*New Orleans – The first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell is a wrap.
Jazzfest is an extremely huge celebration of the unique culture and heritage of the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana with world class music,mouthwatering cuisine and unique crafts.
Now in it’s 44th year, the festival presents a smorgasbord of hundreds of bands on twelve different stages, performing virtually every style of music,to the delight of music aficionados. Jazzfest as it is affectionately known,draws almost half million music and culture crazed fans from all over the world to the Fairgrounds Race Course. Attendance at Jazzfest has become a Springtime ritual for veterans jazzfest attendees.The minute the gates opens,festers do a galloping waltz to get a prime spot in front of the respective stages.
As luck with have it, I came down with a serious case of the blues.Musically speaking,I heard some amazing musicians sharing various hues of the blues throughout the Fairgrounds.Bryan Lee is a 70 year old, local blues guitarist. Mr.Lee and his band The Blues Power Band sent a surge of good vibes throughout the blues tent on the tunes “Huckle Buck,” “Super Bad,” “BBD,” “Women Across the River.” “Gotta Rock” pays homage to Chuck Berry who influenced his musical career at an early age.Their set continued with “Things,” “She Hugs Me Till I Hurts,” and closed their set by encouraging the crowd to “Shake Your Money Maker.” People wasn’t aware that Jazzfest was an inter-active program.Guitarist Brent Johnson delivered an outstanding breakout performance.Mr.Johnson will soon branch out and make a name for himself on the global blues circuit.
Many people were happy that Washboard Chaz would be returning to perform at Jazzfest. He was aided and abetted by Andy J.Forrest on harp and St.Louis Slim on guitar.This was a fun band as evidence by the smiles witnessed throughout the crowd enjoying the lyrics to “Wrong Women,” “Stealing,” “Few of Your Lines,” “1st Shot Got Him,” and several upbeat,inspiring tunes “Thank De Lawd,” “Pick Yourself Up,” and “I’m So Glad.” This would be a great band to add their music or acting skills to a sequel to “O Brother,Where Art Thou” if one is scheduled in the future.
Gary Clark Jr., made a return engagement to Jazzfest. He was given a bigger platform for another set full of a truck load of guitar pyrotechnics.He went full steamed ahead from the moment he took the stage til the last song of his set.Their set list featured the tune “When My Train Pulls In,” “The Life,” “Don’t Owe You a Thang”-this is a great break-up tune followed appropriately enough with “Please Come Home” a love story,and continued with Set You Straight,” and concluded with “Bright Lights.” There were many new converts to Gary Clark Jr. growing legions of fans.
On a different note,George Benson graced the Congo Square stage.He got his show underway with “This Masquerade,” “Give Me The Night.” He commented on the nice weather before launching into “Breezin.” Inspiration:A Tribute to Nat King Cole is his latest CD that drops on June 4,2013.
I returned to Jazzfest on Saturday and Sunday for another fabulous musical experience.I included more variety of music in my schedule.
Vocalist Sharon Martin entertained the crowd and I at the Zatarain’s WWOZ Jazz Tent.She showcased great vocal phrasing on the tunes “What a Little Moonlight Could Do,” “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone,” Nobody Here But Me,” “Gigi” by Antonio Carlos Jobim and concluded her set with some “Soul Serenade.”
Jason Marsalis holds from a fantastic musical family.He played material from his laest CD In a World of Mallets for a capacity crowd both inside and all around the perimeter of the Jazz Tent.The band was swinging hard on the tunes “Characters,” “Louisiana Gold,” and “The Nice Mailman Song for Ann.” It would be nice to hear the backstory about the title of this last tune.The band consisted of Jason Marsalis on vibes,Austin Johnson-piano,Jasen Weaver-bass and Steven Gordon on drums.
Germaine Bazzle is another great local vocalist from the Crescent City of New Orleans.Her tight band came out with a swinging version of “Caravan” before Ms.Bazzle came onstage to dazzle the crowd with some dynamic singing and scatting on “When You Are Smiling,” “Almost Like Being in Love,” and “Time After Time.”
Margory Lord of Salvador,Bahia in Brazil played an infectious set of Black Semba for a captive crowd who were overcome with the desire to dance to their unique sounds during their set on the Jazz & Heritage Stage.
