Fronted by bandleader, bassist and vocalist Taylor Smith, The Roamin' Jasmine come straight out of the French Quarter, their sound bred in the swamps and bayous.
The Roamin' Jasmine explore a wide berth of music, from 1920s-era speakeasy blues and traditional standards as well as original compositions given a healthy dose of New Orleans something-something that hits the ears just right.
Before they wow Australian audiences for the first time, The Roamin' Jasmine tell us about what they have planned for their sojourn Down Under.
How did you guys come together?
[Taylor Smith] After finishing music school at University of Miami in 2010, I started out in New Orleans as a full time busker playing on the streets of the French Quarter with a number of different bands. I played trad jazz, country blues, ragtime, jug band, and even a bit of Balkan music.
Through that experience I met a whole community of musicians who were interested in this music from an earlier era that felt so perfect to play amid the 18th & 19th century buildings of the French Quarter. Over time, more of my fellow musicians started getting gigs in the clubs around town, but we would all still play on the street as it was often more lucrative than some of the club gigs.
During this time I always worked as a bass player, but since I was a kid I had always sang in choirs and fronted my own bands. So I started forming a plan to start my own group. I loved the music I had been playing, but as a composer I thought a lot of that music could benefit from having some more tightly-arranged parts and dynamics.
So I got to work writing out three-part horn section arrangements of a lot of the old tunes I had been playing, along with some original songs that I had been writing. I called up some of the musicians who I had been playing with on the street and started having some rehearsals, and then started heading out to the streets to test out the new tunes.
Since many of the musicians in New Orleans play in ten different bands, the line-up has changed around a lot since the beginning, but we had all played a lot together in different bands around town, so it didn’t take long to get used to each other’s playing. Our first inside gig was at a DIY puppet show venue called The Mudlark Theatre; our second was a wedding, and then by the fall (autumn) of that year we started playing semi-regularly at a bar in the Marigny called Mimi’s.
As a native, what does New Orleans music mean to you?
Since I grew up in Boston, and came to New Orleans by way of Miami, Florida, I’m certainly not a native. But in the seven years that I’ve lived here, the music of this city has become dear to my heart. I’d say the best way to experience one of the most pure New Orleanian music forms is to go to a second line.
A second line is a parade put on by groups called Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, that originated in the late 19th and early 20th century in New Orleans’ black communities as a kind of life insurance to pay for the club members’ funeral expenses (because in New Orleans, you’ve gotta have a band play at your funeral!).
These groups would also put on a parade each year in which all the members would get dressed up in their finest and dance along the parade route with the brass band, and anyone who wants to join in dancing along behind the club members. So the first line refers to the club members and the band, the second line: all the public following and dancing behind them.
This tradition continues to this day, with second lines nearly every Sunday during the cooler months of the year featuring some of the best brass bands in town. At these parades, you get such ecstatic, joyful energy from both the sound of the brass band musicians and even more so from the people dancing wildly down the streets as the parade goes by that many people say it is like a religious experience, that the second line is their church. Except that people will also set-up little DIY bars and grills along the entire route. There is really nothing like it in this world that I have experienced.
For you, what defines the New Orleans sound?
I think overall, it’s a rhythmic feel that some describe as feeling a bit more 'loose' than other music. There are so many different rhythms that make up the different varieties of New Orleans styles that you can definitely attribute to the West African influence, but you can also hear the influence of European military marching band music as the skeleton framework.
Similarly, what sets it apart from other styles of jazz and rhythm & blues?
Again, I would say it’s the rhythmic feel with which people play. Horn players here often play a bit 'behind the beat', meaning there's a slightly laid-back, less aggressive feel to where they place the notes and accents. There’s a certain drum feel in a lot of the early rhythm and blues and also in a lot of New Orleans brass band music that falls somewhere in between straight and swing feel that you don’t really hear in other styles of music. It's very danceable and always has been.
Describe your live shows... is it a sweat-fest by set's end?
