Mobile’s longest-living jazz society blew out its birthday candles last month but October is when the presents get unwrapped. As evidence of why it won a 2011 Greater Mobile Art Award, though, those gifts are intended for everyone else.
The Mystic Order of the Jazz Obsessed’s Oct. 24 Jazz Jambalaya features a visiting Crescent City musical heavyweight alongside some of Mobile’s and Pensacola’s top jazz artists. More than mere musical indulgence, MOJO shows its commitment to various community causes.
The group’s existential hub has been its Jazz Jambalaya series, where it basically creates a monthly pop-up jazz club in a town with longtime difficulty maintaining a permanent version. Each one highlights a different artist or style and feeds the crowd the titular regional repast to go with soulful and swinging sounds.
Downtown’s Gulf City Lodge (601 State St.) has hosted all but a handful of these functions, as is perfectly appropriate. It’s in the city’s long-ago red light Tenderloin District, a nod to jazz’s legendary genesis in the brothels and saloons of New Orleans’ Storyville sector.
The spot at the intersection of State and Warren is just two blocks north of what was once called “the Famous Corner” of St. Louis and Warren. That was where Jelly Roll Morton wrote his song “Alabama Bound” in 1905 and met a musician named Porter King who inspired Morton’s hit “King Porter Stomp.”
Along with the lodge’s prominent role in Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association celebrations, the spot has been a venue for jazz performances throughout most of the last century. In recent years, MOJO has spurred efforts to heighten visibility of this “Creole Coast Cotton Club” among local history fans and organizations in order to maintain its viability.
October is the first portion of MOJO’s annual autumn food drive, where nonperishable food items will be collected for donation to Prodisee Pantry. November’s recipient will be the Salvation Army.
The evening’s main attraction is its nod to legendary pianist Bill Evans at the hands of one of New Orleans’ more reputed artists, Michael Pellera. It’s the second such homage for Pellera in a few months’ time, as he headlined a mid-August salute for Evans’ birthday at the Crescent City’s famous Snug Harbor.
Pellera’s most influential role, however, might be as chair of the music department and assistant chair of jazz studies at the prestigious New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts.
“I enjoy working with young musicians on their way to college and careers. I find that very rewarding, to pass on my experience to people.” Pellera said.
And what an experience it is. The Albany, New York, native studied at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, then found his way south in the 1970s. His talents opened doors to work with artists such as Wynton Marsalis, Buddy Rich, Branford Marsalis, Bobby McFerrin and Harry Connick Jr.
Pellera released a pair of critically acclaimed albums —“Cloud Nine” and “Son of Sky” — that feature his fusion of styles and gift for composition. Both feature a lofty listing of modern New Orleans jazz artists, including Bill Huntington, John Vidacovich, Steve Masakowski, Tony Dagradi, Bill Summers, James Singleton and Phillip Manuel.
“My concept of music kind of lies between the East Coast and New Orleans. I’ve spent a lot of time playing with Astral Project so my style has some elements of New Orleans modern, New Orleans jazz,” Pellera said.
He’s also appeared on albums by Vidacovich, Masakowski, Patrice Fisher and Dan Ramagoaz. When saxophonist Rebecca Barry needed a pianist for her 1999 album “And Then Some,” she called Pellera.
“This guy is something else. He’s just great to work with and knows the whole Bill Evans thing, believe me,” Barry said.
Now back on her home turf of the Eastern Shore, the saxophonist will play the MOJO gig with Pellera. She also gathered local guitarist John Cochran plus Pensacola standouts Tom Latenser (bass) and Fred Domulot (drums) for the show.
Things get underway Oct. 24 at 6:30 p.m. Entrance is $12, $10 for students/military and $8 for MOJO members and includes a light jambalaya dinner. A cash bar is available.
Early arrival is advised since seating is first come, first served, with no reservations. Besides, guests don’t want to be late for a birthday party where they receive the best gifts.
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