Day 4 / Sunday, April 26

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Day three at Jazz Fest means Day 3 of the 2015 drill: get up ... get ready ... slather on sunblock ... gather tickets, cameras, phones, our blue and white umbrella, and our now used poncho-type pieces of plastic ... head down to the lobby to grab a coffee and maybe a bit of food, if there was any, just enough to get us through the trip to Jazz Fest, where we would get some real good food. Mission accomplished. 

The temperature on the walk on Magazine Street over to Canal Street and the shuttles was 80 degrees under hazy skies. Hazy because the humidity was the same as the temperature, 80 percent. It didn't get a whole lot warmer today, as the high was 84, and the haze cleared to sun with scattered clouds. But that humidity never dipped below 70 percent, so it felt like it could rain at any time. Fortunately it did not. While conditions were much better than when we left yesterday, there was still mud aplenty at the Fair Grounds! 

We arrived with plenty of time for food before the music started. Because we were going to go in two directions for our first music, we hit Ms. Linda's booth because it was about halfway between our destinations. 

Ms. Linda Green is another Chopped champion who has a stand at Jazz Fest. Laurie had her vegetarian ya-ka-mein last year on Day 11. It was my first taste of the real deal, with the beef. Ya-ka-mein is a very hearty soup. It's also called Old Sober due to its alleged curative powers for those hung over from the previous evening's activities. It has spaghetti noodles, a hard-boiled egg, green onions, a dash of soy and hot sauce, and in mine, boneless chuck roast. Plus Ms. Linda's special, secret sauce, which takes it from just a soup to ya-ka-mein. Here she is telling the story of this great dish.

It was fun, because we got to the stand just at opening, and Ms. Linda herself was behind the counter bringing her team to life, assigning them tasks, showing them where everything was, and explaining how to take orders and serve the food. One could write an entire book on these food vendors and how they prepare and serve mass quantities of really good food under some really difficult conditions. 

The ya-ka-mein was really good. I should have ordered two, because I had a feeling I'd be hungry again pretty soon. But come to think of it, that really wouldn't be a problem!

Today's cubes led Laurie to the Acura stage, another visit with the funky Flow Tribe, who we've heard at least snippets of every year we've been at Jazz Fest. We finally got to see an entire show last year on Day 8. We were so taken by this great blend of funk, R&B, rock, with a distinctive dash of New Orleans, that we caught them at The Hamilton this past summer as well. Here they are doing Walk Like An Animal and Fiya on Esplanade at the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton, earlier this year.

I headed back to the walkway between the Fais Do Do and Gentilly stages, keeping an eye on where the music would start first. Fais Do Do won out, with Jeffery Broussard and the Creole Cowboys. We caught this great zydeco band on Day 4 in 2012 and they were impressive then, and more so today. 

With his big cowboy hat pulled over his eyes, a single-row button accordion cradled in his arms and a toothpick dangling from the corner of his mouth, Broussard makes no bones about his rural roots. Neither do the Creole Cowboys, who definitely look the part. They play old-style zydeco, and that is by design. Broussard wants to give back to the generations that started the music.

"I want to do something for the older people," said Broussard. "They always say they don't have any place to go or any music to listen to. I like all the guys playing zydeco today and I respect them. But what they're playing isn't the zydeco I grew up with. If we keep changing it, we're going to lose it." 

The rhythm section in the Creole Cowboys today was Paul Lavan on drums and noted musician, composer, writer, teacher, and scholar D'Jalma Garnier III on bass guitar. Jim Scott and Bernard Johnson were on guitars. Can't find the name of the guy on the scrub board. Don't know why it's so hard to find the names of people in some of these bands ... believe me, I try! Here's my video of Broussard and the Cowboys at Jazz Fest, and here is an entire show from that Simi Valley Cajun and Blues Music Festival in California this year.

After a few songs I zipped over to the Gentilly stage to catch the remainder of the set by the Satchmo of the Ghetto, James Andrews, and the Crescent City Allstars.

We caught James Andrews at the Jazz in the Park concert on Day 1 last year. He was a last-minute sub for Big Freedia, and he put on a great show. You can read the story of James and the incredibly talented Andrews family, who also boast Troy (a.k.a. Trobone Shorty) and Glen David Andrews in their number, on that page. Today James was his usual animated self, engaging the audience at every turn and coaxing his musicians to great things. His patented rasp and bright trumpet sound are the epitome of the classic New Orleans street sound. He is proud of his roots in the Tremé, no doubt about it. 

People I recognized on the stage: June Yamagishi (here something different because I've linked to him so much, he's in the kitchen cooking pork chops), the incredible guitarist of Papa Grows Funk, the 101 Runners, and the Wild Magnolias, among many others; Roger Lewis, the "dirty old man" baritone saxophonist of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band; and Craig Klein and Greg Hicks of Bonerama along with Stephen Walker of the Tremé Brass Band on trombones.

     

   

I arrived during a long brass jam in the middle of Gimme My Money Back. This is the tune that first got James some attention when he created it as a member of the Tremé Brass Band. It has gone on to become a brass band stapleAfter I Need You, James' wife Karen Gant-Andrews did a version of At Last that would have done Etta James proud. 

Finally, the band launched into an extended take on the theme song from Tremé, during which he brought out the "Baby Doll" dancers as he shouted "Shake what your momma gave you!" We had no choice; his mother, Lois Andrews was one of the dancers!