Ha! Thankfully we play mostly in places with air-conditioning, but our weekly, Sunday gig is at a place called Bacchanal that is an outdoor-patio venue. There have definitely been some sweaty, summer nights over there! Musically, for our live gigs I try to incorporate a good mixture of the variety of styles we play: from straight rhythm and blues, to '30s swing, to Calypso, all within one set and just trying to keep the energy level going.
I usually start with a nice, high-energy dance tune to get people going and keeping the tempo and energy up for the first few tunes. Then depending on the audience I might even put in a sweet ballad number towards the end of the set, so people can slow dance. It really depends what the vibe is of the crowd and the venue. We have a different set for our swing dancers, from our listening rooms, and our festival sets; we really let the crowd define the energy.
For Dashville Skyline in particular, what do you have planned?
We are definitely planning on doing a lot of high energy, danceable tunes for Dashville. Lots of bluesy Americana tunes. A lot of music from the American South was built for communities to dance to and that is a really important element to our repertoire. We’ll also be incorporating some of the new, original songs that I’ve been working on with Lachlan Bryan and we’ll even have him join us as a guest vocalist for multiple numbers.
Will the Dashville shows be your first time in Australia?
This will be our first tour of Australia and all of our first time in Australia, but we will have been playing gigs around the country from 16 September up until Dashville, so we should be over our jet-lag and fluent in the local dialect by then!
Are you planning on doing any sightseeing or tourist-y things while you're here? Hug a koala maybe?
Yes! Can you tell us where we can hug a koala? I am somewhat terrified of having to watch out for kangaroos on the highway, but very excited to see them. I've also heard the Great Ocean Road near Melbourne is something to check out.
What's the toughest gig the band has ever played?
There was one gig at our weekly Sunday residency at Bacchanal when two guys directly in front of the band were literally yelling at the top of their lungs, over and over, for no apparent reason (obviously drunk!). They quieted down eventually, but it took a bit!
We also had one gig at this Italian restaurant in Baltimore where we arrived and were told by the manager that the show had been cancelled because they didn’t sell enough tickets, but we said we’d play anyways since we had come all that way and didn’t have anything else to do. So we played acoustically for about three people who were at the bar, who were actually really nice and bought our CDs, so it wasn’t so terrible in the end.
If we came to New Orleans for the day and you were our tour guide, where would we go and what would we do?
If you came on a Sunday, I would first take you to brunch at Atchafalaya (named after a swamp/ bayou in Louisiana), then I would definitely take you to a second line parade. Then we could go over to Royal Street and listen to some of the busking bands. Then over to Central City BBQ for dinner if you didn't have enough barbecue at the second line parade.
Then down to Frenchmen Street in the evening to check out music in any of the 11 live music venues there. Then late night head over to Dos Jefe’s Uptown Cigar Bar to check out whatever live band is playing there and get some good cocktails. And if we have time between Frenchmen and Dos Jefes, we could stop by Courtyard Brewing on the way for a beer and whatever awesome food truck they have that night.
If it’s not Sunday, we can do all the same things without the second line, but with more music and food during that afternoon slot. Or if you're being especially good, I might take to you Horace's Bar, a really special place; a corner speak-easy where the owner buzzes the door to let you in and he won't let people in under 30 unless you know my girlfriend who's been in the neighbourhood for 7 years.
It's one block away from my house, where for the price of a lite beer they give you a generous plate of food, like boiled shrimp and sausage or red beans and rice, and other traditional New Orleans food. It's where we taped our newest album, Live at Horace's and where we shot a couple of videos. When are you coming?
The Roamin' Jasmine ShowsSun 17 Sep - Hardy's Bay Club
Wed 20 Sep - Gin Lane (Melbourne)
Thu 21 Sep - The Retreat Hotel (Melbourne)
Sat 23 Sep - Billy Roy's Blues Bar (Bendigo)
Sun 24 Sep - Caravan Music Club (Melbourne)
Thu 28 Sep - Leadbelly (Sydney)
Fri 29 Sep - Dashville Skyline (Hunter Valley)
Sat 30 Sep - Tamworth Hotel
Sun 1 Oct - Dashville Skyline (early show)
Sun 1 Oct - Shady Pines Saloon (Sydney, late show)