Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Jazz Fest -- Part 1

"Have you been to Jazz Fest?"

Whenever we mentioned about the number of times we've visited New Orleans, this was one of the first questions we heard. We can now answer "Of course!"

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is a seven-day musical
feast--jazz, gospel, Cajun, zydeco, blues, rock, funk, African, Latin, Caribbean, folk, and much
more--spread over two weekends. Over the years Jazz Fest (as it has come to be called) has received many honors, including being named the Festival of the Year four times by Pollstar magazine, "the country’s very best music festival" (Life magazine), and "(a festival) that “showcases a wider, deeper lineup of essential American musical styles than any festival in the nation…” (The Wall Street Journal).

"...Festival is a singular celebration. The event has showcased most of the great artists of New Orleans and Louisiana of the last half century" and "has always blended in a wide mix of internationally renowned guests" (nojazzfest.com).

Armed with two collapsible chairs, camera, wide-brim hats, sun screen, and the maximum amount of water allowable, we joined the thousands (more on those numbers tomorrow) of music lovers streaming into the infield of the Fair Grounds Race Course, the third-oldest racetrack in America (open since 1872).

For our first day, we had decided to focus on some of the Louisiana performers. Since there were 12 stages with staggered starting time for the performances, we were able to catch portions of several groups. We began with 14-year-old accordionist Cameron Dupuy and the Cajun Troubadours (photo #2 above).

While listening to the Latin music of Ecuador-born and long-time New Orleans resident Javier Tobar and Elegant Gypsy, we heard the sounds of a brass band behind us. It was one of the parades scheduled that day. The Storyville Stompers Brass Band (photo #3) were leading the parade that included Dumaine Gang, Divine Ladies, and Family Ties Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs (photo #4).

This parade brought to mind the story about the first Jazz and Heritage Festival:
"Mahalia Jackson, often called the greatest gospel singer, returned to her hometown to appear at the first Festival in April of 1970. While attending the Louisiana Heritage Fair in Beauregard Square, she and Duke Ellington, who also appeared at the event, came upon the Eureka Brass Band leading a
crowd of second-line revelers through the Festival grounds. George Wein, producer of the Festival, handed Ms. Jackson a microphone. She sang along with the band and joined the parade,…and the spirit of Jazz Fest was born.

"This spontaneous, momentous scene—this meeting of jazz and heritage—has stood for decades since as a stirring symbol of the authenticity of the celebration that was destined to become a cultural force" (nojazzfest.com).

After the parade had passed, our attention turned to the group gathering at the Jazz and Heritage Stage. This group provided an educational moment for us; it was Walter Cook and Creole Wild West Mardi Gras Indians (see the photos above and below).

"Mardi Gras Indians are African-American Carnival revelers in New Orleans, who dress up for Mardi Gras in suits influenced by Native American ceremonial apparel.

"Collectively, their organizations are called 'tribes.' There are about 38 tribes, ranging in size from a half dozen to several dozen members.

"Mardi Gras Indians have been parading in New Orleans at least since the mid-19th century, possibly before. The tradition was said to have originated from an affinity between Africans and Indians as minorities within the dominant culture and Blacks circumventing some of the worst racial segregation laws by representing themselves as Indians.

"According to some accounts, the tradition began as an African American tribute to American Indians who helped runaway slaves. These slaves married into the tribes on occasion.

"As the 20th century progressed, physical confrontations gave way to assertions of status by having better suits, songs, and dances.

"Generally each 'Indian' makes his own suit, assisted by family and friends to sew elaborate bead and feather work--a chief's suit can weigh up to 150 pounds and cost up to $5,000—and traditionally a new suit is required each year" (en.wikipedia.org).

"The Creole Wild West is the oldest, the largest, and the chiefs would add, the prettiest," tribe (Times-Picayune, March 08, 2011).

We caught a portion of accor-dionist Roddy Romero and the Hub City Allstars' perfor-mance and wished we had caught the whole show of this phenomenal young man and his mix of Cajun, swamp pop, and 50s rock.

Among the many
"territorial establish-ments" around the grounds was this inventive model. A fitted sheet was secured at the four corners by attaching them to the backs of chairs. A fine escape from the sun.

We spent some time in the Gospel Tent listening to the Archdiosese of New Orleans Gospel Choir (right) and later a portion of Minister Jai Reed's performance.

Another local prodigy is fiddler Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys. She began playing the violin at age 4 and made her first appearance at Jazz Fest at age 8.

Quite a first day. On to Day 2.

No comments: