Swamp Thing

Traditional Dixieland-style band to teach Houston the difference between jazz and jass

By Michael Hardy May 14, 2013


The New Orleans Swamp Donkeys Traditional Jass Band
May 14 at 9:30
Supper Happy Fun Land
3801 Polk St

When we reached them by phone this morning, the New Orleans Swamp Donkeys Traditional Jass Band were on a bus in Louisiana, an hour from the Texas border, on the way to their show at Houston’s Super Happy Fun Land tonight. James Williams, the band’s trumpet player, said the band was jazzed (or is that jassed?) for their gig.

“This is our first show out on the road as a band,” Williams said. Raucous voices could be heard in the background. “Spirits are high, everyone’s doing well.”

The band, which was inspired by traditional Dixieland jazz bands—the word ‘jass’ was used interchangeably with ‘jazz’ in the early twentieth century—formed five months ago at Palmettos restaurant in Slidell, Louisiana. Originally there were only four players—trombone, trumpet, tuba, and guitar—until they added drummer Jams Marotta. Then, to make the music even more authentic-sounding, guitarist Sam Friend ditched his six-string for a banjo; in older jazz recordings, banjos were more common than guitars. Williams said that he wanted to play the kind of music he heard on records growing up.

“I wanted to pay homage to the old cats. The first trumpeter I listened to was Louis Armstrong, so that’s always the way I thought the trumpet should be played. Outside of New Orleans, there’s not a lot of traditional jazz bands—really, we’re trying to keep the tradition alive. And it’s so much fun to play.”

And what about the band’s name? Williams said he discovered the term “swamp donkey” when browsing Urban Dictionary, the reader-generated online compendium of slang. “When I saw that term, I started cracking up,” Williams said. “I thought that would be a real cool band name.”

Because this is a family blog, we’ll refrain from reprinting Urban Dictionary’s characteristically lapidary definition. Let’s just say that if you see a swamp donkey tonight that isn’t playing an instrument, you might want to walk in the opposite direction. 

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