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Drumming Up Business 

click to enlarge Sweet Home New Orleans organized a show at Rock 'N' Bowl featuring James Winfield. - PHOTO BY JERRY MORAN
  • Photo by Jerry Moran
  • Sweet Home New Orleans organized a show at Rock 'N' Bowl featuring James Winfield.

Dec. 14

James "The Sleeping Giant" Winfield

8:30 p.m. Tuesday

Mid-City Lanes Rock 'n' Bowl, 3016 S. Carrollton Ave., 861-1700; www.rockandbowl.com

Tickets $5

Dec. 15

Jones/Toivola/Duke Trio

7 p.m. Wednesday

Three Muses, 536 Frenchmen St., 298-8746; www.thethreemuses.com

Free admission

In August, Sweet Home New Orleans (SHNO) issued its 2010 State of the New Orleans Music Community Report. The findings, laid out among the nonprofit's three initiatives (social services, economic development and community revitalization), were bittersweet. While roughly four-fifths of the musicians living and working here before Hurricane Katrina have returned, that number has hit a ceiling in recent years, showing little or no increase from 2008-2009. Those who have resumed performing face further challenges: half the number of gigs available per month, a 40 percent reduction in earnings per concert and 20 percent fewer venues willing to offer guarantees for artists.

  As part of its Economic Development plan, SHNO, along with providing legal services like helping incorporate brass bands and copyright Mardi Gras Indian suits, is countering the show shortages by positioning itself as a cultural venture capitalist. Every Tuesday at Mid-City Lanes Rock 'n' Bowl, SHNO presents an R&B night featuring the likes of Ingrid Lucia, Little Freddie King and Glen David Andrews. This month, the organization added a traditional jazz night on Wednesday at Three Muses.

  "It's part of what we call our Gig Program," says communications director Kat Dobson. "What we're doing is paying the musicians to perform. We pick out a venue and see what their needs are. ... With Rock 'n' Bowl, we sat down with their management and said, 'What nights are you not putting on music? How can we get music there?' Then we see what would work best for them."

  "A lot of venues after Katrina were less willing to take risks," says program director Kate Benson, who points to predecessor Renew Our Music's Friday afternoon traditional-jazz happy hour at the Columns Hotel as the birth of the experiment. The training wheels worked. "Audiences started going there knowing it's going to be traditional jazz during happy hour," Dobson says. "We pulled out maybe a year ago and they've been doing it ever since."

  The goal is the same at Three Muses, a new Frenchmen Street eatery whose incipient status as a music venue — and co-ownership by Sophie Lee, a jazz singer — made it the perfect partner. The club has no admission charge, only a drink surcharge during performances. At Rock 'n' Bowl, Dobson says, "what works best is to charge a cover. We pay for the bands, and the cover amount, we get that back. Once the cover meets the amount we're paying the bands, that's when we pull out our funding and they take it over themselves.

  "I think the audience levels have definitely risen," she adds. "We promote them, the bands promote them, and Rock 'n' Bowl promotes them. Three Muses, we've been booking them ourselves. Rock 'n' Bowl's become a little different; they are now doing the booking themselves."

  Though focusing on jazz and R&B as the two most prominent forms of indigenous New Orleans music, Benson says the nights aren't limited by genre. "Next week, Johnny J and the Hitmen are playing at Rock 'n' Bowl, and the week before Christmas we're sponsoring Amanda Shaw," she says. "We're playing with getting audiences in the door."

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