JazzFest Day 1.2: Muck & Marvelous Music

Posted: April 26th, 2019 | Filed under: Ruminations | 1 Comment »

Inexorable. JazzFest shall not be deterred.

Gates opened an hour and a half late, thirty minutes past noon.

Music and precipatory deluge poured forth.

Muck ensued. Frolic prevailed nonetheless.

Tis the yin and yang of the deal.

Much ado has been made that this is the 50th JazzFest, and there was serious what goes around comes around context on Day One.

Early on in the Gospel Tent, Cynthia Girtley, a mean pianist and singer in her own right, was paying tribute to New Orleans’ and the World’s First Lady of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson.

Soon enough she got around to “Closer Walk with Thee,” a pivotal point in the lore of JazzFest, as Quint Davis and JF founder George Wein mentioned later on in their interview at the Allison Miner Stage.

The first Fest was in what is now Congo Square, then known as Beauregard Square. About three hundred people showed up. Lots of money was lost. But Wein had commissioned Duke Ellington to write and perform “New Orleans Suite” for an evening performance.

In the afternoon, Wein corralled Sir Duke and Mahalia to join him for a walkthrough of the daytime festivities. They came upon the venerable Eureka Brass Band. When they broke into the aforementioned Jackson classic, Mahalia took the mic and sang the song.

It is said that JazzFest was truly born that moment.

Some of us have been making that closer walk an annual rite.

 * * * * *

For me the moment Thursday that took me back to my first JF came in Cultural Exchange Pavilion right after I entered the sacred if soggy grounds.

The group from Senegal playing was Diassing Kunda. Four percussionists in native garb, and a fellow on the kora. I was taken back to mid 70s when the group that grabbed hold of me was Mandingo Griot Society, which featured Foday Musa Sosa, the kora master.

Lilting percussive African dance music.

My fave, frankly.

So, yeah, what went around is coming around again.

 * * * * *

During her between hymns history lesson, Girtley talked of how Mahalia Jackson, like many other Gospel “stars” midcentury were derided for becoming pop icons. (Sam Cooke is another.)

Which observation I thought of while checking out Rev. John Wilkins in the Blues Tent. He coulda been in Gospel, ’cause he sang about the Lord, but with a serious electric back beat and the siren voices of his three daughters singing back up and call and response.

They broke into a another song about Jesus, and the middle daughter was shouting out her praise, and it sounded just so familiar.

Then I realized it was the basis for Ray Charles’s not so sacred “Night Time is the Right Time” a/k/a “Night and Day.” It’s the seriously erotic tune where Marjorie Hendricks blasts out “Bay-bay” while young Ms. Wilkins was singing about Jesus.

Gospel and rock & roll and rhythm & blues, it’s all the together, bay-bay.

Wilkins and daughters final number was a rousing tune, with the repeated message, “I came through the storm and rain/ But I made it.”

Apropos of day to be sure.

 * * * * *

On the Lagniappe Stage, Dayna Kurtz of Lulu & the Broadsides did a delightfully understated and sultry version of “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.”

Which, if you were paying attention to my first report the other day from JF, you will recall was written by the prolific Dan Penn, who was interviewed that evening on OZ.

 * * * * *

Which brings me back to the Gospel Tent and Jekalyn Carr. (If you’re wondering why I spent so much time in there, the answer is simple. Like the Blues Tent, they’re tents, meaning under cover. Which is nice when the rain drops are not quite as big as baseballs, but certainly larger than what Tiger was putting in the hole at the Masters.)

Is Ms. Carr the best singer I’ve ever heard?

Uh, maybe. But, well, no, I can’t really say that.

Is she the most soulful?

Umm, well, let me put it like this to use another sports metaphor.

If Jekalyn and Aretha were, say, college basketball teams. And the both made the NCAA tourney and advanced against each other in the Sweet Sixteen. Aretha would obviously be the favorite, but it wouldn’t be that much of an upset if Jekalyn won and advanced to the Elite Eight.

The Tambourine Lady was rockin’

 * * * * *

Here’s what you get with Martinique’s Chouval Bwa.

They bring along their own human powered carousel. And set up their traditional instruments inside and play as laughing parents and kids swirl on the wooden horses.

Breezy Caribbean fare. Harmonic. Lilting. Rhythmic. (Have you heard this before?)

Beguiling. Joyous.

Let’s just say they probably won’t be gigging in your town anytime soon, but they may become a JF staple.

 * * * * *

I ended the day with the Django Festival All Stars.

French. Gypsy. Swing.

In the Jazz Tent, I kept looking for the hipsters that love bands with names like Twiddle and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. This was jam band music at its most astute.

Monsieur Reinhardt was surely smiling down.

 * * * * *

As I walked out of the Gospel Tent, the weather front’s back line was clearly discernible over the festivities.

The Glorious Sun made a late afternoon cameo. It shall shine upon the rest of the weekend. 100%.

Listening to WWOZ on the ride back to the hotel, the two hosts were bantering.

The woman asked the fellow, “So, what was the theme of the day?”

“Yoga pants and shrimp boots.”

Today, the prospect is sunshine, SPF90 and Santana.

Plus like 50 other musical ensembles and crawfish strudel and chocolate snoballs and a smiling swirl on that carousel with one hand waving free.

— c d kaplan



One Comment on “JazzFest Day 1.2: Muck & Marvelous Music”

  1. 1 Redstein said at 12:08 am on April 27th, 2019:

    Good work. I gotta a feelin’.

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