George Porter Jr., Leo Nocentelli, James Rivers, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and Germaine Bazzle were among the performers at the first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. They also were in the lineup for the 50th, April 25-May 5, at the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Over five decades, the festival has grown to more than a dozen stages with Louisiana talent joined by musicians including Diana Ross, John Fogerty, Katy Perry, Carlos Santana, Jimmy Buffett, Pitbull and a host of international visitors. The golden anniversary event was an eight-day extravaganza that drew more than 475,000 attendees, organizers said. Here’s a recap of some of the memorable moments from this year’s Jazz Fest.
On a 50th anniversary tour of his own, John Fogerty closed the festival on the Gentilly Stage on May 5. Just on songs played after the fest’s normal 7 p.m. end time, he ripped through an energetic and maybe too-fast version of "The Old Man Down the Road" and "Fortunate Son" from his Creedence Clearwater Revival days. During "Fortunate Son," a large video screen at the back of the stage showed news footage from the Vietnam War and people protesting the draft. Fogerty didn't comment on that, but to introduce his final two songs, he said that he loved New Orleans and wrote "Bad Moon Rising" about the city. He finished with that and "Proud Mary," for which he was joined by Rockin' Dopsie Jr. on rubboard.
Fans packed the Fair Grounds for the final day of the 50th New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and there were salutes galore from John F…
Make love, not war
Husband and wife duo Michael and Tanya Trotter lead The War and Treaty, and while their band is proficient, the main attraction is listening to the couple belt out earthshaking rock and soul. They seemed to bare their souls in an amazing vocal showcase in the Blues Tent May 4 that left Tanya in tears after a rendition of their song "Til the Morning." They also sang "Hi Ho," "Down to the River" and "Set My Soul on Fire," during which Michael inserted a few lines of "When the Saints Go Marching In" and some scatting in a Louis Armstrong-esque gravelly voice. The couple previewed "Five More Minutes" from the group’s forthcoming album.
It’s hard to believe The War and Treaty only debuted at Jazz Fest last year, because the band seems tailor-made for the event. Married couple …
A parade of guests joined an early afternoon salute to Allen Toussaint on the Acura Stage May 5. The Allen Toussaint Orchestra performed several of his songs before John Boutte came on to sing "Lipstick Traces." Davell Crawford took a seat at the stage's grand piano to play "Sweet Touch of Love," "With You in Mind" and "Last Train." Rita Coolidge, who's provided background vocals for many hits and had one of her own with the James Bond theme "All Time High," sang a slow version of "Shoorah! Shoorah!," a Toussaint song that got a great upbeat R&B/disco treatment from Betty Wright. His early ’60s tune "Fortune Teller" has been covered by many bands (including The Rolling Stones), and Jimmy Buffett did a great version at Acura. Then Irma Thomas sang "Two Winters Long."
The 50th anniversary Jazz Fest delivered — even without the Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac.
New Orleans natives and identical twin sisters, Tonya and Tremethia Jupiter, aka the Ghetto Twiinz, performed in the New Orleans Female Hip-Hop Experience on the Congo Square Stage April 25. The rappers commanded attention from the second they hit the stage clad in tight, black and silver shorts, black and silver striped tanks and black fishnets. With an assist from DJ WestBank Red, the siblings ran through a slew of songs from their early ’90s recordings with Big Boy Records. The Twiinz’s energy and flow was a welcome throwback to the sound of New Orleans in the late ’90s, when Juvenile’s music filled the streets. But it was their newer track “Rock Rock” — with its thick, low beats, raunchy storyline and stuttering rhythm — that solidified their performance as an opening day highlight.
Pimp my jazz
Kamasi Washington turned in one of the best sets Saturday, May 3, on the Gentilly Stage. The stellar saxophonist, known to many because of his work on Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” brought a group of top-tier jazz musicians to flesh out songs from his growing catalog. The set featured excellent solos, including from bassist Miles Mosley, trombonist Ryan Porter, synth wizard Brandon Coleman and soprano saxophonist (and Kamasi’s father) Rickey Washington. Through it all, Patrice Quinn’s ethereal vocals and the younger Washington’s transcendent tenor sax pushed the music.
