39th Annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival: April 25-May 4
Patti Austin, whose tribute to Ella Fitzgerald was cut short by a torrential thunderstorm, one of three deluges that fell over the two weekends but unable to dampen her re-creation of a Charlie Parker solo on "How High the Moon" the brought down the house after the big band had preceded her with an hour of blues-based pure gold mined from the Basie vault;
Stephanie Jordan's lustrous voice, regal bearing and nuanced interpretations of ballads bringing to mind a young Nancy Wilson as she sang "Here's to Life" (the Shirley Horn, later Joe Williams hit that's been a staple of hers since Katrina) in memory of her uncle, educator and clarinetist Alvin Batiste, who died during Jazz Fest 2007;
Dianne Reeves, whose love of singing is so genuine, continuing to transform stories about her life and family into heartwarming song.
Other audio-visual snapshots likely to become indelible memories:
Patriarch Ellis Marsalis playing the lovely "Wheatland" in tribute to its composer, the recently deceased piano giant Oscar Peterson. Marsalis followed up with the elegiac "Django," which he built to a feverish, double-time pitch, before gently applying the brakes and returning to a stately pace;
Irrepressible drummer Bunchy Johnson kicking it up a notch or two in a tribute to brothers Willie and Earl Turbinton, jazzmen who both died over the past year;
Astral Project, the fusion quartet, celebrating its 30th year together with cuts from a new CD, "Blue Streak";
Voices from the Wetlands, an all-star Louisiana band led by Tab Benoit and featuring Dr. John and Cyril Neville, among others, playing early days R&B dedicated to preserving the rapidly eroding Louisiana coastline (ironically, the group's gig was interrupted by one of those sudden deluges);
Piano Night, which happens on Jazz Fest Monday every year, recently at the House of Bluesa marathon benefit for WWOZ with dozens of greats of the 88s stopping by to tip their hats to the legacies of Professor Longhair and James Booker among others;
Mayfield (again) and trombonist Vincent Gardner matching one another note for lightning-fast note bopping a duet on ""Back Home in Indiana'' at the Louisiana Music Factory, the city's premier record shop, where on off-days free concerts by small bands draw hundreds of listeners;
Marcia Ball at Lafayette Square, an annual free concert at which the indefatigable, hard-rocker singer-keyboardist reminded us that "New Orleans Is a Party Town," but also that "Where Do I Go When I Can't Go Home" reflects a sad truth: many whose homes were washed away in the storm are still extant;
John Ellis and Double Wide, a quartet led by the saxophonist and featuring ubiquitous sousaphone player Matt Perrine, an organist and drummer, the unusual instrumentation exhibiting lots of texture on quirky tunes like "Three-Legged Dance in Jackson Square";
Randy Newman, who earns his living scoring films in Hollywood and has a vast collection of idiosyncratic songs, reprising a couple dozen of them, accompanying himself on piano. His satirical lyrics were delivered in a deceptively deadpan Louisiana-born drawl, his wit razor-sharp. His portrayal of a hapless American tourist trying to defend his country's current leaders before a European audience appalled by recent blunders was priceless.
Tuba Woodshed: Kirk Joseph and Perrine adapting the big horns to modern jazz;
John Boutte, a primarily soul and R&B singer, revealing a captivating voice and delivery and again one of the Jazz Tent's biggest draws;
Tribute to Max Roach, a collaboration by three of the city's premier percussionistsHerlin Riley, Shannon Powell and Jason Marsalisillustrating the bebop pioneer's innovations as both drummer and composer. Riley grinned like a Cheshire cat throughout the set; me too.
Jonathan Batiste, pianist, singer and Juilliard student, making a triumphant return to his hometown and playing everything from R&B to Rachmaninoff to ragtimeplus a fair approximation of Louis Armstrong's growl on "What a Wonderful World";
Vernel Bagneris' limber-limbed portrayal of Jelly Roll Morton as a song-and-dance man, self- described "inventor" of jazz; card sharp and clothes horse.
The jazz tent officially closed with a jam session of a dozen horns, three percussionists, three drummers and three singers, among others, all creating a heavenly dina fitting end to another incomparable Jazz Fest.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2008: A Photo Essay by Joel A. Siegel
Joel A. Siegel