Day 1 / Thursday, April 21

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This is the report on trip number five, and the fourth time doing all seven days of Jazz Fest plus the three Daze Between. 

This year it was different, though, because through a fluke of the Jewish Calendar, the first weekend of Jazz Fest shared dates with Passover. Laurie opted to stay home and celebrate the holiday with family and friends. After much agonizing I decided to take my Gentile self to New Orleans, and Laurie would join me on Tuesday. 

Then, the entire week before the trip I battled the flu, one of the worst I have ever come down with, which made preparing for the trip -- and the election that would take place the day after returning -- all the more difficult. That said, our previous experience with New Orleans and Jazz Fest makes preparing for the trip a whole lot easier. 

You can check out the complete photo record of this trip on the New Orleans 2016 page of this website, including separate pages with the embedded videos from Vimeo. Taking photos and videos at Jazz Fest has taken on a life of its own, I fear, and there is nothing I can do to stop it. This does benefit you, the reader; my obsessive photo- and videography is my problem to deal with! 

With that introduction, here we go again. 

On Day 1, Thursday, April 21, I got a ride to Dulles Airport early in the morning from ... Laurie! That just wasn't right. 

I endured airport security, got a turkey sausage and egg sandwich and coffee to take onto the plane, and checked my carry-on bag at the gate. And once again the 8:30 nonstop to New Orleans on United Airlines, worked out just fine. We took off right on time and landed at the Louis Armstrong International Airport a full 30 minutes ahead of schedule. That's quite the feat considering that it's only a two and a half hour flight.

The flight took the usual route down to the Gulf Coast at Mobile, Alabama, continuing along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and over Lake Ponchartrain. We traveled the entire length of the lake, affording a great view of the city and the white-topped tents and stages of Jazz Fest in front of the buildings of the business district and the Superdome. We swung around and approached the airport from the west. 

At the airport I checked in with Laurie back home, then grabbed the now-traditional post-flight snack at the Smoothie King in the United concourse. This year it was a Mangofest smoothie, featuring pineapple, mango, and orange juices with vanilla yogurt. 

As usual, I took the Airport Shuttle to get to the hotel. It's fun to go downtown with other people who have just arrived for Jazz Fest. The conversations are great. I was one of the first passengers dropped off, meaning that, from beginning to end, this trip could not have been easier. Having a lot of experience with it definitely helps reduce the stress, too.  

The only potential problem with all of this earlier than usual travel was that I arrived a full four hours ahead of check-in time at the Staybridge Suites (at the by-now famous corner, to us anyway, of Poydras and Tchoupitoulas). However, this being the fourth year at this hotel, I knew that they would gladly store my stuff in a locked room next to the front desk. 

That said, I had a couple of important errands to run, and given that I left Dulles in 49 degrees and arrived to a lovely, very sunny 80 degrees in New Orleans, it would definitely be nice to be able to change into something more weather appropriate.  Much to my surprise, the woman at the front desk, who I recognized immediately, also recognized me: "You've been here before, haven't you?" 

I told her yes, this was the fourth year in a row now. So, for that reason (maybe) she worked some magic and got me into a rooom right away, on the 12th floor, no less, in a secluded corner of that floor, with a great view of the Mississippi River, the Crescent City Connection bridge, and the cruise ships when they were in the port. By the way, she also noticed that Laurie was missing, and was pleased to hear that she would be there eventually. 

 

I took a bit of time to settle in to the really spacious studio suite. The way this one was laid out you could almost consider it a one bedroom. Very nice. I took a brief rest, but soon had to move on, heading into the French Quarter to pick up my "Brass Pass" at the studios of WWOZ over at the French Market.

A Brass Pass? That's something new, you say. Well, yes it is. At least for me. WWOZ, as we know, is the local listener-supported radio station (which I stream all the time in my car and in the office and a lot at home by way of WWOZ.org -- and you should, too). They sell the Brass Pass as a fundraiser. It gives you admission to all seven days of Jazz Fest. The extra money you pay goes to support the radio station as opposed to putting money into TicketMaster's pockets. 

