Jazz is the original world music—a hybrid creation of pan African and pan-European musical forms coalescing in a historic port of entry for French, Spanish, and Caribbean-African migrants just as the city was absorbing a wave of Sicilian, Irish, and Jewish newcomers.
Recently, many New Orleans musicians have been experimenting with those roots. You can regularly spot trad jazz players in Balkan Brass bands. It’s a style so popular that there are exclusive venues in both NOLA and New York providing an Eastern European dining and musical experience. Traditional jazz musicians have also been digging into the Caribbean roots of the city, jazzing up arrangements of 1930s calypso songs for their live shows or even, in Charlie Halloran’s case, releasing a whole album in a vintage Caribbean style.
Before all that was the popularity of Klezmer music among the city’s creatives—a happenstance that can be traced to Ben Schenck’s move to New Orleans in 1988 and the founding of the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars. They’ve been without him since 1995, but they are still going strong, and have become a mainstay at Jazz Fest. Schenck instead expanded his musical horizons to explore the full universe of brass band music and founded the Panorama Jazz Band. The name was a nod to the century-old New Orleans Bands with names like “Olympia“.
The Panorama Jazz Band (in certain lineups called the Panorama Brass band) draws inspiration from an array of pre-electrified party music genres—the usual sources being Southern and Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, and Latin America. All is played with brassy New Orleans Jazz feeling. They aren’t traditional jazz but they aren’t anything else either.
This expansiveness could easily flop if it weren’t for the serious musicality Schenck brings to the endeavor. He arranges most of the titles. They occasionally play well-worn tunes like “Oh, Didn’t He Ramble” but more often try their hand at foreign obscurities. The band draws widely from the wealth of local talent. In addition to Charlie Halloran another regular member in Aurora Nealand. When everything works the infectiousness of these strangely familiar good time grooves takes hold and as Schenck puts it “the music plays you.”
Since 2014 the band has been releasing its music in a novel fashion. You can subscribe to a Track-Of-The-Month-Club and receive a new download every month. A subscription gives you access to the back catalog of previous songs of the month, and some other extras. If you prefer the more traditional approach these songs are also available in album size portions. I’ve subscribed, and when I need something just a little funkier they’ve become my go-to.
I tend to prefer them in the Panorama Brass Band line up- if you’re giving them a test drive those are good tracks to start with. My favorite is “Boki 13” which, despite being named for a flamboyant Macedonian reality TV pop star, could be from nowhere but New Orleans.