New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Days 4-7: May 5-8, 2011
One of those "only in New Orleans" happenings.
Day 6: Saturday May 7, 2011
Baritone Bliss lived up to its name for those who cherish the sometimes gruff, sometimes tender sound on the baritone sax.
Roger Lewis assembled fellow New Orleans baritone playersTony DaGradi, Tim Green and Calvin Johnsonand bass saxophonist Dan Oestricher, for an hour of music satisfying to both the ear and solar plexus.
As co-founder of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Lewis kept all hands busy on hard-marching charts. Swirling ensemble passages buzzed and growled like a swarm of hip bumblebees. In contrast, "Sophisticated Lady" reclined on a velvet cushion of sound.
The Pfister Sisters have been honing their tribute to the Boswell Sistersthe groundbreaking Big Easy-born singing act of the 1920s and '30sfor more than two decades. Their performance was an entertaining hour of well-arranged old songs like "Heebie Jeebies" and "Sleepy Time Down South" that the Boswells borrowed from one of their heroes, Louis Armstrong.
The Pfisters caught the spirit of the festival with their composition, "Down at the Jazz Fest," an amusing ode to those who wait out the long winter up north, sustained by the knowledge their annual pilgrimage Down Yonder is approaching.
James Andrews' Crescent City All-Stars sounded good in a midweek record store appearance, but not so in its Blues Tent gig. The band members are actually mostly New Yorkers, led by the boisterous local trumpeter, and the music was mostly bar-band, heavy on drums and electric bass. Andrews did cover his grandfather Jesse Hill's R&B hit "Ooh Pooh Pa Doo," but little else smacked of New Orleans.
Far more satisfactory were Walter Washington and the Roadmasters, with Washington's Ray Charles-like voice and compelling guitar licks firing up the Blues Tent crowd.
The opening act in the Jazz Tent was the Juilliard Jazz Ensemble, a quartet of students from the Big Apple music school led by effervescent New Orleans pianist Jonathan Batiste. They've been paying attention in history class, serving up polished and engaging versions of tunes by Ellington, Monk and Jelly Roll Morton.
Day 7: Sunday May 8, 2011
The final day of Jazz Fest is always a bittersweet experience: For many fans, it's the last they'll see and hear of New Orleans for a whole year.
This SundayMother's Daywas more on the sweet side, thanks to a splendid lineup in the WWOZ Jazz Tent.
The final performer, Sonny Rollins, received a hero's welcome from the jam-packed crowd, and the legendary saxophonist earned it, blowing nearly nonstop for 90 inspired minutes.
Rollins' penchant for the sunny music of Africa and the Caribbean is well-known, and he closed with his hit "St. Thomas." An earlier unidentified melody was even more radiant, with the octogenarian shambling about the stage in a joyous dance, and fist-pumping to accentuate the punch line after a particularly bracing run of brawny notes.
Guitarist Peter Bernstein's mellow comping offset Rollins' hard-edged tenor nicely, with generous opportunities to solo, along with percussionist Sammy Figueroa. Drummer Jerome Jennings shone during his restrained yet jaw-dropping turn on "St. Thomas."
When it was over, the crowd stood and roared for several minutes, and Rollins raised his arms in triumph, a champion indeed.
Earlier, the razor-sharp New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, led by Irvin Mayfield, delivered its usual bang-up big band extravaganza.
The band took "A Train" for a ride, then resurrected charts from as far back as the 1950s, arranged by the late Clyde Kerr Sr.a bandleader here years agoincluding his gorgeous ballad "Daybreak." Trumpeter Mayfield then plugged his new combination book and CD, Love Letter to New Orleans (Basin Street Records, 2011), and played a moving excerpt, "May They Rest in Peace"a eulogy for all those who perished in Katrina, including Mayfield's father.
A frantically paced barnstormer included battles between two saxophonists, then two trumpeters, and finally tenor saxophonist Ed Petersen's wild windup.
Pianist and musical dynasty founder Ellis Marsalis is always a highlight. During his set, he turned the spotlight on his younger sidemenincluding son Jason on vibes and tenor saxophonist Derek Dougetfor several jazz standards. Impressive singer Johnaye Kendrick made her third appearance in the Jazz Tent; it was, indeed, her "Shining Hour."