Louis Armstrong never played at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The last time he played in his hometown of New Orleans was at a 1968 event that was a precursor to Jazz Fest.
During the second Jazz Fest in 1971, a show at Municipal Auditorium was titled “A Salute to Louis Armstrong.” It featured Wallace Davenport, Andy Moses, Punch Miller, Dave Bartholomew, Dizzy Gillespie, George Wein, a young Johnny Vidacovich and many others. Pops himself couldn’t be there — he was at his home in New York, recovering from a heart attack.
But his recovery was short-lived. He died just two months later.
Armstrong’s contributions to New Orleans have been acknowledged many times over the decades at Jazz Fest, but never so profoundly as in 2001, when the festival celebrated his 100th birthday.
The festivities included a Louis Armstrong Centennial Pavilion on the first level of the grandstand and a Jazz Tent performance of “Louis’ Home Cookin’ Trumpet Tribute,” with Gregory Davis, Irvin Mayfield, Marlon Jordan, Clyde Kerr Jr., Christian Scott and Trombone Shorty.
And because Pops was so well known as a red beans and rice lover, there were also cooking demonstrations of his personal red beans recipe.
Each weekend, there was a tribute in Economy Hall featuring Dr. Michael White’s Armstrong Hot 5 and Hot 7 with special guests Thais Clark and Nicholas Payton.
A memorial second-line was held in his honor, and there were multiple interviews on the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage with Armstrong experts and musicians.
Though it’s a shame that New Orleans’ greatest musician and greatest music festival never really overlapped, the music and spirit of Louis Armstrong have been a huge influence on the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival over the last 50 years — especially at his 100th birthday year in 2001.
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell has stages named for sponsors, such as Acura; stages named for musical genres …
The Jazz Fest at 50 series, celebrating the half-century anniversary of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell, is a partnership between The New Orleans Advocate and WWOZ 90.7 FM.