Day 9 / Friday, May 3

9-5


On Friday morning the 2013 drill was executed: get up, get ready, scrounge food at the Staybridge breakfast buffet, go back to the room and slather on sunblock and gather tickets and cameras and phones and our trusty black and blue umbrella, and head out to walk to the shuttle buses at the Sheraton. Added: meet Ellie and David before leaving the hotel. The weather today was filed under 'and now for something completely different.' It was cloudy, it was windy, and the temperature was in the 50's. That's right, the 50's. Cool and windy. Very windy. The leftovers from a storm that caused a lot of snow in the Rocky Mountain states. Laurie always brings something warm to wear but I had nothing but shorts and short sleeves. I was glad to have my piece of plastic with holes in it, but even with it I was pretty cold.

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Once we got to the Fair Grounds, as usual a little before 11, we noticed a long line beginning at the security checkpoint, and it wasn't moving. Vehicles were rushing around the racetrack and large trucks were entering near the bus dropoff. What was happening was an all-out effort to dry out Jazz Fest. Apparently it had rained even more overnight, and the grounds could hold no more water. The organizers were doing everything they could, bringing in sand, placing large sheets of plywood on top of mud, even using reverse pumping trucks to vaccuum up standing water. The friendly security people and ticket takers informed us that the festival would be opening an hour later than normal and the schedule would be adjusted, whatever that meant. So now I'm standing in a line, in my shorts and short-sleeve shirt with no outerwear other than a piece of plastic, in 50-something degrees with a strong wind, and not even being able to generate heat by moving. This day was not going to be easy.

In spite of the best efforts of the Jazz Fest team, and make no mistake about it, they were herculean, the place was a mess. Many normal paths of travel were unusable, the eating areas in front of the food stands were a quagmire such that you could barely get to the food vendors much less eat in front of them, some of the craft tents were literally islands, and the viewing areas at the stages were hit or miss, mostly miss. Plus, we had no idea when people would be performing. The Friday cubes were a help, but there was a lot of guesswork involved early in the day.

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All this notwithstanding, it was still Jazz Fest. Our immediate goal was Congo Square. We walked on the sidewalk through the infield (Ellie and David stopped for some crawfish bread - might as well get hooked right off the bat). You can usually get to the stage by cutting between the tents of the craft vendors in the African marketplace, but this wasn't possible today. We then tried to approach the stage from the back, but this area, too, was mostly waterlogged. So we went out to the racetrack and found our way to one of the bridges leading into the viewing area very close to the front of the stage. This worked well, and also worked later in the day. None of us even attempted the Acura or Gentilly stages today. It was country day at Gentilly, with Willie Nelson headlining, and Maroon 5 was headlining at Acura, so it wasn't too hard to stay away.

We were at Congo Square to see trombonist Corey Henry and the nine-member Tremé Funktet. Henry pulled out all of the stops, including the chanting vocals and street-beat percussion of a couple of Mardi Gras Indians, to help warm up the crowd, then deftly morphed into a horn-powered soul band, mixing everything that is good about New Orleans music into one rowdy mashup. The Funktet’s music is an embodiment of its name, featuring a combination of old school New Orleans music, brass band, funk, and mainstream jazz. Among the highlights were smoking hot versions of House of the Rising Sun and Voodoo Child, which featured Erica Falls on vocals taking those songs to new heights. The videos may be better to listen to than watch, but are definitely worth the time.

Corey is an ex-officio member of Galactic, and is almost always part of any Galactic performance in New Orleans (tomorrow's would be no exception). He has recorded three albums with that band as well. Galactic's absorption of all things New Orleans into their brand of funk rock is reflected in Corey's own brand of funk music. 

He was born into and raised in the Tremé by a well-known and respected New Orleans jazz family. His grandfather, drummer Chester Jones, played with many New Orleans greats, and his uncle, Benny Jones, also plays drums and leads the Tremé Brass Band. Corey learned his craft from Benny in venues like Preservation Hall, influenced by New Orleans trombonists Jim Robinson, Wendell Eugene, Freddie LonzoTrummy Young, J.J. Johnson, Al Grey, and Jack Teagarden. The great Fred Wesley was especially influential to his musical approach. But no matter what their individual styles, these masters remain with Henry, contributing to his wonderfully uncommon style.  