The Brass Pass also gets you into the WWOZ Hospitality Tent at the Fair Grounds. The tent features free fresh fruit, iced coffee, and clean portable toilets (not as important to me as to Laurie, who could accompany me into the tent as a guest). It also came in handy for reasons we will see later in the trip. Also, should you want to leave the Fest for awhile, the Brass Pass grants you readmission, which a ticket does not. And finally, which is pretty cool once you are doing it, the Brass Pass enables you to skip the line at the entrance to Jazz Fest and walk right in along with all the other big shots.

As I walked into the WWOZ studios, I was greeted by a friendly woman who asked if I was here for a Brass Pass. I recognized her voice immediately as that of Maryse Déjean, who hosts the Monday afternoon edition of Jazz from the French Market on the air. We chatted a bit on the way up the elevator to the second floor and I found her to be as warm in person as the voice I hear on the radio every week. 

There was a bit of a line waiting for Brass Passes, so of course I got out my phone and started looking at stuff. It was then that I discovered that the great artist Prince had passed away, an event that shook the music world and had a profound effect on this year's Jazz Fest. Prince to me was one those artists who was never the first one you thought of when you wrmstrong ere considering great songwriters, or great performers, or great guitarists. However, whenever you experienced one of his performances, you would think, oh yeah, he is one of the greatest in all of these areas.   

He will come up as the days of this trip go on, but my tribute to Prince will be in the form of two videos: the first from the Super Bowl in 2007 (in the pouring rain), and the second is from a tribute to George Harrison at the 2004 Rock Hall of Fame ceremony where Prince just absolutely smokes a guitar solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps ... and then just throws his guitar up in the air and walks off.

Picking up the pass was easy, and so, with Brass Pass in hand (actually buttoned up in a pocket), it was time for some lunch. I had been thinking about a couple of places in the French Market itself, but there are times, like mid-day, when the market can be just full of people from bus tours and the like. The French Market really is pretty eclectic, and the food vendors are quite good, if overpriced (see bus tours above). However, I was not in the mood for tourists. Plus, the remnants of the flu were beginning to remind me that maybe I didn't want to walk any further, but rather head back toward the hotel. And that's what I did.


I was thinking maybe Mother's, an old standby across the street from the hotel, but a short distance down North Peters Street, just past the Joan of Arc statue where it meets Decatur Street, I saw the sign for Central Grocery, home of the original mufuletta. That looked like lunch. In 2013 I tried to get one of these classic sandwiches, but it was later in the afternoon, and they were out. It was disappointing, but at least it showed that they are made fresh every day.

Central Grocery is a third-generation, old-fashioned grocery store, founded in 1906 by Salvatore Lupo, a Sicilian immigrantI'd hazard a guess that not much has changed since 1906. The store has wooden floors and bare fluorescent lights on the high ceiling. The narrow aisles are lined with shelves filled with imported pastas, sauces, olive oils, and other goods. There are some tables in the back for community eating.  

Salvatore Lupo created the muffuletta. The bread is what makes it. It is a large, round, and somewhat flattened loaf with a sturdy texture, around 10 inches across. The bread is very light; the outside is crispy and the inside is soft. It has no additional seasonings baked into it, aside from the sesame seeds on top. It's like a round French bread, but the crust isn't quite as crucnchy.

Central Grocery's original muffuletta sandwich consists of a the bread, which is split. The top is slathered with layers of marinated olive salad. The oil soaks into the bread. Thus, it probably is not a sandwich to eat if you are dressed up. The inside consists of mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, and provolone. And lots of it. Central Grocery's version of the sandwich is not heated.

The signature olive salad consists of olives diced with the celery, cauliflower and carrot found in a jar of giardiniera, seasoned with oregano and garlic, covered in olive oil, and allowed to combine for at least 24 hours. It's oily, and a tad salty, but oh so good.

