers, who would go onto work with such greats as Reba McEntire, Ronnie Milsap, and a host of other now famous musicians. The two worked on their own material, hiring friends and other musicians to make a demo at a studio in Baton Rouge. They shopped it around and were basically told it wasn’t good enough. But the second time around they landed a deal with Ardent Studios. With this they would have the opportunity to work with Ron Capone, a drummer whose catalog included work on the Shaft soundtrack with Isaac Hayes. They would also get to work with Steve Cropper, a guitarist, A & R man, engineer, producer, and songwriting partner of Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd and a dozen others and founding member of both Booker T. and the MG’s and The Mar-Keys. Ron was especially enthusiastic about Steve and Quentin’s work. He urged them to move up to Memphis, where Ardent was located, which they did. Things were going well at first. At the time there were a lot of rock and roll clubs. And a lot of hotels and motels had clubs in them. They would hire a band for a week, providing room and board along with pay. Together with their band, Steve and Quentin were able to work consistently while recording their album. But life eventually offset this stasis, sending the members in different directions. And the album they recorded at Ardent never came out. Their bass player would eventually leave town with his girlfriend. His replacement would subsequently leave to become a brain surgeon. Quentin would remain, as did Steve who had by now developed an intravenous methamphetamine habit.

His habit would follow him back to Oakdale, where he would take a job at his father’s car dealership. He once again found someone to play music with and would stick with this guy for a few years until 1980. But he was pulled over and arrested one night, landing him in jail. His lawyer advised seeking treatment. And so began Steve’s life-long path of sobriety. Steve’s complete ethos would align with this new way of life. He became a full-time rehabilitation counselor for twelve years, eventually running programs at different facilities in Louisiana. All the while he found ways to integrate music into his life with other musicians in recovery. In my eyes, his life has read like a success story from this point on. He built a mobile recording studio and travelled the country. He attended Loyola University, where he was in class with Stanton Moore. A band he played in, Merit and the Bloodhounds, won a competition at the New Orleans House of Blues and was flown to Hollywood to perform. He opened a shop, International Vintage Guitars, which operated in New Orleans for twenty years, later moving it to his hometown of Oakdale, Louisiana. It is still in operation to this day. And now he’s playing in a sensational band by the name of The Iceman Special. They’ve been playing numerous dates across the country. I attended one of their performances at Toulouse Theater in New Orleans, and I was truly blown away. Their talent, their stage presence, and their bevy of smoke and laser lighting seized the attention of all, enveloping the audience in an experience I for one will never forget. For the genius that Charley Murray, Will Murray, Steve Staples and Hunter Romero form, and for the wonderful man Steve himself has become, I can’t recommend enough seeing them play. Their new album Zycordia dropped this year. I hope everyone gets a chance to listen.

Author: David Trahan


Oktober Sky

While his style will always be uniquely his own, his dream has been no different than many of you audio players out there; gaining traction with the masses. Though, for him, this aspiration came with the exception of one caveat, that he arrive with a certain musical sympathy. Off the rails early on, Tylar Cash (a.k.a. Oktober Sky) lived a life that wasn’t contained by the traditional barriers that prop the rest of us up as children. The yard and the white picket fence passing him by, he was corralled with foster care and group homes. After moving from his birthplace of Modesto, California to Dexter, Missouri, his sense of longing was replaced with the quest of belonging. But by now the parameters had changed. At twelve years of age, he stood in that middle ground between childhood and adolescence, observing all the while the goings-on around him. He internalized his questions and emotions, revealing them only to a notebook in which he would constantly write. One might liken this to passive-aggressive expression. Outside of its cover, he tried to remain well-mannered and stay out of trouble. But within it, he could scream. He could poetically verse the things no one wanted to hear. And when he read them back, he understood it all. Rap music was prevalent at the time. Creative writing would teach him cadence and allow him to build and destroy worlds and the barriers within them. But by thirteen, he would be in a group home. And with less privacy and more proscriptions, that notebook would be taken away. Strong will, an inquisitive nature, and a desire to escape reality led him to disappear into books as a result. This opened his eyes to fantasy. Not so much for the sake of escapism, but as a means of artistic expression. Visualizations became similes and situations were captured as metaphors.

