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2024 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival


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The first thing a first time attendee to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival learns is that no matter how much planning is put into creating a schedule so no favorite acts are missed is impossible. The festival, celebrating its 54th birthday, runs the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May. Historically the April weekend was Friday, Saturday and Sunday and the May weekend added Thursday. The last couple of years Thursday was added to the April weekend to give Louisiana residents a reduced ticket price of $50. There are 14 stages in constant use hosting jazz, blues, gospel, rock, zydeco, soul, funk, R&B, Americana, Mardi Gras Indians, jam bands, add to that cultural pavilions, arts and crafts and the best food in the world it soon becomes apparent that the best-laid plans end when the gates open. Want to hear Samara Joy in the Jazz Tent and Rhiannon Giddens in the Blues Tent? Joy went on at 4:10pm, Giddens at 4:15pm and so it goes every day. The best plan is just go and have a good time, wherever you are will be music to your ears.

This year's second weekend started with a special appearance that had been years in the making. The The Rolling Stones were to appear in 2019 but had to cancel due to Mick Jagger's heart surgery. Their next appearance was to be in 2021 but the festival was cancelled because of Covid. This was their year. All stages were shut down at 3:00 and, except for a few news outlets, no media was allowed.

Friday started with rain but not enough to delay the start of the schedule. For newer attendees, the rain was a major issue, for seasoned fest goers the rain was nothing more than a sprinkle. There have been years when it rained so hard the festival grounds became nothing more than a hungry field of mud, eating the shoes off people's feet. As long as there is no lightning the festival goes on. Peter Harris and his group Firm Roots is a New Orleans super group led by bassist Harris and features Herlin Riley on drums and trumpeter Ashlin Parker. Following them on the Jazz stage was local favorite, 92 year old Germaine Bazzle. Joining her for a couple of songs was saxophonist Victor Goines who would have his own set Sunday morning. Even at Bazzle's age, she can still deliver a ballad and scat with the best of them.

The Amina Figarova Sextet and the Matsiko World Orphan Choir were next up. The sextet included Figarova's husband, flutist Bart Platteau, saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, Rudy Royston on drums and bassist Yasushi Nakamura but the real stars of the set, and maybe the highlight in the Jazz tent for the day was the Matsiko World Orphan Choir. They have been referred to as "the greatest children's choir." Their exuberance and pure enjoyment in performing was felt in the entire tent. Their performance resulted in a prolonged standing ovation.

Terence Blanchard with the E-Collective and the Turtle Island Quartet followed performing mostly from his 2004 album Flow. Blanchard is a hometown favorite whose fest appearances always get the crowd up and dancing. Closing out the day was Stefon Harris and Blackout. Joined by his longtime band of drummer Terreon Gulley, bassist Dezron Douglas, and pianist Christian Sands, Harris began the set with a tribute to long time member saxophonist Casey Benjamin who recently died while recovering from surgery. Harris is a phenom on vibes and he and the band performed a dazzling set to end the day.

Saturday was filled with blue skies and comfortable temperatures. The New Orleans humidity had not made its appearance which made for a pleasant day at the fairgrounds. The James River Movement is led by jazz/funk saxophonist who also doubles on bagpipes James Rivers. A long-time jazzfest performer, River has always been a crowd favorite. Besides his playing, he is an outstanding composer who scored Clint Eastwood's movie, Bridges of Madison County.

For the last 10 years, pianist Jesse McBride has led the Next Generation Big Band, taking over after the death of leader Harold Battiste The band is comprised of high school kids who love jazz and judging from their sound these will be the jazz stars of the future! As their set went on, more jazz fans filled the tent for the next artist. By the time Samara Joy hit the stage it was standing room only. Backed by an eight piece band Joy showed why she has become a crowd favorite. Far from the shy performer from just four years ago she now owns the stage.

Closing out the Jazz Tent was the Legacy of Wayne Shorter with Danilo Pérez, Brian Blade, John Patitucci and special guest Chris Potter. No saxophonist could fill Wayne Shorter's shoes but no saxophonist could be better suited for the job than Potter. The quartet presented a rousing tribute to Shorter, one that even he would have cheered on.

Sunday, the final day of the eight day festival, had the Victor Goines Quartet perform an early set. Goines was the jazz program director at the Julliard School of Music and has been a long-time member of Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the Wynton Marsalis septet. Following Goines on stage was Amina Scott, an upright and electric bassist, composer and arranger. An adjunct professor at Llyola University in New Orleans she is also the bassist for Dee Dee Bridgewater's DDB Big Band.

Local favorite Quiana Lynell presented more of a gospel/blues set than jazz. Lynell won the Sarah Vaughan Vocal Competition in 2017 but has not been built much of an audience outside of New Orleans. She has the pipes, can deliver a song and deserves a larger audience.

Trombonist, arranger, composer Delfeayo Marsalis filled the stage with his 14 piece Uptown Jazz Orchestra. Playing heavily from their album Uptown on Mardi Gras Day the band had the 500-plus crowd on their feet for nearly the engtire set. Finishing off the day was Tower of Power. Formed 56 years ago, this group's energy is as strong as ever.

With the average day consisting of close to 70 sets, that's 200 plus sets over a three-day weekend and if Thursday had been a normal day, the count would have gone up to 300 sets. Oh well, there's always next year.
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