Final musical stop for the New Orleans Express
Pembroke's jazz ensemble, the New Orleans Express, will be having their final performance on Nov. 12 at Wesley United Church, to conclude their 18-year musical career. Pictured in back (from left) are Roy Yandt, Ron Lloyd, Ted Clifford, Mike Britton and Orvil Dillenbeck. Pictured in front (from left) are Dale Tapp and Gord Tapp.
Pembroke’s beloved jazz ensemble, the New Orleans Express, will be making the final stop on their 18-year musical journey.
Formed in 1999, the New Orleans Express was named after an English band that Dr. Ron Lloyd performed with back in 1975, while he was living in England. Two years later, Lloyd moved to Canada to join the Armed Forces in Petawawa. By 1980, Lloyd set up practice as a family physician in Pembroke and soon afterwards he began to revisit his passion for jazz.
“There was a group of us that would get together occasionally, maybe once a year, to play jazz. But there was no regular jazz band in Pembroke at that time,” said Lloyd.
In 1999, Lloyd remained unsatisfied with the lack of jazz in the area and he began scouting for local talent start his own jazz band, which became the Ottawa Valley’s beloved New Orleans Express. Original members of the band included Ron Lloyd on banjo and vocals, Gord Tapp on trumpet and cornet, Ted Clifford on clarinet and saxophone as well as Roy Yandt on drums.
“My big thing is that Ron gave me an opportunity to join this band and it’s been a real pleasure to be a part of it,” said Yandt.
On Oct. 23. 1999, the band played their first gig at the Pembroke Shores Golf and Country Club and it was a resounding success, with audience members tapping their feet and dancing along.
According to Lloyd, New Orleans Express’ joyous and melodious style is heavily influenced by classical and Ragtime piano jazz from the early 1900s up until 1930.
“We play classical jazz which dates back to around 1900 to 1935, so some of the songs we play are 100 years old,” said Lloyd. “I just love that classical jazz style because it’s feel-music music and it energizes you and gets your toes tapping. I’ve gone to a gig sometimes where I had been up all night delivering babies, but once I started playing music I felt re-energized.”
Ever since they were founded in Pembroke in 1999, the seven-piece band has been delighting crowds with their impressive arrangements of toe-tapping jazz classics, by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Scott Joplin, Spike Jones, Chris Barber and Jelly Roll Morton.
“This music is more fun to play than any other kind of music I've played – and I've played a lot of varieties, from classical to big band and this just tops it all. It's six miles above everything else,” said Clifford.
The band was well-known for playing many obscure and challenging pieces, such as ‘West End Blues’ and ‘Wrought Iron Rag’, that were not typically performed by run-of-the-mill Dixieland bands.
“We deliberately set out to play music that regular jazz bands don’t play because we make a point of playing the more unusual songs,” said Lloyd. “It's got to be intellectually challenging, fun and good music at the same time.”
It was Gord Tapp who was at the helm of transcribing the music and arranging the sheet music. Oftentimes, it would take him as long as six to eight hours to carefully listen to a recording – slowing it down at times – and to then transcribe it note-for-note.
“Back in 1999 when Ron approached me, I had never really arranged for Dixieland music or instrumentation before, so it was a learning curve at first. But now that I’ve got the hang of it, this kind of music is a lot of fun to arrange and even more fun to play. It's very happy music and even when you’re playing the blues, it's cathartic,” he said.
Over the years, the band welcomed many other members who played with them for a few years before stepping aside for various reason. It was in 2016 that double bass master Chuck Pierce left the band due to arthritis, and he was replaced by Orvil Dillenbeck on tuba. The band’s most current members include Ron Lloyd, Gord Tapp, Ted Clifford, Roy Yandt, Dillenbeck, Mike Britton on trombone and Dale Tapp on tenor saxophone and percussion.
Now, a year after Pierce’s departure, Ron Lloyd has announced that he’ll also be retiring from the band due to arthritis in both of his wrists.
“I’ve got arthritis in both wrists so I can’t play the fast tunes anymore. I can play the medium-tempo and slow tunes OK, but we play many fast tunes that I just couldn’t keep up with anymore. So I felt that I was holding the band back, because they couldn’t play everything that they wanted to play,” said Lloyd.
Upon sharing the news with his bandmates, Gord expressed that it would be too difficult to replace Lloyd – someone who’s elite banjo skills are hard to come by, in the jazz scene. Gord expressed that they should disband rather than carry on without Lloyd, to which everyone unanimously agreed.
“When I announced to the band that I was going to leave after this final gig, Gordie decided that it would be too hard to find someone who could read music and play the banjo just as well as I do, so he decided that we should pack the band in,” said Lloyd.
Over the past 18-plus years, the band has performed hundreds of shows across the Ottawa Valley, and in Ontario communities as far away as Kitchener. They performed several times at the Ottawa Jazz Festival and have graced the stage at Merrickville’s Jazz Fest and wowed innumerable audiences at pubs, clubs, restaurants, concerts and cruises all over the province.
While New Orleans Express will be retiring from the scene after their final performance this month, all members aim to continue playing music independently and Gord has plans to found a new jazz band later in the future.
“I’m not going to give up music completely. I'll still probably go to pubs and play guitar or I’ll play at churches sometimes and at peoples' parties. I just won’t be playing in a band anymore,” said Lloyd. “But I just love music and it’s what keeps me young and keeps me alive.”
On Nov. 12 at 2 p.m., the community is encouraged to properly bid adieu to the retiring band by attending ‘An Afternoon of Jazz with the New Orleans Express;’ at Wesley United Church. The concert will serve as the band’s final performance to conclude their remarkable 18-year history. Lloyd and his bandmates plan on delivering an unforgettable performance that will have many peoples’ toes tapping, others might start dancing and everyone will leave with a smile on their face.
Tickets are $15 for adults and free for children 12 years and under. For more information, call 613-735-6132.