Day 2 / Friday, April 22

Even if it was just me, there was still a Staybridge Suites morning drill to execute We honed this drill down to perfection last year, so there was no reason to change it. The drill for the 47th edition of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was: get up ... get ready ... slather on sunblock ... get the Brass Pass, the shuttle ticket, the camera, and the phone ... and head down to the lobby to grab some coffee and maybe a bit of food, if there was any left, but just enough to tide me over to get to Jazz Fest, where real good food awaited. I checked the weather forecast, and since there was zero chance of rain, the umbrella stayed at the Staybridge. The drill executed, I headed out into the bright Louisiana sunshine to walk over to Canal Street and the shuttle buses at the Sheraton hotel. Mission accomplished!

Beyond the fact that there was no rain in sight, the weather today was simply perfect. The high temperature was in the low 80's, with a bit of a breeze coming off of Lake Ponchartrain. It was slightly overcast and humid at first, but the clouds disappeared in the early afternoon, as did the higher humidity. 

On the first day at the Sheraton, it has been our experience that it takes the shuttle bus people awhile to get organized, and the line is pretty long and slow moving. By the second day the whole operations runs very efficiently. I avoided that situation today by being earlier than usual. I got into the line before it wrapped around to Camp Street and was on one of the first few buses leaving for the Fair Grounds. Everyone aboard was relaxed and friendly, and I got to help a couple of NOLA newbies select some local artists to check out. And of course the bus host provided all of the usual information.  

The usual pre-11:00 line of people waiting to get into Jazz Fest had formed, but my Brass Pass allowed me to bypass the line and wait under some shade at the front of a separate line for pepople who have the upgraded ticket packages. I always looked on these "special" people with some disdain when I saw them walking by me as I waited in line in years past, but today I found out that many of them are Brass Pass holders and that means supporting the greatest radio station in the nation, WWOZ, so my attitude got adjusted. I also learned that the reason for the separate line is that the scanners that they use are different for these other types of tickets. One more thing: the brass portion of the brass pass is decorative; it's the plastic part that has the bar code that gets you into Jazz Fest.

Once the gates opened I found myself standing on the infield, looking at the great live oak trees, ready for a weekend full of great music. But missing sharing the experience with Laurie. I had planned to get some food as soon as I arrived, and I knew what I wanted it to be, but that food booth wasn't ready to open just yet. So, seeing that it was almost time for the music to start, I decided not to wait. As I walked over to the food area, I got this lovely view of our home away from home at Jazz Fest, the Fais Do Do stage, all ready to welcome the musicians and people!


Here is the map of the grounds for this year's Jazz Fest, just to refresh your memory of where everything is. The big news this year was the addition of bleacher seating at the back of the Acura stage field and along the track at the Congo Square stage. The bleachers serve two purposes: first, additional seating, and second, preventing congestion on the racetrack by people setting up chairs. 


The bleachers, plus expanded standing areas at all three main stages, were in response to the awful gridlock on the second Saturday last year. The wide dirt racetrack traditionally functions as Jazz Fest's "expressway," the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B without having to deal with the narrower walkways in the the infield, especially in the afternoon on the weekends. The new measures were designed to make sure that the expressway remains open and everybody can easily move around at any time.

Last year's pavilion dedicated to the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) was replaced by the Belize pavilion, meaning the special performances this year would be by artists from that Central American country. There were no other changes to the food vendors or the grounds.  

So it was time for some music, at last! A couple of possibilities presented themselves in today's first row of cubes. You remember the cubes, right? Here are today's. For me, however, and no offense to any of the other performers, there was really no choice. You have to start Jazz Fest at the Fais Do Do stage. As the emcee at this stage said when kicking the festival off, "I've been waiting a goddam year for this, so let's get it started ..."

Jazz Fest at the Fais Do Do stage started with Goldman Thibodeaux and the Lawtell Playboys. Goldman is perhaps one of the last of the old-style Creole La La musicians. I say perhaps because it's possible that sitting on a porch somewhere in southwestern Louisiana there may be more musicians playing the same music but only for themselves and their families. 

In his own words: "I play old-time La La Creole dance music. I can play older Zydeco, but I prefer the La La music. I’ve written 30 to 35 songs, mostly waltzes and two-steps.

"I’m willing to help anyone who wants to learn to play the accordion, learn about La La music, and learn the Creole language. I think anyone who plays Creole music should be able to sing in Creole and know what the words mean. That way it comes from the heart, just the way I play.

