Feeling Groovy New Orleans at Storyville in Helsinki

Went to Finland for about a week. I also had a chance to see an opera in the 15th century castle up north, pick and eat blueberries along the wayside, and of course enjoy jazz.
One of long summer nights in Helsinki, I found a performance featuring Leroy Jones, by a group called Spirit of New Orleans (SONO) at Storyville, about a 10-minute walk from Central Station. Leroy Jones is a trumpet player from New Orleans. In the 90’s, he worked in a big band such as Harry Connick’s, and developed a jazz rooted in New Orleans tradition such as Louis Armstrong’s. He also provides vocal in this group. The SONO’s leader is Katja Toivola, a Finnish trombonist born in 1975. She is the first female wind instrument player to play regularly in the New Orleans Preservation Hall. Intrigued by traditional jazz, she frequently visited New Orleans since the 1990s and married to Leroy Jones.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, as many of the musicians did, they had tough time, but then they gradually expanded their activities as SONO, and as a unit called New Orleans Helsinki Connection (NOHC). They have been performing in Helsinki several times a year, and abroad (such as New Zealand).
It was a rather chilly summer evening, and the electric heater hanging on the table was on.

The group delivers all groovy tunes but above all, the woman at the piano has a very good touch, solid and lyric and I interviewed the leader Katja at the end of the set. This piano is Riita Paaki. No wonder her RPT(riitta paakki trio) album are one of 10 picks I got from the Bearded Man recommendation of the jazz and world music record shop Digerius. I fell in love instantly.
Upon my request of the unit’s recommended picks, knowing that I came from Japan, Katja presented me two CDs, one of which is “Mahogany Hall Stomp” with Mari Watanabe on the piano. The title! This is one of most popular tunes by Louis Armstrong. Recorded in 1929 the year of the Great Depression. Other super classics such as Ain’t Nobody’s Business (which Billie Holiday sang at the Carnegie Hall concert in 1956), St. Louis Blues and more. The other is “Paradise on Earth” by the unit NOHC. Nobu Ozaki is at the bass. The title and opening tune of Paradise on Earth is a lovely heart-warming song by Katja’s pen.

Mari Watanabe is from the New Orleans Jazz Club of Waseda University, moved to New Orleans in 1985, and has been a well-received musician since. She is currently the leader of Chosen Few Jazz Band (the name is awesome).
The music in New Orleans is deep and broad anyway. Music includes a brass band (Dirty Dozen Brass Band comes to mind immediately), Mardi Gras Indian music (now also known as New Orleans funk. The Meters are representative), New Orleans style piano such as Professor Longhair, Alan Toussaint, and British-born John Cleary. New Orleans funk I hardly knows, but other fields I have been listening to. My long-time interest is Randy Newman who spent his childhood in New Orleans. He has great tunes such as Louisiana 1927, New Orleans Wins the War, and so on.
In Trad Jazz (a generic term including Dixieland Jazz and New Orleans Jazz), Japanese predecessors from the 1960s, for example, Yoshio and Keiko Toyama went to New Orleans on a “migrant ship”, to study and play Trad Jazz music. It seems that there is a tradition of going to learn and getting familiar with the area and music. The efforts of predecessors like Toyama’s and their love for music are linked to a growing circle of trust with local musicians and people who love Preservation Hall and its culture and history. They played with George Lewis and Kid Thomas. These little but impressive episodes of the Toyama’s are found Takao Ogawa’s ” Jazz in Japan as Witnessed by Great Predecessors “.

Set list
1. Undecided
2. Bye Bye Blackbird
3. On Sunny Side of the Street (videos shown below under permission:video quality is low at the moment because of technical issues, which I am still working on.)
4. Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None of My Jelly Roll
5. Georgia On My Mind
6. It’s Only a Shanty in Old Shanty Town

Katja Toivola (tb)
Leroy Jones (tp, vo)
Riitta Paakki(p)
Teemu Keranen(b)
Mikko Hassinen(ds)
Storyville, Helsinki, July 13, 2019


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