“All Musical Roads in This Country Lead to New Orleans": Gumbo le Funque Brings Louisiana Funk to Denver

People often ask Gumbo le Funque singer and saxophonist Jason Justice what part of New Orleans he's from, since the local band he fronts is steeped in the city’s music. Justice says he tells them, “'I’m from northern Louisiana: a place called Norman, Oklahoma.' People are always just floored that me and a few people from Massachusetts and New York are able to pull this stuff off.”

By “stuff,” Justice, who moved to Colorado four decades ago, is referring to New Orleans funk inspired by the Meters, the Neville Brothers and Dr. John, as well as new acts like Trombone Shorty, Galactic and Big Sam’s Funky Nation. The band marries two of Justice’s biggest musical loves: the traditional second line (“that parade street-beat kind of thing”) and funk.

“All musical roads in this country lead to New Orleans,” Justice says. “They really do. What I love about jazz in its original incarnations is that it’s a very revolutionary music. There’s the idea of call and response. The idea of improvisation. The controlled chaos of it is really appealing to me. But as far as New Orleans music goes, I’ve been playing Dixieland forever. And I noticed, playing a lot of trad jazz in my life, that people aren’t up off their seats and jumping around unless it’s Mardi Gras season and you’re down in New Orleans.”

Justice says the band, which formed in 2011 and also includes guitarist Chris Anton, bassist Chris Harris, drummer Chris Beers and singer Andrea Mérida, do, well, justice, to real New Orleans music.

“We understand where it comes from and how important it is and how cool it is to the culture down there,” he says. “I hate it when people appropriate a culture. I think that we’re paying homage in a big way to the folks down there and kind of broadening people’s knowledge and understanding of it here in Denver.”

While Gumbo le Funque has no problem keeping audiences dancing all night with New Orleans staples like Dr. John’s “Right Place Wrong Time” or Allen Toussaint’s "Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On)," the band has a number of originals to draw on, including a batch of new material on #PowerLoveFreedom, whose release the band will celebrate at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox on Saturday, February 6.

Justice says the new album deals with social and economic justice. When he started writing songs for #PowerLoveFreedom, he explains, he wanted to write music for "the Movement." “And by the Movement, I mean Black Lives Matter and the homeless movement,” Justice says. “People who are being arrested just because they’re resting.”

When he wrote “Sing Your Song to Me,” Justice was thinking about homeless people, “and particularly people who were involved in Denver Homeless Out Loud and their Resurrection Village that they tried to erect and, of course, the police came in and destroyed.”

Justice says the song was also inspired by Gil Scott-Heron, whom Justice saw when he was sixth grade at the first annual Telluride Jazz Festival as well as Marvin Gaye and Grover Washington Jr.

While writing the title track, Justice says he thought, “I don’t hear any anthems out there in the Movement. And I wanted something that was positive and was uplifting and had a good hook that people would remember.”

The hook in “She Taught Us,” Justice says, was taken directly from the words of African-American activist Assata Shakur “and her letter to her people: ‘It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to fight to win.’ This is a chant that you heard in Ferguson when they started going out in the streets there and you hear in Denver. We actually got a bunch of friends who are activists in town, and their kids and we did the chant and we put it on the end of the song.”

Justice admits that there is a good deal of political material on the album, but says it’s not the only theme. “There’s also ‘I Can’t Party (Like I Got No Job No More),' because we still want people to shake their butts when they’re at our shows.”