Making a city built below sea level one’s home can have an interesting effect.
If there is one truth about living in New Orleans, it’s that there will come a time when mere survival will have to be earned. As a result, the art and culture that the city produces might deal with struggle, but it always has a triumphal attitude about it, making it often unforgettable. Rising up out of the swamp is their heritage.
The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO) was created in 2002 to cement the legacy of perhaps the city’s most important cultural export, Jazz music. They set about curating and creating unforgettable music performances featuring local legends. At 18 players onstage, they made a remarkable sound. The success of the group led them to record a Grammy-winning album and even creating a purpose built venue in New Orleans called the Jazz Market.
“When I was programming this year’s season,” explains Flato Markham Theatre General Manager, Eric Lariviere, “a colleague told me that the NOJO was touring to Canada for the first time.” He jumped at the chance to book them.
Of course, success in New Orleans seems to always come with a cost. While the group survived Katrina in 2005, most of the city’s best and legendary musicians had to leave the city to find work. Once the group was able to reconstitute itself and start performing again, it was rocked by a financial scandal that led to criminal charges being filed against the group’s founding manager and conductor.
Still, the music has remained. Longtime drummer turned conductor Adonis Rose took the reins of The NOJO in 2016 and hasn’t looked back since. Many original members have returned to join some of New Orleans’ finest young stars as members. Their remarkable sound might have changed a bit, more modern, but it remains authentic to New Orleans tradition, passed down through generations of fathers and sons.
The group’s first big project upon reuniting shouldn’t be much of a surprise to fans of New Orleans Jazz. It’s a tribute to the legendary Allen Toussaint, both on a recording and a subsequent international tour.
It’s an apt choice for a rebirth too. After living most of his life and career in New Orleans as a beloved composer and piano player, Toussaint was forced to leave his home after Katrina in order to find work. After leaving though, he was already talking about redemption and his hope to return home and rebuild the scene there.
After relocating to New York, Toussaint’s career exploded into notoriety after a residency at Joe’s Pub that led to making a world-renowned album with Elvis Costello. In short, he turned tragedy into opportunity. The NOJO has done the same; looking on their scandal as a learning experience and a chance to grow.
Songs: The Music of Allen Toussaint is the insistently hopeful new album by the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, and the music on it forms the backbone of their concerts these days. It’s a perfect fit too, as the band is dedicated to preserving both music and spirit of New Orleans. Few do both as well as Toussaint did and the NOJO does.
Having such musicians come to Markham has long been a goal of the theatre and the series’ sponsor, Minkin Employment Lawyers. In fact, Minkin has stayed a loyal supporter of the jazz series at the theatre since its inception.
“We’ve been building our jazz program for years, and we’re so happy that we can bring in shows like this one,” Lariviere says. “They’re a great, big band with an authentic sound.”
The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra perform at the Flato Markham Theatre on Saturday, February 29 at 8 p.m.
Tickets are available at flatomarkhamtheatre.ca
Photo: Adonis Rose and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra