Day 8 / Thursday, April 30

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On a glorious Gulf Coast morning, it was back to the 2015 drill: get up ... get ready ... slather on sunblock ... gather tickets, cameras, and phones, but not our blue and white umbrella and used poncho-type pieces of plastic ... the weather forecast was just too good to bother with them. We hit the Staybridge lobby to grab a coffee and a bit of food, just enough to get us through the trip to Jazz Fest, where we would get some real good food. Once again, mission accomplished.

Officially, the high temperature today was 81; as we went over to the shuttles at the Sheraton, it was in the low 70's. Humidity was low all day, meaning there was never a heat index, and the breeze was light. There was not a cloud in the sky. This day was simply perfect. If, however, there could be a downside to any day down here with direct sun, it is that the direct sun can make it feel mighty hot. But that's a small price to pay!

In many respects the Thursday of Jazz Fest is the best day. It most definitely has the smallest crowds of any of the days, and it's also known as "locals day" because many of the people coming in from out of town don't arrive until the weekend. So, the majority of the folks at the Fest today are in fact locals, many of them part of school groups. It has a completely different, much more mellow vibe than the Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

When we arrived we had plenty of time for food. We had determined that today's cubes were going to take us to each of the two main stages to start the day, so we went to that area near the center of the infield where Food Area II and the Congo Square food area meet in the center of the infield, equidistant between Gentilly and Acura. 

Laurie veered off to the right, to the stand of Gambian Foods (see Day 10 in 2013). Both of us have ejoyed thier stuffed pitas, veggie for her and steak for me. Today she had their spicy grilled vegetables and tofu over couscous with peanut sauce. 

Tejan Jallow and Charlie Mendy of Gambian Foods are in their 20th year at Jazz Fest. They replaced the grilled veggie pita with this new vegetarian dish last year. Its a good-sized bowl of tofu, flecked with peppers, and yellow squash over couscous and warm cabbage surrounded by a ladle-full of orange peanut sauce. The mild heat on the tofu and in the peanut sauce is just enough to give the dish flavor. It's subtle, but the kind of thing that satisfies on a hot day. And unlike many items at Jazz Fest, you could finish every bite and still feel virtuous enough to justify something else afterwards!

I went to the part of Food Area II that turns a corner and ends at the Crawfish Monica booth. I was actually thinking of Crawfish Monica when I noticed a booth with a smiling lady sitting at the counter right next door. It was Creole's stuffed bread, a dish that was high on my list of "food I still haven't tried" going into last year's Jazz Fest. Unfortunately, the folks that make it took last year off.

It's one of the best and most underrated foods at Jazzfest. The stuffed bread is made by Mrs. Merline Herbert of the Creole Lunch House in Lafayette, Louisiana. It's a savory little bun stuffed with meat, sausage, cheese, and peppers (and lots of seasonings) and then baked. The bread is incredibly good, as is the filling. It's not a huge portion, so it's perfect for breakfast!

Merline has ben making stuffed bread for more than 30 years at Jazz Fest and at her lunch house, where she also serves up plate lunches.

"I enjoy cooking," Herbert says, "and being the oldest girl in my family, I did a lot of cooking with my mom. And my mother-in-law was a very good cook, and I wanted to be as good — and a little better than her — so my husband would be happy with me."

Before she started cooking for a living, she was an educator for 22 years, retiring as a principal. She opened the Creole Lunch House in 1983, serving lunch every weekday. "No weekends and no dinner," she says. "I'm a teacher. I only work during the day, and I don’t work on weekends, and I'm closed for holidays."

At first, Merline had a hard time selling run-of-the-mill sandwiches. Then she decided to try a familiar recipe she served up for her own family — stuffed bread. The original beef, sausage, cheese, and spices, is still the most popular. There are two others — one with Italian sausage, pepperoni, and mozzarella cheese (also served at Jazz Fest) and another with crawfish étouffée and rice.

In 1986, Creole's opened a processing plant to make and sell the stuffed breads wholesale, and you can find them throughout Acadiana, even through mail order

I have read that Creole's plate lunches are awesome, too. These include chicken fricassee, red beans and sausage, and pork chops. Some days you can also get smothered liver and stuffed baked chicken with rice and gravy. There's no salt and pepper on the tables, just hot sauce.

Merline says, "We're just enjoying what we're doing and developing it as we go. We've never really set serious high goals, so we don't get stressed out about it all. This is a second career. We've always enjoyed it, and as opportunities come up, if we feel like we want to do it, we try it. If not, we just pass it up."

Here's an article and video from the Times-Picayune showing Merline's great personality and also how to insert her husband's awesome jalapeno sauce into the stuffed bread.

After the food, Laurie went one way, to the Acura Stage to see a funk-laden alternative band called TAUK, from Oyster Bay, New York. We had seen them in D.C. at the Hamilton and really liked their mashup of funk, fusion, hip hop, prog rock, ambient, jazz, and plain old rock. The members are Matt Jalbert on guitar, Charlie Dolan on bass, Alric "A.C." Carter on keyboards and organ, and Isaac Teel on drums. 

TAUK creates plays long tension-and-release jams in thier tunes, and it's obvious why they were chosen to open the Acura Stage on a day that ended with a performance by Widespread Panic. Their music is both cerebral and joyous, with soaring guitar, creative drumming, wonderful keyboard fills and melodic bass lines. Laurie spent the whole hour with this up-and-coming band. Right here's a complete concert from a club in Florida if you'd like to hear them.

I just had to get a dose of Louisiana music to start my second weekend, so I headed over to the Gentilly stage to see Joe Hall and the Louisiana Cane Cutters. We started out our last day at Jazz Fest last year with this great modern Creole band, so you can read all about them there. Hall is one of the few young accordion players who can play authentic Creole La La music like the wonderful Goldman Thibodeaux (Cedric Watson is another, and he's up next). 

Recently, Hall discussed his style of music, starting with the difference between Cajun and Creole: "Cajun is more technical music; they're technicians on the accordion. The Cajun player concentrates on making key changes in different keys. A lot of those cats can play just fiddle and acoustic guitar with the accordion." Hall's Creole and zydeco influences pull him a different direction: "With that music we get more and more syncopation. Sometimes you can hear the Creole guys playing in the same key the whole time. Sometimes you'd think it's the same song! That's because Creole's just really more about the rhythm." Although he labels himself a Creole musician, Hall says, "I never discriminated about whether the music was Cajun or Creole; I just wanted to learn all of it." 

       

Despite his old-school leanings, Hall also strives to stand out. "What makes my music different is my music has only Louisiana influence. I like modern music, unless it takes away from the tradition – then I tend to have a problem with it. It just don’t feel right!"

Hall's music was perfect for the warm late morning. He and the Cane Cutters, Zack Fusilier on fiddle, Mark Stoltz on scrubboard, Nico Guiang on guitar, Mike Bell on bass, and Jock Randall on drums, really enjoy what they do, you can tell. 

At one point Hall just got this look of total happiness on his face and said, "Raise your hand if you think the accordion and fiddle sound great together!" That was just a cool moment. You also have to love Stoltz moving back and forth and side to side with the scrubboard with his great smile. Fusilier had a small band of young women who were totally into him, and he took a lot of ribbing from the rest of the band over that! 

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that the Cane Cutters reach across the spectrum of modern Louisiana cultures, with Cajun, Creole, African-American and Vietnamese all represented. But no matter what their roots, they are certainly doing the Creole music justice. Here's my video, and here's a bunch of tunes from his album "Thirty Dobb Special" that he posted on his YouTube page.


After this show ended, I walked the short distance over to the Fais Do Do stage, where the aforementioned Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole were beginning their performance. 

We've seen this band at Fais Do Do before, on Day 3 in 2013 and Day 4 last year, and you can read more about them on those pages. This year, Watson, Desiree Champagne (scrubboard), and Kyle Gambino (sax) were joined by Ian Guidroz (bass) and Aaron Boudreaux (drums), and a guitarist who remains a mystery.  

The sound Watson and his band lay down is positively infectious. If you think accordion sounds great with a fiddle, you should hear Watson's with Gambino's saxophone. It is incredible. Watson's music is true to his Creole roots, but also draws on African, Caribbean, and Native American music as well. Island rhythms were noticeable in today's set. 

This band has definitely become much more comfortable with one another over the three years I've been seeing them, and Watson was having a great time today. He introduced the old folk song Bo Weevil by saying, "This is one of those 1800's pop chart hits." 

I would have loved to stay for this entire performance but after 15 minutes I had to slip out to the track and walk down to the Congo Square stage, where I met Laurie for what is turning out to be our annual appointment with Shamarr Allen and the Underdawgs.

By this time what would become known to everyone in New Orleans, but particularly those at Jazz Fest as simply "the skywriter" had appeared. His skywriting would be seen in the skies above the city for the entire long weekend, offering messages such as "love," "hope," "relax," and "surrender," and symbols like hearts, peace signs, and smiley faces. It was a great gesture by somebody who just wanted to make people feel good. How very cool. On the left you can see some of his work above Shamarr at Congo Square. 

We first encountered the dynamic Shamarr Allen in 2012 when he was a guest in Galactic's tremedous set on Day 5. We made it a point to catch an entire performance at squishy Congo Square on Day 8 in 2013 and were completely hooked by his genre-shattering music. There was a much drier encounter last year on Day 2. We've also seen him on other stages with other performers, and he plays a huge role as on-stage emcee during the all-out brass extravaganzas of the Midnite Disturbers (see Day 4 in 2013 and Day 10 last year).

By now Shamarr and the Underdawgs (Matt Clark on guitar, William Terry on bass, Floyd Gray on drums, Jason Butler on keyboards, and Herbert Stevens on percussion and trombone) have quite a repetoire, and they brought out all of our favorite songs, like Can You Feel It, Typical Rock Star, Party All Night, and My Girlfriend Don't Have Enough Sex with Me. (You can hear these and a whole lot more on Shamarr's music page on his website.)

During Weekend Dance, Shamarr insists that everyone do their own weekend dance, and then proceeds to call out people in the crowd who aren't dancing, shaming them into doing a weekend dance for everybody. In this video, it's his father who gets called out. He was pretty much right next to us on the fringes of the crowd, so in the video you can get a pretty good look at us at Jazz Fest. 

Another guy that he called out did such a ridiculous dance that Shamarr taught everyone in the crowd how to do it, named it the Jazz Fest dance, and changed the song on the fly. It caught on so well that it even reappeared at the Midnite Disturbers set later in the week. That's the kind of fun you have at one of Shamarr's shows. They're completely unpredictable! 

Shamarr's "uncle" Paul Sanchez made an appearance to sing the chorus during Sex with Me and, as last year, Shamarr brought out his group of elementary and middle school music students, including his son, to do a couple of songs. The man just has too much fun leading these kids; it's a joy to watch both the students and the teacher.

You can find much more information about Shamarr and read his story, which is one of great determination and care for his community in the face of trmendous obstacles, on the blog pages referenced above. 

Here is my video from Jazz Fest, and here is a video of the students' entire performance, including at least the third version of the Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars hit Uptown Funk that we've heard on this trip. And here's a complete performance from this year, at the Carnaval on the Mile Jazz and Art Festival in Coral Gables, Florida.


After Shamarr and the Underdawgs were done, we went to the back of the Congo Square stage to grab another bite to eat before the afternoon got too cranked up. 

Laurie stuck with the Congo Square food and got the Caribbean fish platter with steamed vegetables (cabbage, carrots, and squash) and rice from Palmer's Jamaican Cuisine. Cecil Palmer, the chef who runs the booth, previously operated Palmer's Restaurant in Mid-City New Orleans and in the years after the flood was chef at Café Negril on Frenchmen Street. There, while reggae music was pulsing up front, Palmer would cook dishes like curried goat, Caribbean roasted pork, duck, oxtails, Bahamian chowder, and vegetarian plates. Now he concentrates on catering.

I stayed in the same locale as this morning as well, and went to the booth just next door to Creole's to get a fish taco from Taqueria Corona. This is actually considered one of the healthier meals at Jazz Fest, but you'd never know it. The soft flour tortilla is stuffed with two pieces of seasoned, batter-fried fish filet (I believe it's tilapia), and some red cabbage, onion, and a spicy tartar sauce. I mean, look at that thing! It really was quite good.

We decided that next we would head over to the Jazz Tent to have a spot of early afternoon jazz led by another bass player, Pat Casey. His band, the New Sound, were Julian Addison on drums, Ashlin Parker on trumpet (another guy that seems to be everywhere), Brad Walker on saxophone, Danny Abel on guitar, Steven Gordon on keyboards, and a real surprise, the legendary Bill Summers on percussion. By the time we got there, Jason Butler from Shamarr Allen's band was playing keyboards.

Unlike Peter Harris last week (Day 3), Casey plays electric bass, and while both groups played post-bop, this was definitely more free-form and modern with a lot more beat, which shouldn't be surprising given the electric bass and the presence of Bill Summers. It definitely had more of a New Orleans vibe.

Originally from Denver, Pat Casey arrived in New Orleans in February 2008 and quickly assimilated himself into the local music scene. He has become a respected and prominent bassist, performing with luminaries like Summers and Chris Thomas King in addition to his regular gig leading the New Sound. He and that group host an energetic set every Sunday night at the Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Sreet. He has traveled around the world with various groups, and when he does he likes to pick up fresh ideas, leaving his sound one that incorporates funk, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, jazz, and gospel. His music is insightful and captivating, and his creative energy is palpable.

My plan to hear more jazz at Jazz Fest is really paying off. This was very, very good. Here's and extended clip from the Jazz Fest performance, taken before we got there, and here are my excerpts. Here is an extended clip from one of the weekly sessions at the Spotted Cat. This one has Khris Royal, who plays a lot with the New Sound but not this day at Jazz Fest. He's a guy we've seen with a number of bands and is really good in any number of styles.


We weren't exactly sure where we were heading next, but the Acura stage was a possibility. The walkway that skirts the inside edge of the field at Acura wasn't too crowded, so we walked along that to listen to a bit of The Word, a jam band led by the outstanding pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph and including John Medeski on keyboards and all three members of the North Mississippi Allstars: Luther Dickinson (guitar), Cody Dickinson (drums), and Chris Chew (bass guitar). 


I know this band is really good (here's 20 minutes from AXS-TV to prove it), and a lot of people were really looking forward to this performance, but it didn't get to us, so we moved on. I'm a huge fan of Robert Randolph and the Family Band, who play more of a gospel blues than this, and I think that's the reason why. I felt like I would rather hold out for a performance by that band for a first taste of Randolph live. Like this. And if this moves you, there is a ton more on the archive.org site.

So then, what? Well, since we were heading in that direction, and it was the next closest stage, we stopped at Congo Square to hear Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience. This was a great choice. Simien is a fantastic entertainer, and his band is outstanding. Today it was augmented by Shamarr Allen on trumpet and Craig Klein of Bonerama on trombone.  

Simien was born in 1965 into one of the first Creole families documented to have settled in the Mallet area of St. Landry Parish in Louisiana. He is a "Creole of color," a term that reflects the diversity of southern Louisiana and eastern Texas. These are people who descend primarily from a combination of African or Afro-Caribbean and French or Spanish. They are a distinct community from the Cajuns of the region, who are descended from settlers who came from the Canadian region known as Acadia. Each group speaks a different dialect of French. (There are also Creoles in New Orleans. Those of color share a similar heritage with the Creoles of color outside the city; those who are not are the upper-class or self-perceived upper-class descendants of French and Spanish settlers of the area.). 

In Simien's words: "I'm 8th generation Creole. My father's first language was French. My grandfather on my mother's side, Ethel René, was a European immigrant from France and my mom always referred to him as a "Frenchman." The Simiens are traced to the coastal region of France and were shipbuilders by trade.

His father was a bricklayer and his mother a homemaker who sang in the local Catholic church choir. Simien ascribes his singing talent to his mother. When he was around 10 years old, he was introduced to music on a piano in his home and in school band programs, where he played trumpet. His junior high school band director taught him how to read music. 

Simien: "I thought I could sing at 10, too. Life was simple in the 70's. Even more simple in rural southwestern Louisiana. We had only a few choices when it came to entertainment and arts enrichment. We had the radio, a few music programs on TV, "Soul Train," "American Bandstand," you get the idea. And we had our records. In the middle school and high school band programs I really got serious with the trumpet. Enter the accordion ..."

As a youth, Simien was turned on to the music of Clifton Chenier, the first "King" of Zydeco, but it was also others like John Delafose, Rockin’ Sidney, Queen Ida, and Stanley "Buckwheat Zydeco" Dural who influenced him. 

"When I was 14, my parents bought me my first accordion. I would record the zydeco shows on the radio, take the tape in my room and practice until I learned the material. I picked some guys from the community to be my band, whoever was available at the time and just started playing local dances at the church halls. I graduated into the regional church hall and zydeco club circuit of Louisiana and Texas." 

He called his first band the Mallet Playboys (there's that name again). "I signed with a national booking agency in 1985. I started playing during a time when there were only two young, emerging teenaged bands performing this traditional music. Me and the Sam Brothers. There was at least a 25-year or greater age difference between us and the pioneers like Delafose and Clifton Chenier, who was 40 years older. We introduced a new sound and sensibility to the genre that was not really being embraced by the younger generation at the time. Most of my friends thought zydeco was the music of their parents and grandparents, and they were listening to the popular music of the time. I was, too, but I was also turned on by zydeco."

Their first major performance was at the World's Fair in 1984. "I couldn't believe the response and the applause we got from those audiences. At home in the rural church halls and zydeco clubs, it wasn't common for audiences to applaud for the performers. When I experienced this for the first time, I knew this was the way I wanted it to be for my band at every performance. This was a pivotal point that really inspired me to export this music as far as I could take it." 

Simien has been playing his own brand of zydeco music ever since, and has traveled all around the country and the world. He and his wife, Cynthia, are active in Creole music education and advocacy. They created the Creole for Kidz and the History of Zydeco performing arts program, which provides informational performances to K-12 students, teachers, and parents (click on the pic at the right to see the study guide, which is very interesting even if you aren't a student). Since it was created in 2001, Creole for Kidz has reached a half-million students in more than 20 states and as far away as Australia. "We just like to teach the kids about the music and the culture, connect them with a part of their country, give them a little bit of American history they might not have heard about," says Terrence. The Simiens also founded MusicMatters, a non-profit for music education and advocacy.

Simien wears a rather unusual hat off and on throughout his shows. When asked about it, he says, "It's a traditional Fulani hat that I bought on tour in Mali with Carnegie Hall's Global Encounters. Most of the Africans who came to Louisiana were from Mali and Senegal. I wear it to celebrate my African heritage. The Fulani hat is a vibrant testament to the lives and culture of sub-Saharan Africa. It is not only worn as protection from the harsh rays of the sun, but also as a symbol of wealth and status. During festivals Fulani men will wear these hats as way to attract women. Made from leather and fiber, each hat is embellished with cowrie shells and other typical Fulani adornments and each is still hand-made by the people of Mali."

You just can't help but be captivated by Siemien's grin underneath that hat. The hat goes on and off, but the smile stays put for the whole show, which features traditional Louisiana tunes and pop makeovers done zydeco style. Among the songs were Zydeco Boogaloo (with a hint of the Jackson Five’s I Want You Back), Uncle Bud, Ma Chère Catin, Jolie Blonde, Iko Iko (to a Bo Diddley beat), and bits of Les Haricots Sont Pas Salé and Cornbread

Some zydeco purist chide Simien for going off-campus into pop. But that's what zydeco has always been about. As "Saturday night music," it's always been self-taught musicians making their favorite tunes their own, whether it's gospel, Cajun, Creole, soul, rock and roll, reggae, country, or funk.

So Simien also does War’s Cisco Kid, Peter Tosh’s Stop That Train, Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry, Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come, a surprisingly funky version of Stephen Stills' Love the One You're With, and the Band's The Weight. All zydeco. The energetic star, when he's not singing in his soulful voice, roams around the stage, often with his accordion dangling, egging on the crowd to respond to his band and guests. It's just a great show, and we stayed for a lot longer than we expected, all the way to the end. 


The Zydeco Experience are bassist Stan Chambers, keyboard man Danny Williams (Simien’s sidekick for 20 years), guitarist Eric Johanson, saxophone and scrubboard player Josh Lazo, and drummer Oreun Joubert.

Here's my video of Simien and his band at Jazz Fest (they are doing The Weight with solos by Shamarr and Craig Klein), and here are the two shows they did at the Simi Valley Cajun and Blues Festival this year (Day 1 here and Day 2 here). 

We were heading for the La Divina stand for an afternoon snack as we passed the Fais Do Do stage and were pulled in by Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. I've seen this band a number of times, both at the Wolf Trap Swamp Romp and at Jazz Fest (see Day 4 in 2013). They are a Cajun band, but reject typecasting. They're Cajun, no doubt about that. But while groups like BeauSoleil and the Savoy Family have led the revival to keep Cajun tradition alive, younger groups like this have taken it into the new century by adding a zydeco beat. Riley used to play Cajun-Creole music at Mamou High School pep rallies with Geno Delafose and a few of the Ardoin boys, so this isn't surprising. 

Today Riley had on stage with him members of the young Cajun group Sweet Cecilia to help with backing harmonies on racing fiddle duets and squeezebox stomps like Pointe aux Chenes. The sun was shining, the two-steppers were dancing, and Fais Do Do was back to normal after last weekend's muddy mess, no doubt about it. We didn't stay long, but thoroughly enjoyed every minute we were there.

We put off the snack once again to go back over to Congo Square, where Cyril Neville was playing. In our years of Jazz Festing, we have never seen the Neville Brothers perform together (which probably won't be happening anymore), nor seen any of the individual brothers do a solo set. We've seen Art and Cyril take part in other sets, most notably those of Dumpstaphunk (see Day 11 last year) and the Funky Meters (see Day 5 in 2012 and Day 9 in 2013), so catching this was an unplanned treat.

Largely inspired by the outlandish and brazen character of his uncle, the late Big Chief Jolly of the Wild Tchoupitoulas, Cyril Neville represents the true, gritty character of New Orleans in all its multihued splendor. Through addiction and militancy on to fortitude and activism, his life traces a struggle for clarity and justice.

He is the youngest of the four Neville Brothers, born in 1948 in New Orleans. He picked up his love of music from his parents and his older brothers at an early age, and in 1967 he began singing professionally with brothers Art and Aaron in the group Art Neville and the Neville Sounds. They played local clubs until producer Allen Toussaint and his business partner Marshall Sehorn hired them, minus Charles and Aaron, to be the house rhythm section for their Sansu Enterprises in 1968. As such, they backed Lee Dorsey, Chris Kenner, Earl King, Betty Harris, and Toussaint himself on stage and in the studio in the late 1960's and early 1970's.

Cyril and Aaron eventually formed another group, called Soul Machine, shortly thereafter. In 1970 he released a solo single, Gossip, which included backing music by Art's new band, the Meters. Soul Machine relocated to Nashville, then New York, but both moves failed to help put the group over the top. It just so happened at this time that the Meters were looking to expand their lineup and asked Cyril to join in on vocals and congas. He contributed to such albums as 1972's "Cabbage Alley" and 1975's "Fire on the Bayou."

Just as the Meters splintered in 1976, all four Neville siblings formed the Neville Brothers group. Cyril became enraptured with reggae music, and in addition to his work with the Neville Brothers, formed other bands over the years, including the Endangered Species and the Uptown Allstars. He also launched his own record label, Endangered Species. He also has issued several excellent solo albums on his own over the years. 

More recently he has joined up with Tab Benoit in the Voice of the Wetlands Allstars (see Day 3 in 2013) to bring awareness of Louisiana's rapid loss of wetlands along the Gulf Coast. In 2010, he joined and toured with Galactic, and in 2012 he joined forces with Devon Allman, Mike Zito, Charlie Wooton, and Yonrico Scott to form Royal Southern Brotherhood, a blues-rock supergroup. He also founded the New Orleans Musicians Organized (NOMO), which helps musicians who need business advice with their careers.

Cyril is the original singer of Fire on the Bayou, and that alone secures his place in the annals of New Orleans music. However, he's not so sure he wants that. Since the Federal flood ravaged his city, Neville has been the most outspoken of New Orleans musicians, serving as a lightning rod for those affected negatively by post-Katrina politics. He caught endless flak for wearing a T-shirt that announced "Ethnic Cleansing in New Orleans" onstage at a Madison Square Garden benefit a month after the disaster. 

It's not easy to put stuff like this in what is essentially a summary of good times, but it is part of the reality in New Orleans and needs to be out there.

"What happened during Katrina was not an evacuation as much as a roundup and a forced displacement," insists Neville. "It was the height of arrogance, greed, conceit, and disdain for a people who you think are less human than you. As that wind blew through New Orleans and that forced migration took place, that was the end, or at least a lot of people want it to be the end, of African-American political power in New Orleans."

"The carving of New Orleans wards for political and economic gain is something that goes back at least to the 1940's," says Neville. "At one point, Claiborne Avenue was one of the richest African-American thoroughfares in the United States. So they put the Claiborne overpass through it. There were two rows of oak trees where you could walk in the rain and not get wet on Claiborne Avenue. People picnicked there, people had birthday parties, christening parties. Every carnival, that's where the Mardi Gras Indians would make a straight shoot from uptown all the way downtown and back. Naturally, they tore down all the trees, put an overpass through there, and killed that entrepreneurial area of the city."

Cyril takes issue with those who equate the survival of the French Quarter as signifying the eventual resurrection of the city. His own diverse musical endeavors paint a more accurate picture of New Orleans as a center of Creole culture. Historians concede that the city is the birthplace of jazz by way of pioneers including Jelly Roll Morton and Buddy Bolden, but that's just the beginning. Allen Toussaint, Dave Bartholomew, and Fats Domino were central figures in the birth of rock and roll and modern R&B, and that's barely scratching the surface. From 1945 to 1970, places like the Dew Drop Inn in Uptown hosted a rich roux of blues, gospel, R&B, and funk played for locals ... not tourists.

"The music that people come to New Orleans to hear wasn't nurtured in the French Quarter. It was nurtured in the Ninth Ward and places that you would call the ghetto. But it was our ghetto, so we were cool with it. In fact, Irma Thomas recently made a comment that I'm glad she made because if I said it everyone would be jumping down my throat. She said, 'New Orleans didn't make us, we made New Orleans.' That's truly the way I feel.

"Leading up to the hurricane, I was already in the frame of mind that the New Orleans that I loved and grew up in was already gone. I've tried to take my kids to see the places that I used to play. Well, they're gone. The majority of them are slabs on the ground. Or all that's left is a building that's all boarded up. So to me, the New Orleans that I knew disappeared around the time that the Dew Drop finally closed."

"The quality of life for the majority of the people in New Orleans was in shambles," says Neville. "We were all one or two checks from the poor house. I was living ghetto fabulous because I was living in Gentilly. My front door was on Arts Street. My back door was on Music Street. I had a pool in the yard and a basketball court for my kids, and all the rest of the kids in the neighborhood were always hanging out at our house. Some of the best rappers in the city, my son being one of them, hung out. One of the things I miss more than anything else is those kids.

"As far as the youth are concerned, when I was coming up I could pinpoint exactly who my leaders were. Kids nowadays don't have that. Well they do, but not in the same sense as when we had Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks.

So you see, Cyril Neville does not hesitate to bridge the gap between art and politics. As he does, hestands tall. 

His music is fascinating, too, incorporating his love of reggae rhythms into the second-line tunes of his beloved uncle Big Chief Jolly. His show slides in and out of different musical genres and eras with ease, reflecting his role as a great blues historian. He's come to terms with the reality of New Orleans and is restoring his home in Gentilly, slowly but surely. We hope he's back for good soon. He belongs there.

Cyril's wife Gaynelle and daughter Lyrica sing backup vocals in his band, and his son Omari plays the percussion that his father played in the Neville Brothers. Nick Daniels of Dumpstaphunk was playing bass, Cranston Clements guitar, Norman Caesar keyboards, and "Mean" Willie Greene drums. Others were on stage as well, including someone playing a very cool electronic reed instrument. Here is my video of this very good show, and here's another. There's so many bands that I could link to here, but I'm going to stick with the reggae-inspired second line style that we saw today, so here are parts 1, 2, and 3 of a performance at the Louisiana Music Factory to get some more of it in depth. 

We had a lot of fun at Congo Square this afternoon, and we hadn't really planned on that at all. That's what makes Jazz Fest such a great event.

The delayed snack at the La Divina booth finally happened. Laurie had a strawberry balsamic sorbetto, while I had a handmade ice cream sandwich. We've come to expect really great treats from these people, and these were definitely in that category. 

While we were eating in the shade of the oak trees behind La Divina's stand, we had yet another close encounter with Allen Toussaint, who is always a presence at Jazz Fest. He never tries to go incognito, and is always obliging of people who recognize him and want to talk or take photos. And by the way, he may be the only person on Earth who can make sandals with socks look stylish.

Next up was some brass at the Jazz and Heritage stage, provided by the New Orleans Nightcrawlers. This is a brass band like no other. It began in 1994 as a writer’s workshop founded by pianist Tom McDermott, sousaphonist Matt Perrine, and trumpeter Kevin Clark. "We really just wanted to practice writing and arranging for a more modern, harmonically complex jazz band," recalls Clark. But after 17 years, they continue to take people like us into brass band nirvana. 

Everybody in the band works in other outfits, such as the Dukes of Dixieland and Dr. John's band. Plus, as sidemen in other projects, the list of musicians they’ve individually supported is staggering. Their combined resumes include: Harry Connick Jr., Clint Black, Galactic, the Neville Brothers, George Porter Jr., the Band, the Radiators, Gatemouth Brown, and Aretha Franklin ... among many, many others. This keeps them from performing and recording together a lot, but when they do they bring something new to the New Orleans brass band scene with their very sophisticated harmonics and arrangements that infuse dixieland and traditional brass band music with R&B and funk. They play originals, transformed standards, and new tunes contributed by fellow rising young composers

"Everyone in the band is a bandleader," says Clark. "So when we first started playing out in our 20's, we were admittedly all jockeying to be out front. But now we're all older, each established in our own ways and no one is trying to flex. We all realize that the music is what’s most important. It's a lot looser and more fun now."

"We were always about the writing mainly, and have remained very prolific with new material," says Clark. "Most of the other brass bands will play the top 40 Dixieland tunes, but we always try to stay modern and innovative, so we’ll serve as sort of a diversion."

In the Nightcrawlers today were the seemingly ever-present Craig Klein on trombone. His primary gig is with Bonerama, but this was at least the third time I've seen him this year at Jazz Fest playing with other people. "I like playing with the Nightcrawlers," he says enthusiastically. "All of those musicians can really play all kinds of stuff. Every time we play together we finish and look at each other and go, 'Wow, we need to do this more often.'"

Jason Mingledorff played tenor and baritone saxophone. We saw him in on Day 9 in 2013 with Papa Grows Funk, and true to that band's name, he lays down some of the funkiest sax around. Since moving there in 1995, he's become one of the most versatile and in-demand saxophonists in New Orleans. He's also played with Galactic and bluesman Mem Shannon. In 2006, he began teaching saxophone studies at Loyola University and soon became the conductor of the Jazz Workshop Band.

Brent Rose, on tenor saxophone, is known for playing all over New Orleans —- brass band, jazz, Latin, R&B, and big band. After a four year stint traveling with the U.S. Marine Corps Band, he studied Jazz Performance at the University of New Orleans under the tutelage of Ed Petersen and Ellis Marsalis. His musical career has included stints with Galactic and the New World Funk Ensemble along with the Nightcrawlers.

On trumpet, Barney Floyd has been a professional musician since 1981. His credits include touring with circus troupes to Tony Award-winning Broadway shows to the tribute bands of the great big band leaders. Since moving to New Orleans in 1990, he has hooked up with some of the area's top singers and musicians, and he is an original member of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Irvin Mayfield. He earned his degree in music from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.

We have seen Matt Perrine with his sousaphone in the Tin Men (Day 3 in 2014) and the Midnite Disturbers (Day 4 in 2013 and Day 10 in 2014). Called a "virtuoso sousaphone player" by Downbeat Magazine, he has been seen at nearly every major jazz festival in the United States and Europe and has lent his unique musical voice to some of New Orleans more high-profile and visionary local musical projects: most recently Bonerama, John Ellis and Double Wide, Ray Anderson’s Pocket Brass Band, the Panorama Jazz Band, the Fatien Ensemble, Magentic Ear, Neslort, and Debbie Davis and the Mesmerizers

Matt is also an accomplished composer and arranger. His original compositions were featured on the HBO series, "Tremé," NPR’s "The Reading Life," and the HBO/TBS broadcast of Comic Relief in 2006. He is also the musical director, orchestrator, and arranger for "Nine Lives: A Musical Witness of New Orleans."

Matt has taught at the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Camp, the New Orleans Traditional Jazz Camp, and New Orleans Jazz Celebration (Music in our Schools). He is an adjunct faculty member of the University of New Orleans Jazz Studies Program.

Kerry "Fatman" Hunter plays the snare drum and Tanio Hingle the bass drum. "Brass band drummers need to be like a team," says Klein. "Tanio and Fatman -- it’s like Abbot and Costello, Laurel and Hardy. They’re like Frick and Frack. They’re the fire in the hole. See, those guys, they know all the trad stuff and, of course, they know all the funk stuff. So you can go anywhere with those two." Both Hunter and Hingle are members of the New Birth Brass Band.

Smiley Ricks on percussion and the seemingly ever-present Ashlin Parker on trumpet joined in the fun today. Ricks is Big Chief of the Comanche Hunters tribe of Mardi Gras Indians and has made a recording of Mardi Gras Indian chants.

This show was just great, and we stayed for quite a bit of it. Here is my video and here's another, both from Jazz Fest, and here's a playlist of their "Live at the Old Point" album.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat before going our separate ways one more time. Laurie had the veggie muffuletta sandwich made by DiMartino’s Famous Muffulettas of Gretna, Louisiana. She's had this before (see Day 3 in 2014). The thick, sesame seed sandwich roll is stuffed with Swiss cheese and covered in an olive salad with red peppers, yellow peppers, mushrooms, green olives, spices, and olive oil. Flavor explodes from the olive salad, and it's so good that there are no condiments required.

I had the positively incredible yakiniku (Japanese beef) po' boy from the Ninja Japanes Restaurant of New Orleans. I had this last year as well, on Day 8Yakiniku refers broadly to dishes containing grilled meat. The beef in Ninja's po-boy tastes similar to what you've had cooked live by chefs on teppanyaki or hibachi grills at Japanese steakhouses: strip-cut, tender and splotched with a thin, salty sauce caramelized by the grill. The beef is marinated in sake and mirin prior to cooking. The Ninja folks discovered how terrific this meat is pressed into airy-crumb French bread with a squirt of mayo, a bit of mozzarella cheese, and sticks of vinegary (but not pickled) carrots and zucchini. It's dressed with a chunky, sambal-like hot sauce. I'm not kidding, this is a cultural mashup that just astounds.

We split up again because Laurie wanted to catch some of the show by Widespread Panic at the Acura stage, a place I generally try to avoid at the end of any day. We saw this band in 2013 at Wolf Trap, and it appears that they appear at Jazz Fest fairly regularly. They are good, but I have determined that I prefer listening to jam bands as opposed to seeing them live. That shouldn't be a surprise, as jam bands have often been described as the classical music of rock. Here's about an hour of this show if you want to experience what Laurie was enjoying. Toward the end of the show they brought out a couple of Mardi Gras Indians, whose chants fit right into their beat, as well as a couple of members of The Word. It's no wonder Jazz Fest keeps bringing them back; they get New Orleans, for sure.


I went over to the Jazz Tent, where Monty Alexander and the Harlem-Kingston Express were doing it a bit differently. Versatility is one thing. Fusion of disparate, distinctive parts is another, especially with two musical genres as diverse and seemingly mismatched as jazz and reggae. It will come as no surprise that the two meet here, in this this cultural mashup of a city.

Born in and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Monty took his first piano lessons at age six, although he is largely self-taught. As a teenager, he witnessed concerts by Louis Armstrong and Nat "King" Cole at Kingston's Carib Theater. These artists had a profound effect on his musical aspirations. He formed Monty and the Cyclones in the late 1950's and also recorded on sessions with the musicians who would catapult Jamaican music to international recognition as the Skatalites (Bob Marley's first backing band).

The one radio station for music in Kingston back then played a diverse juxtaposition of sounds: classical music alongside American pop, jazz, and R&B. Alexander was particularly interested in the music of Armstrong and the R&B coming out of New Orleans courtesy of artists like Professor Longhair, Huey "Piano" Smith, and Clarence "Frogman" Henry. But the lack of separation between genres on the radio offered exposure to a much wider range of ideas. Things eventually changed after "music business people" as he puts it "separated the idioms."

Monty recalls, "When I heard music as a kid, it was just one wonderful world of song and rhythm. So, maybe that's how I navigate between the places."

The places in question are Kingston and Harlem. Alexander explains that New Orleans represents not only a physical "center point" between his two musical home bases, but also a figurative one. It gave birth to the jazz in which Alexander has been steeped professionally for 50 years, while early New Orleans R&B contributed to the development of ska and reggae in Jamaica.

"I was very young when I began listening to the swinging kind of jazz, the kind that makes you want to tap your foot to," he says. "My heroes of jazz music were about that. It was about a release and revelation and celebration."

Alexander and his family came to the United States at the end of 1961, when he was 17. Less than two years later, while playing in Las Vegas with Art Mooney's orchestra, he caught the eye of New York City club owner Jilly Rizzo and his friend, Frank Sinatra. Rizzo hired the young pianist to work in his club, Jilly's, where he accompanied Sinatra and others. There he met Modern Jazz Quartet vibraphonist Milt Jackson, who hired him and eventually introduced him to former Charlie Parker collaborator and legendary bassist Ray Brown. Alexander recorded and performed with the two jazz giants on many occasions. The greatest luminaries of jazz welcomed Alexander to their musical fraternity in the mid-1960's. Among these early enthusiasts for his playing were none other than Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Miles Davis.

As a devotee of Armstrong and Nat King Cole who also recorded with Jamaican music luminaries like Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, Alexander’s elegant approach to melody and deep rhythmic mastery attracted these jazz greats. He pairs lush yet open jazz arrangements of material by Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, and Marvin Gaye with originals that combine billowing harmonics with the energetic drive of swing-based motifs with plenty of groove.

"I like to say that kind of music makes the lower part of your body wanna move," says Alexander, who frequently into Latin rhythms as well. "Harlem is a destination. But my roots are total Jamaican," he concludes. "I play my life."

What Alexander has done with the Harlem-Kingston Express is group is to unite two distinctive but hard to meld genres into a cohesive, powerful whole. The balancing act between jazz and reggae is nothing short of brilliant.

He basically brings with him two bands, all on stage surrounding him. His "Harlem" band features a traditional jazz rhythm section, and his "Kingston" band features a reggae rhythm section. Representing Harlem are drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. and acoustic basisst Hassan Shakur. Kingston is represented by drummer Karl Wright (whose kit includes bongos, a timbale and huge crash and ride cymbals), electric bassist Joshua Thomas, electric skank guitarist Andy Bassford, and hand drummer, a long-time colleague, Robert "Bobby T" Thomas. At the center of it all is Alexander on the piano, swinging between jazz and reggae, and then meeting both in between.


     

"It was a while before I said, 'If I want to do this music and be free to pick from the whole palette -- everything from my own piece to Duke Ellington to Bob Marley -- then I need to bring two rhythm sections together,'" explained Alexander. "That way, it all can be available to me, whatever I feel, the whole time. Because I feel American and I feel Jamaican, and the rhythms that come from the street and the country in America are just as meaningful to me as the vibrations that come from Jamaica."

Alexander begins playing a tune with one band, switching to the other group mid-song. Or he might play with one or the other exclusively, or he might play with everyone at the same time. The end result is a set of deeply groovy tunes that work so well together that it would be pointless to determine out what's jazz and what's reggae. The straight-ahead jazz numbers swing like mad, and the reggae group has the deeply rhythmic groove of percussion and bass that reggae requires. All eyes are on the incredibly imaginative Alexander, the common thread that holds the group together, and all of them just enjoy the whole thing tremendously. There are no musical score sheets, no set list, no notes, just a bunch of skilled bandmates feeding off of each other and their pure enjoyment of making music with one another.

Here's my video of this outstanding show, and here's another view where you can hear Monty's introductions. For a more extended listen, here's an entire show from this year, which you really should take the time to hear. It is incredible music. 

After this Jazz Fest highlight we met at the Fais Do Do stage to unwind with some funky Tex Mex from the Iguanas. We have seen these guys twice before, on Day 2 in 2012 and at the Rock 'n' Bowl in 2013 (Day 3), so you can read more about them there. It's just outrageously good music played by a group of real pros that have been doing it for a long time. 

The set was laid-back and loose, with shaggy, Tex-Mex beach rock and grinding boogie and low-slung groove. Rod Hodges laid down grungy licks on his electric guitar and Joe Cabral did squawky sax solos and occasional accordion. Drummer Doug Garrison and bassist Rene Coman anchored the band's slick, hip Latin-inflected rock n'roll. Here's the scene at Jazz Fest and here's some more from the Louisiana Music Factory, just for good measure.

Another day of wonderfully diverse music at Jazz Fest came to an end the way it started, under a cloudless sky with the setting sun reflecting in the glass on the front of the grandstand. We hopped aboard a shuttle easily on this not-so-crowded day, and go back to the Staybridge in time to grab a snack and before heading out for more music.

Said music was to be found at the House of Blues. We were pretty early, so we staked out our favorite spot in the concert hall at this venue, that being along the balcony railing facing the stage. Easy access to the upstairs bar and restrooms and not too crowded. Reserved-seat rich people are at tables in front, but they are down a couple of steps so you can see over them.

