Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes to celebrate 20 years of sketchiness at Tipitina | Music
When future Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes drummer Andre Bohren was 14, he went to tour New Orleans band The Radiators in Colorado. The Rads were friends with Andre’s guitarist father, Spencer.
“The Radiators had been a band for 17 or 18 years,” Andre Bohren recalled recently. “It was mind blowing that anyone could be in a band for that long. It felt like they had been together forever.
“But now I’ve been in a band longer than they were then.”
Twenty years ago, Bohren and three other classical music students at Loyola University – guitarist Marc Paradis, bassist Dave Pomerleau and violinist Harry Hardin – formed Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes for a talent show on the campus. To their surprise, they won, launching a collective career.
On Saturday, the group – now made up of Bohren, Paradis and Pomerleau, saxophonist Sage Newell, keyboardist Josh Paxton and Omar Ramirez on trumpet and fluegelhorn – celebrates 20 years at Tipitina’s.
Show time is 9 p.m. Tickets cost $ 18.
Planned guests include vocalists Debbie Davis, Darcy Malone and Aurora Nealand, as well as Radiators guitarist Camile Baudoin, who will be rushing from her own CD release night to Chickie Wah Wah.
Additionally, Hardin’s current group, the Electric Yat Quartet, will open the show and accompany the Dirty Notes for several songs.
Bringing back a section of strings, said Bohren, “it will be a full circle, although it will be much stronger than it has ever been at Loyola.”
When Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes won this Loyola competition a long time ago, Bohren and his band mates barely had enough material to fill a gig. They filled their limited repertoire with enough antics and distractions to make up a full show. Costumes, visual gags, and alternate, “sketchy” identities all came into play.
Like many New Orleans groups, they defied easy categorization. Rock and funk were in the foreground. But a brass section recruited from Loyola’s jazz studies department provided a Latin tinge; klezmer and other influences were also present.
In less than six years, Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes traveled all over the country as full-time musicians, releasing adventurous studio albums along the way.
Costumes and fully amplified party music aside, their classic backgrounds were evident in their chops and sophisticated dynamics.
“It was so ingrained in us,” said Bohren. “Even with an electric band, we bring our classical training, even if it’s only in the phrasing or the dynamics.
Classical chord progressions, especially the more unusual chord progressions, provide the raw material.
“We borrow from the classical world rather than just the blues / rock or funk worlds. In the funk world there is a lot of pentatonic scale stuff. It’s awesome, and super funky, and it works. But we also like to get out of that key and bring in a wider variety of notes.
“At first we had nothing but a jam-y funk band. But when people came up with ideas, we weren’t the kind of band to say, “This is not our style” either.
Over the years, their composition has become more concise. “It’s a natural progression,” said Bohren. “We’re more in tune with four-minute songs rather than nine-minute songs. But we always have places where we let things stretch.
Paradis, the group’s chief lyricist, relies on a “deep vocabulary to say what he means,” Bohren said. “His words are intelligent and come from the heart. He doesn’t look for the fruits at hand when it comes to rhyming patterns.
In the group’s early years, Hardin alternated between violin and baritone saxophone. His departure after Hurricane Katrina “definitely changed the course of the group,” Bohren said.
Ramirez came on board after Katrina. At seven and over, Newell is the band’s longest-serving saxophonist, a position that has undergone a “spinal tap” type turnover.
For the first 15 or so years of Dirty Notes, “we were determined to be a band without a keyboard, just because all the other bands had a keyboardist,” said Bohren. “We wanted to be more focused on the horn. “
But they eventually started ‘dabbling’ with keyboards, and then finally installed Paxton as a full-time member six years ago. Jazz-trained Paxton is fluent in the New Orleans piano tradition and is Debbie Davis’ longtime accompanist.
Paxton “made a huge difference,” said Bohren. “It was, ‘Oh, that’s why all these other bands have keyboard players.’ It fills in the sound and gives us a lot more musical options. And Marc doesn’t have to play chords on every song. There’s another instrument that can play chords, and he can focus on singing.
Having a keyboard player “has changed the way we write. I write horn parts on the piano. Some of these ideas translate better now that we have a keyboardist in the band. The New Era of Johnny Sketch is very keyboard friendly.
Paxton’s contributions can be heard on Johnny’s latest studio album Sketch & the Dirty Notes, “Sketch” from 2018, as well as “Melt Your Face”, a live double album recorded over two nights at Maple Leaf Bar.
During the pandemic, Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes played only a few virtual shows. Even before the pandemic, they had reduced their tours.
“We’re not trying to take over the world like we were back then,” Bohren said. “I can be broke and sit on my couch at home – I don’t have to go out on the road to do that. Especially now that I have a 2 year old child, touring is no longer the order of the day for me.
Instead, they play locally and record occasional weekend trips to the group’s strongest markets, such as Hattiesburg, Mississippi or Key West, Florida.
Their first show at the Tipitina since the start of the pandemic was scheduled to take place on September 3, but Hurricane Ida made that show fail.
Saturday’s birthday party therefore marks their return to the Tipitina stage. They will represent all of Johnny Sketch’s distinct eras, with songs from each album. As always, the focus will be on “making the crowd dance and keep it there”.
Given their intention to play a nearly three hour long set, “comfort is a must” when it comes to stage attire, Bohren said.
“No costumes are planned, but we all have something to make it seem like we’re on stage intentionally. Lots of groups look like they’ve stepped out of the crowd or the beach. We will definitely look like we belong to the scene.
“And sometimes that requires costumes. “