JazzFest ’19, Day 3: Crescent City Faves, Then & Now

Posted: April 28th, 2019 | Filed under: Ruminations | 1 Comment »

Context: New Orleans, the world’s most musical town, is a piano town and it is a horn town.

Kids don’t hide at their friend’s homes in the afternoon to avoid piano lessons.

It is a place where making the roster of the school band is not onerous but an honor.

The spirit force of Satchmo and Jelly Roll is strong, passing from generations to the next.

At this 50th Fest, there are lots of put together sets, honoring the icons of the past, who have influenced and continue to influence the citizenry and providing a harmony in the air down here.

In the Blues Tent before a throng busting its seams was The New Orleans Piano Professors Celebration. Current Masters of the 88s paying homage to their forefathers.

Tom McDermott mentioned Jelly Roll Morton’s left hand before sharing a couple of the Storyville legend’s classics. The second was a rousing version of the aptly titled “Finger Breaker,” which brought the adoring and attentive assembled to our feet for the first of my times during the set.

John “Papa” Gros morphed into the now in poor health Mac Rebennack, whom we know and love as his adopted persona, Dr. John.

Born in Cranbrook in Kent in Merrie’ Ol’, now a long time, inveterate expatriate in New Orleans, Jon Cleary paid his respects to Henry Roeland Byrd, whom we know as Professor Longhair, or Fess if you’re really locked in.

He explained how Fess’s classic “Tipitina” is an 8 bar blues, a junkers blues, and how that form was the basis for Longhair’s unique style. When Cleary played it, the joint of course turned “hoola walla malla dalla.” (Which in the context of the Crescent City is clearly definable, not gibberish.) Followed by “Big Chief,” the Professor’s respects for the Mardi Gras Indian culture.

Davell Crawford played James Booker. Including the sublime, “If it’s not asking too much/ Send me someone to love.”

Al “L’il Fats” Jackson would be your Fats Domino doppelgänger. Thick of body. Bright red suit. Stubby fingers, many with big gold rings.

Played and sang “The Fat Man” and “Blue Monday.” Of course.

And then there was David Torkanowsky, honoring my favorite musician of forever — and one of my favorite human beings — Allen Toussaint. (I mean, for obsession’s sake, I tracked down Toussaint’s haberdasher for an interview included in my first JF post this year.)

Before playing Torkanowsky advised, “This whole New Orleans JazzFest is informed by the genius of Allen Toussaint.”

After Torkanowsky’s first Toussaint remembrance, when he riffed elegantly through a pastiche of AT’s songs from his iconic “Southern Nights” album, he oddly started fiddling with his phone. I wondered, is the guy actually texting somebody while performing on stage in the Blues Tent?

The answer, “No,” was soon revealed. In the middle of the oh so sweet “With You in Mind,”  a recording of Toussaint himself sang along through the PA.

Be still my full, beating heart. Tears of Joy. It was a Moment of Moments.

My prayer for all within ear shot here is that you find something in your life that brings you as much serenity and solace as Allen Toussaint’s music has brought to me.

I’m humbled to say that, other than Jelly Roll Morton who passed four years before I was born, I’ve heard all of the Masters in person at least twice, some many times. It is one of life’s great blessings.

An interesting bit of anecdotia, not mentioned yesterday on stage, but which I shared with my pal Gary as we floated out of the tent into the glorious sunlight afternoon. After Fats Domino’s first couple of breakthrough rock & roll hits, he was on the road a lot. But his record company, Imperial, wanted more songs to release every few months.

Sooo, Domino and Dave Bartholomew would craft the tunes, but young, eminently talented Allen Toussaint would actually record Domino’s piano parts on many songs while he was out of town, and Fats would simply record the vocals when he was back in New Orleans.

 * * * * *

My favorite saying of the day.

A guy was wearing a straw hat with a few buttons on it.

One of them read, “New Orleans. Proud to Crawl Home.”

 * * * * *

As for the horns thing mentioned at the top, my current favorite New Orleans musician is the super talented Aurora Nealand.

I opened the day with Wyoming expatriate Spencer Bohren & the Whippersnappers.

What a marvelous surprise it was that Ms. Nealand was part of the ensemble, adding tasty saxophone interludes.

Her brilliance is ever present. She knows when to lay back, just provide some ambience, and when to let loose on a solo. As on the Bohren tune, the title of which I believe is “Home is in my Heart.”

Bohren is a master on guitar.  Especially on slide, as Saturday, when he played “I’m Delivered,” written by a friend from Mississippi, whom Spencer advised was “sanctifried.”

There was the Delta Bluesish “Old Louisa Moved On.”

Another “love” tune, “Is Your Heater Hot Tonight?” “It’s a rhetorical question,” advised the singer/ songwriter. He concluded his too short set, paying his respects to his adopted home town and the heritage of Congo Square, “Rampart Street/ Where they heard that beat.”

 * * * * *

Aurora Nealand finished the day with her own group, the Royal Roses, in a reverent but not absolutely traditional manner in the Fest’s venue for traditional NO jazz, Economy Hall Tent.

What can I say? It was a boffo way to end the day.

As Tom McDermott and clarinetist extraordinaire Evan Christopher (the best of the current Sydney Bechet acolytes) had done earlier during their time on the Lagniappe Stage, Nealand et al played a “beguine style rhumba” from Martinique. It was impossible not to swing and sway in a Caribbean way.

 * * * * *

From Ghana and Mozambique, Gato Predo, and her duo of lithe and energetic dancers, was an exotic Ebony Temptress.

(I wanted to use the descriptor Nubian, like the Weather Report tune, “Nubian Sundance.” But Nubia is actually northern Africa, so it might have sounded cool, but would have been geographically inappropriate.)

 * * * * *

This final Sunday of First Weekend presents my most vexing conundrum, a conflict of conflicts.

My favorite NO band, New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars, who always play a rollicking, fun, smile-inducing, musically complex set, close the day at Lagniappe. While another obsession, Van Morrison, who is a soul genius and whom I don’t get to hear often, but who sometimes is less than scintillating, is on the big stage.

Decisions, decisions. Sigh.

— c d kaplan


One Comment on “JazzFest ’19, Day 3: Crescent City Faves, Then & Now”

  1. 1 David Neuburger said at 10:12 am on April 29th, 2019:

    Sorry I missed Saturday with you at the fest but your writing made me feel it. Next year….

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