ArtSpoken & Reviews

Jazz in the Big Easy

Don Albert
07/25/2012 16:46:52

Jazzaholic by Don Albert: New Orleans is all about food and music and the Saints football team as well as Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler (Let The Good Times Roll.)

“Way Down Yonder In New Orleans” and “Do You know What It Means To Miss New Orleans” are just two songs that have almost become anthems in the city that is open all night and that has garnered such nicknames as the Crescent City, Gator Town, the Home of Dixieland Jazz and the Paris of the Americas, or just simply, The Big Easy.

So with all that, and the words of the songs rhyming with New Orleans, the pronunciation is actually Noo Awlins or N’Awlins but definitely NOT New Orleens, unless you want the locals to look askance.

Leave your inhibitions behind and just soak up the vibe. Historically I always start off at Brennan’s on Royal Street in the French Quarter which is famous for ‘Breakfast at Brennans.’ I went along for dinner, which I believe should be equally as famous. Over the years I have never had a bad eating experience there, so why change?

Now about the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival which this year ran over two weekends (the last one in April and the first in May). I got there for the second weekend.

The festival takes place on the race course and there are 12 stages and/or tents offering music from that of Indigenous Americans (the various tribes of Red Indians) to Zydeco, Gospel, Blues, and Jazz. The main stage also offered such big names this year as Bruce Springsteen, the Eagles, the Beach Boys and Tom Petty. The thing to do is to make your own jazzfest out of what’s available. Many people go early to the venue they prefer and never move. Each venue offers about six acts between 11am and 7pm. There is even an indoor air conditioned room with free Southern food cookery classes.

While on the subject of food, the food is as important as the music and some wonderful food is available at the many food stalls. Water, soft drinks, beer and wine are also on offer. Art, sculptures, clothes and jewellery can all be found at the marketplace. There’s even a US Post Office onsite.

I caught some stunning performances. I’m a great fan of Marcia Ball, a raunchy pianist and singer of R&B, she pounds it out and sings the blues. For me she’s a female Fats Domino with her own hot sauce style.

Baritone Bliss comprised four baritone sax players and a bass saxophonist lead by Roger Lewis of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Two artists who should be household names outside of New Orleans are Germaine Bazzle and Jeremy Davenport. They are great talents, she as a vocalist and he as a trumpeter/singer. Their repertoires comprise mainly of the Great American Song Book. She included “Almost Like Being in Love” a trombone sound on “What A Difference A Day Made”, ”Lullaby of Birdland” and “Just One Of Those Things” her phrasing is superb and she can really scat well (there‘s nothing worse than some unhip singer trying to scat). Her guitarist Todd Duke was in excellent form. Deservedly she received a standing ovation. Davenport is loosely a New Orleans Chet Baker, and that’s a compliment not a clone, it’s that kind of a feel that he exudes. He plays and sings so well on standards such as “Come Rain Or Come Shine”, “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To”, “Sway” and “St Louis Blues” all performed with a bopish undertone. Highly entertaining

Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington won a Grammy for her CD Mosaic Project. Her band included the forever inventive trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, violinist Regina Carter, alto saxophonist Tia Fuller and some fine bass playing from Mimi Jones.

The Young Tuxedo Jazz Band stirred things up with foot stomping New Orleans jazz featuring the brilliant clarinet playing of Dr Michael White. Herbie Hancock with guitarist Lionel Loueke were kicked along by bassist James Genus and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. A set that sent sparks flying was played by saxman David Sanborn and organist Joey DeFrancesco. The latter was like Jimmy Smith reincarnated. The music was funky and dripping with the blues, while they grooved on “Comin’ Home Baby”.

I think I must have written this before about jazzfest but I’ll say it again, I never go home without popping into the ‘feel good’ Gospel tent. Southern Gospel choirs singing, clapping hands and being propelled by a rocking band is just so uplifting.

With about 70 concerts a day it’s impossible to see them all, let alone write about them, so I hope the above will suffice to whet your appetite. If you go you’ll need a hat, sunglasses, nothing more than a T-shirt and shorts, plus it’s essential to have comfortable shoes.

Just like there is no other place like New Orleans, so there is no other jazzfest like the NewOrleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

I believe the following two people deserve a special mention for keeping the jazz flame burning.

First up is George Buck of Jazzology who has a jazz CD catalogue which incorporates such labels as Jazzology, GHB and American Music all documenting early jazz played by the who’s who of the period including Miff Mole, Wild Bill Davidson, Doc Cheatham, George Lewis, Kid Thomas and Pete Fountain. Solo Art features pianists from Jimmy Yancey to Mary Lou Williams and Art Hodes to Fats Waller. Black Swan goes right back to Ma Rainey, Johnny Dodds and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Audiophile has a list of wonderful singers and entertainers like Lee Wiley, Helen Forrest, Dick Haymes, Rose Murphy, Mark Murphy and Johnny Hartman plus Ronny Whyte, Marlene Ver Plank and Chris Connor to name but a few. Circle jumps in with such big bands as Charlie Spivak, Harry James, Jimmy Dorsey, Claude Thornhill, Vaughan Monroe, Ray Anthony, Count Basie, Chick Webb, Frankie Carle and Don Lamond. Progressive offers Buddy DeFranco, Ben Webster, Hank Jones, Scott Hamilton, Milt Hinton, Stuff Smith, Red Norvo and Zoot Sims plus others.

For further info e-mail geobuck@bellsouth.net

Secondly there is Mark Samuels who owns Basin Street Records. Samuels is about caring for new, New Orleans talent like the popular trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, who has nine albums out on Basin Street, and Grammy winning trumpeter Irvin Mayfield has six CDs including one with pianist Ellis Marsalis. Mayfield is also co-leader with Bill Summers of Los Hombres and they have five on the market. Drummer Jason Marsalis has a couple to his name. Jeremy Davenport is in Samuels stable with his latest CD titled We’ll Dance ’Til Dawn. Singer Theresa Andersson is making waves, while two keyboard funk cum blues artists Henry Butler and Jon Cleary are also popular live attractions, they have five CDs between them. Samuels has just signed another brilliant New Orleans pianist Davell Crawford and it looks like Davenport has a new CD in the making. For info go to www.BasinStreetRecords.com

I’m already missing New Orleans.


Don Albert is a saxophonist and jazz journalist. He spent 12 years with The Star Newspaper on the Tonight! section writing about jazz. Currently he writes jazz CD and book reviews for Financial Mail and is the South African Correspondent for Downbeat (USA) and Jazz Journal International (UK). He has presented radio programmes on jazz and served awards.as judge at prestigious competitions. He has also won numerous awards.