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Superdome (9:00 AM)
Keynote: The Dalai Lama
Cafe Instanbul (10:00 AM)
A three part conversation for the future of Faubourg St. Roch and all down river communities
Bayou St. John (12:15-9:15 PM)
A music fest on the water featuring Brass-a-holics, Bonerama, Blake Amos, the Coyotes, and more
Zeitgeist (1:00 PM- 4:00 PM)
Live streaming of the Dalai Lama speaking
Art Klub, 513 Elysian Fields Ave (2:00 and 8:00 PM)
An interactive and sparkling performance presented by Nari Tomassetti
Zeitgeist (6:00 PM)
“A Fierce Light” screening
The First Presbyterian Church on South Claiborne Ave (7:00 PM)
Local and regional artists and photographers donate their work in support of children’s healthcare
Shadowbox Theatre (8:00 PM)
Straightforward conversational drama explores one area's gentrification through 50 years
The New Movement Theater (8:00 PM)
Storytelling, improv, sketch, funny videos and refreshments courtesy of New Orleans Ice Cream Company and Abita to kick off season 2 of our web series Least Favorite Love Songs
Circle Bar (10:00 PM)
Rock group with the motto “Prose before hoes” plays on St. Claude
Maple Leaf (10:40 PM)
Funky New Orleans natives introduce their new EP, Painkiller
Hi- Ho Lounge (11:00 PM)
Weekly dance party with the Queen of Rare Groove
From Lark to Legacy
Audio Filé: The New Leviathan Oriental Foxtrot Orchestra's Multi-Generational Revival
One of Julia Street’s best-kept secrets is the weekly gathering of a New Orleans music phenomenon like no other.
It was early fall of last year, an exceptionally gorgeous evening during one of the monthly Art Walks in the galleries in the Warehouse District. One of my last stops before heading back to my friends’ party was a small gallery that appeared to be the most quiet on the block. The artist, George Schmidt, was particularly talkative about his paintings and drawings, explaining in great detail the methods he utilized and the historical significance of many of the images portrayed in his works. He seemed fully aware that I had no ability or intention of purchasing a work that evening, but was enthusiastic to entertain an audience nonetheless.
I briefly discussed my foray into audio storytelling, with a heavy emphasis on covering the arts. He recommended a great PBS documentary about an artist, and as I signed the guestbook before leaving, he added, almost as an afterthought, that he played banjo in an 18-piece ragtime revival orchestra that rehearsed in the space next door every Thursday evening, and that if it was something I might be interested in doing a story on, to stop by anytime.
A musical oddity . . . a piece of living history . . . hidden in plain sight . . . meeting once a week on Julia Street. Would I be interested in doing a story on this?
You bet your sweet bow tie I would.
I set Mr. Schmidt’s card aside and vowed to work on a piece on them when I found the right time and place for it.
Fast forward a few months to Jazz Fest, when in looking at the lineup, I came across the very long and familiar name, so I decided to pay a visit to their rehearsal.
The New Leviathan Oriental Foxtrot Orchestra, as it turns out, is an unusual New Orleans institution with a history as colorful as some of the paintings in Schmidt’s Julia Street gallery. Named for a German boat and inspired by the early 1970’s ragtime revival, New Leviathan has long outlived the actual subgenre of ragtime dance music, according to managing director and trombonist John Craft.
“It came about as something of a student lark in 1972," Craft said. "That was during the period of the oh-so-serious ragtime revival. A bunch of guys, some undergraduates and some guys who spent all day in a coffee shop got together and decided that they would revive something not worth reviving, which was the Oriental Foxtrot, to spoof that other revival. So they put on a show, the title of which was ‘An Oriental Extravaganza.’ It reintroduced the Oriental Foxtrot to the rest of the world. We've now been playing the Oriental foxtrot for over 40 years, which is a lot longer than it was ever played originally. . . “
The large ensemble may have started as a clever farce, but it soon received an overwhelmingly serious public response, recalls Schmidt.
“It was like an hour's worth of concert, with an explanation of why this music is so important to America, and why it should be preserved," he said. "You know, things like ‘Sheik of Araby,’ ‘China Baby,’ you know, we still play a few of ‘em. But it was a musical joke that we were performing. We had a big audience. We had the concert at Dixon Hall at Tulane and it was packed. A lot of old-timers. This one guy came up to me as we were settin’ up you know, getting ready to start, and he says, ‘We're countin' on ya’ son. We're countin’ on ya'!’ It was like one last gasp.“
New Leviathan has expanded their repertoire over the years to include other songs of the same era with similar mood and sound. The ensemble continuously adds obscure references and oddities, always with a wink and a nod. That’s where Bobby Skinner comes in. He plays a rare instrument known as the concert theremin. One of the earliest electronic musical instruments, the theremin sound is familiar to most people from its use in film soundtracks. And like many other elements of the orchestra, it started out as a joke, Skinner said.
"I had been practicing it, and I thought it might sound good on some of the slower lyrical numbers like the 'Sheik of Araby,' for example . . .'Home in Pasadena,' among other things. So I brought it to the orchestra and they just squealed. They thought it was a riot , so that was it. “
Thanks to their cheeky humor, theatrical presence, and early-cinema sound, the orchestra is no stranger to Hollywood. In 1978, they performed on the now-infamous Saturday Night Live Mardi Gras special, shot live on location in New Orleans.
“It was when Gilda Radner was still on and Jane Curtain. The parades were late and all sorts of things. We bumped The Meters (for time). It was all messed up. On that program, Jane Curtain said ‘Mardi Gras means ‘there is no parade.’ Because the parade never did come, “ founding member and clarinetist Jack Stewart remembers.
What keeps this living time capsule going strong after so many years? Perhaps it’s the vast age-range of its performers. The oldest musician is in his 80’s. The youngest is violinist Sam Craft (son of trombonist John.) Sam is best-known for his work in the local indie-rock scene and as a session musician here in New Orleans, but he was practically raised by the orchestra.
“I started playing with this group when I was 13 or 14, but I've literally been listening to this music my entire life," Craft said. "I was brought out to concerts as a baby. I always listened to tapes and CD's growing up. It's really interesting. People in their early 20's, they hear this music from the early (19)20's and they want to dance to it. When they see this, they instantly get it, they want to learn more about it. I think it's fascinating. It's an awesome museum piece into old New Orleans and the beginning era of jazz and it's a really cool little window into the past. “
The New Leviathan Oriental Foxtrot Orchestra may be singularly responsible for keeping a unique part of New Orleans music history alive, but at the end of the day, they always remain in on the joke, with Schmidt ready to deliver the punchline.
“You know, this outfit's a lot like a bridge club. We meet every Thursday or Wednesday or whenever, and everybody comes and plays all these tunes. It’s been a lot of fun and that’s about it.”
Dead Huey Long, Emma Boyce, Ian Hoch, Sarah Esenwein, Ryan Sparks, Will Dilella, Chris Rinaldi, Lianna Patch, Phil Yiannopoulos, Cate Czarnecki, Jonas Griffin, Jennifer Abbot, Mary Kilpatrick, Elaina Patton, Mike Horst, Devin Bambrick, Katherine McGuire, Norris Ortolano, Joe Shriner
Ryan Sparks, Kerem Ozkan
Michael Weber, B.A.
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