I have yet to make it up to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, but I did meet them halfway the other night when they hosted an outdoor concert at El Sito Feliz Garden on West 104th Street in Spanish Harlem. It was the band that drew me there: The Lucky Chops Brass Band.
I had never heard these boys play. And boys they were, in their early 20s. But I have a soft spot for brass bands and, while there is an abundance in places like New Orleans, you don’t seem to get a whole lot of them up here in New York City. And Lucky Chops did not disappoint. In fact, I was beyond surprised by how good, authentic, inventive, and entertaining these musicians were.
First of all, how many brass bands do you know with a baritone sax? They’ve got a kid who can play the shit out of that thing, and manage to dance while doing it. The trombone player seems to be that band’s leader, as well as an extremely likable fellow who offers up the occasional vocal accompaniment. Add to that equally strong sax and trumpet players, a classically understated drummer, and a tuba player that’s even shorter than I am. It’s a magical mix of talent, energy, and passion.
I don’t know if this is the regular line-up, as it’s the only time I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them perform (so far!). But what I did gather is they are a collective from the tri-state area with the core emerging from a Bronx high school – all too recently for my gray-haired head.
Rather than being a bunch of wannabes, this quintet offered its own take on classics like Joe Avery and Let’s Do It Again. They reached heavenly heights with gospel favorites like I’ll Fly Away and This Little Light of Mine. And they pioneered brilliant interpretations of R&B hits like I Want You Back and My Girl. Mix in some blues, a little ska, and a touch of klezmer and you’ve got the winning repertoire of the Luck Chops Brass Band.
Second only to the sounds they make is the performance they give. Traditional New Orleans brass bands are known for adding a little theater to their stage performance, and these kids certainly don’t lose sight of that – as many northern imitators do. Not only do they deliver musically, but they also put on a lively show. Even the deaf will be entertained!
The gig I saw was the last of the National Jazz Museum’s summer garden concert series for the 2013 season (and the light was fading, so please forgive the quality of these photos and videos). But you can catch the boys at Battery Harris in Williamsburg, where they appear to be regulars, or visit the band’s Web site for upcoming shows. I know I’ll find my way over there this fall to get another fix, and thank my lucky stars for discovering the Lucky Chops Brass Band!