The good news: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival swung into gear last weekend with mostly sunny skies, moderate temperatures and three full days of music. On Saturday, you could have paraded through the Economy Hall tent behind the Treme Brass Band, caught Robert Plant deconstructing Led Zeppelin tunes with his fascinatingly weird Sensational Space Shifters band at the Samsung Galaxy Stage, and ended up at the Jazz Tent, where saxophonist Branford Marsalis’s band delivered a smart, tight and imaginative dose of jazz-quartet interplay. On Sunday, back at the Jazz tent, you could have heard singer John Boutté doing what he always does, just a little better.
The bad news: The day before jazzfest kicked into gear, the New Orleans City Council punted on a chance to rescind a shameful (not to mention unconstitutional) 1954 ordinance that declares: “It shall be unlawful for any person to play musical instruments on public rights-of-way between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m.” It was a sour note of legislative dysfunction in a city yet to discover quite how to support its indigenous culture.
(Here’s some background to that issue, and here’s Richard Rainey’s Times-Picayune piece reporting on that council meeting.)
I’ll have more to say about all that—the story’s far from through—and more to report from jazzfest, which continues Thursday through Sunday.
Often the best part of jazzfest in New Orleans is the stuff that happens in between weekends at the Fair Grounds, the horseracing track that becomes a multistage arena once a year. This year, some of these events are benefits. Here are a few:Wednesday, April 30:
• The Carver Theater in the Tremé neighborhood will reopen its doors for the first time in more than 30 years. (Here‘s some backstory, from the weekly Gambit.)
10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. — Ribbon cutting and International Jazz Day celebration
5 p.m. and 7 p.m. — a screening of the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary by Lawrence Cumbo, “Rockin’ the Opera House: Dr. John” will include a celebrity panel discussion about the Carver Theater featuring Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Vernel Bagnaris, James Andrews and actor Clarke Peters.
—Following that, some will stick around for an 8:30 p.m. concert by alto saxophonist and Congo Nation Big Chief Donald Harrison, in concert a benefit for The Southern University Alumni Scholarship Fund and The Guardians Institute Book Program, the latter of which, since 2006, has given over 40,000 books to the youth of New Orleans. This special event will include guests including trumpeter Christian Scott.
—Others will head to the Palm Court Jazz Cafe where the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic will celebrate its anniversary with a “Sweet 16 Prom” celebration featuring Lil Freddie King.
• Harold Battiste has been named a “Jazz Hero” by the New Orleans chapter of the Jazz Journalists Association and will be honored on April 30, International Jazz Day, at the Louisiana Music Factory at 4 p.m. and then again at 6:30 p.m. before a free concert led by his protégé Jesse McBride and the New Generation at The Prime Example Jazz Club.
Battiste is among the most important figures in New Orleans jazz history, founder of A.F.O. Records, the city’s first Black owned and operated music label and publisher. He has had a profound impact on the city’s music history as a teacher, producer and arranger as well.
On May 1, there are two noteworthy musical events that benefit important cultural foundations:
• The Louis Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp 20th Anniversary Concert Series Fundraiser showcases the tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan, who is the jazz camp’s artistic director, in a concert that also features baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett, a former artist-in-residence at the camp.
Cafe Istanbul/Healing Center 2372 St. Claude Ave., Thursday, May 1, 2014, 9:00pm. There will be 2 sets.
As I wrote last year, when Jordan was inaugurated as a JJA “Jazz Hero”:
Kidd Jordan is a hero wherever freely improvised music is prized. In New Orleans, he’d be considered heroic even had he stopped playing decades ago, so influential is his work as educator.
What he does sounds both poetic and heroic. It’s rare too, in that Jordan has, during the course of decades, arrived at a sound and a language distinct enough to attract adherents but not copycats. Simply put, no one sounds even remotely like him.
It would hard to find a nonprofit cultural organization more worthy of support and applause that the annual Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp, whose list of founding faculty, artists-in-residence and alumni charts how musical excellence passes from one generation to the next. The camp was founded in 1995, and has grown from a one-week affair serving 35 children to a three-week intensive program training some 100 students, ages 10-21, in music and dance.
• One of the illustrious alumni of the Armstrong Jazz Camp is Troy Andrews, better known as Trombone Shorty. He created his own Trombone Shorty Foundation, in partnership with Tulane University, to educate young musicians and help launch careers in music.
The second annual Shorty Fest to benefit the foundation (8-12pm at Generations Hall) highlights emerging young talent, including a performance by students participating in the Trombone Shorty Academy music performance program, and is headlined by Shorty and his Orleans Avenue band, the Soul Rebels Brass Band, and special guest organist Dr. Lonnie Smith. According to the press release, the event will include a “Young Guns Blues Showdown” with Cedric Burnside Project, Jonathon “Boogie” Long, Roosevelt Collier and 10-year-old guitar prodigy Brandon “Taz” Niederauer (Why not? Shorty was leading his own band by the time he was 10).
Photo: Peter Gannushkin