Joe Ashlar Interview

Joe Ashlar is a New Orleans-based piano and organ player. He is a member of the insanely funky Good Enough for Good Times. He also leads his own band, the Joe Ashlar Organ Trio. For more info on Joe Ashlar, check out http://www.joeashlar.com/

How old were you when you started playing piano?
I was four when I first started playing by ear. I saw Herbie Hancock performing Rock it on Sesame Street, and from that moment on began my obsession with music.

When did you first become interested in New Orleans music?
I became interested in New Orleans music when I was about 11 or 12. I had joined a Connecticut based youth jazz group. It was in this group that I got my first exposure to New Orleans traditional jazz. You’re from Connecticut.

When did you decide to move to NOLA?
I moved to New Orleans in early 2007. This was prompted by falling in love with the music and the city after being invited down to perform with Good Enough for Good Times around Thanksgiving time of 2006.

Where did you play your first gig in NOLA?
I actually came down to New Orleans with the above mentioned youth jazz group when I was about 14 or 15. (1995 or 1996) We performed at the French Quarter Fest and at a few other spots around town that I can’t remember off the top of my head. My first gig as an adult was the week before thanksgiving in 2006 at the Maple Leaf. It was a Thursday night and we were filling in for Johnny V and The Trio’s regular gig. It was me on organ, Simon Lott on drums, and Brian Seeger on guitar. What an awesome night!

You’ve played with many different artists and bands. How does your musical approach change depending on who you are working with?
I have studied and performed many different styles of music. I generally try to bring to the table any background I have in any given style while keeping an open ear to what the band is going for. In general, no matter who I am performing with I always put my best foot forward and try to bring the heat as you put it!

How did you first become involved with Good Enough For Good Times?
I was originally invited by Simon Lott to fill in for Brian Coogan the week before Thanksgiving 2006. Simon and I met on a gig in NYC a few months before that. I was living in Philadelphia at that point and travelling to NYC for gigs and Simon was living in NYC post-Katrina.

How does the songwriting process work in Good Enough For Good Times?
Currently, most of the songs are soul jazz covers. Jeff Raines and I have brought in some of our songs that we have written independent of the band and adapted them to play with Good Enough. Additionally we have recorded a lot of our live shows and use ideas from spontaneous jam moments as springboards for new collaborative compositions.

How has your approach to the organ evolved over the years?
I was first turned on to Hammond Organ pioneer Jimmy Smith by my Dad in my early teens. Listening to him shaped most of my earliest approach to the organ. I had my only Hammond Lesson ever with Dr. Lonnie Smith at the Vail Jazz Festival in Colorado in 1999. What started off as a question for him after his show turned into an impromptu 90-minute lesson. I am very grateful to him for that. Moving to New Orleans and checking out and learning a bunch of the Meters tunes added a completely new dimension to my playing. It was a completely new groove for me that I had never played in before.

You tour a ton. Where are some of your favorite places to play outside of NOLA?
I love Europe and try to get there as often as possible! Also, I haven’t played in Asia yet, but have been obsessed with playing in Japan almost my whole life.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career?
A challenge for me has been finding time to develop my own music while spending lots of time working with other bands. I recently have been mainly working on my own music in an attempt to bring that to the table very soon. Additionally, earning a stable income in such a rapidly changing economy has proved quite challenging. Unfortunately, a lot of venues under pay, or don’t pay their musicians at all, expecting them to work for tips only. Musicians work hard at their craft and should be compensated appropriately. Just because we love what we do doesn’t mean we don’t have bills to pay like everyone else! At the present moment I am currently looking for investors to finance my projects so that I may spend less time playing in many different bands and more time developing some of my own ideas. Additionally, I am currently seeking management and booking assistance. Balancing all the roles one must play as an independent musician is quite time consuming and challenging. I feel that I would greatly benefit from having a few trusted talented people on a team with me to build my market and career!

Are there any albums that you find yourself listening to all the time?
I have always been a huge fan of Radiohead’s OK Computer. No matter where in life, or in the world I happen to be, it always seems to find its way into my playlist. I also love Squarepusher’s “Hard Normal Daddy, Glenn Gould’s later recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations is also an all time favorite of mine.

Who are some of your favorite NOLA artists to see live and why?
Although I don’t get to go hear music as much as I’d like to these days, I saw Trombone Shorty this past year and am loving the energy he is bringing to the table. Also, when I first moved to New Orleans, I used to love hearing Papa Gros Funk on Monday nights at the Maple Leaf. Although he’s not living in town, I also think Henry Butler is the man, and love the energy he brings to the piano. Also, I appreciate Gravity A, and their willingness to step outside traditional New Orleans funk and explore electronica.

What have been some of your craziest nights out in NOLA?
I’ve had a lot of fun since moving to NOLA. I used to spend quite a bit of time at both dba and the Maple Leaf. My favorite times have been mostly around jazzfest. It was so wonderful to stay up all night hearing the many different local and out of town bands, running into all kinds of musicians and friends from out of town. My long time friends from CT came down to visit for Jazz Fest 2008 which was a blast. We saw tons of music, and stayed up all night one of the nights, listening to Clint Maedgen at dba, rolling over to a jam session at Cafe Negril, and eventually making it to early morning donuts at Tasty Donuts in mid-city! I have many great stories and memories. My first Mardi Gras was really awesome as well. I started Lundi Gras playing with the George French Band at Donna’s, then headed over to Tipitina’s and sat in with Galactic during their all night Lundi Gras set, then made it over to see the parades on St. Charles, eventually making it over to Frenchmen. I had such a great time and loved all the music and costumes.

Do you have a favorite venue to play in NOLA?
Snug Harbor. I played my first NOLA show as leader of the Joe Ashlar Organ Trio there this past March. I also quite enjoy playing at dba.

What New Orleans musicians would you like to work with that you haven’t yet?
I have been fortunate enough at this point to have worked with many of New Orleans’ greatest musicians. However, I would definitely like to work with Terence Blanchard at some point.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming musicians?
My thoughts on this center around always doing your best to maintain a positive attitude. Be respectful, have fun, and bring the fun to the band and to the audience. Additionally being that the musician lifestyle has its crazy factor, I’d advice pacing oneself, making good decisions and remembering that the party is always there, so sometime’s its good just to go get some rest and take care of yourself after the gig rather than push it to the limit every night. Also, I strongly encourage musicians to continually challenge themselves, create new music, and don’t be afraid to try something that hasn’t been done before. Being that New Orleans has such deep musical and cultural roots, sometimes I feel it is easy to become complacent and lose the motivation to push the music forward.

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