Panorama Jazz Band finds universal truths in tradition

The Panorama Jazz Band will perform at the Cultural Exchange Pavilion at Jazz Fest on Friday, May 6 at 3:10 p.m.

“Good Music For You” could just as easily be the motto of the Panorama Jazz Band. In business under various incarnations and permutations, including a marching band since 1995, the band led by clarinetist Ben Schenk, uses this phrase as a nickname for an inventive campaign to get his music to the ears of music lovers around the world.

Schenk started the Panorama as a trio with a tuba player and a drummer after leaving the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars, which he co-founded, to focus on acoustic music. His band has played regularly at Jazz Fest since 2003.

The band includes a variety of instrumentalists and over the years has also included singers. Originally, the Panorama focused mainly on traditional jazz. Curiously, although the clarinet was a key instrument in early jazz – see Sidney Bechet and George Lewis – it has been mostly absent from bands that have been part of the mainstream jazz revival that has been going on since the early 2000s in New York. Orleans.

Over the years, Schenk has incorporated a range of other genres into Panorama’s music, including Klezmer, Balkan, Cajun, Caribbean, Brazilian and Mexican. “The link between jazz and all exotics is the clarinet,” he said. “If a style of music features a clarinet, you can bet the band plays it. It’s part of a mission Schenk defines as ‘finding universal truth in tradition.’

Which brings us back to “Good Music For You”. It’s a club selection of the song of the month on Bandcamp. Membership of the club, active since May 2014, gives fans – many of whom discover the band at their regular Saturday night gig at the Spotted Cat – an intimate connection.

“People who attend love it and they love having a new song every month,” Schenk said. Of course, in the age of streaming, music is also available elsewhere online, but Schenk added, “Now it’s really more about supporting us. It’s a way of being in our inner circle. We try to gather this support to create more music, produce videos, spread our story and connect with more people. They will play both Fridays of Jazz Fest at the Spotted Cat.

On May 1, the band will release the hundredth song in the series. By “sheer luck,” Schenk said, they were able to continue releasing songs during the pandemic lockdown. Shenck said: “On Valentine’s Day in 2020, we played a gig that was taped, so I had a whole evening of live tunes, and I was able to use them to keep the club going. .”

The Panorama Brass Band is another ensemble led by Schenk. The group, which has crossover members with the jazz band, marches in many Mardi Gras parades, including traditional krewes like Okeanos and smaller, but no less enthusiastic marching clubs, like Box of Wine and Dead Beans .

This sometimes leads to planning problems over the years, so Schenk has become a logistics mastermind. Since he has dozens of musicians on call to perform, sometimes the marching band and the jazz band are booked at the same time. “There was even a year where we had to hold two parades on back-to-back nights and the first parade was canceled and rescheduled on the second night, so we had two bands in two separate parades at the same time.

The Panorama Jazz Band’s performances at Jazz Fest are an annual highlight for musicians and their legions of fans around the world. Schenk has a deep, personal connection with his audience and feels the band is “having a conversation” with the crowd.

In so many years of playing, both at the festival and at weddings, parties and bar and bat mitzvahs, he sees so many faces of people he knows in the crowd. “It’s like, wow – I played his wedding.”

Over the past four years, before Jazz Fest was canceled due to COVID-19, Schenk’s performances at Jazz Fest have even gotten more personal. His 16-year-old son, Rogan, who plays double bass, electric bass and piano, joined him on stage. In 2018, his daughter lda, then 10 years old, joined the group on the piano. The two will perform at the Fair Grounds this year as the Panorama Jazz Band family continues to grow and thrive.


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Henry R. Wright