On stage tonight was Kermit Ruffins' Big Easy Trumpet Battle Royale. This show featured Kermit and four of his trumpet-playing friends, first doing a long jam with solos together, and then each of them playing their own tunes, going around the circuit three times. As you might expect, Kermit was a laid-back, paaaarrrrtyinnn' master of ceremonies, and the entire affair was backed by Kermit's band, the Barbecue Swingers. The stage was set up like a speakeasy, with several high bar-style tables off to the side for the musicians to hang out at when not playing. It was all very cool.

So, who were Kermit's trumpet-playing friends? First, Leroy Jones, a New Orleans native who is known to music lovers as the "keeper of the flame" for traditional New Orleans jazz. To music critics, he is known as one of the top musicians ever produced by New Orleans. He is leader of the Leroy Jones Quintet, whose mission, says Jones, is to expose audiences everywhere to the authentic music of New Orleans, the music of Louis Armstrong, Buddy Bolden, Danny Barker, and all the other greats who have helped create the rich gumbo that is the sound of New Orleans, while putting our own more modern stamp on it."

Jones has been described as a blend of Louis Armstrong and bebop virtuoso Clifford Brown, has been a critical figure in the history of New Orleans music. He was leader, at age 12, of the seminal Fairview Baptist Church Band, a brass band whose alumni include some of the best known musicians in New Orleans. That band is widely credited with restoring interest in the brass band tradition of New Orleans. Today, in fact, New Orleans has more brass bands performing than at any time in the city's history – an achievement that can be traced back directly to the Fairview Band and its successor, the Leroy Jones Hurricane Brass Brand. Jones is also a regular at Preservation Hall in New Orleans, where he is a member of the Jazz Masters, and a featured performer with Harry Connick Jr. 

Next up, Travis "Trumpet Black" HillHe's the grandson of the great Jessie "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" Hill and a member of the musical Andrews family. He played some of his earliest trumpet dates as a round-faced little boy alongside equally young, now-famous cousins Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and Glen David Andrews. He played for tips with Tuba Fats in Jackson Square and gigged with the Lil' Rascals and Hot 8 brass bands. He received his nickname from another cousin, James Andrews.

We saw Hill on Day 9 in 2013 as a member of Corey Henry's Tremé Funktet, although we didn't know it at the time. Hw also fronts his own band, Trumpet Black and the Heart Attacks. Both bands just tear it up weekly at Vaughan's Lounge in the Tremé, Hill's band taking over the gig when Henry is playing with Galactic.

He was a member of the New Birth brass band when he was much younger, and still plays with them today. He says, "You ask me the truth, I'll tell you no lie, I'll be a New Birth member 'til the day I die. They showed me the way when I was just a young trumpet player trying to get it together. Those guys were always there to support me. Whatever they do, I’m down for it."

In turn, Hill has been mentoring the youngsters in the New Breed Brass Band, which was established in 2013 and is led by his cousin, James Andrews' son, drummer Jenard Andrews. He is working hard to make up for lost time. Some "bad decisions" landed the talented teenager and award-winning musician in jail for eight-plus years on an armed-robbery plea. But since his release in 2011, he has been back on track, major on the scene and blowing strong, as evidenced tonight. Hill is an unbelievably dynamic trumpet player, especiallay with the high notes. It was hard in this "battle royale" for anybody to follow him.

"I’d like everyone to have a lot of patience with me," says Hill who plans to release an album sometime this year. "I’m working very hard to try to keep this thing going."

Now comes the hard part. Within days of this show, Travis Hill was gone, passed away on a trip to Japan. On Saturday, he posted photos on his Facebook page showing himself onstage in Tokyo. "I love Japan," he wrote. "It's my home outside of New Orleans." But late Sunday night, friends heard that Hill had gone to a Japanese hospital with trouble swallowing and a fever, stemming from an abscess in a tooth he’d had capped in New Orleans earlier that week. The infection reached his heart and stopped it.

Hill was 28. He was in Japan on his own, playing with Japanese jazz musicians instead of his usual New Orleans band. It was a trip he had anticipated for months because he’d gone there the previous year and had a great time. After the gig at the House of Blues, he went to Vaughan's to play with the Funktet, and friends remembered he had complained of tooth pain there. He flew out early Friday morning for Japan. 

Simply tragic.

Wendell Brunious always had the tough job of following Travis, but he was up to the task in his own way. Regarded as one of the most influential entertainers ever to come out of New Orleans, his remarkable playing style has influenced countless other musicians. 

He comes from a family deeply rooted in New Orleans music. His father John Brunious Sr. also played trumpet, as well as piano, and arranged for Billy Eckstein and Cab Calloway among many others. His uncle, Willie Santiago, was one of the first guitar players ever recorded and worked with the legendary Buddy Bolden. 

Brunious was born in 1954, and it should come as no surprise that he grew up playing trumpet and singing. He made his first recording when he was nine years old. He was a member and leader of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band for more than 23 years and has also been a member of the Olympia Brass Band, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and the backing bands of Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry, and Harry Connick Jr.

Wendell's brother, John Brunious Jr., was another notable New Orleans jazz trumpeter and his predecessor as leader of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. His nephew is Mark Braud, his successor as leader of that storied group. John Jr.'s obituary explains this remarkable family's history better than I can.

James Andrews we know from last Sunday and Day 1 in 2013, and Kermit, well, we've seen him around and about so many times that it's hard to keep track of. In addition to last Thursday at the Jazz in the Park concert, there was Jazz Fest (Day 5 in 2012), Mid-City Lanes (the Rock 'n' Bowl) (Day 3 in 2013), last year's Jazz in the Park Concert as well (on Day 1). Props to the "house band," the Barbecue Swingers as well: Kevin Morris on bass, Derrick Freeman on drums, and Yoshitaka "Z2" Tsuji on the piano.

This was just a great evening's entertainment. The picture below gives a feel for our view and the scene.

Afterward we made a beeline to Daisy Duke's for some late night (actually early morning) food. The place was pretty crowded when we got there, but they opened up an auxiliary room which we ended up having to ourselves. Which was weird. 

Laurie had scrambled eggs with grits and wheat toast (and of course the small fruit cup), while I had a fried oyster po' boy. Daisy's po' boys are fully dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and onions. Mayo and mustard are served on the side. But the heck with all that, I just wanted the oysters.

A very late night to lead into the weekend, but what a fabulous day it was!  


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© Jeff Mangold 2012