"I love playing music. Sometimes when I play, I can picture the brother-in-law who got me started. I think about all the old people who used to play La La music, and I still feel connected to them. I want to play as long as my health allows and try to make sure that La La music continues for future generations since it is true Creole Music."

Laurie and I saw Goldman and the Lawtell Playboys back in 2013 on Day 10 and on Day 3 last year, and you can read as much as can be found about them there. We see a lot of Cajun, Creole and Zydeco music at Jazz Fest. It's one of the things that keeps bringing us back, as it's just not that often that you can see it played outside of Louisiana. We go locally whenever we have an opportunity. This is why it was such a disappointment when Wolf Trap decided this year to stop holding their annual Swamp Romp after 26 years. This music is an important component of U.S. cultural history, and if more people heard it there would be a better chance of it flourishing as it deserves to.

Here is my video of Golman Thibedeaux and his band: Goldman plays the accordion, 'Zydeco Joe' Citizen does the scrub board, Courtney Fuller plays guitar, Lee Tedrow is on the the bass, Shamus Fuller plays fiddle, and Barry Cormier is on the drums. To add to what was linked in 2013 and 2015, here are 1, 2, 3 and 4 from the 2016 Cane River Music Festival, held on the grounds of the Oakland Plantation in Natchez, Louisiana.

              

As quickly as I can, because I've not really explained it on these pages, here's some background. Both Cajun music and the Creole La La music that evolved into Zydeco are the products of a combination of influences found only in Southwest Louisiana. These Cajun and Creole traditions are completely unique in their blending of European, African, and Native American qualities.

The Acadians who came to Louisiana beginning in 1764 after their expulsion from Acadie (Nova Scotia) brought with them music that had its origins in France but that had already been changed by experiences in the New World through encounters with British settlers and Native Americans. Taking stories with European origins and changing them to refer to life in Louisiana or inventing their own tales, early balladeers would sing without accompaniment at family gathering or special occasions. The fiddle supplied music for dances, although many dance tunes relied solely on clapping and stomping to provide the rhythm.

The music of the Acadians in Louisiana in the 19th century was transformed by new influences: African rhythms, blues, and improvisational singing techniques as well as by other rhythms and singing styles from Native Americans. Some fiddle tunes and a few ballads came from Anglo-American sources. The Spanish even contributed a few melodies.

The accordion changed Cajun music when it was brought to Louisiana in the late 19th century by German immigrants. The Cajuns adopted it into their music because its sound carried well during noisy dances. However, since the accordion is more limited in the notes it can produce than the fiddle, some of the old melodies could not be translated into the new style. Thus, most Cajun bands have both a fiddle and an accordion.

At the same time that the Cajuns were being transformed by new influences, the African American descendants of slaves who had been brought by force to America were developing their own music, and the music of the two cultures influenced one another.

The complex Creole culture included free people of color who gained considerable prominence in some communities before the Civil War and freed slaves who after the Civil War continued to live in extreme poverty as tenant farmers. Many of the slaves who gained their freedom under French or Spanish rule before the Louisiana Purchase were of mixed racial ancestry, further complicating the situation.

The music of Creole culture drew on the same French traditions as Cajun music but added to that the influence of African music in the New World -– the rhythms of the Caribbean and the soulful melodies of very early blues. It included jurés, sung dances in a style typical of West Africa and the West Indies in which melodies are built around a refrain that has a danceable rhythmic shape and that enables the group of singers to make music for collective dancing. It wasn't too far of a journey between that style of singing and what became modern American blues.

Zydeco is Creole music, created and performed by Creoles. However, in the way the term is widely used today, specifically in reference to music, Creole usually describes music performed by Creoles in the Creole language, in the old style that includes the fiddle as part of the instrumentation, a music known in an earlier era as La La music. Many Zydeco bands include music from the older Creole tradition as part of their repertoire, so, in practice, the terminology used to describe Creole music in Southwest Louisiana can be applied in a variety of ways. The key point is that both the older style La La music and today's Zydeco are products of the Creole people of Southwest Louisiana and their rich culture. 

Wow, that worked up an appetite. I walked over to the second food area to get one of the very first soft-shell crab po' boys prepared by Galley Seafood. Anybody who has been listening to me go on and on about Jazz Fest knows that this is my favorite thing to eat at the festival. The large softshell crab is fried to perfection with just the right accompaniments. Hot sauce puts the finishing touches on this fantastic sandwich.