"There is no feeling like it, playing at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. As a New Orleans musician it’s great and it gives me an amazing feeling because we get a chance to play for so many people. We can bring joy to people from around the world as representatives of New Orleans." Here's my video from Jazz Fest, which starts with a great baritone sax run from Lewis, and here's a playlist that has the album "People Get Ready Now." It's just great New Orleans funk. 

OK, so what's the deal with these Baby Dolls, mature women who dress like litle girls and dance (in somewhat provocative manner, I must say). "Baby dolls," are a Mardi Gras tradition in New Orleans' African-American community. Back in the early 1900’s, these troupes of women could be seen on Fat Tuesday strutting and prancing in bonnets, garters, and skimpy or short ruffled dresses, often playing tambourines and cowbells to accompany their provocative dances.

Beatrice Hill, a founder of the original baby doll troupes, gave an account of their birth in a 1947 book on Louisiana folklore, "Gumbo Ya-Ya." Hill said the black prostitutes who worked uptown, just outside the legal red-light district called Storyville, got word their downtown counterparts planned to dress and parade on Mardi Gras in 1912. The uptowners met at 3 a.m. to plot strategy against their legal rivals. One jumped up, Hill reported, and said, "Let's be Baby Dolls. That's what the pimps always call us." They hit the streets with cigars in their mouths and "money all over us, even in our bloomers," throwing dollars at men, Hill recounted.

The prostitutes, calling themselves the Million Dollar Baby Dolls, later collected dues and held dances to raise money for their costumes, possibly making them the first organization for parading women. At the time, high society white women's Carnival organizations held balls but didn't parade.

Storyville was closed in 1917, but the baby doll costumes caught on and survived for decades in African-American neighborhoods.

The Louisiana Weekly, the newspaper of the New Orleans black community, identified the Million Dollar Baby Dolls in 1939 as among the city's oldest African-American masking groups. Within 20 years of the 1912 escapade, respectable women were masking as baby dolls. But even today, those in the Baby Boom generation recall their mothers and grandmothers warning them against the lewd and lascivious behavior evidenced by many a Baby Doll on Carnival Day.

In addition to their subversive presence at Mardi Gras, the Baby Dolls helped shape the sound of jazz in the city. The Baby Dolls often worked in and patronized dance halls and bar-rooms, where they innovated on new dance steps of the day. The entrepreneurial Baby Dolls also sponsored dances with live jazz bands, effectively underwriting the advancement of an art form now inseparable from New Orleans’s identity.

In the years of segregation, African-Americans celebrated Carnival in their own neighborhoods with informal parades of the brightly feathered and beaded Mardi Gras Indians, picnics and parties centered around the floats of the Zulu parade, and costume traditions such as the baby dolls. By the 1960’s, the end of segregation and new economic opportunities brought new avenues for African-Americans to participate in Mardi Gras. As times changed, the baby doll tradition faded.

Not everyone forgot the dolls, though, or what they meant to Carnival in New Orleans, and much like the Mardi Gras Indians, the baby doll tradition is making a comeback, with several groups now found in various New Orleans neighborhoods: the 504 Eloquent Baby Dolls of New Orleans, the Gold Digger Baby Dolls (the first of the current baby doll troupes, started in the 1980's when Merline Kimble and friends revived her grandparents' club of baby doll maskers), the Tremé Million Dollar Baby Dolls (the group on stage today), and the Ernie K-Doe Baby Dolls (founded by the late Antoinette K-Doe (on the left in the picture below) and named for her husband, the late, great R&B artist Ernie K-Doe). Rather than stick to a Mardi Gras parade route, many baby dolls go where the mood takes them.

I think I've said it before (actually I know I have): only in New Orleans! The history of this city is as unique as its music, and I really feel it needs to be understood to appreciate a lot of what you see and hear today. Here is a brief video with a history of the Tremé Million Dollar Baby Dolls, and here is a look at a modern-day baby-doll troupe.


We met after our morning musical choices at the point where Food Area II sort of merges with the Congo Square Food Area, as we were going to have a proper lunch before really hitting the stages hard for a few hours. We had a couple of repeats that are always best enjoyed before the crowds get too large, as they were bound to do today with headliners like Jimmy Buffett, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, and Pitbull.

I had Crawfish Monica from Kajun Kettle Foods and Laurie had the jama-jama (sautéed spinach) and fried plaintains from Bennachin Restaurant. Both are Jazz Fest classics, and both were as good as ever.

Laurie had a few minutes before her next choice in the cubes, so she accompanied me to the Jazz Tent, where the Peter Harris sextet were playing some excellent modern jazz. 

Harris, a New Orleans native, has been around for 20 years or so. He has held down the bottom, both acoustically and electrically, with virtually every jazz artist of note in the city (Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Tim Laughlin, Nicholas Payton, Astral Project, Ellis Marsalis, and Jason Marsalis) and a lot of the the local R&B and funk stars as well (Papa Grows Funk, Irma Thomas, Blind Boys of Alabama, Theresa Andersson, New Orleans Klezmer All Starsand John Boutté. He received his Bachelor's of Music and Master's of Music from the University of New Orleans, where he was a Louis Armstrong Scholarship recipient and is a current member of the faculty. He is also on the faculty of the Don Jamison Heritage School of Music. These days he has regular gigs with Don Vappie, Shannon Powell, Irvin Mayfield, and Germaine Bazzle.

