If it's Fall in New Orleans, it must be Nickel-A-Dance season!

If it's Fall in New Orleans, it must be Nickel-A-Dance season!
September 27, 2010
By: Geraldine Wyckoff
The Louisiana Weekly

"If I don't beat, I don't eat," exclaims the very busy Shannon Powell, who kicks off the popular Nickel-A-Dance fall series on Sunday, October 3, 2010 (4 p.m. to 7 p.m.). At Frenchmen Street's Maison club, the versatile New Orleans drummer, a product of the culturally rich Treme neighborhood, fronts a solid bunch of players who are wise to the traditional jazz born of this city. There will be a lot of heritage on the bandstand with clarinetist Charlie Gabriel and trumpeter Mark Braud both boasting long lineages in classic jazz among the musicians that include bassist Kerry Lewis, pianist Ricky Monet trombonist Freddy Lonzo and saxophonist Christian Winther.

When it comes to traditional jazz, Powell, who began his musical career with Danny Barker's Fairview Baptist Church Brass Band and joined the legendary banjoist/guitarist's Jazzhounds at age 14, stands as a crusader in keeping the music vital. It's one of the reasons he feels that the Nickel-A-Dance programs, which put classic jazz in the spotlight, are so important.

"In New Orleans right now, the real traditional part of New Or­leans is being mistreated," Powell adamantly declares. "People are buying into so much bullshit that the real stuff of New Orleans is getting pushed aside. We as musicians and as the people who live here have to keep a perspective on the music so that people respect it."

On a similar note, Powell finds that some musicians/bands only perform a cursory number of tunes and don't dig deep enough into New Orleans jazz's deep song book. At the Maison, as well as at the drummer's other traditional gigs such as at Preservation Hall, he enjoys performing less often heard material like "Panama Rag" and "High Society."

Wednesdays, Powell changes hats to sit behind the drums at Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse to perform more modern material as a part of the NOJO Jam Session. Lately, this gig has become a tribute night and on September 29, the group, with Powell, trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, pianist Peter Harris and trombonist Michael Watson will honor the late great drummer James Black.

It was Black who introduced Powell to modern jazz. At the time, when Powell was about eight or nine, Black lived at 1200 Ursulines Street, just around the corner from Powell's home at 1313 St. Philip Street. So the youngster would just walk over to his mentor's house.

"His greatest lesson to me was how to play in different time signatures," Powell remembers. "He had a great ability to play drums melodically - you could hear the melody in the songs."

Powell, who showed off his vocal talents on his CD, Powell's Place, also leads his own trio at Mayfield's Bourbon Street club. On those nights he plays a mix of material from tunes made famous by Ray Charles and standards to mixing in originals from the pens of bassist Roland Guerin and vibest/drummer Jason Marsalis. Pianist David Torkanowsky is often onboard for these dates as well. Some of these same musicians rotate with others to join Shannon at a new spot, Hermes, adjacent to Antoine's restaurant. He's there every other Friday night with October 8 being his next date at the cocktail lounge.

"I'm all over the place," says Powell, who's often in and out of town traveling abroad with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band or leading his own groups.

So, if you can't make it to one spot where Powell is playing, you can always make it to another because whenever he's on the bandstand, it's Powell's Place.

"That's for sure," the always smiling drummer enthusiastically agrees.
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