26 December 2015

Post 344: THE GENTILLY STOMPERS

One of the best traditional jazz bands to appear in 2016 (even though it was formed only at the beginning of that year) was The Gentilly Stompers. When you see who's in the line-up you will begin to understand why. This picture shows the players who recorded the band's first CD (expected to be called 'Thanks A Million!'), which was last heard of as going through its pre-release processing.
When I spent a few days visiting New Orleans in April 2016, one of the local musicians gave me the tip that I ought to seek out The Gentilly Stompers. I had not previously heard of them.
The Gentilly Stompers at Bamboula's
I managed to find them playing at Bamboula's in Frenchmen Street on 10 April. And a very enjoyable session it was. The Band played mainly the standard repertoire in good but uncomplicated arrangements. The teamwork and musicianship were outstanding.

The Band had been formed early in 2016 by yet another great lady trumpet-player - Catie Rodgers. Her own playing is first-class and she is a good leader - giving clear directions and encouraging all members of the band to show what they can do.

I managed to have a few words with Catie. She told me she studied Music at the local University of New Orleans, specialising in trumpet playing. She is a fine classical trumpet player. But classical trumpet players do not always make good traditional jazz players. Catie is an exception. She is an outstanding player in the New Orleans jazz idiom, whether stating a melody with minimal decoration, or improvising a solo chorus with great technical proficiency.

Catie told me she is 'going for clarity and soul'. One of her main influences is the cornet player Connie Jones, who recently retired. She told me 'His lines and feeling really can't be beat'. She said her policy has been to recruit musicians who are sharp, sensitive listeners and really good, fun people. 'I believe that creates an inviting dynamic, and a positive environment to hang in. I'm always looking for more inspiration, whether it be recordings, old or new, or in my fellow peers as we grow and change together'.

Her core players at July 2016 were: Haruka Kikuchi (trombone), Chloe Feoranzo (reeds), Alex Belhaj (guitar), Miles Lyons (tuba) and Sean Clark (drums).

But how did Catie come to be leader of a band called The Gentilly Stompers?

While still a student (in about 2012), she started gigging in the City. She did quite a bit of deputising for absent trumpet players. As they were often the band leaders, she found herself in both a directing as well as a deputising role. Soon people began to suggest that she should officially become a band-leader and run a band of her own.

Why call it The Gentilly Stompers? It is named after Gentilly, the New Orleans suburb about four miles north of the French Quarter. Gentilly is on the south side of Lake Pontchartrain and it is also where The University of New Orleans is situated.

How has Catie mastered the art of playing the trumpet so well? By putting in many years of hard work, I am sure. But she also told me the secret lies in loving the instrument. 'I have great respect for the trumpet and I think that's very important.'

I made a video during their performance on 10 April. Unfortunately, because of the conditions in the bar, the lighting and sound qualities are far from perfect, but I hope it will give you some idea of how good this band really is: CLICK HERE for a performance of 'Honeysuckle Rose'.

Footnote (added in August)
Some time ago, Catie told me she was seriously considering heading to Kansas City to pursue yet higher classical trumpet musical studies at the University of Missouri. Well, sadly for the fans, she has now taken that step. She will be missed in New Orleans. But I am sure we all wish her well - and hope she will be back! Meanwhile, I think there is a good chance that The Gentilly Stompers will continue to perform, with Haruka assuming leadership.