In 1985, the legendary Tuba Fats encouraged the 10-year-old prodigy, suggesting he put a band together. So Corey formed the Lil' Rascals Brass Band, which created many of the most popular songs played on the second-line scene (Rascals Got That Fire is co-opted by practically every brass band to ever strike a lick). The Lil’ Rascals have been together now for 26 years, still challenging second liners and rival bands with their hot beats. They have released two very diverse albums, one with respect for traditional brass band music (We Shall Walk Through the Streets of the City) and one (Buck It Like a Horse) filled with sizzling original material, redefining a new era of brass band music.  

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If not playing with the Funktet or Galatic, he'll occasionally reunite with long-time close friends, Kermit Ruffins or the Rebirth Brass Band. He has also recorded and played with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the New Birth Brass Band

With the Funktet, he says, "I wanted to explore something different ... do some of my own material and share some of my own ideas. Jazz has been my whole life. What I love about it most is it always a work in progress. It has brought me a lot of happiness, comfort and fun." Sometimes the excellence of some of the music you hear at Jazz Fest makes you forget how much fun it is. Corey Henry and the Funktet didn't let that happen; this show was more than fun. Here's my video that has 12 minutes of this outstanding performance. And here's a good one from a Jazz in the Park concert in 2012. 

We got some food at the Congo Square food area after the show. Laurie got the jama jama (spicy sauteed spinach) and fried ripe plantains from Bennachin Restaurant of New Orleans (a repeat from last year) and I had a (warm) sweet potato turnover from Marie’s Sugar Dumplings of Marrero, Louisiana (also a repeat from last year and something I am glad is not available locally!).  

      

My recollections of exactly where we were and when and who we may have sampled along the way are murky this day, partly because the conditions were almost as big a part of the festival today as the music, and partly because you can't really use the cubes from the early part of the day to help retrace your steps. But I do know that I wanted to get out of the weather for awhile, and that led to a happy encounter with vocalist Leah Chase and her fine quartet in the Jazz Tent.

In the words of one reviewer, "Listening to Leah Chase sing is like hearing the private reflections of a melancholy angel. Her sultry voice is comforting and unsettling, a journey through remembered passion and lost love."

A self-described balladeer who loves "meaty lyrics," Leah has the unique ability to take a familiar song and infuse it with a fresh perspective. She wants the audience to feel as if they have actually "lived" the song along with her. Leah quickly establishes a warm rapport with her audience. 

Leah Chase is the product of a very fertile creative environment. Her maternal namesake, Leah Chase (on the right), is an engaging dynamo of activity and chief chef at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in New Orleans, named after Leah's father. Edgar "Dooky" Chase was the leader of the Dooky Chase Orchestra, and the sound of his trumpet filled their New Orleans home. Leah thrived in this artistic atmosphere.

She graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans with a degree in Vocal Performance, and completed one year of study at the Juilliard School in New York before leaving to pursue her true love, jazz. She is currently an adjunct faculty member at the University of New Orleans and Tulane University and also an instructor at the Don Jamison Heritage School of Music and the Ellis Marsalis Center.

Long one of New Orleans' favorite jazz vocalists, her brand is one of genuine, artful respect for the music. She calls attention to a song, interpreting rather than posturing. Her scatting could rise high before plunging into a lovely low register, and she was a joy to hear. 

My video taken from the back of the Jazz Tent stinks, so here's a real nice video of Leah Chase on a real nice day singing Next Time You See Me and Blue Skies and here is another of her scatalicious take on I Got Rhythm. Jazz singing is a true American art form, and Leah Chase does it really well. Add to it the New Orleans family connection of food and music and it adds up to another unexpected Jazz Fest delight. 

We ventured back outside and walked over to the Fais Do Do Stage, where a huge crowd was already enjoying Michael Doucet and his traditional Cajun band BeauSoleil, up there on the list of artists not to miss at Jazz Fest this year. They were joined by accordionist Jo-El Sonnier. We were pretty far back, and the speakers weren't carrying very well with all the wind, but what we saw of this performance was still really good.

One of the best known and most highly respected Cajun bands in the world, BeauSoleil grew from fiddler Doucet's desire to keep the unique southern Louisiana culture and music alive. While it does preserve the Cajun musical heritage, over the years BeauSoleil has also been known for its innovation. The group will add from other musical genres, including American jazz and Caribbean rhythm. This keeps BeauSoleil's music vital and contemporary.