The line for Muffuletta wasn't too long, and it moved quickly. You can buy a half or a whole. I opted for the half because a whole would be enough to feed four easily. I also got an Abita Amber and a go-cup so I could enjoy my sandwich and beverage in Jackson Square in the warm sunshine.

In the square, things were a different this year because the front of the Cabildo, the old building that houses part of the Louisiana State Museum, was being repaired and painted so it was shrouded in scaffolding, which affected both the space in front of the building and the picturesque view.

Nonetheless, the same group of traditional New Orleans jazz musicians was still on station, providing some great music. The music was mellow, the sunshine warm, and the sandwich delicious. However, as I ate, a very large group of what looked like high-school students passed by on their way to I don't know where. They left the square to pass in front of the Cabildo and stopped at the encouragement of the musicians, who really cranked it up to engage them in singing and dancing ... and of course tipping. The kids were having a great time, the musicians were having a great time, and I was having a great time, because it was just great to be back in the New Orleans.

I had to keep moving, though, as I had more errands to run. First I went to the Sheraton New Orleans for shuttle bus tickets. Sheraton is a major sponsor of Jazz Fest, and they use an empty storefront in their building at the corner of Canal Street and Camp Street to sell Jazz Fest and shuttle tickets. 

Buying the tickets for the Gray Line's Jazz Fest Express was quick and easy, and once again I saved money because there was no TicketMaster service charge. So ... remember if you are ever going to do the entire Jazz Fest experience, you can save more than $150 in fees if you do the Brass Pass or get all of your tickets at the Sheraton.

I then headed up Canal Street to the CVS to get some items that I didn't feel like trying to pack in the carry-on, plus some snacks for the room, and then to one of the many Canal Street tourist-type establishments, this one called "The Everything Shoppe," for some, ahem, beverages for the room. This store is is the Sanlin Building, otherwise known as the watchband building. It was built in 1953, and it has been said that the facade of the building resembles an old-style expandable watchband that is stretched to reveal the gold-like links that run up and down the structure, with the blue Sanlin logo in the middle resembling the time piece.


As I left the convenience store it was starting to rain just a bit, not enough to soak, but enough to be a bother, so I was glad that it was just a few blocks over Tchoupitoulas Street to the Staybridge. By this time it was after 3 p.m. and the early flight and all the walking around and the leftovers from the flu were taking their toll. 

I had a short rest, allowing the atmosphere to squeeze out all of the moisture it had to relieve itself of, and then headed back into the French Quarter, stopping at the PJ's Coffee shop on Canal Street for an iced coffee. My destination was the now-traditional Thursday evening Jazz in the Park concert at Armstrong Park, which is sponsored by People United for Armstrong Park, the organization whose goal is a continued revitalization of that great park in the Tremé neighborhood and restoration of the Municipal Auditorium in it. 

It was still raining, just a bit, as I walked over to the park, and I was worried that the concert might be cancelled. However, by the time I arrived at the park the rain had stopped and the sun was working its way through the clouds and was beginning to dry the pavement. 

Jazz in the Park is where we (or, sadly this year, I) go to get our first music of the trip. It features two local music acts. Food and craft vendors are there, as well, and if you get there early enough, as I did today, a brass band leads a second line from the stage at the back of the Municipal Auditorium out to Rampart Street and then around and about the park, ending at the statue of Louis Armstrong. It's all free (although you should throw a couple of dollars into a barrel on your way in), and it's a great way to get back into the Jazz Fest groove. Here's their Week 2 recap video. These videos are very cool.