All fueled up, I hurried over to the Gentilly stage to catch another favorite, that being the funky, funky Flow Tribe. We've seen two full shows from Flow Tribe previously, on Day 8 in 2014 and at The Hamilton in DC in September of that year. Laurie also spent some time with them on Day 4 at Jazz Fest last year. In short, we like Flow Tribe and their back-cracking funk.

Today Flow Tribe, comprised of K.C. O’Rorke (vocals, trumpet), John-Michael Early (harmonica, washboard, vocals, keyboard), Russell Olschner (drums), Chad Penot (bass, vocals), Bryan Santos (guitar, timbales), and Mario Palmisano (guitar, vocals), was augmented by vocalist Amanda Ducorbier, and as usual the artist Alex Harvie was recording the set on canvas. He also painted their outfits for today's performance! 

Flow Tribe's rollicking set, with its second-line brass and Cuban-Caribbean rhythms melded with R&B, soul, rock, and hip-hop beats just doesn't quit from beginning to end. You just can't stop moving when they are performing.

Here's my video of this show, and here is an hour recorded by WSRE radio out of Pensacola State College in Florida. If Flow Tribe is playing at The Hamilton, which they do often, you absolutely need to get yourself down there for some back-cracking funk!

            

The third cube of the day presented three difficult choices. Jason Marsalis is an incredible jazz drummer and vibraphonist, and Chubby Carrier does zydeco right, walking that fine line between the old-style la-la and the modern. I've seen them both at Jazz Fest, so it felt like the right time for somebody new, and some blues, so it was off to the Blues Tent. On the stage there were Alvin "Youngblood" Hart's Muscle Theory.

Gregory Hart was born in Oakland, California, in 1963. His passion for acoustic blues was first sparked as he accompanied his parents on summer trips to his grandparents' home in Carrollton, Mississippi, in the northern hill country of that state. On those visits, he saw people as they lived in the 19th century, without the luxuries of indoor plumbing or phones, and often saw horse-drawn wagons in place of cars. Although there was not a lot of music around Carrollton, his uncle sparked his interest by playing guitar and telling him stories about Charley Patton (listen up) His grandmother also played blues piano, furthering his knowledge and interest. Hart also mentions recordings by Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones as further inspiration. 

Hart's father worked as a salesman for General Electric, so the family moved a lot. He adopted the name "Alvin" from the harmonica-playing frontman for the TV cartoon group Alvin and the Chipmunks. His parents had a good record collection, and blues music filled their home when he young. He taught himself to play guitar in his early teens, studying the recordings of Jimmy Reed, B.B. King, and Jimmy Witherspoon.

"I just came upon the blues, what, just hearing it every day in the house," Hart explained. "My dad used to walk around the house singing, 'Momma killed a chicken, thought it was a duck, put him on the table with his legs sittin' up, got to bottle up and go,' you know. (John Lee Hooker) I've been hearing that since day one. Playing in the house, playing in my head, you know, from day one." 

After his parents settled in Schaumburg, Illinois, Hart began frequenting Maxwell Street in nearby Chicago. He met and played music on the streets with other blues artists like the late Maxwell Street Jimmy and Lucky Lopez Evans, who remained relatively unknown outside Chicago, and earned his middle name "Youngblood" from the older musicians. 

In order to entice them to let him sit in and play, Hart used to put extra money in their tip boxes. He attended a nearby community college, but the family moved again, to southern California. There he began finding his own voice, independent of any groups, playing acoustic blues by himself.

After signing up with the Coast Guard in 1986, Hart was stationed on a riverboat based in Natchez, MississippiDuring the day, the crew set up buoys in the river to mark the deep water for commercial boats and also built navigational lights along the river bank. But at night, with the ship tied to a tree in the middle of the river, Hart usually concentrated on playing blues. "I'd get a chance to practice music a little bit on the bow of the boat, you know, where nobody was, if the mosquitoes weren't too bad." He also got to play in local bars on his off-duty hours. 

After 7 years in the Coast Guard, he befriended Joe Louis Walker (listen), who invited him to open some of his shows in the area. His next big break came about in February 1995 when he was opening for Taj Mahal at an Oakland, California, jazz club. Mahal's long-time road manager invited Hart to Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir's studio for an impromptu jam session.