With the atmospheres constantly changing around him, he was exposed to many different forms of music. He could see the beauty in them all. Classic rock and heavy metal possessed as much worthiness with him as rap and electronic dance music. Each with their own styles of grammar and expression. When he was able to free himself from the grips of the group home, he bought some equipment and began learning how to record himself. Still searching for his own voice, he rapped about the things around him. But these things sounded out like so many of the typical rap songs of today, guns, drugs, women, cars and fast cash. One self-imposed bar he set for himself was to deliberately stray away from convention. Sounding like someone else was something he couldn’t live with. So, to measure up to this, he would constantly explore. A change in his cadence, a twist on the subject matter, singing… singing! He would land on an alternation between rapping verses and singing the choruses. And he was already veering toward a multi-genre approach of rap, pop, rock, and emo. The “musical sympathy” I spoke of earlier was born out of his personal experiences. There were a lot of somber feelings associated with his childhood. And of the many people he met along the way, some in his own predicament, he felt it necessary to touch on their lackluster reality. But never-before leaving it with a bit of a shine. Put simply, he understood and respected the trials of others because he lived them. But he believed it a good cause to insert a bit of optimism into his written realism, even if that sometimes meant a touch of fantasy.

Anxious to evolve, one day he Googled “what cities do people advance in music?” New Orleans, believe it or not, was number three out of ten. So, he packed all his things and moved to New Orleans. He has brought with him a message of mental health. And he views his multi-faceted style as an advantage. He hopes that it will speak to his audience as it does to him, ever-changing but always positive. The move has delivered him from the ill-willed surroundings of Missouri and the subject matters that came from there in his music. He has aligned himself with producer Rahul Borkar and video director Opius Mercury to release a collection of singles, each with their own music video. For the first time he feels like he’s in an environment that suits him. With this newfound liberty, he has felt free enough to do things like insert rock songs into a rap show. This allows him to try out his varying styles. He says he is not aware of any markets more conducive to this variance encapsulated into one presentation. I think we can all cite this as sometimes problematic territory. Cross-over styles can make some feel hesitant to go along with those who create it. Many people, especially younger crowds, often feel an allegiance of some sort to one genre or another. It is a utility by which they define themselves, and so must pass muster through a distinct set of principles and mores. Nevertheless, the music he makes now has predominantly more rock overtones. And he still does retain rap elements such as flows, tempo, and some looping melodies. He explains how when he’s writing, he’s in a depressive mode. But once he has written down his emotions, he feels at peace with it. Oddly enough, it is difficult for him to express himself verbally, but putting words into a song comes more natural without losing the thoughts and emotions he is trying to convey. I believe this to be a common sentiment among musicians. These days, he feels the challenges of being a solo artist. He wants the camaraderie and capability of a full band. It’s funny how a music scene such as ours can both congeal and isolate at the same time. But this too, I believe, is common territory. We did talk in-depth about his childhood and the places he has been in life, as well as his goals and methods to which his music videos and lyrics aim. You can hear our interview with Tylar Cash (a.k.a. Oktober Sky) on our podcast by clicking your favorite platform below. And please, help propel this artist’s journey forward by stopping by one of the destinations in the Linktree and giving him a like or follow. Once you see what he’s managed to do thus far with his music and videos, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re a musician looking to explore soundscapes within the realms of rap/ rock, pop, or emo-rock, you should consider reaching out to him as well. Forming connections or passing a kind word can go far these days.

Author: David Trahan

Oktober Sky’s Linktree:


Zydeco by Birth

Though this culminates in the genesis of the documentary titled Zydeco by Birth, our story takes place believe it or not, up in Washington D.C. where a local radio DJ began taping live performances in the early 90’s. He was such a fan of the rhythm and blues artists that frequented the circuit that he too became a staple in the area. His radio show, The D.C. Roots of Music, gave him a platform from which to explore publicly the town’s music and the correlations between it and the world of music at-large. And both the tapings and his radio presence became a soapbox of sorts for the validation and preservation of his passion. Big Joe and the Dynaflows, Steve Jacobs, Jeff Sarley, and Kevin Mcendree were some of the coals fueling the hotbed of D.C. at the time. And it irritated Wayne to see patrons give the cold shoulder to a measly three-dollar cover charge to see these bands play. Not only that, but D.C. not being recognized as a music scene of any real importance really got under his skin. Wayne always saw D.C. as the great unrecognized. It was known to musicians in certain circles as a place of musical significance. But if you asked someone to name the major locations for music in the United States, D.C. would never come up. As Wayne points out, “If you said, ok, what does Ellington mean to jazz? He’s not jazz. He’s this big wave that comes across the culture of music. What does Charlie Byrd mean to the introduction of Latin jazz to the country and the world? What does Marvin Gaye mean to male singers? What do Patsy (Cline), Emmie Lou, Mary Chapin, and Ruth Brown mean to female singers? What does Link Wray mean to a whole wedge of rock and roll guitar? What is bluegrass without D.C.? It doesn’t exist the same way. D.C. is known for go-go. New Orleans is big on go-go. But I sit and hear Nile Rogers and George Clinton say go-go is a jumping-off point for hip hop and rap. So, there’s a whole other wedge and thing. But D.C. is not known as a music town. And that’s part of the soapbox. That’s the soapbox.”

