Skip to main content

Midnite Disturbers: A Jazz Fest supergroup

  • Story Highlights
  • Midnite Disturbers is an all-star band of New Orleans musicians
  • Group does brassy funk, New Orleans style, calling attention to influences
  • Disturbers scheduled to play Jazz Fest Saturday afternoon
By Jessica Rosgaard
CNN
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- At the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, some of the best music happens miles from the Fairgrounds, hours after the crowds have gone and the last of the crawfish bread has been consumed.

The Midnite Disturbers let their horns do the talking as they get down in the crowd to perform.

Shamarr Allen, Mark Mullins and Ben Ellman sport the Midnite Disturbers T-shirts as they perform.

It happens with the arrival of Midnite.

At 1:18 a.m., Bonerama -- a brass-funk rock band lead by three trombones -- has just finished a 90-minute set that started with a soulful, passionate original tune written by bandleader Mark Mullins, and concluded with a cover of Jimi Hendrix' "Crosstown Traffic," complete with the trombones running through wah-wah pedals.

Suddenly the crowd of about 75 clears out of the way as a dozen musicians parade in the room. Dressed in black shirts, they are the Midnite Disturbers, a Jazz Fest supergroup whose appearance is as infrequent as a lunar eclipse. Each member of the Midnite Disturbers fronts his own band, and the artists are rarely in the city at the same time.

The band was started by New Orleans drummers and longtime friends Stanton Moore and Kevin O'Day. In the weeks following Katrina, O'Day had moved into Moore's house, where the two hit on an idea.

"We realized we had never had our own band together, and we decided to invite all of the best horn players we know to play with us," O'Day said.

Each artist has a name, printed in red, on his shirt, following the command "Listen to": Smokey Johnson ... Brian O'Neill ... Henry "Red" Allen. They're the band's predecessors and mentors. Although probably little known outside the Crescent City, they're the musicians who shaped New Orleans music: masters of their craft.

Modern-day masters in their own right, the Midnite Disturbers live up to their name, splitting the night with their loud, hard, funky jams. There are up-and-comers Troy Andrews and Shamarr Allen, and veterans such as Mullins from Bonerama, Stanton Moore and Ben Ellman from Galactic. Their black shirts are drenched with sweat by the time they finish playing.

"Its an honor to play with such veterans because it's confirmation that I'm doing my thing on a level to where people are noticing the hard work that I have been putting in," said trumpet player Shamarr Allen. "Playing with this kind of band keeps you on your toes. It's more interesting and challenging to try to understand everyone's musical approach and find a spot for yours to fit.

"That's the beauty of it," he said. "How to sound good, have fun, listen to each other, entertain a crowd, and stay on the same page at the same time. It lets me know, if I'm not there yet, I'm on my way to being one of the big boys."

The Midnite Disturbers will be at Jazz Fest -- of course -- holding down a 5:55 p.m. slot Saturday afternoon. And then, when it's over, they'll be gone -- ready to get together when the moon beckons.

All About New OrleansHurricane KatrinaJimi Hendrix

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print