On the surface, some jazz festivals look a lot like each other, with the same established names travelling around the globe. This is globalization at its worst, meaning we can travel endless miles to hear the same musicians we could have heard in our own backyard. However, a good jazz festival is also a celebration of local musical culture. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is the perfect example of this. But make no mistake, like every other festival, TNOJHF has to make a living, and one of the ways to attract listeners is to hire the big, established namesfrom jazz and also from beyond it. But the main course of the festival is the local scene with art, music and food.
For those wanting to get a taste of what it feels like to experience the festival without distracting pop-stardust, Smithsonian Folkways Records has released a 5CD-box set that commemorates coming up for 50 years of musical adventure. (This year's edition, by the way, runs from April 25 to May 5).
There are 53 tracks in all and over 300 minutes of music. Three charming tidbits are: Larry McKinlay's welcome to the festival, his rain alert and Ray Hackett's commercial for his unique drink holder. Besides the music, there is also a 136-page book that tells the story of the festival in historical and cultural essays and detailed track-by-track notes.
In their preface to the track selection, producers and compilers Jeff Place, Rachel Lyons, Dave Ankers, Cilista Eberle and Michael Murphy write about their criteria for inclusion. As it turns out, making a chronological survey from the opening of the festival in 1970 onwards proved to be difficult because of availability, sound quality and rights. Most of the tracks are from the early 1990s onwards, drawn from two primary sources: Michael Murphy's vast archive of recordings and film that was made between 1989 and 2009, and the vault of local community radio station WWOZ. These sources are more than enough to richly evoke "the sounds, the atmosphere, and the experience of a day on the grounds of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival."
Anyone who has seen the wonderful TV series, Treme
, will recognize many of the muscians playing, such as Donald Harrison
, Kermit Ruffins
, Trombone Shorty
and John Boutte
. Like the city itself, the music is a big stew of ingredients. Whether delivered by master chefs such as Allen Toussaint
, Irma Thomas
, Dr. John
and Professor Longhair
, or provided by less familiar (at least to this writer) names such as Buckwheat Zydeco
or Rachel Beausoleil
, who give a taste of zydeco and Cajun styles respectively, the music is rich, vibrant and often funky. There is so much to enjoy, from the Native American chants of The Golden Eagles and The White Eagles to gospel from The Zion Harmonizers and Raymond Myles and The Gospel Soul Children. A cooking piano duo between blues master Champion Jack Dupree
and Allen Toussaint
is one among many highlights.
Here's a musical vitamin pill that testifies to the power, strength and joy of New Orleans music in all its glorious variations. The sound is good and it's all lovingly curated, presented and annotated.
CD1: Indian Red-The Golden Eagles; Welcome to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival-Larry McKinley; One Night Only (The March)-Trombone Shorty; Free to Be-Donald Harrison, Jr.; Basin Street Blues-Danny Barker; A Streetcar Named Desire-Terence Blanchard; Royal Garden Blues-Kermit Ruffins Big Band; Bring Me Flowers While Im Living / Rub a Little Boogie-Champion Jack Dupree; Back Home Again in Indiana-George Wein|Newport All-Stars; Louisiana 1927-John Boutté. CD2: Yes We Can Can-Allen Toussaint; Trick Bag-Earl King; Ruler of My Heart-Irma Thomas; Dizzy Miss Lizzy-Snooks Eaglin; Ain’t Got No Home-Clarence "Frogman" Henry; Big Chief Got the Golden Crown-The White Eagle; Iko Iko / Brother John / Saints Go Marching In-Dixie Cups; Red Beans-Marcia Ball; Litanie des Saints / Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya / I Walk on Gilded Splinters-Dr. John. CD3: How Ya Gonna Clap?-Ray Hackett; Blackbird Special-The Dirty Dozen Brass Band; Hey Now, Baby-Henry Butler; Secret Love-Germaine Bazzle|Red Tyler Quintet; Jazznocracy-Al Belletto Big Band; Summertime-Original Liberty Jazz Band; My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It-Preservation Hall Jazz Band; I Want to Be at That Meeting / Golden Gate Gospel Train-The Zion Harmonizers; Old Rugged Cross-Irma Thomas; Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus-Raymond Myles I The Gospel Soul Children; I Can Go to God in Prayer-Johnson Extension. CD4: Hard to Stop-Buckwheat Zydeco; Paper in My Shoe-Boozoo Chavis; Midland Two-Step-The Savoy Family Cajun Band; Disco et Fais Do-Do-Bruce Daigrepont; Recherche d’Acadie-Beausoleil; Yellow Moon-The Neville Brothers; When the Levee Breaks-John Campbell; It Don’t Mean a Doggone Thing-John Mooney; Starlight Diamond / Jimmy Reed Medley: You Don’t Have to Go / Baby, What You Want Me to Do / Going to New York / Honest I Do-Kenny Neal; What Is Success-Allen Toussaint|Bonnie Raitt; Double-Eyed Whammy-Tommy Ridgley. CD5: Fire on the Bayou-funky METERS; Take the "A" Train-Clarence Gatemouth Brown; Blue Moon Rising-Walter Wolfman Washington; Happy Home-Deacon John; Rain alert-Larry McKinley; Blue Tarp Blues-Sonny Landreth; Back on Dumaine-Anders Osborne; Thorn in Her Side-The Subdudes; N.O. Bounce-Big Freedia; Smoke My Peace Pipe-Wild Magnolias; Amazing Grace / One Love-The Neville Brothers.