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Live Reviews

Jazzfest: Big Boost for Battered New Orleans

By Published: May 30, 2007
  • Piano Night was a nightlong celebration of the piano pioneering of Jelly Roll Morton, Professor Longhair, James Booker and the many other creators of the sound that makes jazz and rhythm and blues so special here.

  • The Ponderosa Stomp, also at the House of Blues, rounds up dozens of Southern swamp pop and rock semi-legends, but diversified this year with special sets from blues-and-boogie piano master Henry Gray, tender-voiced jazz vocalist Jimmy Scott and a big band led by the great R&B arranger Wardell Quezergue, featuring trumpeter Dave Bartholomew, the bandleader who collaborated with Fats Domino to put R&B atop the pop charts in the mid-1950s.

    The festival ended on a bittersweet note. Alvin Batiste, 74, the clarinetist and longtime jazz educator, died that Sunday morning, the very day he'd been scheduled to be honored. He was to have played with students of his from the city high school for performing artists. After several moving eulogies, the tribute went ahead with Branford Marsalis on reeds and Harry Connick Jr. at the piano. These two superstars teamed up for an unaccompanied version of "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" that had eyes glistening.

    Connick then hustled over to the mammoth Acura stage for a Fest-closing run-through of his new big band and vocal CD, Oh My Nola. He's no kid anymore, but Connick remains a Crescent City favorite son, and his playful attitude, as well as his mastery of New Orleans music, shone brightly in his singing, playing and big band arrangements. As for that butt-shaking dance, let's hope is turns up on video.

    Harry's been out front on the Re:New Orleans recovery effort. And he concluded his show with this vow: "Nothing in the rest of my professional career will ever be more important than making sure the world does not forget this dear city."

    Amen to that.

    Y'all come back was a kind of unspoken theme at this festival—a message aimed at the missing 200,000, and at the tourists. Spending time, and money, in New Orleans is a great way all of us can assist in its recovery, with tourism remaining by far the city's biggest industry. Some other ways to help:
    • Donate to the New Orleans Musicians Clinic or Habitat for Humanity's Musicians Village.

    • Support the city's touring musicians when they come to your town. Buy their CDs.

    • Finally, come election time, try to vote for leaders who truly are compassionate.

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