The Zatarian’s WWOZ Jazz Tent will never be the same again after the fiery set of salsa and Latin Jazz as presented by Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra.This tight band has the feel and sounds that populized the Pallidium in New York City back in the day.Security wasn’t able to contain the energetic crowd who danced stage left and stage right throughtout his set.You would dance also while listening to “Munyeca” in this and other settings. Mr.Palmieri sweetened the deal with “Azucar,” “Para Pa Rumba,” and “Que Linda Yambu.” There was smoldering embers left over in the Jazz Tent after their set.
Singer, poet and actress Jill Scott is a wonderful neo-soul vocalist.She turned it out on the Congo Square Stage with a great set of original tunes featuring “So In Love” recorded with Anthony Hamilton, “Quick,” “The Way,” “A Long Way” and “Golden” as the afternoon sun shine brightly down upon her and the JazzFest logo glowed in the background.
Vivaz! gave the crowd an early jolt of energy on Sunday,the final day of the first weekend of JazzFest.Led by guitarist Javier Guitierrez, people arriving through the Gentilly entrance were entertained with some Latin jazz,salsa and Caribbean rhythms with a flamenco flair.
The skies opened up and drenched the festival.This drastically altered everyone’s scheduled,but couldn’t dampened their resolve to “Let the Good Times Roll.” I found myself in the Gospel Tent where they were having church.The capacity crowd and I gathered for some fellowship,words of encouragement and hope.The Famous Rocks of Harmony provided the kind of energy that propelled the festival attendees out of their seats,overjoyed and giving Praises to God.Their set consisted of “Working for Jesus,” and “Amazing Grace.”
The corwd and I continued our enjoyment of the early church service with another crowd pleasing set featuring Joe “Cool” Davis aka “The Spirit of New Orleans,with his band Cool Breeze with special guest Barbara Short and Lady BJ Crosby.He opened his set with “I’m Leaning on the Everlasting Lord,” and “I’ll Take You There” with Barbara Short,followed by Jesus,Protect Me Every Step of the Way,” and “Down by the Riverside” with Lady BJ Crosby.The group continued with a medley of tunes “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “I Ain’t Gonna Study War No Mre,” and “Let God Be With You.”
Another great joy of Jazzfest is the new discoveries. Martha Redbone Roots Project was a wonderful gem of an artist who performed a superb set of original tunes on blues,gospel,soul coupled with Native American sounds of North Carolina Appalachian Folk music and Piedmont blues.She performed “Don’t Forget Me,” “Garden of Love,” “Earth Return,” “Drums,” and “A Poison Tree.” Her latest CD is entitled The Garden of Love.
Fest goers took a break from trekking around the Fairgrounds by attending an interview section at the Allison Minor Music Heritage Stage in the Grandstands.Michael Gourrier,radio host on WWOZ 90.7FM interviewed vocalist Dianne Reeves.She shared insights into her upbringing,musical influences and motivation for singing.She shared how she met Clark Terry, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Childs and Sergio Mendez-musicians who nurtured her musical career.The crowd and I moved over to the Zatarain’s WWOZ Jazz Tent for her performance featuring Peter Martin-piano,Reginald Veal-bass,Romero Lumambo-guitar and Terreon Gully on drums. She performed “Dreams” with some lyrics of Thunder Don’t Happen When It Rain followed by “Stormy Weather” in reference to pending rain that arrived ten minutes after this tune.
Juan Luis Guerra Y 440 made another return engagement to the delight of his fans on the Congo Square Stage who were determined to dance during his set of merenque, salsa and cumbia on the soggy grounds of the festival.
JazzFest hosted Royalty on the final day of the first weekend.Legendary blues guitarist B.B.King closed out the show in the Blues Tent on a rainy evening. B.B.King and Lucille showcased sparks of nostalgic brilliance as he thrilled the crowd with material from his extensive catalog of hits.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell resumes Thursday,May 2nd-Sunday,May 5th, 2013.This is very important information if you,family members, friends or co-workers have plans to visit New Orleans in the coming days for vacation or business. www.nojazzfest.com for more information.
Ricky Richardson is a Southern California based writer,music reviewer and photographer.Contact him via email@example.com.