The rest of the musicians in the group, in no particular order, were Rex Gregory and Derek Douget on saxophones, Ashlin Parker on trumpet, Victor Atkins on piano, and Simon Lott on drums. This was a very, very talented group. 

Rex Gregory is known for his composition and arranging abilities, as well has his facility on all manner of saxophones, clarinets, and flutes. Originally from Houston, he graduated from the University of New Orleans with a B.A. in Music, concentrating in Performance. Today he is in great demand for a diverse array of projects. He has independently released two studio recordings, "An End to Oblivion" and "Rocket Summer." He has shared the stage with Jason Marsalis, Mayfield's New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Theresa Andersson, Adonis Rose, David Torkanowsky, James Singleton, Steve Masakowski, Wendell Brunious, Simon Lott, Harold Battiste, and many others.

While he's a staple in the New Orleans jazz community, Gregory does not hesitate to venture out into other musical territories. He is always in the laboratory, concocting very diverse vehicles of expression. His idiosyncratic compositions, keyboard and compositional role in the rock band Bionica, exceptional reading ability, and his wide ranging contributions to a variety of projects is a testament to his musical capabilities. He is a comfortable addition anywhere and everywhere, as he says, responding to the call of being a musician with sincerity, responsibility, and great enthusiasm.

Derek Douget was raised in the town of Gonzales, an hour from New Orleans, adopted into a mixed-race family. His Cajun father exposed him to all things Acadian from food to music. In a region known for mixing African, Latin, Native American, and European traditions and cultures, Douget celebrates his part in this great community of mixed cultures that has always been a hot bed for jazz musicians.

Derek started playing the saxophone in his middle school band. By high school, he was focused on studying music and won many honors in classical saxophone. But in high school he also heard the recordings of Ornette Coleman, Charlie Parker, and Count Basie, and these recordings resonated so that he switched to jazz to better express his individuality. He received a full scholarship to the University of New Orleans where he studied under Ed Petersen, was mentored by Ellis Marsalis and Harold Battiste, and completely immersed himself in the great talent of the New Orleans music community. he learned from and worked with a musicians ranging from Henry Butler to Dr. Michael White.

Douget graduated from the University of New Orleans in 1997. He has toured nationally with Nicholas Payton, recorded a movie soundtrack with Terrance Blanchard, played in the Ellis Marsalis Quartet, sat in or recorded with many great jazz artists, and in 2002 released his first recording, "Perpetual Motion." He then completed his Master’s Degree at UNO in 2005. He moved to Brooklyn after the Federal flood in 2005, but continued to record and tour with New Orleans jazz artists and in 2008 recorded the masterpiece "An Open Letter to Thelonious" with the Ellis Marsalis Quartet.

In 2009, Douget and his wife moved back to New Orleans, where he continues to be an integral part of the jazz scene.

Victor "Red" Atkins has been described as an infectious, unconventional, tasteful, and powerful pianist -- all at the same time. A native of Selma, Alabama, he earned a B.A. from Berklee College of Music in Boston and an M.F.A. from the Manhattan School of Music. He has toured and performed with an impressive list of artists, including Elvin Jones, Freddie Hubbard, Aaron Neville, Brian Blade, and Nicholas Payton.

Atkins, who teaches at the University of New Orleans in addition to playing with numerous jazz groups in the Crescent City, receives numerous commissions from the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and other groups. He collaborated with Delfeayo Marsalis on "Pontius Pilate's Decision" and his reworking of Duke Ellington's "Such Sweet Thunder," a tribute to William Shakespeare. A sought-after arranger, he is also known for his work with Los Hombres Calientes, who play an incredibly innovative brand of Latin jazz. His adaptations of works by Bach and other classical composers have been called "brilliant examples of the fluidity of jazz and the breaking down of musical barriers."

At UNO, Atkins teaches theory and composition, jazz keyboard, and applied piano.

Simon Lott was born in Baton Rouge into a family of classical musicians. While growing up, he rejected his mother's wishes that he become a classical guitarist or cellist. (I think one look at him will tell you what he was destined to do.) At age 12, he began taking percussion lessons. At 15, he began performing professionally with various musicians around Baton Rouge and New Orleans, then started leading bands and performing his original compositions. In 2000, he released his self-produced and mysteriously titled disc "In the Parking Lott of Swing," which features many original compositions. 

Lott has performed with Charlie Hunter, Robert Walter, Skerik, and members of Galactic. After the Federal flood in 2005, he relocated to New York City. The hurricane and the relocation added many new experiences to his music, and he still spends time in New York while teaching drums part-time at the Univeristy of New Orleans and performing with various groups in New Orleans. His latest recording is "Simon Lott’s Things."

A sought-after and versatile jazz trumpeter in New Orleans, Ashlin Parker brings energy, bite, and zest to his performances by engaging in fine counterpoint duets and spirited trading with other horn players. His own ensemble, the Trumpet Mafia, is considered an immensely talented band. He is also a member of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Bill Summers' group Jazalsa, the Harold Battiste's Next Generation Big Band, and Vivaz! and has played or recorded with Roland Guerin, Ellis Marsalis, Herlin Riley, Kermit Ruffins, Nicholas Payton, Anthony Hamilton, Terence Blanchard, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Jason Marsalis.