This evening's second line was led by the All for One Brass BandThis energetic group was formed in February 2003 by a group of students from Warren Easton Senior High School. As is the case with many young musicians in New Orleans, they found a passion for music at an early age and formed a band because it was the best way to stay off of the mean streets of the city. The school had many ties to the music community in New Orleans, and its band director, Michael Torregano, asked  student Keanon Battiste to put together a brass band to perform at a senior center across the street from the school. The band then began to perform alongside the Warren Easton marching band at various functions in the city in addition to school events. The All for One Brass Band was on its way. 

Together, the band joined the Tipitina's Internship Program, led by Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and Jon Batiste, among other great New Orleans musicians. That gave them the opportunity to play at numerous paid events, starting them on their music business career path. In 2004, they got to travel abroad to Finland and Germany, and they have opened shows for artists such as Angie Stone, Macy Gray, Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison, and Alicia Keys.

Then, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina stopped their momentum cold. Everyone in the band lost their homes and all their instruments. They were displaced all over the state of Texas. They could get together for events here and there but never officially got back together until 2013. Now they are back to playing in New Orleans and trying to reestablish themselves in hopes of getting back on the road.

Here's hoping they do. They're very good, and following them around Armstrong Park was a lot of fun. The band members are Keanon Battiste on trombone; Corey Hosey on saxophone; Terrence Foster, Louis Brown, and Jeremy Haynes on trumpet; Brandon Ewelll on tuba; and Phillip Armand, Brandon Blouin, Kenon Hudson, and Mark Cunningham on drums and percussion. 

Here's 10 minutes of their second line at Armstrong Park a couple of weeks later on a drier, brighter day. Here's my video from today. 

Next it was time for the Armstrong Park stage to fire up. First to play was a band I had not experienced before and had only been hearing about on WWOZ for a short time: King James and the Special Men. These guys play full-throttle rockin' R&B, they type of music that was popular in New Orleans during the late 1940's and early 1950's.

King James, real name Jimmy Horn, was born in Utah of all places, and came to New Orleans by way of Seattle in the early 1990's. Those places are not exactly where you'd expect to find the roots of the leader of a band that got its start playing gritty New Orleans R&B in a tumble-down Ninth Ward bar. Horn's history, though, ranks with that of any traditional bluesman.

He was raised on a farm, with sheep and cows, pigs, chickens, and horses. "We got indoor plumbing with a toilet and all that in 1984. I was 10 years old when I got to shit indoors", he said. He began playing guitar at age 4, because he loved Kiss. His father, though, had a great collection of 45-rpm recordings that sparked an interest in R&B, in particular Little Richard's Tutti Frutti and Wild Thing by the Troggs. His father also gave him a copy of the Jimi Hendrix "Band of Gypsies" album and some Led Zeppelin featuring the guitar of Jimmy Page. 

In high school, though, he learned the saxophone, because a guitar doesn't fit into a marching band or school music program. After high school, he moved over to Seattle, got a job at a food cooperative, and got very bored. After a year, he and a friend decided to leave, and off they went in a car that had a blown gasket. Fortunately for all of us, the car got them as far as New Orleans before it gave up the ghost.

Horn says: "We left Seattle in a Chevy Citation with a blown head gasket. It died at Dauphine and Marigny Streets. It was in front of the house where Washboard Lisa (you must see this) and Jeremy Lyons (and a lot of other street musicians) lived. I would take showers in the house, but I slept in that car for two months. Then I moved in to an apartment in St. Roch, and I haven't left the neighborhood yet."

He started hanging around the vinyl shop Rock 'n' Roll Collectibles (now defunct) on lower Decatur Street. He'd stop in, have a drink or three, and listen to the classic Louisiana blues and R&B sides in the stacks. Much of his repertoire was drawn from the more obscure reaches of those listening sessions, including cuts by pianist Archibald (John Leon Gross, he of the the tune Stack-a-Lee, a version of the old tune Stagger Lee) and Elvis Presley influencer Roy Brown (here doing Good Rocking Tonight). 

In the late 1990's, Horn was living in the still-dead car and alternately selling boiled crawfish in the courtyard next to Big Daddy's strip club on Bourbon Street, busking in the French Quarter, delivering food on a bicycle, and performing in a band that played what he called "some really far-out, Sun Ra-type jazz music." 

