Upstairs in the Little Gem Ramp Room
445 S. Rampart St
New Orleans, LA, 70112
Mervin Campbell learned to sing from his mother, Millie Campbell, a gospel singer at Fairview Baptist Church. When Merv was in fifth grade at Valena C. Jones Elementary School, the school was recruiting kids for the band and Merv wanted to join. So Miss Millie saved up money from her job as cook and bought Merv a trumpet. Around the same time, Merv saw the Olympia Brass Band in the James Bond movie Live and Let Die at the birthday party for Miss Ruby, wife of New Orleans trumpet legend (and Olympia co-leader) Milton Batiste. At that moment, Merv knew that he wanted to be a jazz musician.
Miss Millie then asked fellow churchmember and jazz legend Danny Barker if Merv could join the Fairview Baptist Band. Barker said yes, and so every Tuesday or Thursday Merv would head over to Barker’s house or to the St. Bernard Rec Center for rehearsal. In 1983 a second group, Roots of Jazz—again under the direction of Danny Barker—began to play, at that year’s Jazz Fest and at the World’s Fair. And Merv participated at school, where from 1981 to 1985, he was a member of the St. Augustan Marching One Hundred under Edwin Hampton.
Merv started playing with the Olympia Brass Band in 1981 (the youngest member ever asked to join). There he learned from Olympia leader Harold Dejan and assistant-leader Milton Batiste. Harold Dejan had been friends with Merv’s great uncle, trumpeter Henry “Kid” Rena. So Dejan would call Merv “Rena” or “Kid Rena”—that’s how Merv found out that Kid Rena was his great uncle.
In 1987, Milton Batiste started the Junior Olympia Brass Band, which Merv joined. Two years later, Merv formed a group called the Young Olympians, which played in New Orleans, the U.S., and Europe through 1996. In 1991, the group became a band with two names playing two different styles of music: the Young Olympians by day for traditional events and the funky Soul Rebels in nightclubs and at parties. Merv continued as leader of the Young Olympians/Soul Rebels through December 1997. He and the band were recorded live in September 1997 at Joe’s Cozy Corner for the Peabody Award-winning documentary River of Song, seen on public radio and public TV in 1999.
In 1991, the Neville Brothers decided to put together a band for their children, and Merv was asked to join the band, Deff Generation (also known as the Young Nevilles). He played with them from 1991 to 1993.
From 1989 to 1992, Merv hustled for tips and learned traditional jazz in the French Quarter: with Tuba Fats & His Chosen Few with Linda Young, and with the Jackson Square Jazz Band with pianist Marie Wantanabe.
Kid Merv has recorded with Olympia Brass Band, Young Olympians, Soul Rebels, Deff Generation, Cyril Neville and the Uptown All-Stars, and the Neville Brothers on the Family Groove album. He was also featured in the documentary Satchmo in the Ghetto.
In 1997, Merv began work on a solo CD at Milton Batiste’s Dubat Studios. Batiste named Merv “Kid Merv” in honor of Kid Rena. The name stuck and the resulting CD—Kid Merv & All That Jazz—won two 1997 Offbeat Awards, for Best Traditional and Best Vocal.
His own jazz band, Kid Merv & All That Jazz is a five-piece playing a range of jazz, from Louis Armstrong to Miles Davis, with a touch of pop and some swing. Kid Merv also is a member of the Treme Brass Band, where he plays lead trumpet and sings second vocal (to Uncle Lionel Batiste). Within the past few years, he’s traveled around the United States with Treme Brass Band and to several oversea festivals: to the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy with Dejan’s Olympia Brass Band; to the Louis Armstrong Festival in Salzburg, Austria on a brass-band gig; and to the Pori Jazz Festival in Pori, Finland with the Original Royal Players brass band. He also travels within the United States with the Louis Armstrong Society Band, a concert group.
Summer 2001 was spent on Block Island, Rhode Island, where he played six nights a week at the club-restaurant, Ballard’s. Kid Merv led All That Jazz in an all-traditional set in the French Quarter Festival (Spring 2001), then mixed up contemporary and traditional for the Treme Festival (Fall 2001) and for the most recent French Quarter Festival (Spring 2002). This year, for the first time, Kid Merv & All That Jazz performed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (May 2002) and played the after-parties for Essence Festival (July 2002).
Mervin “Kid Merv” Campbell is an active member of the New Orleans Musicians Union and a member of the New Orleans Organized, a support network for the local musicians in their business endeavors.
Little Gem Saloon
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