Parker has a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies from Shenandoah University Conservatory in Virginia and a Master's degree of Music in Jazz Studies from the University of New Orleans. He has been teaching various aspects of jazz, including improvisation, theory, repertoire, arranging, and performance preparation in private lessons, courses, summer institutes, jazz camps, and master classes for more than ten years. In addition, he leads the jazz trumpet studio in the Music Department at the University of New Orleans.

Harris and his group play modern jazz but with a classic jazz sensibility. The original tunes have a coherence and energy that make them sound like jazz standards. They have catchy melodies, great solos and direction. The group plays with purpose, and you can see that while they are playing they take their music seriously. It was very good. Here's my video from this show. 


After a couple of tunes, Laurie headed back over to the Acura stage to see the New Orleans Suspects. I stayed to the end of this great show. I vowed last year to spend more time in the Jazz Tent, and groups like this one and Nicholas Payton are why. 

The New Orleans Suspects began playing together in 2009 as a pick-up band at the Maple Leaf Bar. It's comprised of some of the most seasoned and highly respected players in the city. "Mean" Willie Green was the drummer for the Neville Brothers for more than 30 years. Reggie Scanlan played bass in the Radiators for 33 years and also played in the bands of legends James Booker, Professor Longhair, and Earl King. C.R. Gruver is a classically trained pianist who later immersed himself in New Orleans piano styles. Adept at James Booker-style piano and the swelling B-3 stylings of Art Neville, Gruver also plays with Leo Nocentelli of the Meters. Jeff Watkins is an accomplished saxophone player who spent 12 years leading the James Brown Band. He also plays with Tony Hall and the New Orleans Soul Stars (see yesterday). Here are 1, 2and 3 brief looks at the scene at the Acura Stage today, and here is an entire concert from Fitzgerald's Night Club in Berwyn, Illinois, later this year. 

Laurie and I were going to meet at the Fais Do Do stage, but when the show in the Jazz Tent ended I had a half hour to spare, so I spent some time in each of the other two tents.

First up was Kim Che're in the Gospel Tent. Self-described as minister of the gospel, worshiper, psalmist, songwriter, liturgical dancer, and choreographer, this native New Yorker has made her home in New Orleans since the early 1990's. At a young age, she flourished in the areas of singing, dancing, and acting and studied at Newburgh Free Academy in New York and Fisk University in Nashville. She also studied nursing at Delgado Community College in New Orleans.

She is an announcer for KKNO, a Christian radio station in Marrero, and serves as Minister of Music of New Home Family Worship Center in Uptown New Orleans. She has been appearing at Jazz Fest every year since 2007.

"I'm a worshiper by blood, NOT by trade!" she says. "I was created to give Him all the glory!" Her music is worthy of more than the Gospel Tent. The band is tight, the backup singers rival any R&B act out there, and Kim's voice and stage presence are strong. The Gospel Tent never fails to provide great Jazz Fest moments. Here's my video from today's set.

Next, I hung out in the excellent new standing area in the back of the Blues Tent to catch some of John Mooney's set. Mooney was a great discovery with his band Bluesiana back in 2013 on Day 2, and you can read about them there. We also saw him as part of Marc Stone's blues show at the Little Gem on Friday evening. Mooney is an extraordinary slide guitarist, and his songs all have some real bite, partly thanks to his strong singing voice and style. Here's a video from today, with approximately the same view that I had, and an awesome run on the congas by the great Alfred "Uganda" Roberts. For some higer quality, here are extended takes on his great song Sacred Ground and Junco Partner which were part of that New Orleans Suspects show in Illinois linked above.

Laurie was waiting for me at the back of the Jazz and Heritage stage (whatever did people do at something like Jazz Fest before texting?). There, the legendary Bill Summers and his band Jazalsa were playing. Summers, of course, was an original member of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters and still plays with that revamped band today. Along with Irvin Mayfield, he leads Los Hombres Calientes. You'll see him with Donald Harrison Jr.'s band, with drummer Harvey Mason’s jazz all-star group, Chameleon, and Nigel Hall's band, too.

Throughout his 40-plus year career, Summers has worked with a who's who of jazz, always maintaining his passion for African music. You can hear that in Jazalsa. "It's very danceable though it has all the jazz elements," says Summers of the rhythms and repertoire of Jazalsa that also includes Latin influences.

"I get young, fresh guys who have a good attitude," Summers says of the ensemble. The hand-picked bandmembers include Cuban-born percussionist Alexy Marti, drummer Julian Addison, bassist Pat Casey, trumpeter Ashlyn Parker, and trombonist/vocalist Michael Watson.

Summers is a Detroit native relocated to New Orleans. He was raised in a home with a huge record collection. "We had so much jazz, R&B, and Caribbean music -— John Coltrane, Roland Kirk, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald -— infused into our lives," he said. The members of his family were all from Louisiana and all had a strong musical background. So it was natural that he and his brother, Darnell, developed an interest in music.

At ages five and six, respectively, Summers and his brother were enrolled into the now-defunct Detroit Conservatory of Music. "I always loved drums. So when they put us in the conservatory, I said I wanted to play drums," he saiys, but his father nixed the idea because the conservatory believed that it was best for them to focus on the piano in order to obtain a broad musical background.

"They were correct but I hated it," he admits of having to perform the works of Bach, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky. "I'm listening to jazz and R&B on the radio and I'm playing this shit, that’s how I felt."

One day, Summers bought the sheet music to the Ray Charles hit One Mint Julep and handed it to his piano instructor. "She looked at it, folded it in half and then in half again and said, 'When you finish learning the proper things, then you’ll have time for this other stuff.' That pissed me off." Summers credits the incident as having triggered his explorations into world music. "I asked myself, as an African-American, do I have my own Chopin and Tchaikovsky? Where’s my stuff at? Being a person who had been in a conservatory for five or six years, I knew how to study music. So I just took what I learned from that and applied it to learning more about the origins of jazz and R&B that took me directly to Africa. All the Cuban stuff, all the Haitian stuff, all the Brazilian stuff, all the Dominican stuff, all of it came from the slave trade and these people bringing this new culture to the Americas."

When he was 18, Summers, who was playing mostly saxophone and flute, won a daily double at a Detroit racetrack, earning him about $7,000. He quit high school and two days later left for California, eventually attending the University of California at Berkeley. He began playing a lot more percussion while still doubling on horn and was spotted by legendary record producer Orrin Keepnews. "It was Keepnews who realized I had something," Summers says. "He gave me my first high-profile recording jobs working with Credence Clearwater Revival and Jerry Garcia. Then he put me with people like Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Tony Williams, Patrice Rushen, and Ron Carter."

Summers went on to play and record with a wealth of greats and, of course, became a leader himself. On the educational front, he co-founded the New Urban Music Movement (NUMM), an organization that helps young players in pursuit of careers in music, and also the Klub Kid Project, which focuses on the recording and business side of the industry, at area high schools.

After a really cool but way too short time with Jazalsa, we danced over to Fais Do Do and the Savoy Family Cajun Band. The Savoys (pronounced sa-voi) are one talented family. Already on this trip we've encountered Ann Savoy as a member of the Magnolia Sisters on Friday, and brothers Wilson (seen in the Pine Leaf Boys on Day 11 in 2013) and Joel (that's Jo-el) (seen last year on Day 11 with John Fogerty) are Jazz Fest fixtures as well. The father, Marc Savoy, mostly sticks to the family band, although he and Ann sometimes team up with Michael Doucet of BeauSoleil as the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band

Marc and Ann Savoy's dedication to Cajun music are one of the primary keys to its survival, and the entire family plays a major role in its current revival. Marc Savoy is well known in Cajun country for his music store, where he hand-crafts Cajun accordions and also hosts a weekly jam session that is open to all. You can read more about the Savoy family in the report from Day 10 last year. Very unassuming behind the Savoys on the drums was Steve Riley, frontman of the Mamou Playboys, a group equally important to modern Cajun music. 

The Savoy family plays classic Cajun songs with a bit of a modern touch courtesy of Wilson's piano, and the large crowd at the Fais Do Do stage was thoroughly enjoying it. We hung out about midway back from the stage becuase the mud, while drying out and becoming packed down in a lot of places, was still pretty bad in front of the stage. Here's my video from this performance, and here are 1, 2, 3, and 4 from the Alabama Folk School from May of this year.

Laurie left during the Savoys' set to see the West African songstress Anjelique Kidjo over at the Congo Square stage. This talented singer, songwriter, and activist is noted for her diverse musical influences and creative music videos. Her music includes elements of Afropop, Caribbean zouk, Congolese rumba, jazz, gospel, and Latin music. She counts among her childhood idols Bella Bellow, James Brown, Hugh Masakela, Manu Dibango, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Osibisa, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Miriam Makeba, and Carlos Santana. That would just have to result in some interesting music. 

Kidjo was born in Cotonou, Benin, but now lives in the United States. Her father is from the Fon people of Ouidah and her mother from the Yoruba people. By the time she was six, Kidjo was performing with her mother's theatre troupe. She found widespread success as a teenager and toured all over West Africa. However, continuing political conflicts in Benin prevented her from being an independent artist in her own country and led her to relocate to Paris in 1983. There, she studied music at Le CIM (Centre of Information Musicales) and met and married musician and producer Jean Hebrail, whom she has composed most of her music. She has recorded numerous, diverse works and become an activist in support of many humanitarian causes in Africa.

Kidjo took the stage in a purple-and-pink patterned dress that reached past her knees in back, but was cut short in front, revealing trendy dark leggings. She began the set with a bright-colored head-wrap that came off within minutes, showing off her head of close-cropped pale-yellow hair. She dominated the stage and won over the crowd with her high-voltage dance moves and strong, vibrant vocals. Kidjo sang in various languages, but the message needed little translation for a crowd entranced by the band's deep percussion section and wowed by Kidjo's feverish bursts of dancing. Here is a video of her performance today.

I stayed to the end of the Savoys' set at Fais Do Do and then headed over to the Acura stage. There I kept my annual appointment with the Soul Queen of New Orleans, Miss Irma Thomas, who, at age 74, has never sounded better. 

I have mentioned here how New Orleans loves Irma, but not how Irma gives back to New Orleans, primarily through the Irma Thomas Center for Women in Search of Excellence at Delgado Community College. She can be found there on a regular basis giving motivational speeches and promoting the importance of an education. Her personal trials and tribulations as a student, a teenage mother and a businesswoman help young women today to see that no matter what their circumstances, they can be successful, even though it may take a number of years to achieve their goals.