Mavis Staples is 79, but her plainspoken protest music feels as relevant now as ever. She continues to make music addressing contemporary issues and has been a vocal supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. Early in a set in the Blues Tent May 2, she sang “Build a Bridge” from her 2017 album, “If All I Was Was Black,” which cuts straight to the core of the nonsensical “All lives matter” line with the lyric “When I say my life matters / You can say yours does too / But I betcha never have to remind anyone / To look at it from your point of view.” Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews joined Staples for “Who Told You That” from the same album. Even in the shade of the tent, Staples sat down several times to towel off her face, but the septuagenarian icon powered on, ending with a message of hope.
Earth, Wind & Fire played its hits with the same crisp sparkle and throwback flair of the members’ matching royal blue outfits at the Acura Stage April 25. Tunes like “Shining Star” and “Devotion” turned into massive singalongs but the earworm vocal parts for which the band is known ultimately felt less central to the set than the bass lines and solos Verdeen White tirelessly laid down.
As Jason Marsalis told fans on Facebook ahead of his set in the Jazz Tent on Thursday, the 50th annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festiva…
Coffeehouse open mics are overburdened with acoustic guitar songs about college girlfriends. The Indigo Girls probably could have spared a large audience from such a tune at the Fais Do-Do Stage Sunday, April 28. But Emily Sailers attended Tulane University for a couple years and chose to sing “Elizabeth,” a song about a one-time love. If nothing else, it name-dropped New Orleans sites and history. Sailers and Amy Ray were joined by a violinist for a set featuring “Ozilline,” “Become You,” “Get Out the Map” and the protests “It’s Alright,” which challenges homophobia, and “Shame on You,” which rejects bigotry. The setlist spanned their career, and a highlight was their namesake debut album’s “Land of Canaan,” which shows the duo at their best, harmonizing and contrasting their voices.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival producer Quint Davis introduces some bands at the festival, as he did Sunday for Bonnie Raitt, noting…
Big fun replacement
Mick Jagger’s illness led to widespread disappointment among Jazz Fest fans. John Prine also had to cancel due to illness, but it was hard to be disappointed with his replacement, Elvin Bishop's Big Fun Trio. The Big Fun Trio includes traditional bluesman Bishop, keyboardist/guitarist Bob Welsh and Willy Jordan, who sings and does percussion on a cajon (a box that the musician sits on while slapping the front). The trio’s self-titled 2017 album did not win the Best Traditional Blues Album Grammy Award, which went to The Rolling Stones for "Blue & Lonesome," but Jordan sang the Trio's cover of "It's All Over Now," a Bobby and Shirley Womack song popularized by The Rolling Stones. Jordan also sang covers of Tina Turner's "I Can't Stand the Rain" and Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher." The band did Bishop's 1975 song "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," "Keep on Rollin'," a recent album’s title track, "Something Smells Funky 'Round Here" ("...funky like a bad pot of chicken / like some old rotten politician"), and the group closed the set with a rousing version of Bishop's early 1970s song "Rock My Soul."
War pigging out
Robert Randolph learned to play pedal steel guitar in church, but he and the Family Band established themselves as a funk and soul group during the jam band craze. In the Blues Tent May 4, Randolph led a set dominated by Jimi Hendrix-style heavy guitar jams. The band opened by giving ZZ Top's "I Thank You" a soulful vibe. Randolph’s distortion-heavy interlude from Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" didn’t seem to have a point besides showing off his skills, and he also played a jangly "God Bless America." But the band members all showed off their talents in one song when, first, Randolph got behind the drum kit and the drummer played pedal steel guitar. Then the bass player and guitarist swapped instruments, before the bassist traded with the organist. Then vocalist Lenesha Randolph got behind the drum kit. The group barely missed a beat as they traded places, and though Randolph is brilliant on pedal steel, he's surrounded by a very capable band.
Raul Malo croons over the Latin-grooves of Miami-via-Nashville Tex-Mex country band The Mavericks, and he makes being broken-hearted sound not all that bad. At the Fais Do-Do Stage May 5, the band played "All Night Long," "Back in Your Arms Again" and "Dance in the Moonlight." With a horn section, accordionist and Jerry Dale McFadden's keyboards, the band kept the audience grooving, and after a two-ballad dip into melancholy, the Mavericks finished a fun set with "Be My Guest"; its best-known song, "All You Do is Bring Me Down," which it stretched with long solos and horn section jams; and a cover of The Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R."
