New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2007
At the 38th Annual Jazz & Heritage Festival, hundreds of talented performers, both regional and national, uncorked some vintage music ranging from jazz, blues, rock and gospel to a generous sprinkling of world music, zydeco and Cajun tunesall reflecting the unique flavor of the culture of New Orleans. 375,000 revelers (the largest crowd in several years) from around the globe converged on the Crescent City to immerse themselves in an abundant blend of joyous sounds, arts and crafts and delectable food. Nearly a dozen themed stages hosted musical acts running the gamut from brass bands and Mardi Gras Indians to jazz luminaries such as Pharoah Sanders and Branford Marsalis' virtual feast for the ears! If you moved quickly enough, you could catch the following in the same hour: Henry Butler tickling the ivories, the Rebirth Brass Band belching out brass second line cacophony and Irma Thomas' powerful tribute to Mahalia Jackson in a steamy and packed-to-the-gills Gospel Tent.
Most memorable were the tributes to the "Charlie Parker of the Clarinet," Alvin Batiste. Ironically, the iconic musician and educator passed away from heart failure a dozen hours before he was scheduled to perform a set with Harry Connick, Jr., Branford Marsalis and drummer George French. Although canceling the performance was an option, it was decided that, more appropriately, Batiste's life in music should be celebrated with a traditional jazz funeral, complete with full brass band.
James Carter pulled double duty, appearing both weekends with separate bands. His own trio featured a bluesy mix of organ and sax the first weekend; the intensity level heightened the following weekend in his stint with the World Saxophone Quartet. Dr. Michael White fit his mellifluous clarinet-playing into the context of traditional Dixieland in the Economy Tent. The umbrellas popped open during his spirited tunes on several occasions. Roy Hargrove's band was tight and swung hard. Mose Allison sang and played whimsically, with an enthused delivery on "Everybody's Cryin' Mercy". Pharoah Sanders nostalgically brought the audience back to Birdland in the Coltrane-inspired arrangement of "My Favorite Things" and homegrown legends Terence Blanchard, Irvin Mayfield and Kermit Ruffins honed their skills impressively in their respective sets. Arturo Sandoval put a hot Latin flair on his set and Kidd Jordan played untitled free-form jazz in a frenetic manner. Both sets blazed in the Jazz Tent to an appreciative crowd.
Irma Thomas put on one of the strongest performances of Jazzfest, paying tribute to Mahalia Jackson. "He's Got the Whole World in his Hands" was revelatory and moving and Thomas dedicated her recent Grammy award to the city of New Orleans' indomitable spirit of survival.
Special accolades should go to wonderful composer Allen Toussaint. In the aftermath of Katrina, he seems to be penning some of his finest tunes. Although his set bubbled over with classics ("Mother-in-Law" and "It's Raining"), he also worked in some new and topical tunes, such as "Work of the Devil".
That wraps up Jazzfest 2007's Fats Domino (who did not appear this year, but played his first post-Katrina concert at Tipitin's recently) prepares to move back to his refurbished home in the Ninth Ward, this gesture symbolically evokes the irreplaceable culture of New Orleans; out of the ashes rises a new beginning, embodying the music which reaches out to the entire world.
AMEN... and pass the hot sauce!