To capture players in the small rooms that filled him with joy felt as a preservation effort to Wayne. And to deliver its contents to those outside of the area, he thought, might raise awareness for the scene and lend it some validity. And so it began, meagerly at first, with a small Boss six-channel mixer and a promise to the musicians that the tape would not travel. Rather, it would serve as work tape for them. Eventually Wayne began hearing things he thought others should get a chance to hear, and he worked it out with the musicians to put together a CD of live performances. He started a record label, Right on Rhythm, and The Blues You’d Hate to Lose, Vol. 1 would be his first CD. Through a chance meeting at a party in New Orleans, Wayne met a zydeco musician by the name of Roy Carrier. The two recognized each other from previous zydeco shows in D.C. One of the people he was able to give that CD to at the party was Roy Carrier. Wayne passed it off to him as a who’s-who of current D.C. players, saying that it might help him next time he was up there performing. Roy, in turn, asked if Wayne could show him around and make introductions next time he was there. The two would stay in touch and Wayne would come to put out five CDs, many of which contained Roy’s performances in D.C. 

Prior to this encounter, Roy discovered his music had been published and was for sale on retail shelves while visiting England. Now, it is true that he was at one time on a label by the name of Lenore Records. But he had a falling out with the label head, Lee Laverne, upon learning of the unauthorized use and sale of his work. The friendship, and subsequent alliance, he would form with Wayne would ultimately lead both Wayne and Roy down a path to discover how Roy’s music made it all the way to England without his knowledge. As it turned out, when Lee Laverne passed away, the contents of his estate would come to include Roy’s work. They would also include licensing agreements for Roy’s work made by the late Mr. Laverne. Illegitimately so, because Roy never signed over rights to his work; more specifically, the songwriting copyrights. When the studio was purchased, Roy’s work was simply assumed as a rightful possession by way of sale. And though neither Lee Laverne nor his estate owned the proper licensing, the physical tapes were in house and the fraudulent licensing agreement on record. Had Wayne not began recording Roy, the circumstances would have remained obscured and unjust. But since Wayne and Roy had formed ties, Wayne would uncover the details, successfully pursuing rights for Roy legally. And Wayne’s label, Right On Rhythm, would become the publisher for all of Roy’s material. “What it turns out is Lee Laverne assumed most of Roy’s copyright without the signature. Only the first seven songs had something resembling a signature, but it wasn’t really. But there’s dozens of songs after that, that Lee assumed publishing on. And that you cannot do. So, they (the publisher in England) were without legs to stand on. But what had happened is Lee Laverne had licensed these songs to Peter something-or-other in England for his record label (Zane Records). And he put those CDs out. So, Peter though has worked the CD. He’s the one that connects (licenses) a song on there, “My Baby Wants to Leave Me”, to Uncle Ben’s rice for a commercial.” Right On Rhythm would later be acquired by The Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, a division of the Smithsonian Institute. And Roy’s work would forever be cemented in the annals of cultural audio history. 

And rightfully so, because Roy was the last connection within a select few families of historical zydeco importance; Broussard, Dopsie, Chenier, Ardoin, and Carrier. Within the generations of these families were the original performers of the genre; Roy being one of them. Born out of creole and blues influences, Zydeco encapsulated not only a style of music, but a way of life. It has always been the music of families that worked the land and struggled through poverty. It marked occasions when families would come together, telling stories of their experiences in southwest Louisiana. And the Carrier family’s history of involvement around that music spans its entirety. In the late 90’s, Roy eldest son, Chubby, was befriended by a man named James Anderson that took interest in the family’s history in zydeco music. Aided by a camera crew, James followed the family throughout southwest Louisiana and to other locations gathering footage with the intention of making a documentary. Being Roy’s publisher, Wayne was incorporated into this process. But over time the project lost all furtherance and was shelved. Nearly twelve years later, when Roy passed away in 2010, Wayne contacted James to inform him of Roy’s death. James was still in possession of the gathered footage and would ultimately send it, in its entirety, to Wayne. Wayne believed in the project and was well aware of its importance. But he had no idea what to do with its contents. When his label, Right On Rhythm, was acquired by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings Wayne turned the boxes of tapes he had received from James over to them. He felt as though they would be safe there, and that possibly they could do something more with them. Years went by, and as they were previously in James’ possession, the tapes never developed into anything more than a box on a shelf. In 2021 Wayne reached out to the Smithsonian Folkways, convincing them to return the material. These boxes of VHS and Beta tapes were a veritable goldmine. They didn’t just contain performances. They encompassed moments in time from twenty years ago of a keystone in the world of zydeco. There were interviews with a semblance of characters that beckoned viewers to peer into the social graces and presence of a culture on this earth. Some of these folks are no longer with us. Like a 92-year-old Bebe, seen in his nephew Calvin’s living room with others playing Blue Runner; a classic linchpin between Cajun and Creole heritage. And others had gone on to achieve great status. Like Chubby Carrier, who won a Grammy for “Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album” with his album Zydeco Junkie in 2011. And in fact, Roy himself garnered a posthumous induction into the Zydeco Hall of Fame. And Goldman, Roy’s cousin, was inducted into the Order of Living Legends, a special recognition by way of the Acadian Museum. The relevance of these tapes to the artform as a whole had only increased over time, tying the present to the past. 

