The Frenchmen Street trad jazz band stays true to its roots before playing Jazz Fest Thursday.
The Frenchmen Street swing/trad jazz scene can sometimes feel like it wants to be boldly rooted in tradition, but musical archaeology doesn't fill the tip jar. The Smoking Time Jazz Club does the work. They declare in all-caps on their website, "When we play the greats like Louis, Duke, Jelly, Bessie or Billie, it's because they really were geniuses," but dig deeper than that for source material for their nine albums, the most recent being last year's Take Your Time and Fly.
For me, "Frenchmen Street trad" is almost a genre unto itself, one that blurs together pre-World War II jazz with swing being the unifying feature. Bassist John Joyce approaches genre questions from a literal perspective. "I think today the best word for our music is 'traditional jazz,'" he says. "To me that means we work from the original recordings."
Smoking Time Jazz Club plays Saturday nights from 7-10 p.m. at The Maison, and Tuesdays from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. at The Spotted Cat. Thursday, it will play Jazz Fest's Economy Hall Tent at 12:30 p.m.
What’s new for Smoking Time Jazz Club?
We're currently working on a play about the life of the great trumpet player Jack Purvis with Smoking Time Jazz Club playing the music and acting. Purvis inspires daring creativity and so does jazz. Purvis was imaginative in his trumpet playing and his life. His life encompassed the highs and lows that artists go through. No matter what he came across, he tried to and did make the best of the situations he found himself in. His bizarre and daring life sums up the spirit of jazz.
What makes you different from other bands playing traditional jazz on Frenchmen Street?
We work hard and try to make the listener remember it's not about fashion; it's about passion. We love this old jazz. I’m not making money playing traditional jazz in the day and working on my real band at night. We really love this stuff and want to play it with respect to the greats, yet make it our own and breathe life into an old forgotten song.
You’re pretty prolific. How are you able to record so often, and why do you record so much?
We love Louis, Bessie, Jelly and the Duke and we believe their musical ideas are still valid today.
How do you measure the success of a Jazz Fest gig?
We look forward to driving the bear at Jazz Fest and if people are smiling and dancing our work will be a success.