Doucet was born and raised in Cajun country surrounded by the old French songs that comprise the basis of the music. But from the time of his birth to his adulthood in the 1960s, Cajun culture was disappearing. Thus Doucet launched his musical career playing rock with New Orleans influence. He began getting into folk-rock towards the end of the '60s and even tried singing a few of his numbers in French. The British folk group Fairport Convention and their song, Cajun Woman reignited his interest in his native music. 

In the 1970's, Doucet traveled throughout Europe and studied with Scottish fiddle great Barry Dransfield, who eventually introduced him to Doucet's idol, Richard Thompson. Doucet credits Thompson as having a great influence on his compositions. In Europe he also saw that the roots of Cajun music were still very much alive and that their centuries-old influence was still found in newer folk songs. It made him realize how modern his local Cajun music was in comparison. When he returned home, he was determined to immerse himself in Cajun musical history. 

Armed with many traditional Cajun songs, Doucet formed BeauSoleil with some of the finest Cajun musicians: Dennis McGee, Dewey and Will Balfa, Varise Connor, Canray Fontenot, and Bessyl Duhon. The name literally means "good sun" and is a reference to a fertile region in Nova Scotia where the Cajuns first settled in North America. BeauSoleil recorded their first album in 1976 and in the 30 years since have released many more eclectic yet danceable recordings. They are indeed the gold standard for Cajun music these days. Here's an in-depth interview with Michael Doucet from the Roots World website. Here are part 1, part 2, and part 3 of BeauSoleil avec Doucet at the Louisiana Music Factory in 2009. He's my video from Jazz Fest this year, which is really only good for seeing what the conditions were like this day.

The next stop was back at Congo Square for the final Jazz Fest performance of Papa Grows Funk, undeniably one of the filthiest funk bands ever. John Gros on Hammond B3 organ and lead vocals, the incredible June Yamagishi on guitar, Marc Pero on bass, Jason Mingledorff on sax, and Jeffery "Jellybean" Alexander on drums are rooted in improvisation and the New Orleans musical tradition but move it toward the future through funkification. The band wasn't totally breaking up, but decided mutually that after 13 years it was time to work with other people and other projects for awhile.

Papa Grows Funk was born in jam sessions at the Old Point Bar across the river from the French Quarter in Algiers, otherwise known as the 15th Ward. "While we throw in New Orleans classics, now our songs and our groove are all our own," says John Gros. "We still love playing together and that comes through in our music." With no play lists and no rehearsals, every Papa Grows Funk performance is its own masterpiece of funk. On any given night, the band might change songs or grooves.

John Gros is somewhat of a mystery man. There is no bio of the man anywhere to be found. In addition to Papa Grows Funk he is a member of the Raw Oyster Cult with former members of the Radiators. After a lot of searching, I finally found a recorded interview that gives a bit of background. He grew up in the New Orleans area and began playing piano in the 5th or 6th grade. He graduated from Loyola University with a degree in music, specializing in the French horn. He played in local top 40 bands before delving into the local jazz and funk scene. He recalls watching parades from his grandmother's porch and hearing songs by the Meters playing on boomboxes. He also counts as influences Dr. John and Allen Toussaint. His goal is to keep their music alive, to keep it moving forward. One thing he says that's very cool is that whether the audience is 20, 200, or 2,000 or more, the people get Papa Grows Funk's music. "It does something to them."

June Yamagishi has been active in the Japanese blues and jazz scene since the early 1970s. In 1972, he formed the West Road Blues Band in Kyoto. It was one of the main acts in then thriving blues scene in the Kansai region. He went on to join a soul band named So Bad Revue in 1975, and in 1979 he released the first solo album. During the 1980s, he played with Japanese bands Myx and Chickenshack, and in the 1990s he formed the Band of Pleasure with guitarist David T. Walker and drummer James Gadson.

In 1995, Yamagishi left his well-established career behind in Japan and relocated permanently to New Orleans. He has played with Earl King, Henry Butler, Davell Crawford, Marva Wright, and George Porter Jr., among many others, and in addition to Papa Grows Funk is a member of the Wild Magnolias and several other groups.

Marc Pero is known for his projectile slap and pop and ferocious fingerstyle rumble bass playing. He grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but was never really exposed to New Orleans music when he was learning to play. Instead, he counts bass great Verdine White from Earth Wind and Fire and Louis Johnson from the Brothers Johnson as his greatest influences. He has played with Papa Grows Funk for 13 years, and lest you think being a musician is easy, he works a second job at an electrical facility, which causes him to miss a lot of out-of-town shows. Over the years, he has used all his vacation days to play with the band. 