Hart was quickly signed to a management contract and recorded a demo that caught the ears of some executives at the Okeh subsidiary of Epic Records. Okeh was at one time the home of many of Hart's long-gone musical heroes, artists like Blind Boy Fuller, Brownie McGhee, and Lonnie Johnson. In the summer of 1996, Hart was tapped for the Further Festival, which continued the spirit of the Grateful Dead after the death of Jerry Garcia in the summer of 1995. 

Hart found himself exposed to a huge new audience while sandwiched between acts like Bruce Hornsby, Hot Tuna, and Los Lobos on the Further Festival tour. His recording career began when he was in his early 30's, and he has produced some incredibly diverse, and incredibly good albums.

"One of the ways for me to keep music enjoyable is to cover a lot of ground or play whatever I feel I can get away with at the time," Hart explains, recollecting the lessons he learned while studying for a short time with the musically versatile multi-instrumentalist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, considered one of the foremost architects of modern blues guitar. "He was always telling me to forget about what labels people want to put on you and just try to have a good time playing music." Taking Brown's advice has certainly paid off.

Making such diverse recordings has also brought Hart fans from outside the blues scene, and by the spring of 1999, he was opening for alternative acts such as the Afghan Whigs and Son Volt. "It's kind of loud, so I'm playing electric guitar as opposed to doing my regular acoustic gig," he said. 

In addition to playing guitars, Hart also enjoys repairing and restoring, buying, selling, and trading the instruments. Recently his music has taken on a harder edge because, as he says, "I grew up on all that early-to mid-'70s Frank Zappa music."

Similar to artists such as Keb' Mo' and Corey Harris (see Day 7), the free-spirited Hart, now based in Memphis, takes his solid foundation in the blues to write songs personalized with his own insights and experiences. His musical influences extend beyond the confines of the blues, as do those of blues veteran Taj Mahal, who views the blues as a world music rather than an distincly American. Hart's eclectic music includes elements of western swing, pop, reggae, and rock, and is well worth a listen.

Hart's Muscle Theory band, with Bill Blok on bass and Rickey Shelton on drums, is a literal explosion of music that creates a blurred line of blues, roots, country, and rock. The band bends the strings, drops the groove, and is a very eclectic music experience. This was a great Jazz Fest show. You can't beat the Blues Tent early in the day when you can get up close and really see and feel the artists. Here's my video from this show, and here's a YouTube list that has a whopping 23 songs from the Terra Blues Club in New York City in November 2015. 

        

My next stop was to be back at the Fais Do Do stage, but I had a half hour before that performance would start, so i decided to take the long way around, via the Acura stage, where Michael McDonald and then Steely Dan would be playing later today. As I passed through, Stanley Dural Jr., a.k.a. Buckwheat, and his band Buckwheat Zydeco were on the stage. Laurie and I have a fondness for Buckwheat Zydeco that goes back some 20 years because they recorded a children's album, called "Choo-Choo Boogaloo," that we listened to with our daughter over and over again when she was very young (we also had one by Little Richard that she loved, too; the kid had good taste!).

How very fortunate I was to see the last portion the performance by this legend, because as I write this, Dural has passed away, on September 16, at the way-too-young age of 68. He had been suffering from health problems in recent years, diagnosed with lung and vocal chord cancer in 2013. At the time, he was expected to make a full recovery, but by August 2016, the cancer had returned, and his health deteriorated during the Louisiana flooding that affected his home about that same that time.

Buckwheat was one of the best known of what I believe are the transitional zydeco artists, those who took the music of the great Creole musicians and mixed in ample quantities of R&B and blues to create modern Zydeco and are now leaving it in the hands of the next generation, who are mixing in soul and even hip-hop. Buckwheat brought Louisiana music to the world with his large piano accordion, his irresistible smile, and his wildly varied music. Words like legend and icon are tossed around so much as more and more of these pathfinders pass on, but Stanley Dural Jr. certainly deserved them. 

Stanley was born in Lafayette in 1947, growing up in a two-bedroom house with seven brothers and six sisters on the north side of town. He occasionally joined cousins and other family members on nearby farms to pick cotton. He came willingly to music, as he began to play the piano at the age of 4 or 5. His father was a mechanic, the only man allowed to touch zydeco pioneer Clifton Chenier's Cadillacs.  

