By Bob Putignano
Something special always happens over a weekend of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, not only at the performances, but there are also parades, Mardi Gras Indians, and the fascinating crowd that assembles year after the year at the Fair Grounds Racetrack. To see so many local bands keeping on with their streetwise music after Katrina is mind-boggling, as their performances remain so positive and upbeat. And then, Poof! JazzFest is over and now I'm making my way back to New York and there's not a brass-band gig to be found here in the Big Apple, nor is there anything that resembles that classic fat backbeat sound. There are so many facets that make New Orleans incredibly unique. So what we commonly refer as the Crescent City or The Big Easy should never be taken for granted. There is no place in the universe like it and when you think about the origins of the history of American music; New Orleans stands tall and is immensely significant to our musical and cultural history.
JazzFest runs for two long weekends over the cusp of April and May and features more music and any one writer could possibly cover. I made it there on the first day of the second weekend. Some of the featured acts on Thursday, May 1, included New Orleans citizens Kermit Ruffins; the Wild Magnolias; the amazing bass player George Porter Jr. and his band, with Batiste & Stoltz, Billy Iuso & The Restless Natives; plus the Bay Area Soul-Funk unit Tower of Power, led by original TOP band-leader Emilio Castillo, who were really percolating that afternoon. Over at the nearby stage Deacon John fronted a big band and displayed why he is one of New Orleans' finest performers. (If you need more reasons to checkout Deacon get yourself a copy of his Jump Blues DVD or CD; it's spectacular!)
Bettye LaVette put on a very fine performance at the Blues Tent and it was great to see keyboardist Al Hill back in her band. LaVette is definitely made for the stage and had the crowd in the palm of her hand. Off-stage is another story as I witnessed Bettye belittling a disc-jockey for not giving her enough airplay in front of a small crowd of people; very unprofessional from a lady I have a lot of respect for. One has to wonder if Lavettešs tactics would provide her the additional airplay shešs looking for? Following LaVette and closing the Blues Tent this day was Big Luther Kent and his very large Big Band Trickbag. It's always a joy to see Kent fronting his big band, which included Trickbag mainstays Allyn Robinson (ex-Tab Benoit) on drums, Jay Griggs on bass, Bruce Elsensohn on piano, the young and talented Jonathan Long on lead guitar, the burning Tommy Young on B-3, and horn orchestra contractor Rodney Lafon on trumpet and leading the seven-piece horn section. This big unit is a tour de force as Kent and his bandmates wailed through many favorite New Orleans classics. Note: On the horizon for Kent will be a studio recording of which will be a tribute to his hero Bobby "Blue" Bland, with horn-charts and arrangements by the Creole Beethoven Wardell Quezergue. Wardell has arranged many classic recordings by Dr. John, Gatemouth Brown, B.B. King, Jean Knight (remember "Mr. Big Stuff"?), King Floyd, and countless others.
New Orleans own,
Johnny Sansone, sang his BMA
song of the year nominee, "Poor Man's Paradise."
photo by Joseph A Rosen - www.josepharosen.com
Friday's lineup featured John Prine, Marva Wright, Randy Newman, Donald Harrison with Mardi Gras Indians, Wanda Rouzan & a Taste of New Orleans, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave., Zigaboo Modeliste, Art Neville, Papa Grows Funk, Michael Franti, and Terence Blanchard with the Louisiana Philharmonic. Most memorable was a stirring set by New Orleans' own John Boutté.
In the rain on Saturday Stevie Wonder made his first appearance at JazzFest, plus a tribute to Max Roach featuring three drum sets onstage manned by Jason Marsalis, Herlin Riley, and Shannon Powell; the wonderful Ruthie Foster; the Dirty Dozen Brass Band; Henry Butler; Marcia Ball; John Mooney; and even Jimmy Buffet! Speaking of Stevie Wonder, there was a lot of buzz around town about Wonder sitting with Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews & Orleans Ave. for a late night jam at Tipitina's in town. Unfortunately this never materialized, but this did not stop these very gifted youngsters from playing on until 7 a.m.!
I had to head back home on Sunday, but I would have liked to see performances by Kenny Neal, the human jukebox Snooks Eaglin, Keb' Mo', and the great Derek Trucks Band, who all performed at the Blues Tent throughout the afternoon. The Acura Stage had to be humming as Ivan Neville & Dumpstaphunk, Carlos Santana, and the Neville Brothers, who all performed at that main stage.
So there you have it and until next year, keep checking www.nojazzfest.com for next year's lineup and guaranteed good-times.