Most things aren’t truly appreciated at face value. They can’t be. Vast spans of time and territory are sometimes reduced to symbolic imagery and a “that’s what they say”. But what any good documentary will prove is that there’s more to the story. It will illustrate the significance of its subject matter. And it will explode and examine all the moving parts that represent something that might have otherwise come to rest in a box on a shelf. Zydeco by Birth has become the name of one such box and will hopefully become a documentary that amplifies a microcosm rich in cultural heritage. Through a closer look at the social fabric of southwest Louisiana, viewers will know what others have not known and see what others have not seen. With this expounded perspective, they will come to appreciate the true meaning behind the Carrier name. Unable to lay it to rest, Wayne Kahn is on a quest to make the Zydeco by Birth documentary a reality. To hear all of this in greater detail and in his own words, you can listen to our interview using the podcast icons below. And if this is something you believe in, you can follow the links provided to help him in his journey. Any tips or advice, relevant contacts, or even a few dollars to his crowdfunding efforts are a few of the many ways you can contribute. 

Author: David Trahan

Gofundme link

Zydeco by Birth Trailer

WOWD-LP Takoma Park Community Radio 94.3FM


Charlie Gabriel’s Album “89”

On a hot and humid New Orleans afternoon, we reminisce of seasons past; musical gatherings and triumphs of old seeping into the wonder and fantasy of young adventure and philosophical starscapes. A treasured plethora of moments recalled through sight, sound, and mind, perhaps delving into that of an older era known to many only through media nostalgia. A summer serenade among the dew drops in. And a perfect twilight ventures into the French Quarter; love and light guiding the way through stoic backdrops of jazz legacy. Preservation and rich tradition bellows from all corners of the Crescent City. With these roots forging into the new, Charlie Gabriel’s solo album, 89, is a trip back in tribute, but also a look forward into the noir and divine majesty of one of music’s most cherished legends in the genre. To further encapsulate the auditory experience that is 89, let us first look back into the mythos and iconic story of Mr. Gabriel.

Clarinetist, saxophonist, and flutist Charlie Gabriel is a fourth-generation jazz musician from New Orleans. Raised in a classically trained musical family that emigrated from Santo Domingo in the 1850’s, Gabriel began playing clarinet professionally with the Eureka Brass Band when he was eleven years old. During World War II his father, clarinetist and drummer Martin Manuel “Manny” Gabriel often sent his son on gigs. Charlie himself became a prominent member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in 2009. I would be remiss in my journalism if I did not mention that Mr. Gabriel is a very accomplished chess player and has a wonderful video with the Preservation Hall band leader Ben Jaffe. The two have a wonderful interview and casual conversation over a chess match, which is available on the Preservation Hall YouTube page.

The opening track, “Memories of You”, paints the rainy southern landscape of beauty in solitude. Guitar harmonies and saxophone jazz serenades sparkle this uplifting noir opus that is the album 89, capturing a mixture of crisp guitar jazz theoretics and perfect brass rings compels the mind and soul throughout the album.

Following this is “Chelsea Bridge”, a 1941 compositional Jazz standard classic by Billy Strayhorn. This rendition is celebratory of its creation and displays the range and vibrato of Mr. Gabriel’s voice.

The album’s single is accompanied by a music video. “I’m Confessin’” showcases a sharp-dressed Mr. Gabriel being chauffeured around New Orleans. It also depicts behind the scenes of the writing and recording of 89, and beautiful glimpses of chess games, and bandmates laughing and hanging out. It’s a wonderful glimpse into the creative life of one of music’s most treasured geniuses.