As he grew up, he heard the early sounds of Zydeco in the Creole French language, his father's accordion playing and the scratching sounds his uncle could pull out of the family's washboard, which they used to clean laundry. As he grew up, along with family and friends, he spent time in clubs seeing Fats Domino and a range of other south Louisiana artists. He also learned to be a successful mechanic.

Stanley earned the nickname "Buckwheat" becuase it was said that his braided hair made him look like Billie Thomas, the actor who played the Buckwheat character in the "Our Gang" movies. He first gravitated toward the organ and R&B music, which he played as part of Sam and the Untouchables and Paul Sinegal's band, Lil' Buck and the Top CatsHe did session work for artists like Joe Tex and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown before fronting a funk and soul outfit, Buckwheat and the Hitchhikers. The 15-piece band did well, traveling across southern Louisiana and recording together, and even recorded a single, It's Hard To Get, for a local Louisiana-based label. They broke up in 1975.

He was thinking he was out of the music business for good, but his father's connection with Chenier paid off when in 1976 he was asked to play organ with Chenier's band. He ended up onstage with them for a 4-hour set at Antlers in downtown Lafayette. "When it was time to end, you were wondering if it had been just 30 minutes," he recalled. "There was so much energy, you had no time to think of nothing else." That one night was enough to convince him. He found zydeco t0 be hard-charging and multi-layered, and he sensed there was a place in it for him. After two and a half years with Chenier, where he also learned to play the accordion, he formed his own band and never looked back.

Dural called his band Buckwheat Zydeco, a moniker that would become associated with the man himself. In 1987, after earning a reputation for their must-see live shows, they were the first zydeco act to sign with a major label, thanks to a deal with Island Records. Since then, with or without the full band, Buckwheat performed and recorded with Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, U2, and many others, and appeared in numerous TV shows and movies.

Through it all, Buckwheat and the band toured constantly, logging hundreds of thousands of miles by land and air, serving as unofficial Zydeco ambassadors as they exposed audiences everywhere to the sounds that came from southwest Louisiana. He was called the "James Brown of Zydeco," thanks at least in part to the hair style he adopted. The band played with a southern rock edge and an R&B sound, which only brought more crowds. Among the musicians who played in the band were C.C. Adcock and Nathan Williams.

"I'm not going to have limits to what I do. I'm a musician; I play music. Why not play it all?" he said in 1999. He also made it a personal goal to prevent misconceptions about what he played. Buckwheat Zydeco's contracts stated that if the term "Cajun" was used to describe the band's music, the show was canceled. "It's like sharing a culture," Buckwheat said in a 2009 interview. "This is my culture, this is how I live."

Here's AXS-TV's excerpt of Buckwheat's last performance at Jazz Fest. (My video just has some of the same music, so I didn't include it.) Here's one from Jazz Fest that shows Buckwheat's prowess on the organ, doing Booker T.'s Time Is Tight. For some more music, here are a series of live performances from El Sid-O's Club in Lafayette (run by Nathan Williams' brother) on Thanksgiving day in 2000, when this band was really cooking: What You Gonna Do?, Hard to Stop, Trouble, Make a Change, Put It in the Pocket, and a long take on the classic Hey Joe.

What next? Of the basic Jazz Fest groups I'd got me some Creole, some funk, some blues, and some zydeco. That left Cajun, brass band, Mardi Gras Indians, and three flavors of jazz (funky, modern, and traditional). So the cubes next allowed me to head back to the Fais Do Do stage for some excellent modern Cajun music from Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys

On the way, I stopped at the booth of La Divina Gelateria for the first of many of their home-made gelatos. Today's selection was crème brulee.

This was the fifth time I've seen all or part a set by Steve Riley and his great band. They were at the Wolf Trap Swamp Romps in 2011 and 2013 and at Jazz Fest on Day 4 in 2013 and Day 8 last year. Riley and his band play some great Cajun music, but they shake it up just a bit by adding a zydeco beat. It's just incredible music. 

Riley, a master of the Cajun accordion and its singularly powerful sound, hails from Mamou, Louisiana, population about 5,000. "The thing about Mamou," Riley says, "Is not many communities were as rich in music as Mamou was at one time. In a square mile you had so many great musicians who were around and willing to give of their time to the younger generation that was interested, which pretty much consisted of myself and a couple of other guys when I was growing up. There's a ton of culture here. There's Fred's Lounge."

