NICKEL A DANCE is a free series of Sunday afternoon jazz concerts each spring and fall, that is a hit with children, families, seniors, and the general dancing public that don’t tend to go to night clubs. It attracts a diverse group of fans that meet on Frenchmen Street to celebrate jazz as America’s original dance music while listening to the best of today’s classic jazz bands.
This top-flight sextet of illustrious traditional jazz musicians is led by Brian O’Connell, who has been a mainstay with bands in the Crescent City since he arrived in 1981. A native of Minnesota, he fell in love with traditional jazz as a teen-ager, listening to the Hall Brothers Jazz Band in Mendotta and becoming friends with the long-time stalwarts of New Orleans jazz who were the Hall’s guest stars — Kid Thomas Valentine, Percy and Willie Humphrey, Louis Nelson and Emauel Paul. Encouraged to make the trip downriver by Butch Thompson, O’Connell quickly moved into the city’s music scene; he roomed with Bill Russell, one of the founders of Preservation Hall, and became a student of clarinetist Willie Humphrey. Willie’s brother Percy added O’Connell to his band which played weekly at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe, and two years later, O’Connell joined Willie for an unusual pairing on a CD “Two Clarinets on the Front Porch.” O’Connell subsequently joined Lionel Ferbos at the Palm Court and played beside him until Ferbos’ death in 2014, after which O’Connell became the band’s leader for the regular Saturdaynight gig. He also is a member of Amy Sharpe’s trio which performs for Sunday brunches at the Court of Two Sisters, and he has appeared with Butch Thompson on the Prairie Home Companion radio show. Other members of the band include co-leader Jamie Wight on cornet; Lester Caliste , trombone; Seva Vinet, guitar; Peter Badie, string bass; and Ernie Elly, drums.