There was a young lady pianist 'sitting in'; and her playing was possibly the best I have ever heard in a traditional jazz band. In the ensembles and backing the solo choruses, she did just what was needed - lightly sketching in the chords and fitting in with any rhythmic patterns established by the guitar and bass. But whenever she was given a solo chorus, it was as if Franz Listz had suddenly occupied the piano stool. Using the entire width of the keyboard, she produced some astounding improvisations, notes tumbling and cascading from the keys - but always clearly on the correct harmonic progression. It was thrilling musicianship. On top of that, she even offered an occasional vocal, which she sang in an entertaining way, with an unusual light, girlish voice that brought back memories of the late Blossom Dearie.
Who was this amazing performer? Nobody around me in the dense crowd was able to tell me.
Fortunately, while sheltering from rain a couple of days later, I met Aurora Nealand and had the opportunity to ask. She told me the lady was a good friend of hers - Stephanie Nilles.
Back in England, I consulted the internet to find out more about Stephanie.
She is described as a 'Chicago-born jazz/punk/barrelhouse musician' who has been 'hustling around the United States, Europe, and Canada.... averaging 150 gigs a year, and captivating unsuspecting listeners with a voice that would make Jelly Roll Morton look orthodox and Ma Rainey look sober'.
Stephanie has made several CDs and has also been involved in numerous music projects in both Europe and America. On the internet, you can find plenty about her activities, but these quotations will give you some insights into Stephanie and her music: '....a highly accomplished, award-winning young pianist with a degree in classical performance and the whole world ahead of her chucks it all over to eke out a bohemian living playing punk clubs and sleeping in her car'; 'Her compositions are often dizzyingly witty'; 'Writing truthful and poignant stories of the world as it is'; 'With a voice that manically switches from sultry soul to wild yelping, not to mention mad piano skills and a wild performance energy, Nilles has the talent to shuffle past the mediocre label props grinding their teeth on Top 40 radio today'.
This video will give you some idea of what Stephanie Nilles is capable of - just with a voice and a piano:
CLICK HERE TO VIEW.
And with a small band:
Possibly, you may not enjoy her style in these far-from-trad-jazz YouTube videos. But I can assure you that - on that great night in New Orleans - Stephanie accepted all the disciplines of traditional jazz and that her playing in Aurora's band was sensational.