The well-traveled drummer headlines his own Jazz Fest set for the first time on Sunday.

joe dyson photo by greg miles for my spilt milk
Joe Dyson, by Greg Miles

Since Joe Dyson was a teenager at NOCCA, he has been one of The Drummers Most Likely To …. He, Conun Pappas, and Max Moran made an impact right away as The Bridge Trio, and became players to watch when they performed an impromptu tribute to the NOCCA teacher and mentor Alvin Batiste at Jazz Fest on the day he died in 2007. They furthered their musical education playing with Donald Harrison Jr. during their stint in the Tipitina’s Intern Program, a program for which Harrison is artistic director.

Since then, Dyson has had a varied career, playing with Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Esperanza Spalding, and a who’s who of New Orleans horn players, as well as the rock band Tysson with John Michael Rouchell. On Sunday at 12:20 p.m., Dyson will play the WWOZ Jazz Tent for the first time as a bandleader. We checked in to see what’s up with Joe Dyson these days.   

What’s new? 

Life has been a thrill. I've been blessed to tour with some of the world's greatest artists! I just came back from several countries in Europe with Nicholas Payton, and before that, I toured Sweden with Tia Fuller.If you go to my website JoeDyson.com, you can see all the towns and countries I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and playing. I'm living in my hometown New Orleans and currently teaching private lessons at Tulane University. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with some of the ensembles there. 

Additionally, the Bridge Trio, a band I co-lead with Conun Pappas and Max Moran, is preparing our third album. We’re slated to release our new record in September. Visit TheBridgeTrio.com and stay tuned! 

My sister, Joel Dyson, is releasing an upcoming E.P. She has a great body of work that I think the world is ready to hear. I’m happy to assist her with her first official release, and I’m excited to see her growth. You can follow her on instagram @its_l_e_. 

I’ve also been stepping outside of music and helping build a wonderful food company called Wakemia. It's ran by a New York-based culinary artist, Kasey Hearns. She's making quite a name for herself by earning several awards for her vegan cuisine, and successfully  showcasing her food at multiple pop-ups. Follow her @Kase_TheChef.

In between times, I've been building my solo project Joe Dyson Live! I've performed at the Jazz Gallery and Queens Museum in New York City. On November 17, I had my New Orleans debut at the Prime Example and Snug Harbor. Since then, I've played Baton Rouge at Chorum Hall, and July 27-28, I’ll be at Smalls Jazz Club in New York City. Now, I'm focused on playing Jazz Fest Sunday, May 6! 

joe dyson photo by greg miles Joe Dyson, by Greg Miles

What can you tell us about your Jazz Fest set under your name? 

This is my first time playing Jazz Fest as a leader, and I'm excited! I’ve been playing Jazz Fest since I was in elementary school, and to grow to this point and have my voice be heard is an honor and humbling experience. I have a few originals that I can't wait to present. My set is earlier in the day at the WWOZ Jazz Tent on May 6th, 12:20 pm to 1:10 pm. I've partnered with WWOZ to live Broadcast the show, so for those who are not able to catch me at the fest, please tune in, this one's for you! 

Who will you be playing with at Jazz Fest, and how are those gigs different?

The first weekend, I played twice and sat in once. Friday, April 27, I started off at the WWOZ Jazz Tent with Jesse McBride Presents the Next Generation. This was a special set because I shared the stage with one of the prominent voices of the tenor and soprano saxophone, Tim Warfield! His sound in the Nicholas Payton Quintet, helped shape some of my musical prowess. The Next Generation set was also special because after Katrina, Jesse was one of the guys who helped develop my artistry. He has shared so much to the point, I consider him a big brother. This band differs from the other bands because Jesse allows young artists to come up and express themselves musically through the songbook of the great New Orleans composers. He's truly connecting all of our young and old artists. The works of our ancestors are being preserved because our new voices have a musical space to create. 

I also sat in with my long-time mentor and bandleader Big Chief Donald Harrison! His set was at Congo Square Stage on Friday, April 27. The band was on fire! They covered a large body of music stemming from what he calls “Roots to Infinity”. I came onstage and played percussion with his Afro-New Orleans cultural group, Congo Square Nation. This group differs from all the other groups, because Donald Harrison is the only jazz musician to truly understand all forms of music from its root culture. He is the son of the late, great Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr., who was the Chief of Chiefs of Uptown New Orleans. Afro-New Orleans culture is the true beginning of all Black American Music. This makes Big Chief Donald, a real authority of our music. It was quite befitting to have played with him and show my gratitude before I lead my set on Sunday. 

The next band I played with was Nicholas Payton’s Too Black. Although I have played and toured with Nicholas now for five years, he never ceases to amaze me! Too Black consisted of a vocal section (Jolynda Phillips, Robin Barnes, and Yolanda Robinson), guitarist/vocalist Dominic Minix, bassist/vocalist Roland Guerin, our second drummer Brian Richburg Jr. along with myself, and Nicholas Payton on Rhodes, organ, vocals and trumpet. All of the music was original during this set, and in my opinion, it showed the vast perspective of what Black American Music possesses. People at this set got a full musical discourse. This was definitely one for the books.

I saw on your Facebook page that you go from playing a concert hall in Poland with Payton to playing at Bacchanal. How do you decide what gigs to take?

Music is always my first consideration. What I can financially gain is my second consideration. The artist’s personality is my third consideration.  

Moreover, I think of music as the Truth with a capital T. I've learned that the Truth can be found in all people, places and things. Wherever the Truth is, you will find me. 

By nature, I am a truth seeker. I was blessed and fortunate to be taught by many great masters. Some were highly astute who taught and played all over the world, and some were humble blue-collar workers who stayed home and played for spiritual worship. 

Growing up in the church, I learned at an early age that my gift is not for form or fashion. My gift is not my own. I did not give it to myself. I have been made a vessel. Therefore, I must share it. My father taught me as a child that I should play because I love it, not for fame, or fortune. He, along with all the masters, have taught me just as a gift is given, it can be taken, so choose wisely how you use your gift. 

What’s the status of Tysson right now?

Tysson is still going strong, however, I am no longer there. All of the guys are good friends of mine, and I cherish all the great times we've had. I wish them all the best!