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Heritage Hall Jazz Band: Live at the American Theatre

Glenn Astarita By

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Now entering its third decade, the Heritage Hall Jazz Band performed a concert at the American Theater in Hampton, Virginia, one year and a day after hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Producer Paul Lentz's insightful liner notes provide a time stamp amid the chaos and adverse conditions in the wake of the hurricane, where New Orleans' traditional jazz legacy entered into a holding pattern. Musicians had no choice other than to seek work elsewhere, and thus the city became a jazz ghost town.

The crème de la crème of the Big Easy's jazz stars converged for an out-of-area homecoming of sorts, where the spirit of its birthright reconvened with an exhilarating and unrelenting reprisal. Trumpeter Greg Stafford, guitarist Steve Blailock and other renowned artists redirected dour circumstances into a noteworthy transformation marked by soaring lines, Fred Lonzo's gutsy trombone solos and Stafford's innocuous Doc Cheatham-like vocals. It becomes quite easy to discern that the joint was jumping.

Pianist Mari Watanabe's strutting and shuffling piano voicings abet the rhythm section's largely foot-stomping swing vamps, while Stafford's trills and emotive use of vibrato—in concert with Lonzo's wah-wah-drenched trombone lines—instill ardor and compassion on "Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?

The band trades vivacious fours with lighthearted appeal and forthright intentions throughout. Legendary vocalist Jewell Brown (who was Louis Armstrong's featured vocalist for seven years) joins the set, starting on the beloved standard "All of Me. With a charismatic stage presence and a dynamic delivery, Brown's audience-pleasing persona glistens radiantly. She kicks the band into high gear during "Love Come Back to Me, while digging a knock-down, drag-out blues groove on "Good Morning Blues. On the latter, we hear the horn players' triumphantly climactic choruses appending emphasis to Blailock's fusion of jazz and Mississippi blues-style licks. Sparks were flying that night as Brown and the band emerged as merchants of good cheer. In sum, the spirit of New Orleans' cherished musical heritage is renewed with a prevailing sense of immortality here. Zealously recommended.

Track Listing: Just a Little While to Stay Here; Some of these Days; Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?; St. Louis Blues; Fidgety Feet; All of Me; Lover Come Back to Me; You

Personnel: Mari Watanabe: piano; Mitchell Player: bass; Shannon Powell: drums; Steve Blailock: guitar; Jewel Brown: vocals; Gregg Stafford: leader, trumpet, vocals; Roderick Paulin: tenor saxophone; Fred Lonzo: trombone.

Title: Live at the American Theatre | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Heritage Hall Productions


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