Irma Thomas

*New Orleans – My family, friends, co-workers and other followers of my columns recognize my love of various genres of music. They also know that I will travel near and far to attend a musical event.

I have attended the inaugural Walk of Fame in Philadelphia, W.C. Handy Awards and Beale Street Music Festival (part of Memphis in May) in Memphis, Monterey Blues and Jazz Festival, San Francisco Blues Festival, San Diego Blues Festival and San Diego Street Scene, Catalina Island Blues and Jazz Festival. Also, tooooooo many cultural events, festivals etc. in and around Los Angeles County to mention in print.

Irma Thomas "The Soul Queen of New Orleans" was superb in her Tribute to Mahalia Jackson in the Gospel of the Jazz & Heritage Festival

Tony Bennet may have sang “I Left my Heart in San Francisco”, I feel that I left my soul in New Orleans. I feel a kinship with the Crescent City because the city always leaves a lasting impression on me. I have had the pleasure of attending Mardi Gras, French Quarter Festival and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (aka: NOJAZZFEST, or JAZZFEST).

My last visit to the city was exactly five years ago, April 2005 for the first weekend of JazzFest. I’m saddened to say that I haven’t returned to the city since Katrina touched down. I’ve heard from friends, and reading New Orleans publications such as OFFBEAT, and Times Picayune that JazzFest hasn’t skipped a beat and that record crowds have been attending since Spring of 2006 to present. The city is still recovering, which is why I joined tourist from all across the United States as well as international visitors for this years JazzFest.

As fate would have it, residents of the Crescent City were still in a party mode after the New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl in Miami, Florida several months ago. I’m sure that you have heard the saying “It ain’t nothing but a party” which applies not only to New Orleans, but to the entire state of Louisiana. Visit www.neworleanscvb.com and www.nola.com/jazzfest if you, family, friends or co-workers are planning on visiting the Crescent City in the coming months for the Essence Music Festival, which I highly recommend.

I had the pleasure of staying at the Airport Hilton for the first weekend of JazzFest, April 22nd-26th, 2010. I got a wonderful rate through the hotels website. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at this property and would recommend it to others for its convenient location to the Airport, professional and courteous staff and this is a really nice hotel.

The 2010 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell featured a virtual gumbo of musical genres. Large crowds were evident at the Acura Stage to get their groove on while enjoying Lionel Ritchie on Friday, April 23rd, and at the Congo Square “My Louisiana Stage” for Ledisi and Drake on April 24th, Anita Baker on Sunday, April 25th. It was common to hear the crowd singing along to current and past hits performed by each artist.
The 2010 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell features a mind boggling 12 stages of continuous music. This is a festival within a festival. Many of the artists were performing at the same time. I will focus on three other areas where I spent most of my time.

ROOMFUL OF THE BLUES

The 2010 NOJAZZFEST kept the crowd in a happy mood with various hues of the Blues in the Blues Tent. Blues lovers crowded into the Blues Tent for the first weekend of JazzFest, April 23rd-25th, for their fix of just what the good doctor ordered-The Blues. The good thing about JazzFest is that you can stay at one stage for the entire weekend and be thoroughly entertained with the stellar line-up of artist performing throughout the weekend. You can venture out for food and a restroom break at your leisure. I saw many familiar faces as I popped in and out of the Blues Tent all weekend. Many people were not shy about dancing (boogie to the blues). Kipori Woods kicked of the festivities in the Blues Tent. I had the pleasure of seeing this young man when he first burst onto the blues scene many years ago at JazzFest. He performed material from his debut CD as well some current tunes. Additional artist showcased some soul blues, slow blues, delta blues and rock blues. These marvelous artist consisted of Little Freddie King, Kenny Neal, Elvin Bishop, Marc Stone, Grandpa Elliott, Lil’ Buck Senegal Blues Band, Davell Crawford & One Foot in the Blues with special guest Dr. John & Jon Cleary, gospel and blues of the Campbell Brothers, Tab Benoit, Henry Gray & The Cats with Carol Fran, Robert 1-String” Gibson, Guitar Slim Jr., and Jonny Lang.

THE JOINT WAS JUMPING

I’m fortunate to have some older friends who frequented many of the top jazz clubs in the United States in New York, New Orleans, Kansas City and Central Avenue Jazz Clubs in Los Angeles. They are always sharing with me some of the experiences that they had back in the day, 1920’s-1950’s. Speaking with friends and reading about jazz history, one recurring phrase kept popping up “The Joint Was Jumping” which refers to the energy of the clubs (the intense playing of the musicians and the fun of the jazz patrons in attendance).

The WWOZ Jazz Tent consistently re-creates the spark that happened in the above mentioned clubs with swinging, straight ahead, modern jazz sans smoking. You could have probably heard a pin drop as the attentive crowd in the Jazz Tent gave their undivided attention to the artistry showcased by the world-class musicians. New Orleans is on the front lines as it continues to train future generations in America’s #1 art form- JAZZ. This is understandable considering that New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz.

The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Ensemble, N.O.C.C.A Jazz Ensemble and Jesse McBride presents The Next Generation demonstrated why the future of jazz is in good hands as demonstrated by these talented young artists. The great jazz saxophonist Joe Lovano US Five and a lot of New Orleans jazz royalty rounded out the schedule in the Jazz Tent. The audience were swaying or bopping their heads to the sounds provided by Leah Chase, Guitar Woodshed featuring Steve Masakowski, Todd Duke & Jake Eckert, Terence Blanchard, Jeremy Davenport, a tribute to Juanita Brooks featuring Betty Shirley, Germaine Bazzle and Leah Chase, Irving Mayfield & New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and Keely Smith who put on a solid show during their respective sets.

ROOF RAISING TENT REVIVALS

Growing up in Tampa, Florida, I recall fondly attending some rousing tent revivals. It was common to see many Pastors and choirs touring through the state. JazzFest organizers took extra precautions in securing the Gospel Tent considering the roof raising performers scheduled to give Praised to the Lord. Foot stomping, hand clapping and handkerchief waving was evidence every time I stepped into the Gospel Tent to rejuvenate my soul. There were many outstanding performances all weekend. Several stood out including Irma Thomas’ Tribute to Mahalia Jackson with Jacqueline Mayfield (I wonder how many people in the audience were able to witness the historical performance of Mahalia Jackson performing before 65,000 people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939), Smokie Norful, and The Blind Boys of Alabama for an electrifying crowd pleasing set of old time gospel.

You can get in on the fun for the final weekend of JazzFest, April 29-May 2nd, 2010. Visit www.nojazzfest.com click on The Cubes-artist, schedule and stages to see who is performing for the final weekend. If you can’t attend the festival, check out www.wwoz.org click on the link to hear an actual live performance from the Fairgrounds on your computer while at work or at home. Whether visiting New Orleans for business and/pleasure, you can find something to your liking be it the cuisine, various genres of music, architecture, etc, etc.  www.neworleanscvb.com or www.nola.com/jazzfest .