Memphis Majorettes and Drummers at the Sophisticated Divas Jamboree

001 Judges003 DJ Lil Robert004 Crump Elementary Drummers005 Southaven All-Stars006 Southaven All-Stars007 Black Diamond Drumline008 Jamboree012 Southaven All-Stars013 Southaven All-Stars014 Millennium Madness Drummers015 Millennium Madness Drummers017 M-Town Image018 M-Town Image019 M-Town Image020 M-Town Image021 M-Town Image022 M-Town Image023 Crump Elementary Drumline024 Crump Elementary Drumline
Although there are fall jamborees, the cold winter months are the high point of majorette jamboree season in Memphis. Majorette jamborees exist in other cities, but they are a unique part of Memphis culture, at least in their original incarnation, where drill teams and majorettes worked out routines to beats and grooves provided by a squad of drummers. This concept dates at least as far back as the late 1960’s, and at least one such squad, the Klondike Drum and Bugle Corps, was described in a Commercial Appeal article in 1970 as doing a step called the “Moonwalk”, long before Michael Jackson became famous for it. Unfortunately, the majorette jamborees I recall from my teenage years are largely a thing of the past, as today’s majorettes tend to work out their routine to popular songs on compact discs rather than drums and drummers. However, at the Sophisticated Divas jamboree at the JIFF Center in Downtown Memphis last Saturday, at least three of the competing groups included drummers, so the traditional format is at least hanging on by a thread. The Millennium Madness Drill Team has always included drummers, but this year’s squad is larger than what I’ve seen in the past. The Black Diamonds had a drum squad that competed in one category, and Crump Elementary always has a drum squad and a majorette team. The rest of the competitors were working out to recordings, but I was also impressed with a local dance group known as M-Town Image. A number of reasons have been proposed for why drill teams and majorettes have dispensed with drummers, including lack of money or equipment, lack of interested young men wanting to play, and lack of suitable percussion instructors. In a city where there are far too few wholesome activities for young people, particularly young men, here’s hoping that someone steps up to get the young men interested in playing drums, or other musical instruments.

“The Whole Wild Creation”: Mardi Gras Indian Practice at Handa Wanda

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The Black Indians of New Orleans have always fascinated me. I read about them long before I had ever seen one. Their culture is ancient (perhaps as far back as the 19th century), and fairly secret, although the recording of musical albums shed some light on the otherwise mysterious subculture, and the Indians seem less shy of the cameras and spotlights these days, perhaps recognizing public awareness as a potential ally in helping to preserve the culture.
Certainly, in the old days, I would not have been able to attend an Indian practice. Such events were unpublicized, held in obscure neighborhood bars and generally closed to outsiders unless one was invited. But nowadays, some of the practices are listed on the events boards for WWOZ, Gambit or OffBeat, and one of the early arrivers for the morning’s second-line had mentioned that a practice would be going on that night at a club called Handa Wanda, so I knew that I didn’t want to be anywhere else.
The Mardi Gras Indians (really a misnomer, since the gangs of Indians exist year-round) are groups of working-class Black men who “mask Indian” and are organized into what they call “gangs” rather than “tribes.” At one time, before Hurricane Katrina, there were said to be 25 of these gangs, with names like the Wild Magnolias, the Wild Tchoupitoulas, the Creole Wild West and so on. They traditionally appeared on Mardi Gras day, and on St. Joseph’s Night, a Catholic holiday associated with working men. By the early 1970’s, a third holiday had been added called Super Sunday in March, held on different weekends for the Uptown and Downtown tribes, giving them an opportunity to show off their elaborate, homemade costumes. The tradition would seem to be ancient. Earliest references to Black men masquerading as Indians in New Orleans can be found in newspapers from the late 19th century, and through the first five decades of the 20th century, confrontations between these gangs of Indians could occasionally grow violent. Much of the violence began to subside during the 1960’s, and the emphasis shifted to beautiful, intricate costumes, and following a protocol of danced combat when gangs meet in the streets.
But Hurricane Katrina had devastated the Indian tradition, much like she devastated every other aspect of New Orleans. Prior to the storm, most Indian gangs had separate practices in their neighborhood bars, but the practice I was attending tonight was billed as a “Unified Indian Practice”, meaning a practice at which members of multiple tribes could participate, at least in part perhaps because there are fewer tribes and fewer practices these days. Like all Black Indian activities, the practice began with the singing of “My Indian Red”, a song that Indians refer to as a prayer. Its lyrics state “Indians of the nation, the whole wild creation, we won’t bow down, on that dirty ground” setting forth the bravery and pride that characterized the tradition’s earliest years. After that, there were about five or six drummers on stage, with two bass drums, congas and bongos, and to the insistent rhythm they started, the Indians in the hall began to run through their traditional chants, all of them structured in typical African call-and-response, and including many fragments of an Indian language that is rather mysterious. Such words as “handa wanda, hoo-don-day, two-way-pock-e-way, jockamo fin-na-nay” are all examples of this language that are likely familiar to New Orleans music fans through their incorporation into popular song. Just exactly what these phrases actually mean, however, is something of a mystery. Scholars have suggested links with Spanish or French words, but many of their conclusions are far-fetched, and cannot be proven anyway.
On occasions, the big chief who was presiding over the practice grew annoyed when he didn’t feel enough people were singing the words. “You should know these songs. This is the reason a lot of big chiefs don’t hold practices anymore,” he said. “The culture is dying, and we are trying to keep it alive.” But the culture didn’t seem dead on this particular night. It seemed as alive as ever. The room had been somewhat chilly before the practice, but it was downright hot now. The drummers’ faces were covered with sweat, the Indians in the middle of the room danced and jumped to the rhythm with enthusiasm, and those around the edges of the room and upstairs cheered them on. Aesthetically, it could have been a scene from the Caribbean or even from Africa, but it was actually right in the 3rd Ward of New Orleans, not a block from where our second-line had passed earlier in the afternoon. All too soon, the practice came to an end. If it hadn’t, I probably would have remained there all night.

