Musician Orange Kellin was just a boy when he first heard Dixieland jazz, the heartbeat of New Orleans, the music he was soon to spend his life playing.
"Well, that was just it. I knew when I heard it, that I had to become a part of it somehow, had to play it," recalled Kellin, seated in a West Village eatery decades later and days before appearing at Flushing Town Hall this Friday with his band.
"So, I just bugged and bugged my parents about it and finally my dad came home with a clarinet for me," Kellin continued, mentioning the guiding influence of musicians such as Benny Goodman in selecting his instrument of choice.
Soon a part of the local jazz scene, Kellin, by age 17, had already made three recordings, and though enrolled in college, his life had one purpose and that was to make music.
"Everything else seemed a waste of time," said Kellin of his running start in Sweden and the day it came to a screeching halt. "It was 1966 and I was 20 or 21, Dixie was suddenly dying out, losing its popularity. It was being replaced by the guitar bands like the Beatles, the Stones."
"So, I decided to check out New Orleans. It was just going to be a short trip, you know, to hear the music, the source. That's what I'd thought. I told my parents I'd be home within a month or two."
From that point onward, Kellin was never to return to Sweden except as a visitor, years later, on tour.
"Things kept happening and there was never a reason to return to Sweden," Kellin recalled. "When I did return six years later on a tour, so much had changed. The place was not the same for me. My friends were all married with children or moved on. I was home neither there nor here and it was at that moment I realized it, that this was how it was going to be for me," said Kellin.
Since his speedy start in the business, Kellin's career is still smooth sailing. He has recorded with major Dixieland legends including Earl Hines, Dede Pierce, and Kid Thomas Valentine. He has toured the world and shared the stage with greats none other than Louis Armstrong and he has founded two highly-respected bands, the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra and the New Orleans Joymakers.
Additionally, Kellin has also made it into the movies. His signature sound is featured on the soundtrack to Louis Malle's film, "Pretty Baby" (1977) as is his face, since he had a cameo as a band member. And most recently, Kellin appears as a band member in Woody Allen's latest film,.Plus, Kellin may serve as music director for a revival of the Grammy-nominated musical "One Mo' Time" which he co-created for a years-long run in both New Orleans and on the Broadway stage.
Ironically, however, though dedicated as ever to the preservation of Dixieland jazz, Kellin left New Orleans for New York in 1979.
"New Orleans changed. There were people coming to the city suddenly from all over and the music changed," Kellin said of his decision to leave his beloved New Orleans. "At its height, you could walk down Bourbon Street alone and hear a dozen different bands playing six nights a week - not always quality but always quantity. By the 70s, it dropped to 3, maybe 4 bands. I decided to get out."
Kellin made a brief return to New Orleans in the early 90s, but returned once more to New York where he continues to keep the Dixieland tradition alive, playing weekly gigs in Manhattan at La Belle Epoque, 827 Broadway, and Cajun Restaurant, 129 Eighth Avenue.
"I love New York. It's a more cerebral town, of course, whereas New Orleans is more of an emotional place," said Kellin comparing the two cities he loves the most, adding with a laugh, "New Orleans will always be a party town. It loves a party. In New York, parties are networking opportunities."
But New York audiences are jazz audiences and Kellin is excited about his show at Flushing Town Hall, in which he will front a top-flight band in an authentic recreation of a Dixieland jazz ball.
"The band is incredible. I wish I could play with these guys all the time. They are some of the best around," said Kellin, mentioning the personnel for the evening, which includes: Banjo Eddy Davis on bass, bass saxophone and tuba; Vince Giordano on trombone, Wycliffe Gordon on trumpet; Jon Erik Kellso on drums; and Herlin Riley on piano.
The show will start at 8 p.m. General admission is $30. Admission for members is $24. Flushing Town Hall is located at 137-35 Northern Blvd., For more information, call 463-7700, ext. 222
Upcoming on the "Jazz Live" at Flushing Town Hall schedule: Dec. 17, the "Songs of Joy Christmas Special" featuring Onaje Allan Gumbs.
©1999 Community News Group
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