By Ricky Richardson, Contributing Writer
New Orleans, LA.- Each year, part of a Springtime ritual, hundreds of thousands of music aficionados and foodies gather at the Fairgrounds to experience the culture that is the world-famous New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, presented by Shell. Jazz Fest is the unparalleled presentation of American roots music, international rhythms and of course, Louisiana culture that has made the festival endure and flourish for half a century.
This year’s edition was significant in that this was the first in person gathering after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. The ‘R” word was thrown around throughout the festival. Return, rebirth, revival, re-ignited or re-emerged as it relates to the pandemic delayed hiatus. Regardless of how one views or expresses it, it all comes down to Jazz Fest is back, y’all!
I was fortunate to be in attendance for the first weekend of jazz fest. The weather Gods looked down favorably upon the festival. It was sunny, warm with a slight breeze. A thunderstorm moved through the area Sunday morning, resulting in a 30-minute delay of the opening of the gates.
Jazz enthusiasts were assured of a GT, not the Gin and tonic, that you were thinking. GT is for a good time, which we come to expect with the return of New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, presented by Shell, inside the WWOZ Jazz Tent. WWOZ is the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival station, a community radio station currently operating out of the French Quarter in New Orleans. OZ as they are affectionally called is a listener-supported-volunteer-programmed radio station.
An overflow crowd filled up the WWOZ Jazz Tent and set-up around the outside perimeter. The group was thoroughly entertained with the sounds of Be-bop, straight-ahead jazz, swing, Afro-Cuban Jazz and Latin Jazz. This is the city that gave birth to America’s number one artform, jazz a century ago.
It does my heart good to know that the future of jazz is in good hands. Donald Harrison Jr., New Orleans Music Interns got to shine in the spotlight to open the show inside the WWOZ Jazz Tent.
The John Mahoney Big Band featuring Brian Blade presented our first dose of explosive big band jazz.
Big Chief Donald Harrison Jr., performed double duties, first leading the New Orleans Music Interns and performing a set of original tunes on the Congo Square Stage with his band.
Singer/songwriter Quiana Lynell was a real treat. She acquired new fans during her captivating performance and showcased her vocal stylings and vocal range. I could detect a tinge of Mahalia Jackson in her voice.
Arturo Sandoval revved up the crowd to closed out day one with a high-octane set of Latin Jazz. Arturo Sandoval talents were on full display as he sent a flurry of musical notes into the stratosphere on trumpet, tickled the ivories on keyboards and laid down spicy grooves on timbales.
Day one of Jazz Fest featured outstanding performances by Dawn Richard on the Congo Square Stage, Little Freddie King and Bombino, sensational, standout sets in the Blues Tent and Astral Project in WWOZ Jazz Tent.
The Crescent City is home to a large contingent of internationally known singers. Germaine Bazzle is an outstanding vocalist. She was superb as she entertained the attentive crowd with some classic jazz standards and originals.
The Trumpet Mafia opened their set with the theme from the Godfather. They worked the crowd into a frenzy featuring a rhythm section, two dozen plus trumpet players, a couple of trombone players and saxophonist.
The Cookers is an all-star band, each member is a standout leader in their own right. The band consist of Eddie Henderson, Donald Harrison Jr., David Weiss and George Cables, Cecil McBee and Bily Hart. Their set was the highlight of the afternoon.
Mem Shannon & The Membership performed in the Blues Tent, and Lakou Mizik of Haiti, was great on the Jazz and Heritage Stage.
The Blues Tent was rockin’ during the segment “The New Orleans Classic Recording Revue.” The crowd was taken on a musical journey featuring performances by Bobby Cure & The Poppa Stoppas, Al ‘Carnival Time’ Johnson, Wanda Rouzan, Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry and The Dixie Cups. You can’t go wrong with a powerful lineup like this.
Alexey Marti turbo-charged the WWOZ Jazz Tent with an electrifying set of Afro-Cuban jazz to the delight of the global community of salseros dancing in and outside of the perimeter of the tent.
The late great musician, educator and mentor Ellis Marsalis was remembered with a celebratory set featuring members of his band, David Torkanowsky, Oscar Rossignoli, Shea Pierre, Jesse McBride and special guest Jason Marsalis.
The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra, directed by Scotty Barnett, featuring vocalist Carmen Bradford, put the finishing touches on the first weekend of Jazz Fest. Grand Finale!
Gilberto Santa Rosa spiced up the gumbo of Jazz Fest with a serving of Salsa to the delight of the crowd gathered at the Congo Square Stage. WEPA!
Jazz Fest organizers honored three prolific world-renowned musicians throughout the weekend. Festival impresario George Wein, singer, songwriter, musician Dr. John and Ellis Marsalis, with an ancestral monument that was unveiled and on display in the Ancestors area near the Congo Square Stage. Members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band performed during the program to honor George Wein, Jon Cleary performed during the ceremony for Dr. John, with words from his daughter, Karla. The program to honor Ellis Marsalis was postponed due to inclement weather.
The mission of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is to promote, preserve, perpetuate and encourage the music, arts, culture, and heritage of Louisiana. Approximately 85%- 90% of bands presented at Jazz Fest are active members of the Louisiana music community.
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation, Inc. is the nonprofit organization that owns the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell. the Foundation’s proceeds from Jazz Fest are used for year-round activities in the areas of education, economic development and cultural enrichment. Visit https://jazzzandheritage.org for more information on the Foundation.
I’m sure by now, you are growing tired of hearing your relatives, colleagues, friends or neighbors talking about what a great time that they had in New Orleans for Jazz Fest. Consider this a friendly reminder, the 52nd annual event will take place, April 28-May 7, 2023. For the most up to date Jazz Fest info, visit www.nojazzfest.com and sign up for the Newsletter to receive email alerts about Jazz Fest 2023.
“Laissez les bon temps rouler” “Let the good times roll!