From Zion City to 2nd & Dryades: The Lady Jetsetters Uptown with the Stooges Brass Band

019 Zion City020 Ed's Bar021 Ed's Bar022 Before the Second-Line023 Stooges Brass Band024 Stooges Brass Band025 Stooges Brass Band026 Ed's Bar027 Lady Jetsetters028 Before the Second-Line029 Ed's Bar031 Future Snare Drummer033 Stooges Brass Band034 Before the Second-Line035 Lady Jetsetters037 Lady Jetsetters038 Lady Jetsetters039 Stooges Brass Band040 Stooges Brass Band041 Stooges Brass Band043 Lady Jetsetters044 Lady Jetsetters with The Stooges Brass Band045 Lady Jetsetters046 Lady Jetsetters047 Lady Jetsetters & The Stooges Brass Band048 Lady Jetsetters & The Stooges Brass Band050 Lady Jetsetters051 Lady Jetsetters052 Lady Jetsetters053 Lady Jetsetters054 Lady Jetsetters055 Lady Jetsetters056 Lady Jetsetters057 Lady Jetsetters058 Lady Jetsetters059 Lady Jetsetters060 Lady Jetsetters061 Wild Mohicans062 Buckjumping064 Lady Jetsetters065 Lady Jetsetters066 S & S Club067 Stooges Brass Band068 Lady Jetsetters069 Lady Jetsetters070 Lady Jetsetters071 Lady Jetsetters072 Lady Jetsetters073 Lady Jetsetters075 Lady Jetsetters076 Lady Jetsetters077 Lady Jetsetters078 Buckjumping079 Buckjumping080 Buckjumping082 Lady Jetsetters083 An Uptown Slab084 Lady Jetsetters085 Lady Jetsetters086 Wall of Respect Uptown087 Wall of Respect Uptown088 Lady Jetsetters090 Faubourg Livaudais091 Food Trucks092 2nd & Dryades093 2nd & Dryades094 2nd & Dryades096 Future Trumpeter097 2nd & Dryades098 2nd & Dryades099 2nd & Dryades101 Lady Jetsetters102 Stooges Brass Band103 Bean Brothers Corner105 Pop's House of Blues106 Pop's House of Blues107 Lady Jetsetters109 Lady Jetsetters110 Lady Jetsetters111 Lady Jetsetters112 Buckjumping113 Lady Jetsetters114 Lady Jetsetters115 Lady Jetsetters116 Lady Jetsetters117 Lady Jetsetters121 Lady Jetsetters
Last year, the Lady Jetsetters second-line had started in the new apartments that replaced the Calliope projects, but this year the starting point was a placed called Ed’s Bar in a neighborhood to the north called Zion City, caught in a triangle between Washington Avenue, Earhart Boulevard and South Broad Street. I had never heard of Zion City, but as I walked its streets toward the parade’s starting point, I was amazed at how isolated and rural it looked. A lot of houses and buildings were abandoned, and clearly this area had not come back much since the hurricane. But some of the houses were occupied, there were a few churches, and a bicycle repair shop for the neighborhood kids, and a tiny bar tucked between two houses where vendors and second-liners had gathered. Soon some musicians began to appear as well, members of the Stooges Brass Band who had been engaged for the day’s events. The weather was warm and pleasant, and as we headed out Washington Avenue, we were already a large group. Like all second-lines, the crowd grew bigger as we proceeded, and the dancers became more exuberant, with young men jumping up on roofs and slamming street signs as we came to intersections. Toward the end of the afternoon, the Stooges began playing a number of crowd favorites, including Deniece Williams’ “Cause You Love Me Baby” and Mel Waiters’ “Got My Whiskey”. Although the parade disbanded at the Foxx II on Washington Avenue, it wasn’t all that far away from where we began, and it was easy enough to walk it.

