...it was hard to imagine that Dave Brubeck could play so beautifully at age 84.
Two words can describe the 35th New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival: “It rained.” That said, in between the showers, thunderstorms and even one completely washed-out Friday, this year’s fest managed to provide the same high level of musical magic that seasoned festival-goers have come to expect. With performances ranging from African to Zydeco, there was certainly something for everyone, but for the jazz-lover a Saturday afternoon in the WWOZ/BellSouth jazz tent proved to be the stuff of legend. Starting with a quartet fronted by Julliard’s director of jazz studies, Victor Goines and wrapping up with a performance by the Terence Blanchard quintet, this set covered almost every genre of modern jazz available. Featuring music composed by New Orleans’ artists, Goines performed songs penned by Ellis Marsalis, James Black and Herlin Riley to name a few. For many jazz aficionados, that of the traditional often overshadows New Orleans’ role in the modern jazz scene. However, one only need hear this group handle Marsalis’ Swinging at the Haven or Riley’s New York Walk to understand that the modern tradition is alive and well in the Crescent City. Following Goines, Kidd Jordan’s Improvisational Arts Quintet (IAQ) took the stage and truly separated the casual listener from the hard-core student of the music. IAQ performs, or rather creates music in the tradition of the free jazz movement of the sixties. The energy and spirituality of this music demands the listeners’ attention and rewards that attention with a truly interactive musical experience. An educator first and foremost, Jordan once said that he has his students mimic the sounds heard all around them. The IAQ is truly the culmination of this creative process. Featuring co-founder Alvin Fieldler on drums, Clyde Kerr on trumpet, bassist Elton Heron and Jordan’s son Kent on flute and piccolo, this set commanded active participation on the part of the listener. If you are interested in more of the IAQ, check out No Compromise on Danjor Records. Leah Chase, a vocalist of exceptional range and ability is always a crowd favorite and did not disappoint the crowd that seemed to grow in number with each act. Accompanied by drummer John Vidacovich, bassist Jim Singleton and pianist David Torkanowsky, Chase’s set in many ways paid tribute to the often over-looked and under appreciated artistry of the jazz vocalist. From Brazilian to modern, hers was a performance worth the wait.
For the growing throngs that filled the jazz tent this afternoon, the threat of rain paled in comparison to the anticipation of the next act. Eighty-four year old Dave Brubeck packed the house with everyone from the casual curiosity seeker to the hard-core fan of the west-coast brand of jazz that he helped bring to the masses in the fifties and sixties. Brubeck’s set was one filled with fulfilled promise as he adeptly played to the crowd. Silence filled the tent, with the exception of the music that emanated from the stage and the eager crowd responded to the beautiful sounds of the quartet that brought many visitors back to their college days. Of course, Take Five took center stage and provided the closing backdrop for a set that featured Randy Jones on drums, Bobby Militello on alto and Michael Moore on bass. Militello, faced with the inevitable comparison to the legendary Paul Desmond more than held his own, he gave the music his own touch and provided tasteful and beautiful solo after solo. Closing your eyes, it was hard to imagine that Dave Brubeck could play so beautifully at age 84. It appears that Brubeck, like the music, is timeless.
While Friday at the fairgrounds was a complete washout, that evening certainly met expectations. Featuring Santana, the show opened with spiritual celebration of music and South African freedom. Hugh Masekela, took the “largely there to see Santana” crowd on a musical journey that took them through the coal mines of Johannesburg, the townships of Soweto and of course, Grazing in the Grass. This was an extremely fun set that fit the Festival’s overall theme of celebrating ten years of South African freedom. Masekela tried to implore the largely pop crowd to understand the music and celebration, but it was obvious that they were there for Santana. Yet, for those who stuck with him, Hugh Masekela provided a musical journey throughout history that has far-reaching implications.
For only the third time in thirty-five years, festival organizers canceled one day of jazz fest. However, in between the showers, the thunder and the lightening, there was food, music and a celebration of culture that caused the sun to shine despite the bad weather. For those who rode it out, the 2004 Jazz & Heritage Festival was still a success.
Until next time, see you ‘Round About New Orleans.