Heart of the New Orleans beat

Stanton Moore: From Mardi Gras to Tokyo

16 MARCH 2016,
Stanton Moore © Marc Pagani
Stanton Moore © Marc Pagani

“…an active member of the musical statement—that person is the drummer.”
(Elvin Jones)

You just can’t play music without knowing about its roots in New Orleans. That would be like delighting over a delectable plate of tomato tagliatelle minus mouth-watering thoughts of Italian spices; or driving your priceless two-door sedan on the motorway without ever once pretending to sport that classic, rugged Steve McQueen look in his unforgettable 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT 2+2 Fastback. Indeed, music, like any other zealous endeavor, requires a passionate orchestration of imagination and inspiration. And, if New York found its drum inspiration in Buddy Rich, so does New Orleans in the irresistible Stanton Moore.

Many people believe that things happen for a reason, and so it did during that unexpected night of encountering Stanton Moore at Cotton Club in Tokyo. Without any foreseen anticipation of how much the show would blow away the audience, Stanton, bubbly and spiritful, together with fun trio members David Torkanowsky and James Singleton powerfully lifted the stage off the ground with the energetic groove and funkiness of Bongo Joe, Carnival, Driftin’, and other tunes from his latest album, Conversations.
Having been to Japan more than 25 times since January of 2000 and having played in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and the Fuji Rock Festival, have always made me love coming to this country. The Japanese audiences are always great. They tend to be well informed about the music and are very respectful. Working with Japanese staff and crew members have made me learn how they apply themselves fully to their job and how they always go the extra mile to ensure that you have what you need to play the show. It’s always a pleasure to play music and work in Japan,” Stanton comments on his Japan experiences. What was most captivating about Stanton’s drum performance that night was the unimaginable vigor in his arm movements, pounding with the sticks as though they were membranes of his skin; improvising rhythmical beats by the rub of his elbow, the gentle stroke on the snare drum’s rim or a linear swipe over the cymbals, where feeding one’s eyes on one surprise to the other seemed more tingling than absorbing the sounds from his fingertips.

As one of New Orleans’ most essential drummers, Stanton has been building his career for the past twenty-six years. He has performed extensively with musical greats saxophonist Maceo Parker, guitarist Charlie Hunter, percussionist Mike Dillon, and the ever-charismatic Lonnie Smith, among others. Stanton’s notable versatility lies not only in his equal devotion to funk, jazz, rock, African music and all other music genres, but also in his admirable dedication to music education and training, community and charity programs, and socio-cultural events that bring together music, society and the environment. Stanton says, “To me, New Orleans is at the root of so many other styles and genres of music. Being from there, and being rooted in the culture of New Orleans I feel like my playing and music are deeply rooted in the deepest traditions of American and Western music. It’s a huge part of what influenced me growing up and what continues to inspire me as I continue my career.”

With musical roots tracing back as far as the 19th century when African slaves converged in the streets singing and dancing, New Orleans’ current rich rhythms of traditional jazz, Dixieland, R&B, rock n’ roll, funk, hip-hop, heavy metal, and a whole universe of sights and sounds have undoubtedly carved Stanton’s endearing passion for the annual Mardi Gras Festival. Stanton recalls his first Mardi Gras experience, “The first thing I remember about being drawn to music is hearing the drums of the marching bands coming down the street during Mardi Gras parades when I was 3 or 4 years old. That inspired me to want to play drums. To this day I continue to be inspired by what I hear—the marching bands, brass bands and Mardi Gras Indians playing in the streets during Mardi Gras.”

When it comes to funk music, New Orleans is nowhere without Stanton Moore. “As I was developing in High School, I was first into classic rock, then started to get into jazz. Once I started really listening to and trying to absorb The Meters’ and James Brown’s records, I realized that funk blended what I like about both jazz and rock. I could still improvise as in jazz but I could still hit hard as in rock,” Stanton talks about his inclination to funk and the formation of his Galactic band. “I met Robert Mercurio at a jam session in 1992 and he and Jeff Raines had a band called Galactic Prophylactic. They were looking for a drummer and I wanted to play funk… the rest, as they say, is history.”

Every musician has a childhood musical story. What is Stanton’s? “Well, I was drawn to the drums by hearing them in the streets at Mardi Gras parades. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.” And, his inspirational drummers? “I have three top drummers: Elvin Jones, John Bonham and Zigaboo Modeliste— jazz, rock and funk,” Stanton remarks. “With those three you can do anything. Having all these great inspirations around me, I’m always trying to draw influence from things I hear and am always trying to come up with new ideas. When I walk with the Mardi Gras Indians, I’m always listening to what I hear on the streets and try to go back to the drums and play my interpretation of what I hear. I try to blend those New Orleans ideas with elements of Afro-Cuban, West African, Brazilian and linear drumming to come up with new ideas. Once I come up with those new Ideas, I try to play them (without forcing it) on the records I am working on at the time.”

What is a typical Stanton Moore day without a drum session? “I still like to wake up and practice for a while when I have a day off,” Stanton contemplates. “I like making coffee and practicing. If I can, I like to take a walk, or ride my bike, get outside some kind of way. I love watching a movie or documentary if I have time and I love reading as well. Eating outside with a good glass of wine close to the water is great too!

Define Funky: cool, awesome, earthy, offbeat, groovy, hard-boiled, nasty? Stanton thinks about the funkiest thing he has ever done, “Every time I meet Big Chief Monk Boudreaux on Mardi Gras day to watch him come out of his house and walk to 2nd and Dryades (the intersection that is the epicenter of Mardi Gras Indian culture), walking and playing with Big Chief Monk on such a Mardi Gras day…it doesn’t get any funkier than that!

And, being funky in Japan as well? “Surely!," Stanton exclaims, "I love the Japanese people and their positive attitude… I love the food, everything from tonkatsu to sushi… I love the culture in general, and will definitely be back!

Just a week before Stanton’s Tokyo performance, New Orleans sadly lost one of its legendary musicians and composer Allen Toussaint, whom Stanton himself has been recording a tribute album for. In Allen’s unforgettable words, “Music accompanies the world, our walks, our work, a car chase, movies, relationships, romance… in a wonderful way, and is the soundtrack of life and the world and it does it very well.” And, Stanton backbeats his way onstage and off—with his sticks, toms, cymbals and pedals—orchestrating more heart-pounding, dynamic rhythms to jolt your spirit in immense euphoria… and yes, he does it very well.

Special gratitude to Cotton Club Japan.