JazzFest Day Deux: Sona, Hora, Aurora & Fats

Posted: April 29th, 2018 | Filed under: Culture, Music, Ruminations | 1 Comment »

Though I didn’t realize it then, my affinity to New Orleans music dates back to my first 45s, which I listened to on a $19.95 record player I bought with my own earned money at Ben Snyder’s Department Store, and my second LP my grandparents bought me at a shop in Detroit.

I had more of Fats Domino’s Imperial singles than any other of the Founding Fathers. And that LP was also Fats. (The first was Little Richard, also a gift from Grandpa Max & Grandma Tillie.)

I guess I realized, even in junior high, that Fats was from New Orleans, but it wasn’t until years later that I discovered we share the same birthday.

I was fortunate to hear him back when, and several times at Fest, including his last gig of consequence here, what, ten years ago or so, when he played the big stage, reunited with long time collaborator Dave Bartholomew for the first time in decades.

Fats was a homebody in his later years, especially after the devastation of Katrina, when he was rescued from his flooded home in the Lower Ninth.

He is the most famous of the Crescent City’s many rock & rollers, which is of consequence, since American music was invented in this town at Congo Square.

Tribute was paid to Fats yesterday on the Big Stage, which I assiduously avoid from mid afternoon on because of the crush.

But I needed to pay my respects.

The stage was full with local musicians, many old farts like Fats and me, many of whom played with Domino through the decades.

When Davell Crawford did “Let the Four Winds Blow” and “Ready, Willing and Able,” he sat sidewise at the piano like Fats. And he struck the 88s with the same identifiable finger action as Fats. Sweet.

Irma Thomas, as is her wont, gave a little rap as a warning to the men in the crowd, before launching into an admonishing version of “I Hear You Knocking.”

When she sang “Blueberry Hill” eyes moistened.

There was also a second line parade through the Fairgrounds to honor Fats, led by the Tornado Brass Band.

Fats Domino. R.I.P.

 * * * * *

New Orleans lost another icon last week.

Charles Neville, who played the most serpentine of sax solos, passed away.

Brother Aaron’s tribute in the Times-Picayune made me cry, so touching it was.

 * * * * *

Whatever psychological detritus that may have been left in the nooks and crannies of my soul after Sidi Touré on Friday were washed away by Gambia’s Sona Jobarteh 24 hours later.

She broke through the glass ceiling of Griot culture, and became the first mistress of the kora, the 21-stringed instrument that is the centerpiece of their music.

Hers is a mesmerizing and commanding presence.

Her music, melodious, rhythmic, harmonic, insistent, transformative. Transcendent.

Her two drummers are as good as there are. Mamadou Sarr plays congas and some contraption I’ve never seen, which appears to be a gourd affixed to the top of some sort of resonating device.

I tried to google up the name of the fellow who plays the traps in her group, but couldn’t find it. More’s the pity. He’s one of the great drummers I’ve ever heard.

At any rate, Sona Jobarteh hypnotized me, insinuated herself into my every pore. Disoriented me actually. When I exited the Cultural Pavilion, I had to get my bearings on this sacred Fairgrounds I could walk with eyes closed.

Did I mention her enchanting singing voice?

When she sang her final number, one paying respect to the elders, I noticed standing nearby an older couple, easily in their 80s. He was wearing a blazer, for heaven’s sakes.

They stood in the first row, holding hands, joyous smiles on their faces.

I broke up, it is all I aspire to, as I move along in life.

 * * * * *

I started the day with Tracksuit Wedding on the Gentilly Stage.

Because, even though they have nothing whatsoever to do with Louisiana culture, because, well, the band’s name is Tracksuit Wedding.

They play rock & roll. Loud and passionate, and not without chops.

The lead singer is pretty soulful, but I didn’t need any Pat Benatar flashbacks at 11:15 in the morning at JazzFest.

So I slipped over to the Blues Tent for the Tin Men.

Alex McMurray fronts the trio. Matt Perrine holds down the bottom — and solos — on his sousaphone. And Washboard Chaz works his unique magic on, all together now, his washboard.

Their tuneage is all New Orleans quirky, a refreshing anecdote to where I’d been.

Songs with lyrics like, “The finest girl I ever saw/ Did some things against the law/ Stole my maw from my paw.”

When Perrine did one of his solos, he rant from one side of the stage to the other. Like Jagger.

I’m tellin’ ya, this town’s spirit slays me.

 * * * * *

I only got to hear the last song of Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses at Economy Hall.

But to my delight, there she was five minutes later, setting up with her soprano saxophone with the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars at the Lagniappe Stage.

Klezmer is but a basic outline of the type of music these guys — and gal — play. It’s like Ornette Coleman on acid, playing Hymie Goldberg’s bar mitzvah.

Their music is raucous. Their music is at times intentionally cacaphonic. They often venture into Sun Ra territory. All the while, the boffo horn section is moving and dipping and sidestepping in sync like the Tempatations.

But, these folks are incredible musicians, have the most fun on stage I’ve ever experienced — including the Mavericks who are always sure to have a ball — and their music is danceable.

A hora circle is likely to break out at any moment. And does. Yesterday, there was a guy who looked like Tiny Tim, was wearing a checkered sportcoat and a bow tie, and he got the dancing started like some messianic Pied Piper.

Song titles might give you an idea.

“Here Comes the Seltzer Man.” Which is actually a take on a Meters classic, but taken to the 8th dimension.

“In the Bath, They are All Equal.” At least I think that’s what they said the tune’s name was. I was smiling too much to hear exactly.

“Mozeltov Cocktail.”

“Bar Mitzvah of ??? Scott.” Again, that might not be correct. But it is of no matter.

I love these guys, whom I haven’t heard for a couple of years here, because they played a different weekend.

They just make me feel good.

 * * * * *

There was a lady from Pearl River standing next to me in line as we were queuing up to enter the Fairgrounds, whose feelings about JazzFest sum it all up.

“I soak up enough joy for the entire year.”

Today the sun is high and we get to do it all again.

— c d kaplan


One Comment on “JazzFest Day Deux: Sona, Hora, Aurora & Fats”

  1. 1 Hoya Destroya said at 6:15 am on April 30th, 2018:

    Matt Perrine’s “Sunflower City” was one of the first, if not THE first post-Katrina NOLA tributes recorded, and remains a classic. Mr. Perrine is a brilliant artist.

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