A TBC Brass Band Gig at Midnight in Avondale

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After dinner, I had tried to go to the Kermit Ruffins/Rebirth Brass Band show at Tipitina’s, but they would not allow me inside because I had camera equipment. And TBC had a gig in Avondale anyway, so I headed out to New Orleans East and checked into my motel room, and by that point it was time to head to the Avondale gig, which started at midnight. The location proved to be another hole-in-the-wall club, this one across the street from a large and busy truckstop on Highway 90. The event was apparently a birthday party, and the little club was packed to overflowing, but somehow or other the crowd parted and TBC made their way inside to play for around 20 minutes or so, then marched back out the door and disbanded outside. By then it was nearly 1 in the morning, and I decided to call it a night.

The TBC Brass Band Parading in the Vieux Carre @TBC_BrassBand

001 Shannon Powell002 The Brass Camera004 The Quarter005 A Quarter Bar006 TBC Brass Band007 TBC Brass Band008 TBC Brass Band009 TBC Brass Band010 TBC Brass Band011 Darren Towns012 Darren Towns
Normally, when I drive into New Orleans, my first order of business is to hit a restaurant and get something to eat, but on this particular Saturday, Darren Towns, my bass-drumming partner from the TBC Brass Band had told me that the band had a gig in the French Quarter at 5 PM, so I came straight off the Causeway and headed into the Treme neighborhood, because there’s always free parking available near the Treme Coffeehouse, and when the weather is fairly pleasant and warm, as this day was, the walk is not difficult and rather enjoyable. Unfortunately, I arrived at the museum where the parade was to start a little late, and the band and revelers had already left. I actually had already run into them as I was passing Jackson Square, but I didn’t recognize them because the tuba player was playing a green tuba, and I had never seen Bunny from the TBC with a green tuba. Finding everything dead around the Pharmacy Museum, I decided that the band I had seen must have been TBC after all, so following the distant sounds I heard, I caught back up with them on Royal Street. My eye caught Darren’s and he smiled, and tourists in the quarter were lining the street and filming. The occasion was actually just a private wedding, but quite a crowd was assembling all the same. We headed around the Supreme Court of Louisiana building and finally ended up at K Paul’s Restaurant, where the whole thing came to an end. It was a great way to start a weekend in New Orleans, and Bunny and Darren decided to meet me at Frankie and Johnny’s uptown for some seafood.