He loved Sun Ra and jazz, but one late night, he said, he remembered telling a bandmate, "I wish we could just play Fats Domino covers and drink beer." Thus was born King James and the Special Men. Among the original members were Clint Maedgen, who now sings and plays clarinet and sax in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and Cottonmouth Kings guitarist John Rodli, who remains in the band. 

Horn originally played the piano, but turned that over to Casey McAllister, who also plays with Kristin Diable and Hurray for the Riff Raff. As is appropriate for the material, there’s a full horn section, including Frenchmen Street regular Dominick Grillo on sax.

The original name for the band, Horn says, was not printable. Rodli prevailed on him to change it as a winking homage to the "Special Man" character in commercials for Frankie & Johnny's furniture store. They became fixtures at Ernie K-Doe's Mother-in-Law Lounge (see at left) and good friends with Ernie's widow Antoinette K-Doe (below at left). Just before the flood caused by the levee failures associated with Hurricane Katrina, Jimmy had put the band on hold to live with the late blues guitarist Jessie Mae Hemphill in the hill country of Mississippi. He doesn't discuss it much. "The band broke up because I left for personal reasons," is all he will say.

"Antoinette K-Doe, rest in peace, she taught me a lot about how to carry myself in this town. She just set me straight in so many ways. And so lovingly," Horn said. The first ramshackle incarnation of the Special Men took shape at the Mother-in-Law Lounge under her watchful eye, and Horn says that getting whipped into shape by Antoinette prepared him for "finishing school" with Jessie Mae, the country blues matriarch with whom he lived on and off for four years.

"It was just me and her up in the trailer in northern Mississippi. She was an amazing artist, but also a really good person. And where Antoinette would try to include everybody, Jessie Mae didn't give a shit. She was great. It was with her that 'King James' kind of took shape. Like, fuck it. Just say it. You'll grow into it. Just start now, and throw it out there, and hold your head up. Don’t come at it halfway."

After the flood, and the death of Antoinette K-Doe, he felt the time was right to get the band back together. In 2007, the Special Men played an Ernie K-Doe tribute at the Voodoo Music and Arts Festival. They have become  more and more visible, including gigs at the French Quarter Festival, and nailed down a regular Monday show at BJ's Lounge in Bywater. Recently they moved the gig to the Sidney's Saloon

The band played their first Jazz Fest this year, they have a full-length album due out soon, and their weekly gig is more and more on the map for visitors, but none of the extra notoriety comes at the expense of their origins. "We're just doing our thing, in New Orleans," Horn said. "As much as the town changes, or people feel, you know, their lifestyles are at risk ... the more I dig in and keep doing what I'm doing. You know, keep cookin', keep rockin' the party."

The show was peppered with obscure New Orleans classics — though the band also slides originals, seamlessly, into the mix. It was awesome. At one point where I was standing, the guy in front of me, a local guy for sure, turned and out of the blue said how great this music was. I just smiled and said "yeah, you're right" and knew I was back home. 

Here's my video from the set tonight, and here are Rich Woman, Motor Head Woman, and Love My Baby, complete tunes from various performances that aren't as disjointed as my stuff.

The set had ended, but the Jazz in the Park folks asked Jimmy and the band to do a few more tunes, which they willingly did. That meant that the other band was late. Eventually, however, that band did show up. It's just how they roll. That band was Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers. 

We've seen Kermit and the band a lot: in 2012 at Jazz Fest (Day 5), in 2013 (Day 3) at Mid-City Lanes (the Rock 'n' Bowl), at Jazz in the Park in 2014 and last year, and also last year at his Trumpet Throwdown at the House of Blues. In short, we love Kermit, who epitomizes the new New Orleans. He respects the past and understands how it relates to the here and now. And he always ... always ... has a great time doing it. Even in the face of a really bad flu-type bug that he was dealing with tonight. I could certainly relate to that. 