Following the slow, heavenly tones of “I’m Confessin’” is the soothing noir love letter sounds of “The Darker It Gets”, an original song written by Charlie. The tune opens with beautifully strummed jazz chords by the record’s guitarist Joshua Starkman, with Ben Jaffe adding some walking swing dynamics on the upright bass. Charlie Gabriel’s smooth and soothing vocals warm up the mix. As I sit and listen, I am transported mentally to another time; rainy gas lantern-lit streets of New Orleans’ historic district and music clubs with black tie dress codes. A tenor sax solo brings out the sun in our adventure through a wonderful world created by Mr. Gabriel. Heard in the lyrics Charlie sings, “the darker it gets the better I see, the hidden place that’s inside of me.”

The next song on the album is “Stardust”. The 1947 Hoagy Carmichael classic brings the feel and love of the original version while adding a bit of flavor that can only come from New Orleans. Charlie has stated that of the Jazz songs he picked for this album, he never plays them the same way twice. A seasoned player in the game, he exudes musical creativity in a natural and inspiring way.

“Three Little Words” is a shift in sound as we get vibes of flamenco Jazz, cuban beats, tiki lounge, and a beautiful brass solo that will get every fan of music to the dance floor. The song was written by Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar, and published in 1930. The song would go on to receive fame when it was recorded by Duke Ellington on August 26th, 1930. The musicianship and arrangement on this cover puts further emphasis on how versatile and deep the love of the genre’s history remains. The production on 89 is bright and vibrant while also feeling intimate, and gives the listener a front row ticket to the show.

At 91, Charlie Gabriel is still touring, and playing at Preservation Hall. I had the opportunity to see his performance in Jackson Square for French Quarter Fest in 2023. And without a doubt, he is on top of his game. An in-depth, unique audio experience, 89 is a glimpse into the mind and joy of an artist like no other. Should you choose to listen, 89 will illustrate a stand-out moment in time, as well as cement Charlie as a staple in Jazz. Pick up the chess match and listen to 89 for an amazing adventure.

Author: Ryan McKern


Mark Samuels

Mark Samuels, founder of Basin Street Records, grew up in a household where music didn’t have a noticeable presence. And though he did play a bit of clarinet and piano in grade school, it never really captivated him. Attending Ben Franklin High School marked a time and place in his life when his musical tastes expanded. He had picked up the saxophone by then. He recalls fondly the benefit of having both Winton and Delfeayo Marsalis as a band mates, and his realization of the world of jazz. Simultaneously, his overall interests in music would transcend from The Police, Spyrogira, and The Kinks to local bands like The Cold, The Neville Brothers, James Rivers, and Astral Project. The gap between himself and the world of music began to close as he attended more and more shows locally, making friends who were musicians along the way. Though he would go onto college at the University of Texas, these were experiences that stuck with him. In college, he formed a band called The Urinals where he played saxophone and synthesizer. They would get up on stage and play in between other bands’ sets for fun. Earning a Masters in Finance, Mark would find himself off to New York to start a job in the consulting division of Arthur Anderson, implementing computer analytics for clients. The job meant he would travel elsewhere as well. At some point he was out in Atlanta, Georgia on a job for the Georgia Department of Labor, staying in the same hotel as the cast of the musical comedy School Days. You may recall our own Branford Marsalis played Jordan in that movie. Mark knew Branford from Ben Franklin High School and was friends with his brother Delfeayo. So, for the three weeks he was in Atlanta, he would get off of work and go sit on the set of School Days, spending time with Branford.

The Marsalis family had always been a big influence in Mark’s life. Watching them excel in school band was inspiring. He would spend time at their house as a kid, meeting Jason Marsalis when he was just three years old. Later on in New York, following their careers was akin to following the successes of your favorite local football player that made it to the NFL. He felt personally vested in some of the greats and shared in their triumphs. Winton, Branford, Terrance Blanchard, Donald Harrison and Harry Connick Jr. all hit the stages of New York at one time or another. And Mark would make it a point to go see their shows when they were in town. This would reinforce his tastes in jazz. Collecting their music led him to acquiring others like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Art Blakey. It was Winton who would introduce Mark to a young Jeremy Davenport after Mark’s business trip to Atlanta. Jeremy, a junior in high school at the time, would later go on to study at the University of New Orleans with Ellis Marsalis and years later end up on the Basin Street Records roster.  There were many personal connections over the years that helped form Basin Street Records. At the time, not even Mark realized how all of this would come into play. Because at this point in his life, he was tweaking code and analyzing portfolios of mortgage-backed securities. His life was in New York. And he had just met his future wife, whom he would marry just one year later. But his career was about to affect a major change in his life. He was about to get assigned through work to one of three stock exchanges. All of which were out of the country and would require he and his wife to move abroad. As fate would have it though, a change was going to come alright. But it would include neither of those places nor a move away from the U.S.

