Gavin reports back from Jazz Fest in New Orleans
Twas the night before Jazz Fest. After two flights, I landed in New Orleans. A friend picked me up and took me to Vaughan’s Lounge for Corey Henry and Treme Funktet. They started an hour and half late but kicked ass in the poorly lit neighborhood dive bar.
COREY HENRY CLIP
Friday morning after a scenic bike ride, we stopped in for a bloody mary at Cafe Degas where they started serving to-go drinks at 10:30am. WWOZ was kicking off its live coverage and excitement was sky high for the first Jazz Fest since 2019. It took an hour just to get through the line for ticket holders. Like the night before I learned time can be elastic in the Crescent City.
DONALD HARRISON CLIP
Big Chief Donald Harrison, Jr. age 61 blew away the small crowd gathered at the Congo Square Stage with his saxophone as his band, including the impressive Dan Kaufman on piano, rocked funky nouveau swing. Next up on the Fais Do Do stage, former Carolina Chocolate Drops cellist Leyla McCalla was exploring her Haitian creole heritage with her own band. This one is from The Capitalist Blues, her latest album.
LEYLA MCCALLA CLIP
Another highlight from Friday at Jazz Fest was the critically-acclaimed singer and piano player Lilli Lewis. She’s soulful, playful, and deadly serious all at once. She held the crowd in her palm with dynamic playing, a stunning voice, and engagement between songs. One minute she was inviting the crowd to sing along, the next offering nurture in the form of instructions on living ones best life like “spend your time doing the thing you love the most, if there’s a spark you have inside you, use it." Then topping off crescendoes of applause, she beckoned “give it up fo yo selves y’all.” Lilli Lewis is one of those New Orleans artists who can’t be easily defined by genres. Her spirit seems to embody the meaning of the Lagniappe stage, a bonus or extra gift, like the 13th donut in a baker’s dozen.
LILLI LEWIS CLIP
72-year old Cuban-American trumpeter, pianist and composer Arturo Sandoval gave an impressive performance at the Jazz Tent, bopping from percussion to keys to trumpet within extended uptempo numbers like this one.
ARTURO SANDOVAL CLIP
Live music at the Fairgrounds ends around 7 o’clock each night and crowds swarm the exits because club shows all over the city are fantastic during Jazz Fest. My favorite dance party vibe of the weekend was Friday night at Broad Side where The Soul Rebels warmed up the crowd with a tight horn section and a simple call and response.
SOUL REBELS CLIP
Cimafunk, a rising star from Cuba, had everyone dancing their asses off shortly after. Hard to describe, it was... off the chain.
Saturday I was lucky enough to witness Mardi Gras Indians in their full regalia. Real pretty.
MARDI GRAS INDIANS CLIP
At the Cultural Exchange pavilion, Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha wooed first-time listeners and established fans alike with blue and yellow flags waving in the crowd after every song. Putin trash talk abounded near where I was perched in the front row stage right. The band couldn’t help but evoke mental images of alleged war crimes during the Russian invasion, now in its third month. Three women singers and musicians with dramatically large black fuzzy hats, and one guy who sang not unlike an eastern European Thom Yorke, received riotous applause at the end of every song.
Attendees could scan a massive QR code on the front of the stage to donate to humanitarian aid efforts in Ukraine.
The music of Tank and the Bangas landed on the national stage when they won NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest back in 2017. This year’s Jazz Fest performance challenged audiences with an edgy high energy rock opera feel Saturday afternoon.
TANK & THE BANGAS CLIP
There was a dramatic rainstorm with some thunder and lightning in southeastern Louisiana on Sunday morning and I began my day at the luxurious Hotel Saint Vincent, noticing former James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan, in town filming a new movie called Fast Charlie, dining on the patio. I wasn’t there to gawk at movie stars, I was there to gawk at one of my fave jazz harpists, Chicago’s Brandee Younger. She performed with bass player Dezron Douglas at a small and noisy bar space indoors. Here they do their own take on Alice Coltrane’s “Gospel Trane.”
DEZRON DOUGLAS & BRANDEE YOUNGER CLIP
Back at the fairgrounds, one of my biggest Sunday highlights was Charlie Wilson, best known as one of three brothers who made up The Gap Band. Now sober after many years struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, he worked his way through his deep catalog repeating “I bet you didn’t know I sang on this one” to hilarious effect, before diving into one familiar jam after another. His band was tight, fashionable and choreographed. My personal fave was the top 10 r&b hit from 1986, that sure enough I didn’t know he sang on... Zapp tune “Computer Love.”
Running out of time on my bucket list trip late Sunday afternoon, I opted to try an alligator sausage po-boy from nearby the Fais Do Do stage where Lil Nathan and the Zydeco Big Timers made for the perfect soundtrack to an authentic taste of the culture.
LIL NATHAN & THE ZYDECO BIG TIMERS
Other notables I caught at week 1 of Jazz Fest were Bombino from Niger, The Who, Sweet Crude vocalist Alexis Marceaux, the Caesar Brothers, and a remembrance for Spencer Bohren. All this footage was recorded on my iphone without professional equipment. I wasn’t planning to report on the event, I was on vacation, but once I got back I had to share. Shout outs to my hosts Doc and Angie, to the hard working crew and volunteers who make Jazz Fest so much fun, and big thanks to Missy and all the other WWOZ radio hosts.