Devin Crutcher and the 4 Soul Band Live at the Ice Bar in Southwind @IceBarMemphis @DevinCrutch901

234 Ice Bar235 Ice Bar236 Ice Bar238 Devin Crutcher & 4 Soul239 4 Soul Band240 Devin Crutcher & 4 Soul241 4 Soul Band242 Devin Crutcher & 4 Soul244 Devin Crutcher247 Devin Crutcher248 Otis Logan249 Devin Crutcher250 Lloyd Anderson251 4 Soul Band252 4 Soul Band254 Devin Crutcher & 4 Soul255 Devin Crutcher & 4 Soul
Memphis soul singer Devin Crutcher comes from a legendary musical family in Memphis, the family of Stax songwriter Bettye Crutcher, and is probably the most in-demand male singer in the city today. He can be heard at different venues most nights of any week in Memphis, but it is not so common for him to appear with the excellent 4 Soul Band, which my friend Otis Logan is the drummer for. So when I heard that Devin Crutcher would be performing with 4 Soul and some sort of fashion and hair extravaganza at the Ice Bar on a Sunday night, I made plans to be there. 4 Soul is one of the city’s best soul and funk bands, and Devin is one of the best singers, so his brief two sets of music were a treat indeed, separated by a brief fashion show.

Otis Logan and the 4 Soul Band at the Kickback at @HiToneMemphis

217 The Kickback220 The Kickback221 Otis Logan222 Otis Logan223  4 Soul Band224 4 Soul Band & DJ227 4 Soul Band228 4 Soul Band & DJ230 DJ231 DJ's at the Kickback233 Otis Logan & DJ
My homeboy Otis Logan had told me about an event that Devin Steel of K-97 was sponsoring at the Hi-Tone called the Kickback. The party was to feature several DJ’s, back by Otis on drums, and Otis’ band 4 Soul was supposed to play as well, so I decided to go. The new Hi-Tone on Cleveland seems somewhat smaller than the old Hi-Tone, but it filled up quickly. For most of the evening, Otis was on drums behind several different DJ’s, soloing, adding fills and breakdowns and amplifying the grooves. Briefly, the whole 4 Soul Band played behind the DJ’s as well. The drum and DJ format is new to Memphis, but the crowd seemed to enjoy themselves.

TBC Brass Band At A Party In Gentilly @TBC_BrassBand

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The TBC Brass Band had two gigs on the Sunday night after Thanksgiving, but fortunately, there was enough time between the first one and the second one for my homeboy Darren and I to grab dinner at a new spot in Uptown New Orleans on Freret Street called the Hi Hat. The second gig was at a little hole-in-the-wall club in Gentilly that had a crowd spilling out onto the front lot and the street. This event was apparently also a birthday party, but instead of having the band come inside the tiny club, the decision was made to have them play on the outside and then parade around the neighborhood with the revelers. It was wild, but the whole thing amounted to a little late-night second-line that lasted about 20 minutes. Altogether, it was a lot of fun.

A Birthday Party in New Orleans East with the TBC Brass Band @TBC_BrassBand

143 TBC Brass Band at A Birthday Party in New Orleans East145 A Birthday Party in New Orleans East146 TBC Brass Band147 TBC Brass Band148 TBC Brass Band149 TBC Brass Band150 TBC Brass Band152 TBC Brass Band153 TBC Brass Band154 TBC Brass Band155 TBC Brass Band156 A Birthday Party in New Orleans East157 A Birthday Party in New Orleans East158 A Birthday Party in New Orleans East159 TBC Brass Band
At the end of the second-line, my homeboy Darren had to leave out quickly because the To Be Continued Brass Band had a gig at an apartment complex in New Orleans East, and I wanted to go as well, so we headed out there as quickly as we could, and found that it was a birthday party. With the weather so warm, a huge crowd of people came out to the courtyard to dance and party as TBC played. On trombone was Edward “Juicy” Jackson, just back from Southern University in Baton Rouge (the Bayou Classic had been the day before), and it was great to see him. The band played for about a half hour, and then we all headed out.

Parading Uptown with the Lady Buckjumpers and the Stooges and Rebirth Brass Bands

001 Lady Buckjumpers002 Lady Buckjumpers004 Stooges Brass Band005 Lady Buckjumpers006 Lady Buckjumpers007 Lady Buckjumpers009 Lady Buckjumpers010 Lady Buckjumpers011 Lady Buckjumpers012 Lady Buckjumpers013 Rebirth Brass Band014 Rebirth Brass Band015 Lady Buckjumpers016 Rebirth Brass Band017 Gloria's Restaurant018 Lady Buckjumpers019 Lady Buckjumpers020 Lady Buckjumpers021 Lady Buckjumpers022 Lady Buckjumpers023 Broadway Bar025 Rebirth Brass Band026 Rebirth Brass Band028 Lady Buckjumpers030 Rebirth Brass Band031 Lady Buckjumpers032 Lady Buckjumpers033 Lady Buckjumpers036 Lady Buckjumpers037 Lady Buckjumpers038 Lady Buckjumpers039 Lady Buckjumpers040 At the Second-Line041 Lady Buckjumpers043 Lady Buckjumpers044 Lady Buckjumpers045 Lady Buckjumpers046 Lady Buckjumpers047 Lady Buckjumpers048 Lady Buckjumpers049 Rebirth Brass Band051 Lady Buckjumpers052 Lady Buckjumpers053 Positive Brothers054 Lady Buckjumpers055 At the Second-Line056 At the Second-Line057 Lady Buckjumpers058 Lady Buckjumpers059 Lady Buckjumpers060 Lady Buckjumpers061 Buckjumpers062 Buckjumpers063 Buckjumpers064 Buckjumpers065 Buckjumpers066 Buckjumpers067 Buckjumpers068 Buckjumpers069 Buckjumpers070 Buckjumpers071 Buckjumpers072 Buckjumpers073 Lady Buckjumpers074 Lady Buckjumpers075 Lady Buckjumpers076 Lady Buckjumpers077 Buckjumpers078 Lady Buckjumpers079 Lady Buckjumpers082 Lady Buckjumpers083 Lady Buckjumpers084 Lady Buckjumpers085 Lady Buckjumpers086 Lady Buckjumpers087 Rebirth Brass Band088 Lady Buckjumpers089 Lady Buckjumpers090 Food Trucks091 Food Trucks092 Rebirth Brass Band093 Rebirth Brass Band096 Rebirth Brass Band099 Silky's100 Lady Buckjumpers101 Silky's102 Silky's103 At the Second-Line104 At the Second-Line105 At the Second-Line106 At the Second-Line107 At the Second-Line108 Rebirth Brass Band109 Rebirth Brass Band111 Lady Buckjumpers112 A the Second-Line113 At the Second-Line114 At the Second-Line115 At the Second-Line116 Lady Buckjumpers117 Lady Buckjumpers118 Lady Buckjumpers119 Rebirth Brass Band121 Lady Buckjumpers122 Rebirth Brass Band123 Rebirth Brass Band124 Lady Buckjumpers125 Lady Buckjumpers126 Lady Buckjumpers127 Lady Buckjumpers129 Rebirth Brass Band130 Lady Buckjumpers131 Central City Grocery132 Central City Grocery133 Rebirth Brass Band135 Lady Buckjumpers136 Dancing on a Grave138 Lady Buckjumpers139 Buckjumpers140 Lady Buckjumpers141 Food Trucks142 Lady Buckjumpers
In New Orleans, “buckjumping” is another name for second-lining (in Memphis, it refers to “gangsta walking”), but the term “buckjump” seems to have masculine connotations, and by some accounts, in the earlier days of Black New Orleans culture, it was not common for women to second-line. So, when a group of women started a social aid and pleasure club, they named it the Lady Buckjumpers. Nowadays, they have a men’s auxiliary called the Male Buckjumpers, and their uptown New Orleans parade in November featured two brass bands, the Stooges and the Rebirth, and was one of the largest second-lines I have ever seen. Despite being the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the weather was warm and sunny, and there was a decent crowd at the beginning of the parade route, and of course second-lines pick up participants as they proceed. Here and there, exuberant dancers jumped up on power boxes, roofs, porches, and even graves as we passed by a cemetery, while others slammed the street signs as hard as they could, a tradition whose rationale has been lost to time. At each stop along the route, the crowd seemed to grow larger, and at one of them, the Rebirth Brass Band didn’t take the break, but rather gathered in a circle and played a haunting rendition of “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday.” The act seemed a ritual, probably in honor of fallen musicians. My homeboy Darren from the TBC Brass Band had come with me, and fortunately, he had left his car at one end of the parade, and I had left mine at the other, as this was one of those second-lines that ended several miles away from where it started. At the end of it, I was thoroughly tired, but the pleasant sort of tired, for nobody can really leave a second-line unhappy.