Amidst all of this, his father called with some intriguing news. His company had invented a chemical that would be used to treat and refine natural gas. There hadn’t really been a market for it prior to this. But with the rise of natural gas prices, selling now became economically viable. His father’s company expected a rapid expansion and needed someone with Mark’s expertise on their team. And just like that Mark’s compass was now pointed south. In 1989, he and his wife moved back to New Orleans to be in business with his father. The future would see the birth of three children, the freedom to dictate his own schedule, and a prosperous, yet complicated business endeavor. His father’s business came with two partners who were also a father and son team. Over time it became clear that their idea of what the business should become was different from Mark and his father’s idea. The disagreement would form a rift that became a difficult process of separation. Looking back, he draws the assimilation between business arrangements and band arrangements. “When you go into business, if you don’t need a business partner, don’t have a business partner. And if you do have a business partner, and this goes for today with bands and everything else. If you need a business partner, and you might need a business partner when you’re putting together a band. You need an arrangement for how you’re going to separate things when you’re done. In my father and I’s case, we spent a lot of money on lawyers. And it was painful.” The experience struck a chord within Mark. It made him realize that whatever the future held for him, he wanted it to be fun. The process of departing from this deadlock would be through the sale of the business itself, which would span throughout 1996 and 1997. During that time, a meaningful opportunity would arise by mere happenstance.

It would designate a point in Mark’s life at which he began to pursue a career in music business. Though Mark did not realize this until he had already begun down its path. His brother, manager for the Cutting Edge Conference, knew of Mark’s friendships with now famous jazz musicians and invited Mark to put together a jazz showcase for the conference. Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis was first on his list. And Trumpeter Jeremy Davenport, trombonist Wes Anderson, saxophonist Victor Goines, trumpeter Michael Ray, and several others would soon follow. One of those musicians he invited was trumpeter Kermit Ruffins. Mark found himself discussing his current dismay in the energy business world with Kermit’s manager Tom Thompson. At the time, Mark was enjoying his role as an entertainment coordinator for the music conference and told Tom that he thought he might want to go into business as a manager or agent of artists. Tom would go on to tell Mark about how Kermit recently fulfilled his three-album contract to Justice Records and was ready to record his next album. But Tom needed five thousand dollars to make it happen. The seemingly two separate problems actually formed one solution. This is how Basin Street Records came to be. Together with Tom, Mark formed the company officially and used the entity as a vehicle to release Kermit’s record. On November 14th, 1997, Mark found himself at Tipitina’s recording Kermit Ruffins live to a packed house. In February of 1998, Basin Street Records would release its first record, Swingin’ Live (Later named The Bar-B-Que Swingers Live) just in time for Mardi Gras. Mark had zero experience running a record company at this point. And I pause to emphasize this. Because if there’s anything I would like for my audience to gather from my articles, it’s that anything is possible. And whether it be within the confines of music, or the confines of Louisiana, therein lies no exception! Together with his father, Mark would eventually see the sale of that energy business and officially be solely in the music business. He would also at this point buy Tom out of Basin Street Records as well. The near future would reveal another chance meeting that would yield Basin Street’s second release, Los Hombres Calientes, volume 1. Jason Marsalis, Irvin Mayfield, and Dr. Michael White would follow suit in the coming years.

At the end of 2000, Mark’s family was in a car accident that killed his wife. And he found himself having to raise three children on his own as well as run the label. Los Hombres Calientes, by now, was scheduled to record their third volume in six different countries. But Mark would have to stay behind to pick up the pieces and begin again. Looking back, you will find, this was one rare occasion when Mark took pause. But from this point on, he never stopped. Basin Street Records expanded over the next few years, bringing his brother onboard as his operations director. And that album Los Hombres Calientes left to record ended up getting a Grammy nomination. More artists were added to the roster year after year. In April of 2004, he released 6 albums in one day, including two movie soundtracks. And in 2005, he released three albums in time for Jazzfest. Four months later when Hurricane Katrina hit, he never quit moving forward. With staff scattered about the country and a flooded warehouse, he somehow kept the business intact while once again picking up pieces of his life. We went on for some time about how switching distributors landed him in with Sony, his take on digital downloads and streaming, and so much more. Please consider checking out the podcast episode titled Mark Samuels to get the full story. You can access it via your favorite streaming platform below. We thank Mark Samuels for being such a gracious host and inspiring us all to pursue our dreams at all costs.