Nonetheless, Kermit brought it with the trumpet and vocals when he was on the stage, and the Barbecue Swingers (Kevin Morris on bass, Derrick Freeman on drums, and Yoshitaka "Z2" Tsuji on the electric piano) kept the vibe going when he wasn't. Trombonist Haruka Kikuchi was there as well, and  Kermit relied on vocalist Nayo Jones for a good portion of the set. Since we've covered Kermit any number of times, let's get to know her.

Nayo (pronounced Nī-yō) was born in Chicago into a family of musicians. Her parents noticed her musical gift at an early age. Her father, William "Doc" Jones, a prolific jazz performer and educator and accomplished saxophonist and pianist, introduced his daughter to jazz and nurtured her natural ability from the very beginning. Nayo ran with it, happily turning his gigs into father-daughter performances. She grew up playing the flute and the saxophone like her father and, at the insistence of her mother, sang in the gospel choir at church, although she refused to take solos due to stage fright. It was because of those nerves that she "never wanted to do music professionally even though I loved it," she says. Thanks to her father's love of jazz, she grew up listening to the standards, and these songs provided a solid foundation for her vocals and later became signature tunes in her own show. 

Nayo went to Spelman College in Atlanta. When she graduated with a degree in economics, she focused her life on the corporate world, not realizing music was still in her. Her musical journey resumed when she sang at a benefit for her father's nonprofit music organization in Phoenix, where he had relocated. The audience loved her, and she discovered that she enjoyed singing for them as much as they enjoyed her. That day was the beginning of her story. 

Now Nayo wows her audiences and consistently gains loyal fans with her sultry voice and her obvious passion for every note she sings. She arrived in New Orleans "accidentally" in September of 2011. She bought a one-way ticket to work with a producer, not knowing how long the project would take. In the process, she met Ruffins, who, after hearing her voice, instantly made the decision to bring her on tour with him. She also appears on his latest recording.  

Every time Nayo hits the stage, she shows her commitment to bringing back the "authenticity" of the music. "The music is big music," she says, "but it's not just about the notes. I want people to leave feeling a connection to the music and the musicians. I want them to have as much fun as I have with music.

"I've never tried to emulate anyone else though I'm inspired and influenced by many. I'm just me and I think that those in the audience can sense my genuine love for what I do and that's catching on. I'm just blown away by it."

Kermit says, "She's got a strong voice for such a tiny person. When you can sing like that, people love her. I’m so blessed to have her talent backing me up." Jones said Ruffins told her he was going to "put her to work," and he's been a man of his word. "I've been all over with him, including New York twice," she said.

In addition to performing with Kermit, Nayo performs with her band, the Nayo Jones Experience, every week at the Hotel Monteleone on Thursday nights and at the Little Gem Saloon on Friday nights. She's definitely someone to see on her own.

I have said this before, but listening to Kermit Ruffins in Armstrong Park on the first night of the trip, well, there is no better way to start the New Orleans and Jazz Fest trip. Here's my video of Kermit and the gang, and here are Kermit and Nayo doing At Last. And just to get the party started, here's a two-hour Kermit Ruffins performance, with Nayo Jones and others, recorded at the Little Gem in 2014.

What started out to be a rather damp evening turned out to be lovely. Just being in the park, enjoying the clearing weather, interacting with the people, smelling the food from the vendors, and listening to the music felt like returning home. Leaving the park, I walked through the French Quarter down to Royal Street, then over to Canal Street and down to Tchoupitoulas Street and the Pinkberry at the DoubleTree Hotel, where I got a late evening snack before absolutely crashing back at the Staybridge. The travel and the residuals of the flu had taken their toll, but really, what more could one have asked of this day anyway? 

Festing begins tomorrow, and we ... sorry I ... am ready!!!

© Jeff Mangold 2012