My lady asked for a trip away from New England for our holiday gift this year, and noticing that my passport was expired, and discovering super affordable tickets we chose to return to New Orleans. A visit to the city that is one of the great music cities in America, and a culinary and cultural hub as well- is always a pleasure. We booked five days and off we went in late December.
We landed very early in the day to have traveled from Boston- and found ourselves out and about on the very first evening of our arrival. We’d been to NOLA together twice before, so we were familiar with the pace. We wandered up Bourbon street, and because we weren’t overly distracted by the bars and t-shirt shops as we would have been on earlier trips, we found ourselves at the other end of Bourbon on a brisk night for the Crescent City.
We wandered into a friendly looking place called Fritzel’s. One rustic looking sign inside said FRITZEL’S EUROPEAN JAZZ CLUB, while another seemed to tout the room as a Dixieland location. The stage was merely two tiny risers, and it’s amazing that the band could pack a full drum set, upright bass, tenor guitar and trumpet along with a couple vocal mics there. There was a host who would show people to their seats in order to pack the most people into this small bar as possible. While there were tables, we sat in a section that was essentially benches with another higher bench for you to set your drink.
The band played, and were amazing. From what I could tell the band was called the Colin Myers Quartet, but there was no Colin Myers. Like maybe this was Colin’s slot, and maybe he got sick, and maybe most of these guys were normally this band, and maybe the trumper player band leader came in as sub, or maybe, maybe?
This, however, does not preface you to understand that the music was sublime. The quartet had a 1930s jazz feel, and my later research on the songs that they played verified my feeling on this. I am no expert on jazz or New Orleans music but this band had heavy doses of both. The vocals were clean and clear, and everybody took their turn impressing on their instrument.
I have been near to addicted to the song It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie since I heard it that night. Penned by Billy Mayhew, the song has been performed by many including Patti Page, the Ink Spots, John Denver, Pat Boone and likely many more. The rest of the set followed suit, with songs that are American classics but exist in a genre with which I wasn’t super familiar. Old Green River came next and was similarly classic.
Trumpet player Zach explained that the next chestnut that they’d be playing was the song Crazy Rhythm, which is a classic instrumental jazz tune. You feel like you recognize it because it has that universal quality to the orchestration and melodies, and Zach explained why. It’s the song that Steve Martin discovers (as the character Navin) in the Jerk that he has rhythm.
Another great song was Until the Real Thing Comes Along. Alberta Nichols wrote the music and Mann Holiner wrote the lyrics. The song was originally feautred in a Boradway revue Rhapsody in Black. The song has since been done by Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, The Ink Spots, Nat King Cole, and more recently by the Hot Sardines.
Tenor guitarist Ellis “Slicin” Dyson took the lead a couple of times including the set closer Carless Love. This song dates back to the 1920s, and is touted as a Dixieland classic with various versions from Ray Charles, Bessie Smith, Rosemary Clooney, and even has been adapted into a Korean song that has been covered by numerous singers on the Peninsula.
Hear the whole set that we heard that night:
I might normally tout a schedule in this part of a venue spotlight article. THESE REGIONAL AND NATIONAL BANDS ARE PLAYING… Or I might try to interview the programmer or owner of a club. But the magic of this room felt too special to question. I went to the website which didn’t really mention any bands, other than Fritzel’s All Stars, or New Orlesans Jazz Bands, or the occasional residency or Richard ‘Piano’ Scott who seems to play frequently, along with the Hunter Burgamy trio. I’m sure that any set at Fritzel’s is amazing.
While I went on to see more music in New Orleans, both casually and formally, our hour at Fritzel’s was most magical. In a certain way, it is the quintessential Dixieland jazz club, unpretentious, soaked in atmosphere and history. What felt like a casual pickup band maybe was a group of musicians who ended up channeling everything good about the Big Easy. I’ve been shows great and small, and building a new memory, feeling and seeing something that I haven’t before, is a rare and special event.
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