Author: David Trahan


Travis Mark

Do you know what it’s like to lay it all on the line? Have you ever gone all in and not turned back? Travis Mark has, several times; for music, for love. And his efforts have spanned three continents. He’s had his fair share of irony. Like the time his band was finally on radio rotation and had charted in his home town. But he was living in another country by then. Or the time his band mates were veering toward their own relationships while, on the other side of the Atlantic, his was on hold for the sake of that very band. He’ll be the first to attest to his naiveté over the years. But even if you’ve never put everything on the line, I’m sure many of you have muddled your lives at one time or another through inexperience. None-the-less, over time his acquired sophistication and focus has landed him here in New Orleans. And periods of reflection have only bolstered his art.

Our story begins in the mid-eighties in Johannesburg, South Africa. With his parents being big fans of music, Travis recalls Carol King, The Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the Rolling Stones filling his ears as a child. The age of eight is earmarked in his mind, because this is the point in life when he truly fell in love with music. A component stereo unit sat tucked in an alcove along with a collection of records. Discovering their collection at eight years of age, his parents’ albums became another world in which to venture. And he remembers many a day and night falling asleep with those Beyerdynamic headphones stuck to his head. When you sit and talk to musicians about their life, there is a common thread you’ll find. Typically, at an early age, they are introduced to a friend or family member’s music collection. And they feel as though their whole life has changed. Being able to interact with and investigate every little detail of a physical album has a way of drawing forth an affection for which words cannot describe. As Travis recounted his experience with this collection, he pauses and declares, “…and dude, I found The Police.” Six words drove home the sentiment that, even at that age, he knew he would never be the same again. This record collection would sustain him for quite some time until a cousin introduced him to Nirvana. Though Carol King and The Beatles were lovely, this insinuated edge cut deep; deeper than the initial romance he found in that record collection. It was final. He was going to be a rock musician. The pursuit would yield a group of four kids that called themselves Pyramid Tongue.

Pyramid Tongue gigged regularly. And over time, the crowds grew. They found themselves seeking out larger venues to accommodate their fanbase and had even signed with an indie label. The action caught the attention of a major label in England, and an invitation to showcase was extended. Plane tickets and visas were expensive, and band members sold everything they possessed to make this happen. Still a teenager, Travis found himself anointed. Universal Records would sign Pyramid Tongue and once again, music would forever change his life. Travis felt on top of the world. The trouble with that place is, there’s only one way to go from there; down. Their manager became severely ill, placing all momentum on hiatus. The guitarist and bass player wound up moving back to South Africa. Their drummer ended up moving away to a different part of England. And while all of this is happening, he found out Pyramid Tongue was charting back in South Africa and getting regular radio play. Determined to stick it out, Travis stayed put. He would go to as many jams as he could while simultaneously writing songs, and recording on a borrowed Tascam multi-track. He was fortunate enough to land a job that provided housing, too. In England, it is commonplace for some of the staff to live at the pub. The pub itself rests on the bottom floor, while accommodations for select employees sit above. He would write and record by day, and stock the coolers in the early morning hours after gigs. His nights were now spent playing in a band he’d joined. Though gigs were steady and arrangements stable, there wasn’t much money to be made. Persistence would pay off though. He ended up meeting a label-affiliated producer that was looking for a bass player. And being well versed in several instruments, Travis was able to meet with him and discuss things. “So, I’m thinking we’re going to meet and talk like this; maybe about music, kinda get a bit of a vibe… see what happens. Maybe he’s in the band. If he’s a producer, he must know what he wants. You know? He doesn’t want to talk about any of that. We meet at this coffee shop in central London. And dude, we’re talking like long before smart phones, right? But like Motorola flip up phones when the Razors were like the thing, right? We sit down and he’s like ‘hey can I take a couple pictures?’ I’ve never met this guy. I’m like, uh… ok. That’s so freaking weird! So, he whips out this Motorola. He takes a couple pictures. And he then sits down and sends off a text. He goes, I want you in the band.” And like that, Travis found himself in another band on a major label once again.

