New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest 2006
This review would not be complete without mentioning the most impassioned and powerful performance of the festivalperhaps the most memorable in the 37-year history of jazz fest. Bruce Springsteen wasted no time in mining the depths of the Pete Seeger songbook - his new album is the sublime Seeger Sessions. This was pure American music, thrown out at the crowd with seemingly reckless abandon, but hitting its target square in the bullseye. Springsteen's charisma and energy brought vital life to standards such as "Oh Mary Don't You Weep," "Jacob's Ladder" and "We Shall Overcome". The swelled crowd was driven to ecstasy by the delivery of these songs by a large band incorporating horns, fiddles, saloon piano and gospel-like harmonies. The music invoked the spirit of New Orleans with brushes of Cajun, traditional jazz, folk and blues mixed together in a joyous jambalaya of sound, second-lining on riotous romps of traditional tunes and updating original songs to custom-fit the New Orleans predicament (his "My City In Ruins" was simply elegant and emotionally stirring). Introducing his encore, Springsteen said that "a hundred bands in this town can play this better than we can," but he breathed new life into the standard "When The Saints Go Marching In," singing it with quiet desperation, so the lyrics could be heard clearly. This version provided sobering hope to a city in need of a new lease on life.
Unfortunately, the return of Fats Domino to the stage did not take place as he was not feeling up to par to perform in front of a giant crowd. However, he graciously appeared onstage to thank the audience and to express his love and best wishes to his beloved city. It was soothing to see and hear "The Fat Man," though his performance was missed. Another MIA was Nicholas Payton, who suffered a lip injury earlier in the week. Greg Davis, of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, put together an exciting collection of legendary N'awlin's performers at the closing of the jazz tent (including Fats Domino saxman Roger Lewis) and their performance was pure joy from start to finish, a perfect exclamation point to this auspicious occasion. The final song was also "When The Saints Go Marching In". But unlike Springsteen's melancholy and moving performance, this version moved in a more traditional and swinging direction. In fact, it may have been the cherry on the sundae of awesome and emotional performances, in which the horns and high-steppers reclaimed New Orleans as a city of eclectic music, color and pageantry. The band affirmed that life is good when you're breathing, dancing, singingthe joy of it all made every sweat-drenched person in the jazz tent claim this as a truly memorable year for the Jazz & Heritage Festival. Can't wait until next year!