Jason Mingledorff moved to New Orleans in 1995 after receiving his Bachelor of Music from the University of Alabama. He then earned his Master of Music in Jazz Performance from the University of New Orleans and quickly began playing with a diverse collection of award-winning local bands, including Galactic and the New Orleans Nightcrawlers brass band in addition to Papa Grows Funk. He has toured with country star Clint Black and performed and recorded with Dr. John and Harry Connick Jr. In 2006, he began teaching at Loyola University and soon became conductor of their Jazz Workshop Band, as well as assistant professor of saxophone studies.

In addition to his work with Papa Grows Funk, Jeffery "Jellybean" Alexander is a member of New Orleans (by way of England) bluesman Jon Cleary's band the Absolute Monster Gentlemen.

The band always encouraged tapers, so there are a lot of performances to be found for your listening pleasure at archive.org. Here and here are videos from Jazz Fest this year, and here is mine, which is notable not for what you can see of the band, which is nothing, but for the music and the Jazz Fest footwear fashion show it contains. The band posted videos of their Jazz Fest show in 2012: Pass It, Needle in the Groove, Back Home, Do U Want It Funky?, and Make It Right Now. All of these have great looks at Papa John's B-3 work. And for good measure, here are Part 1 and Part 2 of a Louisiana Music Factory performance, also in 2012. Everybody ... get down, get funky!

After that it was food time. We hit Food Area II, where I did a repeat from last year, the Cuban Sandwich from Canseco's Market in New Orleans. Laurie had a ... wait for it ... crawfish enchilada from Prejean’s Restaurant in Lafayette, Louisiana (the same people that did the stuffed mushrooms last week). The Cuban is consistently good, and filling, just right on a cold day to help replenish the energy spent staying warm! The enchilada was one of those only-at-Jazz Fest ethnic mash-ups that put a new spin on Cajun cuisine. Its tin-foil tray contained a soft corn tortilla, rich and tart sauce, and melted cheese bursting with fresh crawfish flavor.

       

Following the food, we actually split up for a time. Laurie wanted to see reggae superstar Jimmy Cliff, while I wanted to see bayou blues guitar slinger Tab Benoit, so she went one way, back toward Congo Square, and I headed over to the Blues Tent. I was a bit early, so I sat in the Jazz Tent for awhile to hear a few minutes of Nicholas Payton's XXX trio. 

Payton, wearing a checkered black-and white fedora, dark shirt and jacket, and a fuchsia pocket square, sat at a keyboard, facing the audience, and also played trumpet. Sometimes he played both at the same time. On the drums, Lenny White played with great energy and Vicente Archer on the upright bass was very much in step with the band. The low notes of the bass, the cymbal-drenched percussion, and high notes of the trumpet with the tones of piano created something really unique. Here is an extended excerpt from a club in Chicago.

Payton was born in New Orleans into (what else?) a musical family. Encouraged by his mother, a pianist and vocalist, and his father, the legendary bassist, composer, and educator Walter Payton, he showed talent for music at a very early age. He received his first trumpet at age four and by age nine was sitting in with local bands, including the Young Tuxedo Brass Band. By the age of 12, he was a member of the All Star Brass Band. In addition to being an accomplished trumpeter, Nicholas plays piano, bass, drums, tuba, trombone, clarinet, and saxophone. He attended the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts to study with Clyde Kerr Jr. and after graduation attended the University of New Orleans, where he studied with Harold Battiste and Ellis Marsalis.

Payton is a Distinguished Artist and Visiting Lecturer at Tulane University. He has taught master classes, clinics, and workshops at more than 40 institutions. He is also a prolific and provocative writer. Check out his blog here and spend some time reading, and I'll bet you will be back for more. 

Over in the Blues Tent and true to form, Tab Benoit (pronounced ben-wah) put on a raucous, turbo charged, rocking Cajun blues party to put a hot end to this cold day. As if that weren't enough, he brought out Michael Doucet from BeauSoleil to play fiddle and Jo-El Sonnier to play accordion at the end of the set. Also his mother, playing a tambourine. 

Tab's style has that dirty-edged Delta influence, but it is electrified like Chicago blues and has just a touch of Stevie Ray Vaughan attitude. He and his band, Corey Duplechin on bass and Terence Higgins on drums (and that's all he needs), are incredibly good.  

