Since we can’t go to live performances, this might be the next best thing.
In 2017, out of thousands of national submissions, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series picked one winning entry. That entry was from New Orleans’ own Tank and the Bangas. When they played, they brought their unique mix of Hip Hop, R&B, Funk, Jazz, Poetry and pure showmanship to NPR’s offices.
These days, most of us have some extra time on our hands, so, if you haven’t fallen down the glorious rabbit hole of Tiny Desk Concert viewing yet, may I suggest you start with this?
As a musician myself, I devour live music voraciously but I’m not easily won over by bells and whistles. What makes Tiny Desk Concerts unique is that, while the sound quality is crystal clear and the video quality is A+, the stripped-down simplicity of the performances feels honest. Performers are literally cramming themselves into an office space and playing during lunch breaks. Even when the guests are glamorous, like Lizzo, Taylor Swift, Coldplay, Wu-Tang Clan or Adele, the set-up is straight forward and you can see the musicians’ fingers actually playing their instruments. You can hear the artists talk about what’s on their mind. It lets you feel as if you’re in the room with them.
Here’s a 2018 performance from PJ Morton that is entirely about the importance of being sincere and being yourself. He literally begins by singing, “So many people didn’t want me to be myself but I decided that I was gonna be PJ no matter what, no matter what people told me and tried to get me to do ‘cause they say stuff like this, they say, ‘PJ you’re not mainstream enough, would you consider us changing some stuff, like everything about who you are?’
PJ soars across the keys while wielding powerful words like, “I must admit. I’m claustrophobic. I have a hard time trying to fit into your small mind.” While he could have carried the performance alone, he chose to invite over a dozen musicians to squish behind that tiny desk with him.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band gave a performance in 2017 that was faithfully and organically New Orleans. It featured prominent face sweat, one band member in sunglasses, one in a tie, two in button-downs, one in a tracksuit, and one in a polo. Nothing fancy, fake, polished or extraneous, just the meat of the music.
Dirty Dozen collectively teased and coaxed the audience by saying, “Now, this is the song where you all participate but y’all been a little bit stiff, not moving. (We don’t allow that.) Don’t just stand there and clap like that, you know, move. Put your back into it. Drop it like it’s hot. All that stuff y’all do behind closed doors. Do it now. (Well… not all of it.)”
Tiny Desk host, Bob Boilen, described the performance as, “They’re simply an abundance of euphoria. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band blasted the Tiny Desk with a sousaphone, trumpets, saxophones, guitar and drums, at stunning volume, for a joyful celebration.”
To people from outside of Louisiana, the impact of a sousaphone in an office space must have been startling. To us, it’s the sound of home.
You’ve probably caught on by now, this isn’t just a roundup of Tiny Desk performances. It’s a spotlight on our musicians, of the many times we’ve brought the sound of New Orleans to Washington D.C. and, now, this is a small way to bring that sound back into our homes, in lieu of going out to a night at Chickie Wah Wah’s or The Spotted Cat.
Enjoy Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews’ 2011 performance featuring a song called “Lagniappe.” Troy explains, “It’s kinda like a New Orleans type of thing that we do down in the street. It’ll probably never sound the same after this.”
This 2015 Terence Blanchard feat. The E-Collective performance is a bit of a departure. It’s not a classic New Orleans sound, though he is a New Orleans musician through and through. It’s experimental jazz: a wandering, complex, take it or leave it kind of fusion. The album his band was touring for at the time was a unique one because it tackled the Black Lives Matter movement. It was called “Breathless”, a nod to “I can’t breathe,” and they do a stunning performance of the title track, thanks, in part, to pianist Fabian Almazan. The track “Soldiers” “is for social workers that have been doing all of the important work out in communities,” Terence added.
More recently, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah did another spectacular politically-driven, instrumental gig worth watching.
The Preservation Hall Band played on Christmas back in 2013, if it’s not too hot for some holiday cheer.
Enjoy this smooth, breezy recent performance by R&B up and comer, Lucky Daye.
And check out this extraordinary combination of The Soul Rebels, in strong form, backing hip hop legend GZA.
If you’ve watched all of those videos and you’re still craving more intimate music from local Louisiana bands, may I suggest these Tiny Desk concerts from Lafayette’s Indie Rock bands Brass Bed and GIVERS, this 2019 selection of Tiny Desk’s first-ever metal band feature, Thou, hailing from Baton Rouge, and some Cajun and Creole Rock n’ Roll from Southern Louisiana’s Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys? Happy viewing.