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Notations From…Big Sam


Trombonist/vocalist/composer Big Sam [Williams] is at home with funk, but he’s no stranger to jazz. It runs in his family. He’s been nominated for a Grammy, played in the TV series Treme, joined the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at age 19 and currently heads up Big Sam’s Funky Nation.

Part I of II 

If you could go back to any era and speak to any jazz man, whom would you be talking to? 

I’d say it would be Buddy Bolden (cornetist and founder-father of jass [jazz]). He’s my great grandfather. My family doesn’t know too much about him other than what’s already in books. But I’d like to have a sit-down with him and pick his brain, talk to him and see what’s happening, try to force him to record something because there are no recordings of him ever. He’s responsible for King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. They all looked up to him. 

Are you a different musician today than when you first started out? 

Oh, yeah, when I first started, I was a little bit more laid back. I played a lot of straight-ahead jazz. I just did everything through my horn. I wasn’t dancing a lot. But now, a couple of years later, I’m more expressive through my playing, my body movements and language. Off stage, I’m a little more laid back, but when I get on stage I become a different kind of animal, a beast. I go after the crowd and try to give them attention, give them what they want. And you evolve into what you’re meant to be. 

Do you savor being from the birthplace of jazz or is New Orleans “just your hometown”? 

That’s bragging rights. Sometimes you say to someone, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I do; I’m from the birthplace of jazz.” That’s the thing, I take pride in that. We’ve got something in New Orleans that a lot of places don’t have, you dig? The way we speak, the way we carry ourselves, the way we express ourselves is completely different than anywhere else in the world. 

When you were a kid, what music was around in your home? 

Eighties hip-hop. Salt-N-Pepa, Run DMC, MC Hammer, LL Cool J. I heard gospel, too, and I also heard [soul/R&B vocalist] Betty Wright with No Pain No Gain. That’s what I heard around the house. It was mostly black music. I heard funk stuff, but it wasn’t until later on that I got into James Brown and Get On Up. So, it was mostly gospel, ‘80’s hip-hop and old school ‘60s R&B. 

What about second line? Was that a part of what you heard? 

Not until I was in high school. Growing up in New Orleans, second line will be going on and you follow it going down the street. Sometimes you don’t think about it, because it’s always there. That’s one thing about New Orleans, it’s different and with second line going, a lot of people take it for granted. But after [hurricane] Katrina, people wanted to keep our culture, to preserve our culture and make sure it’s not going anywhere. 

See part II of the interview here

Deborah DeMoss Smith hosts the Second Line, Sundays 11am-1pm.

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