Tab is a Louisiana native, so he comes by his blues roots naturally, although he didn’t know he liked the music until he was in his late teens. Born in Baton Rouge and raised in Houma, he was brought up on the sounds of the bayou. The Delta has its own musical identity from jazz, blues, and traditional Cajun music, and this diverse cultural backdrop surrounded Benoit as a kid. He says he can't really remember how old he was when he first picked up the guitar, but he learned the first three chords from a book and then "threw away the book."

"Cajun music is not necessarily guitar driven music. It's usually horns, piano and drums," he says. "I kind of gravitated toward the blues. I guess you could say the blues chose me. After I first heard it I was hooked. It wasn’t that it was cool or anything, it just fit me and my style. People asked me to start playing for them at parties and get togethers and it sort of just went from there." Indeed. Since his first solo album was released in 1992, he has recorded an impressive catalog of 17 subsequent albums. 

Benoit's passion really lies in the systematic environmental destruction of his beloved Louisiana wetlands. He has taken on the preservation of these wetlands because to him the land is a special place that is being destroyed by big oil and ruthless developers. He knows first-hand. He grew up in the South Louisiana oil patch, got his pilot's license at age 17, and flew pipeline patrols for oil companies while playing his music in the joints around Houma at night.

"I didn’t learn about this from reading books or listening to scientists talk. I had a bird's-eye view of what's happening. I could see cypress swamps dying. Pipelines leaking. The beautiful swamp I grew up on is just open saltwater now. If it was killing my backyard, I was going to say something."

Voice of the Wetlands, a nonprofit organization founded by Benoit is focused on protecting Louisiana's disappearing coastline in an effort to make the people of Louisiana and the rest of the world as to what was happening to the beautiful Louisiana coast lands. He recruited Dr. John, Cyril Neville, and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux to record two albums and stage concerts and donated all proceeds to conservation efforts. He has testified before Congress and hosts an annual festival to maintain awareness. As long as there are wetlands worth protecting, Benoit says he will fight for what's left.

Here is a pretty good video of the Jazz Fest performance (the sound in the Blues Tent is awful unless you are right up front) and here is mine, even worse, but it has Doucet and Sonnier. Here's Tab and Doucet at a festival in Wyoming doing Sac-au-Lait Fishing and Night Train. From the same festival, here are Solid Simple Things, Medicine, and Why Are People Like That. And luckily, here's Part 1 and Part 2 from the Louisiana Music Factory. There's a bunch of Tab live recordings at archive.org, too. This was a really uplifting way to end a difficult day. Laurie joined me for the end of the show after I texted her that my jaw was dropping!

We met Ellie and David at the prearranged location in front of the Grandstand and got to hear some of the late-running Willie Nelson at the Gentilly Stage on our way back to the bus. Fortunately they did not have the air conditioning on for the trip back downtown.  

Because we were heading out again tonight, a quick dinner was taken out from Mother's. I had another ham po'boy because, well, it's the world's best baked ham, and Laurie had another omelette, this time shrimp creole. 

The four of us grabbed a cab around 8 and headed back uptown to Tipitina's. Playing tonight were the Funky Meters (Art Neville, George Porter Jr., Brian Stoltz, and Russell Batiste Jr.). We saw these guys last year at Jazz Fest and loved the groove they laid down behind alternating solos while also resurrecting some of the original Meters tunes, and we were disappointed that they weren't on the schedule this year. When we saw they'd be a Tip's we didn't hesitate to get tickets in advance. 

Our experience with Tipitina's was from last Monday, the benefit concert where we were right up front the whole time. This time we were nowhere near the front, the place was packed and, as appears to always be the case in places like this in New Orleans (at least during Jazz Fest), about half of the people there are more intersted in running their mouths than listening to the music. I kept leaving the others, trying upstairs and other locations, hoping to find a better place to listen or at least see better, but it was not to be. Nonetheless, once I finally alighted back with Laurie and Ellie (David had gone way to the back to listen with Professor Longhair), the Funky Meters put down some really long, funky jams and it was good to see them once again.

It was an "early" show at Tip's, which means that we were back at the Staybridge at a fairly resonable hour. Not sure what that is is New Orleans, but tonight that meant before 1 a.m.! It was a tough day on the environment front from beginning to end, but the quality and just downright fun of all of the music we heard today was undeniable. Rumor has it that the sun will be shining tomorrow.


9-5
© Jeff Mangold 2012