Vipers know how to strike up a tune
Jazz saxophonist Joe Braun doesn’t want people to forget about the city he calls home.”We’re on our own down there there’s no real help,” said Braun, co-founder of the New Orleans Jazz Vipers. “If you’re on Bourbon Street, you can almost have the illusion it’s the same, but if you walk 10 miles toward the lake you can see the flood lines and the empty houses. The rebuilding of the city is taking place one house at a time.”Braun may not be a New Orleans native, like so many of his talented colleagues, but his allegiance to the Crescent City is just as strong. He was born in Queens, N.Y., raised in Long Island, and moved to New Orleans in 1994.”I came from a musical family. My uncle is a professional flutist. My dad was an amateur jazz pianist and his father, who I never met, was a voice instructor and had a studio at the Metropolitan Opera,” he said.
Braun is not shy about voicing his opinion especially regarding the Hurricane Katrina devastation still plaguing the city.”The government bureaucracy completely failed us,” said Braun, who evacuated to the Baton Rouge area before Katrina hit. “Watching that, day after day, with no help coming in and letting people think it was the end of the world, I was thinking that it was a conspiracy to destroy a great American city. Nobody can stop a storm. But what happened after that, nobody can forget what happened after that. It was an atrocity.”In his Bywater neighborhood in the Ninth Ward one of New Orleans’ worst affected areas Braun said residents begged for help often with no response.”The words ‘Food,’ ‘Water,’ and ‘Help’ were written in the street in big block letters. The helicopters were flying back and forth,” he said. “Some people were heroic and other people turned into monsters. But that will happen anywhere in any population if you leave people without food or water for five days.”
Braun’s home mostly incurred wind damage to the roof and siding. Other members of the New Orleans Jazz Vipers were not so fortunate.”My house got battered by the wind but didn’t take on any water. I’m very lucky,” Braun said. “Robert (Snow, the band’s bass player) lost everything. Our fiddle player (Neti Vaan) had about four feet of water in the house.”The Vipers have since returned to New Orleans and play every Monday and Friday at the popular Spotted Cat Cocktail Lounge on Frenchmen Street.”We just released our third CD, ‘I Hope You’re Comin’ Back.’ The title is the message. There’s no place like New Orleans,” said Braun, who wrote the album’s title original track, “I Hope You’re Comin’ Back to New Orleans.” “We’re very concerned in New Orleans about so many people who haven’t come back. There are New Orleans people scattered all over. You can’t have the culture without the people. It can never be the same, but the spirit of the city is very strong. It’s going to take more than one storm to knock us out.”
Summer of Jazz organizers Bob and Mary Noone caught one of the Vipers’ energetic nonamplified shows in New Orleans at the Spotted Cat in April. They signed the band for tonight’s free jazz concert soon after the intimate show.”The place is so small, their instruments were practically hitting the audience in the face,” Bob Noone said.The band also performed a memorable gig this year at the Midsummer’s Night Swing festival in June at New York City’s Lincoln Center.”That’s the most prestigious show we’ve played,” Braun said. “There were swing dancers all over the place dancing to our music.”Braun said to expect a jumpin’ and jivin’ show with plenty of New Orleans jazz spirit in the park tonight.”Get ready to dance,” he said. “We’re a traditional jazz band that leans more toward the hot, swing rhythms.”
Every Wednesday, the Summer of Jazz concert series hosts free concerts from 7-9:30 p.m. at Two Rivers Park. This year, Summer of Jazz is in tribute to New Orleans music and its heritage. Each week the Post Independent profiles the featured musicians and acts. For more information on The New Orleans Jazz Vipers, visit http://www.summerofjazz.com.Name: The New Orleans Jazz VipersType of jazz played: New Orleans swing band whose repertoire includes well-known favorites and obscure songs from Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Dicky Wells, Benny Carter, and Count BasieMost memorable show: Midsummers Night Swing festival in June at New York Citys Lincoln Center
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