His intentions originally were to form his own band. He had his own songs he wanted to get on a record. But what had just happened was that he was signed to, as he put it, a bubble-gum pop band. No matter, he would stick this out as well, long enough to get his foot in the door and continue on his intended path. But with so many ups and downs in his future, parts of the road that lied ahead were hard to see, and even more difficult to chart out. Hard rock, then pop bubble gum, indie band, then hard rock again; one cannot simply plan ahead for these things. The advantage came in just being there. Showing up for every engagement, taking a piece of each with him as he went along. This is what constantly sharpens and increases odds. And with each would come a bar set higher and thus a metric with which to gauge the next project. The real challenge then became staying true to his own identity. With age, the prospect of becoming the next Nirvana had lost its gleam. Looking back, he never viewed his initial meteoric rise in England as intimidating. Being a typical teenager, ‘what if’ never crossed his mind. And as they say, ignorance is bliss. He fell so hard for music that plan B wasn’t a consideration. And by the time he was 19, he was living on his own in a new country, doing tours and making a decent living from music. He recalls his father letting him in on a secret one day. “Your mother and I were really quite worried when you said you wanted to make this your career, you know. It’s not an easy career. Some guys make no money.” Travis couldn’t see where his father was coming from at the time. He had always made money in music. That was never the focus. But he had always made enough. And he always had the foresight to be frugal with his funds. Being in a band, or even being signed to a major label for that matter, never stopped him from pursuing other avenues. When that bubblegum pop group fell apart, he was still under contract. Still, he remained in England and on stages. And it landed him in another band that was signed to a major label. While riding that wave, he was still developing another band on the side. When it became clear that Universal was never going to reconvene his band, he altered his course toward another project. The point is that he never stopped moving forward. And sometimes that involves pivoting in directions you hadn’t fully developed.  

At a certain point in his journey, pivoting meant taking some time off from a by then defunct band while still being signed to a label. He found himself back in South Africa on a “visit” that would ultimately last for years. Avoiding stagnation religiously, Munkinpure was a side project of his whose roots began in England. The concept began to take form after returning to South Africa. Though Pyramid Tongue had found success in South Africa. Travis’ growing appetite for alternative rock, coupled with the explosion that genre was seeing in England at the time, meant yet another pivot in his path. About this time, in the early 2000’s, bands like Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand, and Arctic Monkeys were seeing great success. Although this was encouraging, it was at the same time worrisome. As we’ve all seen before, oversaturation can oftentimes burst a bubble before you know it. But his familiarity of England had Travis encouraging his band mates to make the trek there and give it a shot. They planned for a solid year while gigging constantly in South Africa. Ultimately, the bassist would leave with him and the guitarist would stay behind. But the duo would soon acquire another guitarist, and Munkinpure would see packed venues as well as radio play in England. Travis was just 26 years old at this time. And the band signed a management contract with clauses that weren’t exactly in their best interest. But they figured while that management company might screw them a bit, they would still increase exposure. Eventually they could part ways having grown in the process. Insert another curveball. Management informed them that they could no longer book their own gigs. Though this seemed peculiar, what followed was a slow and grueling death. Little by little, the gigs became fewer and further between. Their buzz suffocated in its wake. Travis considered his options. Munkinpure had come a long way. Several albums and an EP were out, shows saw great turnouts, the radio was playing their songs. He approached management to see if they would release the band from their contract. They refused. So, he broke up the band.

At their last show, he made the announcement on stage that the band would be no more after that night. As luck would have it (if you would consider it so at this point), he is approached by an independent yet well-connected management rep after the show. Over time, and with the support of his newfound management, Travis found himself forming yet another band, Dead Days. The next three years would yield countless gigs, a live album, a studio album, and an EP. But along the way, he sensed trepidation on the part of other band members. Sometimes he could tell that Dead Days wasn’t first priority with them, as it was with him. At some point he found himself swimming against the current, so-to-speak. And he questioned his own dedication in the face of their waning allegiance. It wasn’t so much whether or not he still had any. It was more a weighing of involvement in something that had apparently become less important to other members of the band. “People were going through divorces, getting married, starting new jobs. And I was living alone trying to do the band thing. And I kind of took a step back. I had gone through some personal stuff of my own. And I was like, hmm, maybe I need to think a little bit about my actual life. I’ve spent my whole life thinking about bands. Maybe it’s time I think about life. And life lead me to New Orleans. And this is why I’m here.” At this point I had to back things up to make him expand on this, which he did. It was all incredibly involved. And the past three years he’s spent here have lead him all over the city, learning the intricacies of the music world in New Orleans. We spent some time discussing his experiences here, which included the formation of Deep Sleep Atlantic; a powerhouse of talent with three music videos and an album, Prelude, out right now. Some people would kill for the kinds of opportunities Travis has had along the way. And there have been more since his arrival. You can hear about the progress he’s made while here on our podcast interview, along with more details of this incredible journey by clicking your favorite streaming platform below.

Author: David Trahan