Irma lost two homes and a business to the Federal flood. She shares her story to inspire, and she has been the direct reason for many women to enroll in college and become successful. She is a tireless promoter of New Orleans and the plight of its musicians and citizens since the storm. Her work in this area cannot be measured. 

There are not many artists I have seen every year at Jazz Fest, but Irma is one of them, and as I say every year, as long as she is there, I will be too. Here I am in the crowd in the photo on the left, between the trumpet and the mic stand. Irma's music is timeless, her delivery impeccable, and her appreciation for her fans immense. And she and her ten-man band, the Professionals, festooned with Irma Thomas t-shirts, have fun, too. At one point she apologized for looking at an iPad for lyrics. She explained that her repetoire just had too many songs and too many years had taken their toll. "You keep wakin' up and someday you'll know what I mean," she said. Here's the AXS-TV video of this performance, and here is mine


Meanwhile, after Angelique Kidjo ended, Laurie went back over to the Fais Do Do stage to see some of the performance by the great Béla Fleck joined by his wife Abigail Washburn.

Fleck is one of the great contemporary banjo practitioners. He's led the genre-defying Béla Fleck and the Flecktones for decades, and immersed himself in other projects such as the New Grass Revival. He's even composed a banjo concerto for the Nashville Symphony. Born in 1957 and raised in New York City, he was drawn to the banjo when he first heard Earl Scruggs play the theme song for the television show "The Beverly Hillbillies." He received his first banjo at age 15. He attended New York City's High School of Music and Art. After graduating, he traveled to Boston to play in the group Tasty Licks and began recording his progressive bluegrass compositions. He performed with the New Grass Revival from 1991 to 2000. He and Victor Wooten formed the jazz-rock-fusion band Béla Fleck and the Flecktones in 1988, and he continues to record and tour with that group along with solo performances and collaborations with such diverse artists as Jean-Luc Ponty, Dave Matthews, Ginger Baker, and Phish.

Washburn was born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1977, she spent her elementary and part of her junior high school years in a suburb of Washington, D.C.. She attended high school in Minnesota, then attended Colorado College, where she was the school's first East Asian studies major. She learned Chinese during the summers in intensive programs at Middlebury College in Vermont, has spent a lot of time teaching and performing in China, and has been deeply involved in humanitarian and cultural exchange projects with China.

Washburn's clear, strong singing voice has pronounced Appalachian accents, and she has a soft spot for old folk and protest songs. Looking to compose a new, relevant verse for a song written in the 1920s, she asked audience members for a line that would rhyme with "Jazz Fest." Suggestions included "muddy mess," "bird's nest" and "the best." In the end, she sang, "goin' down to Jazz Fest, hopin' mom doesn't go topless." When they revisited the Flecktones song New South Africa, Washburn substituted for the various Flecktones and Fleck was "just playing my usual stuff." No videos from Jazz Fest to be found, so here's an hour of these two accomplished musicians from the WoodSongs program.

After Irma's set I grabbed a pineapple and coconut smoothie from the stand of Gallo and Marks of Metairie. They also serve a strawberry smoothie and milk- or dark-chocolate dipped strawberries. Terry Marks and Joe Gallo are both native New Orleanians. Joe's family was raised in Independence, Louisiana, on their own strawberry farm (strawberries are a major crop in the state). Now, Terry and Joe own and operate GM Signs in Metairie as their primary business. They make the cool signs that identify the food vendors at Jazz Fest (you can see more of that operation on their Facebook page linked above). 

Gallo and Marks look forward every year to getting their concession trailer ready for the Jazz Fest. Joe's mother Frances and a host of Joe's aunts, uncles, and other relatives and friends work for many hours before and during Jazz Fest preparing the chocolate-dipped strawberries. At the Fest, Joe, Terry, their wives, and many friends and relatives work hauling ice, restocking supplies, making the smoothies, and serving customers. So many of the food vendors at Jazz Fest are family affairs, and you just love supporting them. This article from the Times-Picayune has some more stories and their recipe for the strawberry smoothie.

The smoothie was well done; it was thick, creamy and not too sweet. I enjoyed it while catching a few minutes of the Rebirth Brass Band (see Day 5 in 2012) at the Congo Square stage. Laurie had refreshed herself somewhere along the line, too, with a bourbon pecan gelato at La Divina's stand.

We again met at the back of the Fais Do Do stage and were back together for the duration. None of the headliners today (Jimmy Buffett, Pitbull, and Tony Bennett with Lady Gaga) really caught our fancy. If you are thinking about attending Jazz Fest, you may, like us, the first time you go, be lured in by the headliners. Once you are there, however, and discover the immense variety of music, you may end up, again like us, spending the last cubes in the more intimate company of a local psychedelic alt-rock band called Brass Bed, and then rocking out with a brass band like the Hot 8.

Brass Bed was at the Lagniappe stage, with a small but appreciative crowd. The setting made the music even more effective. This band made its debut in 2004, when its members were barely out of high school. For more than 10 years they have recorded, toured, and remained the reliable alternative rock presence in Lafaytte -- that's right, the capital of Cajun music. But this band features retro-tinged harmonies that work perfectly with fuzzed-out 90's-style guitars.

"Half the interviews we do, they'll ask, 'How has Cajun music influenced you?'"  guitarist Christiaan Mader says. "I don't think any of us really grew up into Cajun music," Mader says. "It would be hard to call it an influence. "But in Lafayette, as in New Orleans, there's an unusual balance of preservation and progression." 

