How the rich stole jazz music


Fats Domino has dementia now, but he’s still loved here in his hometown, where New Orleans’ 46th annual Jazz and Heritage Festival ends this weekend with a special tribute to the rock and roll giant. 87 years old. “Listen,” begins the cover story of JazzFest in Shifted, the city’s leading music magazine. “You can hear Fats Domino all over New Orleans, even in places where there is silence. There is something in its rhythms and melodies that is in the way people walk, horns and cars drive, streetcars squeal, cutlery and cast iron pots simmer. The adoring article just stops naming Fats the father of rock and roll, claiming that if he and his crack band “didn’t invent it, they perfected it” with songs like “Ain’t That a Shame, “” Blueberry Hill “and” Walk to New Orleans. “

An even older icon of New Orleans was celebrated last Sunday at the end of the festival’s opening weekend. “Jelly Roll Morton used to say he invented jazz,” clarinetist and music historian Dr Michael White told the crowd from the People’s Economy stage as his Original Liberty Jazz Band performed. pause between numbers. “He didn’t invent jazz, but he did more of it than anyone in the early years. He led the transition from ragtime to jazz, proving that written arrangements and improvisation can go hand in hand.

But this year’s Jazz Fest is by no means a genuflection on the city’s incomparable musical past. Probably no festival in the United States offers a wider range of musical genres: eight stages spread across the infield of a horse racing track feature jazz, blues, gospel, zydeco, R&B, hip-hop, international, rock and roll, and more. And new and established artists are highlighted. The stars of the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, the legendary high school whose graduates include Wynton Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr. and Trombone Shorty, do two sets: NOCCA alumni performed last weekend, current students produce this Saturday.

And last Saturday, if one got up early enough to attend the 11am opening sets, something many partying Jazz Festers miss, the main stage featured a rousing performance from the To Be Continued Brass. Band. Discovered when they were still just teenagers from the 9th district playing for tips at the corner of Bourbon and Canal streets in 2007, the TBC gradually rose through the ranks of the city’s competitive brass band scene. “This was our sixth consecutive year playing at Jazz Fest,” said Matt Lafrance, who, at 42, describes himself as the father figure of the band. TBC first performed on the smaller stage at Jazz Fest (the Jazz & Heritage Stage), then moved to Congo Square and this year made a big splash – the Acura Stage, which usually only features the biggest bands. “It’s a phenomenal feeling,” said Lafrance after TBC wowed the crowd with a series of horns and drums, including on “Nagin,” their composition mocking Ray Nagin, the hapless mayor of Hurricane Katrina. who was convicted last year of corruption and money laundering charges.

Yet for the entire Jazz Fest celebration of New Orleans music, food and culture, some locals complain that one central element is missing: the people. The price of the $ 70 daily ticket is just too high in a city where many people struggle to cope. In recent years, the Jazz Fest crowds have grown richer, older, and white as festival promoters, The AEG Company, deliver acts such as The Eagles and this year The Who and Chicago that have very little to do with it. do with the music of New Orleans. .

“The only black faces you see at Jazz Fest are the staff and the musicians,” says Gregg Stafford, a trumpeter who teaches by day at New Orleans Public School and leads world-famous groups like the Young Tuxedo Jazz. Bandaged. “Of course tourists are welcome, but Jazz Fest was started by and for the people of New Orleans to remember and celebrate our heritage. The blacks created jazz, the people of New Orleans built this festival, and now it’s taken from us. When you see a ticket price of $ 70, it tells black people in New Orleans, “You are not invited. “

Pianist and singer Henry Butler, a New Orleans resident whose gigantic talent has yet to somehow translate into worldwide fame, is also sadly absent from this year’s Jazz Fest. “I won’t call Henry a genius because I hate the way that word is spoken,” says Tom McDermott, a veteran New Orleans pianist who flaunts his own extraordinary musical range and light touch on inspired new album by the sounds of New Orleans, City of Stamps. “But Henry belongs to all the great pianists in New Orleans, from Professor Longhair to James Booker and Dr John.”

Fred Kasten, the weekend master of ceremonies at Snug Harbor, the town’s premier jazz club, believes Butler, who was blinded by glaucoma in his early childhood, may have worked with the bad producers in the past. Pointing to The trail of the viper, Butler’s new album released with Steven Bernstein and the group Hot 9 and starring Herlin Riley, perhaps New Orleans’ greatest drummer, Kasten says, “Bernstein is a great arranger and knows how to pick songs. that work well with what Henry does. This could be the group of colleagues who will finally bring Henry the mass audience he deserves.

Butler was supposed to have played the Jelly Roll Morton tribute last Sunday – he covers three Morton tunes on The trail of the viper, including “Buddy Bolden’s Blues,” but prostate cancer required surgery which took him to a Denver hospital. “Piano Night”, an annual Jazz Fest event that takes place the Monday following the first weekend, has therefore been dedicated to Butler this year. “The last time I spoke to him, the operation was over and the doctors had yet to decide what kind of treatment he would get after that,” said Dr. Michael White. “He looked upbeat and said he wanted to do the Jelly Roll gig in the future.”

Perhaps the highlight of the opening weekend was the stunning performance by singer Cassandra Wilson. Billed as originally from Mississippi and deeply influenced by New Orleans – at 26 she moved to New Orleans and was mentored by Ellis Marsalis before heading to New York – Wilson had just returned from Europe, where she was on tour to promote it. new album, a tribute to Billie Holiday, Go out by day. “This year marks the 100th birthday of one of jazz’s greatest influencers,” Wilson told a crowd standing in the WWOZ Jazz tent. Pause. “And it was a woman! Wilson exulted as his face lit up with a wink.

Wilson’s powerful, husky voice is instantly recognizable, but to see her perform in person is also to be transported by that face: those lips that smile a dozen different ways after almost every sentence; those almond-shaped eyelids; that lioness hair. His set included most of the songs from the new Holiday tribute album (but not, oddly enough, “Strange Fruit”), with its commanding “Sit down!” shouting at the end of “Hello, heartache” knocking the house down.

To leave a performance of such breathtaking beauty and power and to hear, moments later and a few steps later, the heavy beat and crooked, false voice of The Who was, well, sad. As the legendary English rockers embarked on a cover of their first hit, “My Generation”, it got even sadder. Make no mistake: Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry wrote and performed some great and enduring music back then. But now, or at least at Jazz Fest, they haven’t even pretended to sing the high harmony line that gives “My Generation” its extra kick. Then came an equally disjointed cover of “Can’t Explain”. Bad music is rare at Jazz Fest, but The Who handled it.

You wouldn’t know that from their audience, however. As they walked out of the hall at the end of the day, one after another, they went wild over what they had just heard, using words like “phenomenal” and even “the most incredible concert ever. I’ve never seen ”. Never underestimate the power of intoxicants and dedicated fandom.

The true spirit of New Orleans music was not far off, however. Two blocks beyond the festival gate, seven black teenagers tore up a Rebirth Brass Band tune as hundreds of merry Jazz Festers paraded. They called themselves The Legacy Brass Band; the tuba player’s black and white T-shirt read “2020 College Graduate”. When three white girls in mid-riffs and shorts huddled among them to flirt and dance, the youngest of the group, an angelic-faced trombonist, blushed but continued to huff.

As night fell, the girls hoisted the group’s tip box above their heads and rushed into the crowd to collect donations for their favorites. Passers-by happily contributed as music from New Orleans’ past and present wafted through the warm, humid air. The corporate promoters of the Jazz Fest may be greedy and exclusive, but the magic of New Orleans remains for all who have the spirit to embrace it.

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Henry R. Wright

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