Some critics argue that the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has long abandoned its jazz roots for the greener pastures of popular music. Dave Matthews performed at the fest to record crowds in 2001 and the Seattle band Phish brought a very different look and sound a few years ago. However, if you are a music fan ' jazz included ' there is enough variation packed into this two-weekend celebration to suit your tastes and soothe your musical soul. You just have to know where to look for it.
Set for April 24th to May 4th, 2003 marks a major change for the Jazz Fest, as it adds a day of Thursday performances to the first weekend. In a recent Times-Picayune interview with music writer Keith Spera, Jazzfest producer and director Quint Davis said of this year's roster, 'With one more day and two more nights, it's more dense. We didn't subtract anything; we didn't add more out-of-towners. (The roster) is like an all-star team. It's deep at different positions. This year, we got a larger percentage of what we went after than any other year I can remember. It's very much the festival that we hoped for and worked very hard to get.'
For the jazz aficionado planning a visit to New Orleans during the two-weekend event, there is more than plenty to like about the schedule. Following are some of the best bets for allaboutjazz.com readers:
Weekend 1 ' Thursday April 24th through Sunday April 27th
Allen Toussaint is perhaps best known as the creator of LaBelle's R&B hit 'Creole Lady Marmalade,' a soulful, musical exploration into the underground world of prostitution. However, on opening day he leads a new group into the fest with Allen Toussaint's Jazz Project. Jazz Fest always affords musicians the opportunity to stretch their musical boundaries and this group will no doubt prove to continue this tradition. Traditional jazz lovers will have their plates full with Vernel Bagneris' Tribute to Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Dejan's Olympia Brass Band, local trumpeter James Andrews and Andrew Hall's Society Brass Band.
For the moderns, don't miss Christian Scott. Currently a student at Berkley, Scott is the trumpet-playing nephew of New Orleans alto-man Donald Harrison. Certain, to be a future star, this is a set to see. Throw in Troy 'Trombone Shorty' Andrews on Friday and you have an opportunity to catch some of the up and coming rising stars in New Orleans' modern music.
Also on Friday, Chico Hamilton makes his appearance in what is quickly becoming a tradition in its own right. Modern brass band followers will want to catch the Dirty Dozen, New Birth and New Orleans Night Crawlers Brass Bands.
Saturday brings Al Jarreau in a return to the Crescent City after his recent appearance last fall. The jazz tent will also feature Cassandra Wilson in what promises to be one of the highlights of the first weekend. Local talent abounds as Jazz Messenger alum Donald Harrison takes the stage; Kidd Jordan, father of trumpet player Marlon, along with his always mind-expanding Improvisational Arts Quintet; Henry Butler, the extraordinarily versatile pianist; Phillip Manuel, a local vocalist of extreme talent and ability; and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts High School Jazz Ensemble.
If that's not enough for one weekend, Sunday marks the Jazz Fest debut of Texas multi-instrumentalist, Ornette Coleman. Ironically, Coleman was stranded in New Orleans in 1949 as he toured with a minstrel show through the South. It is unlikely that he will be left stranded here again as he is regarded as one of the truly creative geniuses of modern music. The Ellis Marsalis Quartet will perform in what is consistently one of the best-attended sets of the festival. Clarinetist Tim Laughlin, the Rebirth Brass Band and vocalist/trumpet-man Jeremy Davenport. If survive the first weekend, the second promises to be just as good.
Weekend #2 ' Thursday, May 1st through Sunday, May 4th
Irvin Mayfield, co-leader of the popular Latin-jazz group Los Hombres Calientes, is a must-see for lovers of modern jazz. Trad-listeners will again find something to enjoy as the Algiers Brass Band, Jacques Gauthe & the Creole Rice Jazz Band and the Palm Court Jazz Band all perform on Thursday.
Friday belongs to Kermit Ruffins and the Barbeque Swingers, a good-timing, high-energy ensemble that defies traditional categorization. Los Hombres Calientes and the Louisiana Reparatory Jazz Ensemble are also on the bill. Easily overlooked by many, Alvin Batiste and the Jazztronauts is easily one of the most enjoyable sets you will find at the Fest. Batiste's work is often overlooked and he is unfortunately under-recorded, but his influence on local musicians is legendary. Be there for this!