* New Orleans, LA – Every year, as part of a springtime ritual, hundreds of thousands of music lovers and foodies gather at the fairgrounds to experience world-famous culture New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, presented by Shell. Jazz Fest is the unparalleled presentation of American roots music, international beats and of course Louisiana culture that has kept the festival alive and thriving for half a century.
This year’s edition was significant in that it was the first in-person gathering after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. The “R” word circulated throughout the festival. Return, rebirth, rebirth, reignited, or reappeared in regards to the delayed interruption of the pandemic. No matter how you see it or express it, it all comes down to Jazz Fest is back, y’all!
I had the chance to be present for the first weekend of the jazz festival. The weather gods looked favorably upon the festival.
It was sunny, warm with a light breeze. A thunderstorm rolled through the area on Sunday morning, causing a 30-minute delay in opening the gates.
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Jazz lovers were guaranteed a GT, not the Gin and tonic you thought. GT is for a while, which we expect with the return of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, presented by Shell, inside the WWOZ Jazz Tent. WWOZ is the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival station, a community radio station currently operating in the French Quarter of New Orleans. OZ, as they are affectionately known, is a volunteer-programmed, listener-supported radio station.
An overflowing crowd filled the WWOZ Jazz Tent and settled around the outside perimeter. The band had fun with the sounds of bebop, straight jazz, swing, Afro-Cuban jazz and Latin jazz. This is the city that gave birth a century ago to America’s number one art form, jazz.
It does me good to know that the future of jazz is in good hands. New Orleans Music Interns Donald Harrison Jr. was able to shine in the spotlight to open the show inside the WWOZ Jazz Tent.
The John Mahoney Big Band with Brian Blade presented our first dose of explosive big band jazz.
Mastermind Donald Harrison Jr. served double duty, first leading the New Orleans Music Trainees and performing a set of original tunes on the Congo Square stage with his band.
Singer-songwriter Quiana Lynell was a real treat. She gained new fans during her captivating performance and showcased her vocal styles and vocal range. I could detect a hint of Mahalia Jackson in her voice.
Arturo Sandoval energized the crowd to close the first day with a set of high-octane Latin jazz. Arturo Sandoval’s talents were on display as he sent a flurry of musical notes into the stratosphere on trumpet, tickled ivories on keyboards and laid down spicy grooves on timpani.
The first day of Jazz Fest featured outstanding performances from Dawn Richard on the Congo Square stage, Little Freddie King and Bombino, sensational and standout sets in the Blues Tent and Astral Project in the WWOZ Jazz Tent.
The Crescent City is home to a large contingent of internationally renowned singers. Germaine Bazzle is an outstanding singer. She looked superb as she entertained the attentive crowd with standards and classic jazz originals.
The Trumpet Mafia opened their set with The Godfather theme. They drove the crowd into a frenzy with a rhythm section, over two dozen trumpeters, a few trombonists and a saxophonist.
The Cookers are an all-star band, each member is an outstanding leader in their own right. The group consists of Eddie Henderson, Donald Harrison Jr., David Weiss and George Cables, Cecil McBee and Bily Hart. Their set was the highlight of the afternoon.
Mem Shannon & The Membership played in the Blues Tent, and Lakou Mizik from Haiti, was great on the Jazz and Heritage scene.
The Blues Tent rocked during “The New Orleans Classic Recording Revue” segment. The crowd was taken on a musical journey with performances from Bobby Cure & The Poppa Stoppas, Al ‘Carnival Time’ Johnson, Wanda Rouzan, Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry and The Dixie Cups. You can’t go wrong with a powerful range like this.
Alexey Marti energized the WWOZ Jazz Tent with an electrifying set of Afro-Cuban Jazz to the delight of the worldwide salsero community dancing inside and outside the tent perimeter.
The late great musician, educator and mentor Ellis Marsalis was remembered with a celebratory set featuring band members David Torkanowsky, Oscar Rossignoli, Shea Pierre, Jesse McBride and special guest Jason Marsalis.
The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra, conducted by Scotty Barnhart, with vocalist Carmen Bradford, put the finishing touches on the first weekend of Jazz Fest. Grand finale!
Gilberto Santa Rosa spiced up Jazz Fest gumbo with a serving of salsa to the delight of the crowd gathered on the Congo Square stage. WEPA!
Jazz Fest organizers honored three prolific, world-renowned musicians throughout the weekend. Festival impresario George Wein, singer, songwriter, musician Dr. John and Ellis Marsalis with an ancestral monument that has been unveiled and displayed in the Ancestors area near the Congo Square stage.
Members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band performed during the program honoring George Wein, Jon Cleary performed during the ceremony for Dr. John, with words from his daughter, Karla. The program in honor of Ellis Marsalis has been postponed due to bad weather.
The mission of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is to promote, preserve, perpetuate and encourage the music, arts, culture and heritage of Louisiana. Approximately 85% to 90% of the bands featured at Jazz Fest are active members of the Louisiana music community.
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation, Inc. is the nonprofit owner of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell. Foundation proceeds from Jazz Fest are used year-round for activities in the areas of education, economic development and cultural enrichment. Visit https://jazzandheritage.org for more information about the Foundation.
I’m sure by now you’re tired of hearing your loved ones, colleagues, friends or neighbors talk about the great time they had in New Orleans for Jazz Fest. Consider this a friendly reminder, the 52nd annual event will take place April 28-May 7, 2023. For the most up-to-date Jazz Fest information, visit www.nojazzfest.com and sign up for the newsletter to receive email alerts. email about the Jazz Festival 2023.
“Let the good times roll” – Let the good times roll!