Copperhead road warriors
Some may know Steve Earle from his stint on David Simon’s “The Wire” and “Treme,” but country/folk fans know the Texas-raised singer (currently a New Yorker) from his songwriting. Earle and the Dukes recently released an album of Guy Clark songs, and the group played many of them at the Fais Do-Do Stage April 27, including "Dublin Blues," "Texas 1947," "Hill Country Honky Tonk," "Heartbroke," "L.A. Freeway" and "Desperados Waiting for a Train." Clark had a big influence on Earl’s songwriting, along with Townes Van Zandt and Clark’s wife, country singer Susanna Clark. Earle led the Dukes through “Billy and Bonnie” and his 1988 moonshiners’ anthem, “Copperhead Road.” Earle also did a playful duet with fiddler Eleanor Whitmore on "Baby's Just as Mean as Me," from his "Terraplane" album. "Sometimes my baby locks me out / Stomps her feet, screams and shouts / I know what that's all about / My baby's just as mean as me." Earle was a recent guest on NPR's "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" and shared some reflections on his seven marriages.
Katy Perry's appearance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was announced at the same press conference that officially confirmed T…
One of the great pleasures at Jazz Fest is being introduced to a new and unfamiliar band on one of the smaller stages. The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Jupiter & Okwess was such a find for many attendees last year, and this year, the band brought its funky/spacy guitar grooves to both the Congo Square Stage and the Cultural Exchange Pavlion.
This year, one of the exciting newcomers was Gato Preto on the Jazz & Heritage Stage and in the Cultural Exchange Pavilion April 27. Group members hail from Ghana and Mozambique, and lead singer Gata Misteriosa raps over a keyboardist and djembe drummer’s mix of African drumming and club-style dance beats. Flanked by a couple of dancer/singers, the show had the energy and look of a funky Afrofuturist dancercise class.
Keys to the city
Pianist Davell Crawford was everywhere at the festival, from a Gospel Tent celebration of the New Orleans Gospel Soul Children to playing R&B songs in an Acura Stage tribute to Allen Toussaint. At his own set in the Blues Tent April 28, he sang “You Gave Me Love,” written by his grandfather, R&B hit-maker James “Sugar Boy” Crawford; did a beautiful version of Irma Thomas’ “Ruler of My Heart”; and offered an oddly haunting version of Lee Dorsey’s “Working in the Coal Mine.” Some of the most fun songs were old-school blues, accompanied by the powerful voice of Diunna Greenleaf of Houston, Texas.
Jazz Fest fans may remember Bombino, a guitarist from Niger, who played hypnotizing electric blues in the Blues Tent in 2012 and 2014. This year, guitarist Mdou Moctar, also a Taureg from Saharan Niger, brought a similarly mesmerizing brand of music to the Blues Tent and Cultural Exchange Pavilion April 28. With a driving rhythm from the bassist, Moctar played a distorted, psychedelic-tinged blues. Moctar describes it as his adaptation of the acoustic music of his Taureg community. But his guitar tricks included playing with both hands over the top of the instrument, like wearing a pedal steel guitar, and one wonders if there are more guitar talents to find in the desert. Festival producer Quint Davis was on hand to ask for another song, and Moctar again brought the audience to its feet.
This little light of mine
Nicholas Payton and the Light Beings combined art and science in the Jazz Tent May 2. Payton played Rhodes keyboard and trumpet and was joined by bassist Dywane “MonoNeon” Thomas Jr., drummer Robert “Sput” Searight, guitarist John Maestas and Cliff Hines on guitar and modular synth. In a sweeping, hourlong set, they played six tracks, each representing a different type of light wave, beginning with radio and ending with gamma. As the songs moved across the color spectrum, the sound got progressively funkier. During “Microwave,” Payton took his trumpet solo into the crowd and brought dancer Trina Bordere onstage. For the rest of the show, she added a physical element to Payton’s sonic interpretation of light.
Little Feat's performance on the Gentilly Stage May 5 was sedate and sometimes scattered. The band played songs including "Oh Atlanta" and "Honest Man," but even "Willin'" lacked energy or excitement and "Dixie Chicken" didn't sound like everyone in the band was on the same page.
Set of yes
Native New Orleanian and Maroon 5 keyboardist PJ Morton performed a set full of soulful pop jams at the Congo Square Stage April 26. Morton sang and played Rhodes keyboard, mostly drawing from his Grammy Award-nominated 2017 album "Gumbo." A high point was the album's final track, a cover of the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love.” During the song, the video screen showed the VIP section, where Mayor LaToya Cantrell was dancing along, lost in the groove.
Santana, The Revivalists and Aloe Blacc attracted crowds on a sunny first Friday at Jazz Fest.
Ziggy Marley brought a seven-piece band to the Congo Square Stage May 2. He sang about staying true to oneself, loving thy neighbor and promoting a general sense of well-being. His lyrics, such as “No more killings for religion / No more political division,” may not feel as profound as those of his father Bob Marley, but they still resonated.
Father and sons
Traditional brass band-led second lines are regular occurrences in the Economy Hall Tent. They’re not common in the WWOZ Jazz Tent, but a tribute to Ellis Marsalis featuring the pianist and sons Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis ended with a short parade April 28. The family band performed songs written by Ellis, including “Orchid Blue,” “After” and “Crescent City Strut” and there were many elegant solos by all the family members. In the middle of the set, Branford spoke of his father’s reputation as a music educator and his support for the Musicians Village, which includes the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music. A trio of young musicians studying at the center joined the family onstage to play “When the Saints Go Marching In” and a young vocalist sang “When You’re Smiling.”
Last week, Ellis Marsalis Jr. was honored in New York at the gala for Jazz at Lincoln Center, which was founded three decades ago by his son W…
The Foundations of Funk supergroup, featuring George Porter Jr., Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste, Tony Hall and Ivan and Ian Neville, played popular tunes by The Meters including “Hey Pocky A-Way,” “Just Kissed My Baby” and “Fire on the Bayou” at the Acura Stage April 26. The mix of original New Orleans funk masters and a younger generation of musicians meshed, running through extended, improv-heavy jams with ease.
Although Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis called Bonnie Raitt the “queen of the blues” when he introduced her at the Acura Stage April 28, she didn’t give the crowd too much to talk about. Raitt played some of her most popular songs, including her versions of “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About” and a slow, mostly solo rendition of “Angel from Montgomery,” but most of Raitt’s set was low-key. She sang her reworked version of INXS’ “Need You Tonight,” which was slowed down and didn't gain much in sentiment or appeal. More compelling were covers of John Hiatt’s “No Business” and Mississippi bluesman Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman.” Raitt’s band inlcuded Ivan Neville on a Hammond B3 organ and keyboardist Jon Cleary, who toured with her for years. Raitt and Cleary sang their co-written tune “Unintended Consequences of Love.”
In the tank
After releasing its latest album, “Green Balloons,” May 3, Tank and the Bangas performed on the Acura Stage May 4. Tarriona “Tank” Ball wore a two-tone green tulle cape and long green sticks in her hair. The set focused on songs from the album and they sounded great live, powered by Tank’s infectious energy and a retooled and supercharged band that featured percussion from djembe giant Weedie Braimah on some songs. Unfortunately, the performance had what seemed like canned effects that were absent from previous shows, which brimmed with chaotic energy and spontaneity. Many songs were accompanied by an unnecessary record scratch effect. Tank mentioned that the band recently performed on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," and said, "It's no big deal. It's no big deal," but the band was clearly strutting on the Acura Stage, and it's becoming a big deal.
Pitbull made his third visit to Jazz Fest, performing on the Congo Square Stage May 5. Mr. Worldwide’s set featured a light show on a video screen at the back of the stage. Whether or not that flourish suits a daytime show at Jazz Fest, he’s a consummate performer, and he had help from a troupe of silver-sequined dancers as he powered through hits including “Fun,” “Que no Pare La Fiesta (Don’t Stop the Party)” and “International Love.”