Fred's Lounge is a small, dark bar in downtown Mamou. But unlike most small, dark bars, Fred's is home to a long-running live Cajun music show, broadcast over the bayou on KEUN radio from 9 a.m to noon every day. Though he skips the liquid breakfasts, Riley has been attending the broadcasts since he was a child.

Most of the songs Riley sings are in French, but despite a distinctively Cajun accent, he doesn't much speak the language. "There's a lot of Irishmen who settled in Louisiana," he explained. "Like Dennis McGee, who was one of the first recorded Cajun musicians, back there with Amédé Ardoin" (that's them on the right). 

I'm French on my mother's side, and my dad's dad was a Riley, but his mother was a Billeaudeaux. But I didn't learn French in the home from my parents. I learned what I know from people like Dewey Balfa and just from singing the songs." Riley admits that he liked the Electric Light Orchestra when he was 7, but it wasn't much of a match for the music he heard around the home.

Accordion builder and player Marc Savoy is a second cousin, and he and Dennis McGee would regularly play dances at Riley's grandmother's house. The young Riley would play triangle, on which he would sometimes accompany the players at their Fred's Lounge broadcasts. "I also started messing with the accordion when I was 7," Riley continued. "I had a great-uncle on my mama's side of the family who played accordion. We'd go to his house in New Orleans for the holidays. When I was 7, he taught me a song on accordion, a real simple song called Jump Little Frog. Every time I'd go back to his house I'd just play that one song over and over." (You can hear some of the song by clicking on the arrow next to the first song.)

When he was 13, he bought a Hohner accordion from Savoy, but his acclaimed cousin wouldn't teach him to play it. "He didn't want to show me much at all. He wanted me to learn on my own like he did, instead of force-feeding it to me. I'm glad he did it that way. I have a really good ear, and since I'd go watch him play, I learned to play a lot like he did. I still do, but I've also been able to incorporate a lot of other people's styles too," Riley said.

One of his strongest influences wasn't an accordion player, but Balfa, the fiddler. "There was only a few kids interested in this music then. And I was really fortunate, because I was the only one who was taken up by Mr. Balfa. And the way I look at it, there was no one better who could have taken me under his wing. I owe him a lot of credit for the exposure I've gotten and what I've learned. He showed me a lot, taught me a lot about music, about life.

"He taught me that we have a great culture, and that there are a lot of other cultures throughout the United States, and that I needed to learn to appreciate them too. He said, 'Be proud of who you are. You'll never fully understand someone else's culture, but just realize that they're proud of it just like you're proud of yours, and respect that.' It helps you to understand people, who they are and where they come from if you stop and take a look," he said.

Unlike today, 25 years ago it wasn't cool to be Cajun, and not many of Riley's contemporaries were into the old-time squeeze-box music he was playing. "My friends thought it was a little strange that I was into it, but I never got ridiculed. And I loved it and I was going to do it no matter what anyway. I think I was accepted pretty well."

At 15, Riley was touring with Balfa, one of the musicians most responsible for spreading Cajun music outside of southwestern Louisiana. By the time he was 19, his band was being featured weekly on the Fred's Lounge broadcast.

"I'm trying to make the listeners feel what I'm feeling, that I'm very proud of this music; it's a big part of me and the Cajun people, and I respect it a whole lot, and I'm really honored to be able to play it and be able to educate people about who we are and about the music. But we also try to have a good time, and we usually do," he said. "We're really into what we're doing, and it usually follows with the crowd being into it and having a good time, dancing and cutting up."

Riley's searing, emotional vocals, songwriting, soulful fiddling and onstage frontman charisma would be enough, but in the Mamou Playboys there is much more.

Kevin Wimmer has been playing fiddle since he was 3 years old. He performed frequently with Dewey Balfa and learned the essence of the tradition directly from him. Over the years he has performed all over the world with Preston Frank (that's Keith Frank, who we'll talk about tomorrow, playing guitar, with Wimmer on the fiddle) and the blues and swing inspired Red Stick Ramblers. Kevin brings a Creole influence to the band, as exhibited by his unique fiddle repertoire and his powerful vocals.

               

Broussard generates a great background on guitar. Whether playing acoustic, electric, or electric slide, he carries the music of his ancestry farther than it's ever gone. Add to that his songwriting, arranging, and vocals and the result is a feast of creativity.

