THE NEW ORLEANS JAZZ FEST 2002

It is with great joy that I present to you for the third year running, the goings-on at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, both at the Festival and into the wee hours at the local clubs.

I know I say this every year, but if you have never been to New Orleans during Jazz Fest, you are missing one of the best musical events on this planet! For the main event, held at the Fair Grounds Race Track, there are no less than eleven -- thatís right!, eleven stages, large and small, offering blues, jazz, world, gospel, native American, and just about every genre of music to satisfy oneís particular musical appetite. After a day of great music at Jazz Fest, and once youíve had a chance to rest your bones and freshen up a bit, fabulous meals await in the numerous nearby restaurants featuring gumbo, jambalaya, local fresh oysters, catfish and gulf shrimp. Finally, you can top-off your dinner with a little "musical dessert" and head on out for a close-up view of the many local and national talents performing in a host of clubs scattered throughout one of my favorite cities in North America!

April 26: My 2002 adventure at the Fair Grounds started with 5 local favs: CJ Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band, who never disappoint, followed by a dancing dose of the Funky Meters who really had the crowd dancing and prancing, then a blistering set of must-see Bryan Lee & the Power Blues Band, and on to a band I just recently found out about: Quintology (buy their new cd, wow!), and slide ace, Sonny Landreth. After sampling the local greats, I decided to "bring myself back home" for a taste of New York to check out Shemekia Copeland, who delivered a solid performance of hits from her first two Alligator releases, along with a couple of new songs from her upcoming disc that is to be produced by another New Orleans legend, Doctor John.

After a quick run through the shower, a dozen oysters, and a fine course of catfish at Felixís, it was time to hit the clubs. A visit to New Orleans is not complete without getting to see The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, good friends of the New York Blues & Jazz Society and radio station WFDUís "Across the Tracks"! And whew! did the Dozen ever deliver the goods! Special guest, New Yorkís own Melvin Sparks sat in and further funkified this highly energized band, which is always a blast to catch, whether you are in New Orleans, New York, or anywhere you may have the opportunity to see them. A big thank-you to the always gracious and Dirty Dozen trumpeter, Efrem Towns, who made certain to tell the crowd that WFDU and NYB&JS were in the house! After two very infectious sets of the Dirty Dozen, it was off to the House of Blues to see a 3:00 a.m. performance of the aforementioned Mr. Melvin Sparks, who brought his NY unit to the Big Easy, and effortlessly kept the enthusiastic crowd alive with his always fine mix of funk, jazz, blues and soul, until 5:00 a.m.!

April 27: Ouch!.. Itís almost noon, and time to catch the bus back to the track. Local great, Mem Shannon got me right back into the swing of things, performing many great witty tracks from his first four discs at the blues tent; but the best was about to come: Louisiana native, Kenny Neal took the stage and nearly blew the tent off the stage with a blistering set of originals and covers, then brought out the wonderful Miss Deborah Coleman! Kenny and Deborah performed as if they had been playing together for years, trading off guitar licks with ease. This had to be the highlight of the weekend for me! I hope Neal and Coleman get the opportunity to record, as the chemistry they exuded was extremely special, fresh and raw! I was finding it hard to leave the Blues Tent as Roy Rogers slid his way through a nice set of his superior slide guitar playing in support of his new Evidence release, "Slideways". More blues with a shot of jazz as the 76-years-young Gatemouth Brown took blues tent, but as I knew I was going to see Gate later on in the eve, I decided to make my way to see ex-Louie Prima sax man, Sam Butera and the Wildest. Sam and his unit in true Las Vegas tradition with tuxedos, and a slick sound, pleased the widest aged crowd of people Iíve ever seen, performing Prima classics and old-time swinging greats that had everyone smiling. Sam who, (ahem), told the crowd he was in his early teens when he recorded with Prima, told jokes, and played as though he truly was in his early forties. Sam was very moved by the crowd and his homecoming back to New Orleans, and shed a tear of happiness thanking the crowd for its support.

Back to the hotel and Iím beat! But there is so much more to see and hear. Dinner? (Yeah, that should help!) So, after a lovely dinner with friends at the Palace Cafť (go there, you wonít be disappointed!), it was out to the clubs again to see ex-Rebirth Brass Band, New Orleansí young trumpet legend, Kermit Ruffins; another must-see. Kermitís set of originals and standards ran almost two hours and thoroughly pleased both this listener and the packed house with a crack quartet, consisting of a fine pianist, in David Torkanowsky, stand up bassist, Neal Caine, and Arthur Latin II on drums. Kermit is a joy to watch, as he is a very smooth performer -- and is a riot to listen to as he rambles on with stories and announcements between each song! He is unquestionably defining himself as one of the new legends from the Big Easy; not an easy task, considering the Cityís already long, rich musical heritage. Well, itís only 2:30, and Gatemouth is playing next door, so we wander in and find Gate in a Basie & Ellington mood - cool! Speaking of great legacies and stature, Brown and his fine band, especially the talented Joe Krown on B3 and various keyboards, rounded out the night exquisitely. Gate is still one of the most unique guitar voices you will ever hear, and has not lost a step in his traditional yet modern approach to playing.

Oh well.. Thatís it for this year; yet another incredible weekend of music assembled by the good folks at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation. Thank you!

If you can arrange your life next year, and want to see perhaps the most eclectic mix of music assembled in one of the most outstanding musical cities in the world, go to Jazz Fest 2003, you will not be disappointed! For 2003 Jazz Fest updates, keep checking http://www.nojazzfest.com. God willing, I will be there again, to make it four years in a row!

Bob Putignano, President
NY Blues & Jazz Society
Radio Host @ WFDUís, ďSounds of BlueĒ