One of those only-in-New Orleans occasions happened Saturday night at the Joy Theater on Canal Street.
Dr. John, joined by a spirited congregation of local, national and international talent, performed most of the songs from his Louis Armstrong tribute album, “Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch.”
Dr. John’s shows usually contain many old favorites. Not so Saturday. There was no “Right Place, Wrong Time” or “I Walk on Gilded Splinters,” no “Iko Iko” or “Such a Night.”
No sweat. Dr. John’s and his collaborators’ exploration and interpretation of Armstong’s legacy kept the nearly two-hour show on engaging ground.
Apropos for an Armstrong tribute, New Orleans trumpeters Nicholas Payton, Terence Blanchard and James Andrews made frequent appearances. The show’s guests also included Cuban rapper Telmary Diaz and Ben Moore, of the gospel group Blind Boys of Alabama, dressed in a golden suit.
Dr. John’s regular band, the Nite Trippers, performed as well. His musical director and trombonist, Sarah Morrow, led the night’s expanded band, including a six-piece horn section.
Payton, the night’s first guest trumpeter, performed during opening song “What a Wonderful World.” Dr. John gave the heartfelt lyrics authentic voice, and Payton blew a lyrical, sweetly swinging solo.
Performances of “Wonderful World” and other songs featured the same horn section that appears on “Ske-Dat-De-Dat,” including baritone saxophonist Carl Blouin. Anytime a band has a baritone sax, that gloriously low reed instrument, it’s a good sign it means business.
Another of the night’s ballads, “That’s My Home,” featured Khali Allen Lee’s alto sax and some custom-made lyrics for a song that resonates in a city whose residents truly do love their home.
“I’m always welcomed back, no matter where I roam,” Dr. John sang. “Where bayou waters flow, cypress trees all grow. Ain’t gotta say no mo’. That’s my home.”
Blanchard’s trumpet served as a second voice to Dr. John on “Mack the Knife.” And Diaz — standing in for Mike Ladd, the New Yorker rapper who’s on the album — took the song to another level with her spicy Spanish rap.
Songs played Saturday that are not on “Ske-Dat-De-Dat” included “Didn’t He Ramble.” It fit the evening, however, because Armstrong performed and recorded it, and it’s a standard that dates to the dawn of jazz.
Dr. John gave “Ramble” a spoken, New Orleans-centric intro and finish. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” he said at the song’s end. “If the gambling don’t kill him, all that rambling must.”
Andrews played guest trumpet for an upbeat, band-showcasing, Latinized version of “When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles with You).”
Moore, who sings with his fellow Blind Boys of Alabama on the “Ske-Dat-De-Dat” album, was the only member of the group at Saturday’s show. “I can’t see you, but I can hear you,” the delighted to be in attendance Moore told the audience before joining Dr. John in a soothing duet of “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams.”
“When the Saints Go Marching In,” played at a dirge tempo in a minor key, anticipated a joyful, full-cast finale of “When I Lay My Burden Down.”
A happy ending for a special night that brought together an amazing array of music and talent.