Aurora Nealand & The Royal Roses
Aurora Nealand wound up in New Orleans through serendipity, and she couldn’t have picked a better place. After receiving a composition degree from Oberlin and training at the Jacques Lecoq School of Physical Theatre in Paris, Nealand embarked on a cross-country cycling trip, on which she fell in love with New Orleans. She had assumed she would pursue a master’s degree after her trip, but instead, she took up residence in the city and in several established jazz outfits.
Since 2004, the multi-reedist has become a torchbearer of New Orleans’s resurgent traditional jazz scene, as an established bandleader, a composer, and a performer who channels forebears like Sidney Bechet with youthful brio and a dash of flamboyance. In 2010, Nealand enlisted six ascendant players to join her Royal Roses, an experimental consortium somewhere between Laurie Anderson and Charles Mingus. The Roses cast a wide net, folding in work by Tom Waits alongside more traditional renditions of songs by Duke Ellington. OffBeat said of their album Comeback Children, “Nealand’s voice and instrumental playing is at once distinctly beautiful and fierce, inventive and traditional. … The Royal Roses play these traditional songs with meaning, energy, relevance, and creativity.”
On the album, Nealand included a quote from composer Gustav Mahler that also happens to be a Big Ears credo: “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” It is a perfect encapsulation of her musical philosophy.