John Boutté, a regular in the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival’s Zatarain’s/WWOZ Jazz Tent, served as counterprogramming to the pop stars and classic rockers who ruled this year’s big stages.
Performing Sunday afternoon, Boutté and the jazz musicians he performed with were usually anything but loud. Their hour-long set had to be among the more nuanced, delicate shows of the day, the weekend, the festival.
Boutté’s set list featured exquisitely done jazz standards, some rhythm-and-blues classics, Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire” and, the piece that’s become his pièce de résistance since it was used in HBO’s New Orleans-set drama, “Treme,” “Treme Song.”
When Boutté sings standards, he shapes words and phrases with care, pronouncing lyrics with elegance and clarity. There’s much theatricality in his vocals, but nary a false note.
With such subtly in his and musicians’ approach -- including Wendell Brunious’ ethereal trumpet -- the quiet of a concert hall seems like a good fit for Boutté’s crafted jazz moments. Even his takes on Sam Cooke’s “Cupid,” featuring only the singer and his pianist, and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” got the gentle treatment.
Boutté ended with “Treme Song.” Following a performance during which listeners who could find seats in the overflowing Jazz Fest tent stayed seated, people stood up and danced. It’s a comparatively new Jazz Fest tradition.