While many young musicians carry the torch of their musical forebears, others have returned to their hometowns bursting with new ideas -- whether it's progressing those traditions or doing something else entirely. Other players in the band are Jonny Campos on bass and drummer Peter DeHart. 

"People who left Lafayette are coming back," Mader says, calling that city a culture center. "We're seeing that a lot at the kinds of restaurants opening up, bands, people doing multimedia stuff and thinking outside of what Lafayette used to consider the alternative to Cajun music and rock. It's becoming more nationally conscious, while retaining whatever local charm makes it so attractive. It's magnified by the fact that it's a small place. One or two people moving back from New York City who want to do something with the arts can make a ripple."

Lafayette's clubs book across musical genres. Blue Moon Saloon acts as the scene's sort-of nerve center, where Brass Bed and modern Cajun rockers Feufollet (who we'll see next Sunday) regularly perform together. "You can live around Cajun music and not really feel like you're a part of it -- which is not to say we feel separate from it either. The crossover comes mostly from the crowd. They like local Cajun bands and really like local independent music."

In middle school, Campos and DeHart assigned themselves guitar and drums, respectively, despite neither of them knowing how to play. DeHart owned drumsticks and a drum pad. They learned together and practiced in Campos' mother's office building, which he had a key to access on weekends. "That's what we did instead of going to high school parties," Campos says. There was a hiatus while the members went to college (Mader to Emory University, DeHart to Savannah College of Art and Design, and Campos to the University of New Orleans), although they did trade songs online and spent summer and winter breaks recording in Lafayette. After Katrina, Campos took online courses in order to spend a month writing and recording with Mader in Atlanta.

"After we graduated college we said, 'All right, this is what we're going to do,'" Campos says. The band's profile increased on the road and at home, where Brass Bed shared bills with contemporaries Feufollet. Those gigs resulted in a recording on which Feufollet covered Brass Bed songs, and Brass Bed covered Feufollet songs.  

"So much of Cajun music can be pretty formulaic, which I think is a good thing," Mader says. "It's what makes traditional music traditional. Feufollet as a Cajun band is very progressive. Some of those songs were relatively easy to adapt because they had a pop orientation. Other parts were more difficult because there was something distinctly Cajun about it. It was hard to imagine it another way. Aside from the basic difficulty of being a non-French speaker and singing in Cajun French, it was hard to do something true to the idea of the song and also fresh for us." And Mader counts Feufollet's country waltz cover of Brass Bed's If I Was a Farmer as the superior version.

The band has recently ditched its whimsical pop-rock and lyrics for bursts of feedback, heavy guitar hooks, and brooding keyboards with mature themes -- whether dead-end dreams, romance, or regret. "The definition of the band doesn't come from the genre of the band, it comes from the people in it," Mader says. This was really good music, yet another Jazz Fest hidden (very well hidden) gem. Here's my video. Here's one other that I could find from Jazz Fest and one, two, and three in-studio performances from various radio stations.


On the way to the last music of the day we grabbed some more food. For me, that was a BBQ brisket sandwich from Squeal BBQ of New Orleans, the only new food vendor at this year's Jazz Fest (the restaurant has since closed; don't know if they will be back at Jazz Fest or not). 

The sandwich proves that the bread matters on a barbecue sandwich. Squeal uses a hamburger bun from Dong Phuong bakery, which elevates the smoky beef with a crusty edge inside. Coleslaw adds extra moisture. Not the best BBQ sandwich I've ever had, but if you are in the mood, it will certainly do the trick.

Laurie had a seaweed and cucumber salad from the stand of local sushi restaurant Ninja. It's a cool, refreshing salad of seaweed and strips of cucumber that has a nice flavor of sesame oil.

Off to the Jazz and Heritage stage we went to end the day. For more than 20 years, the Hot 8 has been one of the most popular and visible funk-style brass bands in New Orleans. 

The band was formed in 1996 when sousaphone player Bennie Pete merged some members of the High Steppers Brass Band into his Looney Tunes Brass Band to form the Hot 8. Most of the players in the Hot 8 grew up together, attended the former Alcée Fortier High School together, and maintain strong, family-like bonds. Most of them were born between 1975 and 1987, and grew up hearing mainly modern-style brass bands in community functions. 

The core group of 8 sometimes grows to 10 for soome performances, including three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, bass drum, and snare drum, with only one reed player, which is common with the younger bands. Also like most of the younger bands, the Hot 8’s funk style is a blend of influences from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Rebirth Brass Band, with more elements of contemporary R&B, rap, and its local variation bounce. Below the intricate ensemble parts and screaming trumpet solos lies a thick, muddy, rhythmic pocket. The low end is more P-Funk than Hey-Pocky-Way. 

Since the Dirty Dozen, the sousaphone has had a more prominent role in brass bands as a feature and solo instrument; it frequently sets up and maintains short rhythmic (often melodic) grooves that dominate and propel most songs in the band. The uniqueness of the Hot 8 sound is mainly due to a steady stream of creative original songs and ideas composed or introduced by various band members. 

The Hot 8 are Bennie "Big Peter" Pete (band leader, tuba), Terrell "Burger" Batiste (trumpet), Harry "Swamp Thang" Cook (bass drum), Edward Jackson (trombone), Samuel "Lil Sammy" Cyrus (snare drum), Raymond "Dr. Rackle" Williams (trumpet), Gregory Veals (trombone), John Gilbert (saxophone).

