“Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans,” crooned musician Jeremy Davenport to a recent packed crowd at The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans’ dimly lit Davenport Lounge. “When that’s where you left your heart?”
Davenport certainly missed New Orleans audiences during the pandemic. The well-known local singer and trumpeter has played at the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel since 2000, until the pandemic forced a closure of his namesake jazz bar. Performing regularly since he was 13 years old, Davenport says it was the longest hiatus of his career.
“It was miserable,” he says about the unanticipated yearlong break. “I love to perform and have spent most of my life onstage.”
During the performance lull, he strove to channel his creativity. “I kept a strict practice schedule during the pandemic,” he says. “I listened to a lot of music and did my best to keep in shape.” He even recorded new music — he collaborated with his teen daughter Reagan Daskalova on a rendition of “The Christmas Song” in 2020.
He finally returned to the stage at the New Orleans hotel in March 2021, playing Thursdays to Saturdays. “It was scary at first,” Davenport says about his first show back, “but by the second song I felt comfortable again!”
Despite the yearlong pause, the audience demand hasn’t waned for the musician. When we arrived at the lounge an hour before a recent Saturday-night show, every seat was snatched up and people stood huddled around the bar waiting to hear Davenport and his black-suited four-piece band. “People seem thrilled to be back and listening to music again,” he says.
The complimentary, first-come, first-served show is a find for jazz aficionados and those who want a taste of New Orleans’ rich musical tradition.
Born in St. Louis, Davenport comes from a musically inclined family: his mother was a music teacher for 50 years and his dad played with the St. Louis Symphony for four decades. When he was young, Davenport played with members and guests of the symphony, which is how he met jazz legend Wynton Marsalis. As Davenport went on to attend the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, he fostered a friendship with Marsalis, who then introduced him to Harry Connick Jr. New Orleans natives Marsalis and Connick encouraged Davenport to move to their hometown, so he enrolled at the University of New Orleans and studied under Marsalis’ father, Ellis. Davenport later joined Connick’s Big Band for six years before breaking out on his own.
He’s been playing at The Ritz-Carlton for 22 years. During our visit, we sipped a Davenportini (a fruity mix of Grey Goose, limoncello, Chambord and pineapple juice) while he wailed on the trumpet and sang ditties like “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” “Blue Skies,” “It Had to Be You” and “The Girl from Ipanema.”
Keep an eye out — you never know when you’ll spot a familiar face on the small stage. Davenport often invites famous musicians spanning all genres to join him. Paul McCartney, Sting, Kermit Ruffins, Trombone Shorty, James Andrews, Connick and Diana Krall have all performed alongside him.
While the pandemic forced New Orleans to cancel many of its marquee events, this year the city plans to bring back Mardi Gras (March 1) and Jazz Fest (April 29 to May 8). The hotel hasn’t announced its Mardi Gras plans yet, but Davenport says he will perform in the lounge the weekend before Fat Tuesday. “Slowly but surely things seem to be returning to ‘normal,’” he says. “New Orleans has a vibrant music scene and hopefully things continue to improve.”
But resilience is stitched into the purple, green and gold fabric of the city, which managed to survive Hurricane Katrina and most recently Ida. “New Orleans is a vibrant, inspiring, romantic, historic, beautiful, magical place,” Davenport says. “It’s also the birthplace of the music that I’ve dedicated my life to performing.”