Monday, May 6, 2013

Cinco de Jazz Fest

My one and only day at the fest this year began in the afternoon with a stroll through the Congo Square area after saying hello to a few folks. I tried, unsuccessfully, to enter the Jazz Tent and decided to try another area of the Fairgrounds since there was still a while yet before I would see the band I had gone out that day to hear.

George French was playing over at the Economy Hall tent, so after a brief stop at the Blues tent, I hiked out across the field to see what he was up to - musically that is.

Economy Hall is different in design from the other tents with stages at the festival in that it is outfitted with a slightly raised dance floor. There are several diehards who attend regularly and bring their second line umbrellas to dance through the audience conga line style, only with a New Orleans flair.

It was a soggy mess throughout much of the Fairgrounds after all the rain in the days preceding, but thankfully under the tent on Sunday it was more like standing on damp beach. A few yards away it was another story.

Back on the asphalt and headed to the Jazz tent once again, I took a quick peek at the artists in the Contemporary Crafts area. More pretty dresses - these were from Maureen Roberts and Michael Lubim.

The piece all the way in the back of the booth on the right is what caught my eye - something about it reminded me of Frieda Kahlo. The art here is from Jenny Mendes and Mark Roegner.

Spotted in the crowd -- Allen Toussaint was pausing for a photo with an excited fan. Good thing I was walking around with my camera on my wrist, right? 

Outside the Jazz Tent once again I was trying to decide where would be the best point of entry when I look up and directly in front of me is the phenomenal Brian Blade, my reason for being at the festival that afternoon. After a bit of shrieking, laughing, and hugging, he introduced me to his lovely, almost newlywed wife, Lurah. An accomplished drummer, Brian was there to perform with Wayne Shorter.

Backstage at the Jazz Tent is like an annual reunion. Locals, visitors, musicians, friends, family members, photographers, Foundation personnel... For many people, it's the only time they really get to see each other. It really becomes sort of a social time for the musicians as well, especially the ones who are crossing paths while traveling around.

So many people in these next photos... How about just a few highlights from people actually facing the camera or in profile? Bill Summers (in the white cap), Jason Marsalis (behind Bill); Ellis Marsalis (white hat, 2nd photo), Jack Hopke (talking to Jason)... Derck Douget, Rex Gregory, and Matt Dillon (all in the third photo).

Marlon Jordan and Jackie Harris; Irvin Mayfield... and then, Wayne Shorter.

Nicholas Payton... Brian Blade and Deacon John... and then Eric Waters photographing Brian and Deac.

Up until I'd run into Brian, I could have easily gone home. That's one of the things about living in New Orleans, there is so much music and so much going on all the time, it wears on you. (Not to mention it's hard to hang out when I should be home writing).

Hearing the Wayne Shorter Quartet, on the other hand (Danilo Perez, John Pattitucci, and Brian blade), is a nice treat that makes the trekking through all the mud, muck and mire (not to mention the barnyard smells) completely worth it.

Jazz Fest 2013

The last day of Jazz Fest 2013 was blessedly dry, if not a little chilly. After all the rain that had fallen in the previous week it was nice to be able to enjoy my one and only day at the fest after a two year hiatus basking in the sunlight.

Jazz Fest has evolved quite bit over the years and it was nice to see recycling stations scattered about the Fairgrounds. I only hope that people actually noticed and made use of them.

I had decided to start my circuit on the "north" side of the field - that's lake side, if you're a local, and mom was headed that way so we walked together. One of the first people we saw was local clarinetist and leader of the Panorama Jazz Band, Ben Schenck with his family.

Jazz Fest isn't just about the music; it's also quite social since many people see each other once a year at the festival. I hadn't gone out the first weekend and as usual my mother told me that a whole bunch of people had been asking after me. One of those was Wali Abdel Ra'oof, former Executive Director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, which puts on the festival each year. 

After saying hello to Wali, mom took off to go photograph Irma Thomas and I went over to say hello to New Orleans artist, Bruce Brice - one of those people I only see at Jazz Fest. He created the first Jazz Fest poster and he and his art are synonymous with the festival.

After my chat with Bruce I took a casual stroll through the Congo Square African Marketplace, glancing at the booths. I really liked some of these dresses from visiting textile artist Aita Carmichael.

Of course no stroll through Congo Square is complete without a visit to Dr. Foots. One of my absolute favorite pairs of earrings I have ever owned was crafted by Foots. I lost one getting out of the car in front of Green Charter one afternoon and I have been heartbroken ever since. He told me he has been looking after his elderly mother and hasn't been working much, but will be casting soon (yay!) and should have the replacement ready for me when he comes back for Essence Festival in July.

Foots is usually joined my by good friend and Jazz saxophonist, Aumra Frezel. For over two decades now Aumra and I have been introducing each other to some of the hippest music on the planet. Every now and then I am lucky enough to actually get to hear him perform.

Strolling along once again, I was lured into a small tent by the sound of African drums. It turned out to be music from Njum Waalo Band of Senegal.

Before leaving Congo Square I ran into another local musician, percussionist Luther Gray. After a quick exchange of pleasantries we were both on our way - several stages and only so much time means you can only visit for so long.

While there is lots of great music at the festival, there is also an unbelievable array of foods available reflecting the cultural diversity of the city and surrounding area.

Leaving Congo Square, I decided to avoid the area by the Acura stage and cut across the field to get to the Jazz tent. My next encounter was with local bassist (and fellow gemini!) Donald Ramsey. Musicians in New Orleans tend to work in a lot of different bands and Donald was rushing off to his next gig in the Gospel tent.

You know something is popular when people have their chairs set up outside of what's happening and they can't even see the performance. This was the case by the time I reached the Jazz Tent where John Boutte was performing.  This camping out is also a strategy for getting into the tent when people exit in between acts.

This shot of John on stage was taken from outside the tent with the zoom on my little point and shoot. Who knew he was so popular?  Coming up after John was Wayne Shorter, who was to be followed by Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.

I thought I would try entering the tent around the far side, but there were just too many people. I decided to head over to Economy Hall instead, with a quick stop in the blues tent where Bushy One String was performing solo. He is truly unique...

To be continued...