In the years since the national spotlight found them featured prominently in Spike Lee’s HBO documentary When the Levees Broke, the Hot 8 has been a convenient metaphor for the post-Katrina city: in the face of unthinkably difficult circumstances, the band has persevered and endured. That much is undeniable. A year after the Hot 8 formed, in 1996, trumpet player Jacob Johnson was murdered in a home invasion. He was 17 years old. In 2004, trombonist Demond Dorsey died of a heart attack at the age of 28. That same year, trombonist Joseph "Shotgun Joe" Williams was shot dead by NOPD officers who said he was using the pickup he was driving as a weapon against their police cruiser. He was 22.

A year later, the Federal flood devastated New Orleans. In April 2006, on a trip to Atlanta to visit family who had relocated after the storm, trumpeter Terrell "Burger" Batiste got out of his car to fix a flat tire, was hit by a car, and lost both his legs. Fortunately, he returned to the band in a wheelchair in 2007 and he now has prosthetic legs.

When school started in August 2006, Hot 8 snare drummer Dinerral Shavers began working as a substitute high-school French teacher. By the end of the fall semester, he had started a marching band at his school and become its director, fulfilling a longtime dream. On December 28, Shavers was killed in his car in a turf war-related shooting whose target, police speculated, was Shavers' 15-year-old stepson. Dinerral Shavers was 25.

The Hot 8 have been singled out for their music and their story, but they are not uniquely visited by tragedy, nor are they victims of some kind of anomalous bad luck. It needs to be said that where their community is concerned, they are sadly normal, and the matter-of-fact tone with which they all describe their friends' deaths indicates that reality. They point out that other bands lose members to early deaths as well. Brass band musicians are, for the most part, African-American men, and in New Orleans, like in much of urban America, that is its own hazard. The band members all know it. Their increased touring schedule and time away from New Orleans is, at least in part, a form of protection.

"It's a thin line," Pete says, "Between the youngsters that you see in the news for murder or who get killed, and the youngsters that you see performing. They ain't too different; it's just that some of them learned a few tunes." Harry Cook says the slow groove that sets the Hot 8 apart is an expression of their collective sorrow. "It was what we were going through as human beings," he says. "It was the hurt. And we put all that in our music. Just like a lot of people out there, we come from the same place they come from, and we all hurting."

The Hot 8 has turned music, which they identify as their most effective tool, to the task of helping its city. The band became and remains active in the Silence Is Violence organization that grew up out of the violent winter of 2006-07, dedicated to helping citizens and public officials work to make the city safer. They also worked with Save Our Brass, which supported and supplied Katrina-displaced brass bands and brass musicians with funding and, initially at least, with instruments to replace the ones they lost. On the road, the Finding Our Folk Tour put them in front of displaced New Orleans audiences in an effort to reunite communities of what the organization calls the Gulf Coast diaspora.

Music and music education, Pete says, are crucial to the social reform he imagines. Traveling and performing in schools across the nation, he’s seen the resources that other school-age musicians have at their disposal, and he knows they’re missing from music classrooms in the birthplace of jazz. Together with Dr. Michael White, the Hot 8 performs in workshops designed to teach young New Orleans musicians about the city’s jazz tradition, and they incorporate his lessons about music theory, history and the traditional roles of the brass band instruments into their approach to the repertoire, from traditional music to their own compositions and the contemporary songs they cover. Their refined approach and their connection to White opened doors at jazz venues and festivals all over the globe.

The Hot 8 speak admiringly of White, but Harry Cook singles out Elijah Brimmer, their high school band director at Fortier (the link is too a great interview with him). "I'm blessed to say that I had guidance," Cook says. "Our whole band. And some guys, like some of the newcomers or whatever, if they don’t have no guidance, we going to guide them. Because it's a family, musicians." Here's a video where they tell their story in their own words.

The Hot 8's story is another one that that needs to be heard. It wasn't meant to end the day on a downer because their set was joyous, as is any set by any brass band, whether at Jazz Fest or in front of the cathedral on Jackson Square. It was actually a great way to end the first weekend, and you are going to love my video shot from behind a little girl on her father's shoulders, rocking to the Hot 8, as were we all!

After an efficient shuttle bus ride back downtown (we got in line before the headliners ended their sets, so we zipped through the line), we walked back to the Staybridge on a warm, breezy Gulf Coast evening. We regrouped, rinsed off the day's mud, and decided to take it easy tonight. That meant a quick walk of a few blocks up Tchoupitoulas Street to Lucy's, our favorite bar hangout, which we discovered on the recommendation of our Airport Shuttle driver way back in 2012. 

Lucy's is a neighborhood bar with a great menu of SoCal-style Mexican food with some NOLA touches. There were Abitas to be consumed, of course. I had the smoked mahi mahi tacos with avocado crema and chipotle slaw. Served with rice and beans, natch. It's not the first time I've had this dish because it's definitely the best fish taco I've ever had. 

Laurie had a veggie sandwich with roasted portabella mushrooms, red and green peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, and onions, topped with Swiss cheese and pecan pesto on sourdough bread with spring mix. It was served with black beans and corn salad. She liked that, too.

Thus ends the first weekend. Let the Daze Between begin!

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© Jeff Mangold 2012