Kevin Dugas on drums and Brazos Huval on bass are a great rhythm section, known throughout southern Louisiana for the groove they bring to the Playboys. 

Today the band did some of their most popular songs, such as the upbeat Allons Danser, the fiddle duet Crapaud/Frugé, the fun sing along Bon Reve, the plaintive Au Revoir, and the mysterious Pointe Aux Chênes, and the rocking Chatterbox, among others. Today they gave some of these a very different sound by adding Eric Adcock from Roddie Romero's Hub City All Stars on a Hammond B-3 organ and two female gospel singers (names not found) to sing backup. They gave the two-steps and waltzes a fuller sound and an R&B flavor I'd not seen from them before.

This was another simply great show. Here's my video, and here are two days worth (one and two) of complete shows from the 2013 Simi Valley Cajun and Blues Festival in California. Well worth the time.

The next choice of music was easy, a quick dash over to the Congo Square stage to catch some funky modern jazz from Donald Harrison Jr. and his great band. This is the third year in a row for seeing this jazz icon at Jazz Fest (Day 8 in 2014 and Day 9 last year), and we've also seen him three times at evening shows in clubs: once at the Blue Nile with Dr. Lonnie Smith (Day 6 in 2013) and twice at Snug Harbor, once with Dr. Lonnie (Day 6 last year) and once with his own band (Day 6 in 2014).

You can look at any of those cross-references to see and read more about Donald Harrison, who is not only a post-bop jazz artist of note, but also works to preserve New Orleans culture in his role as Big Chief of the Congo Nation of Mardi Gras Indians. He also works with young musicians in New Orleans and in that role he has nurtured several members of the outstanding band that plays with him: Detroit Brooks on guitar, Max Moran on bass, Joe Dyson Jr. on drums, and Conan Pappus and Zaccai Curtis on keyboards. Clark Richardson and Bill Summers were on percussion.

          

                                   

Harrison's schedule during the two weeks of Jazz Fest this year was virtually nonstop. For that he blames Miles DavisIn the 1980's, as a young man still honing his craft, he played some shows with Davis and hung out at the legendary trumpeter's Manhattan apartment. "I watched this man working on about six projects," Harrison recalled. "He was painting, he was writing a song, he was watching and commenting on a movie. He'd take a few minutes to look at the newspaper. He had a designer coming by with clothes. He was talking to me at the same time -- just a whirlwind of activity.”

Among other commitments this year, he was inducted into the Tipitina's Wall of Fame during the club's annual Instruments-a-Comin' benefit concert. He also performed alongside his students from the Tipitina's Internship Program at that event, and he always makes time for these young musicians at any local concert he headlines.  

He also headlined at the Orpheum Theater, one of the highest-profile hometown shows of his career. He promised that he and his band would showcase everything from his contemporary, sometimes challenging, "nouveau swing" jazz to Mardi Gras Indian music to soulful R&B. "We'll play it in a way that is logical and feels good for the audience," he said. 

"We'll take them on a journey," he said. "My perspective is that all music should be about the mind, body, and soul. If you’re an intellectual, you can intellectualize it, because it always has those elements of stretching for the highest level that you can be on. And it should feel good. No matter how far we stretch it, you still can feel a groove to it. And it should hit you some kind of way in your heart. All those ideals are present, I hope, when I play." 

We'll talk more about that show on Tuesday.

After Jazz Fest, it will be back to his usual, equally busy, routine. He's on the road most weekends. He's working to finish his first orchestral piece. He's working on a commission that will premiere in June in New York with the Hartford Chamber Orchestra. And, as always, he’s teaching the next generation.

Back when he was around Miles Davis, Harrison thought, "'Boy, he's achieving a lot.' I realized how lazy I was. I started doing a lot of things like I saw Miles doing at his apartment that day. I realized that you could achieve more if you worked a little harder." He laughed. "I think that may be the thing that messed me up."

Harrison literally grew up as a Mardi Gras Indian. His father, Donald Harrison Sr. (in the picture on the right), was a legendary Big Chief who led the Creole Wild West and White Eagles tribes before founding the Guardians of the Flame in the late 1980's. He died in 1998.

Donald first "masked Indian" at age 2. He was also exposed to the bebop records his father played around the house. Those two influences "give me another perspective," Harrison said. "Knowing where the roots of some American music came from, to the outer limits of where American music has gone, I feel like I have the full perspective. From where it started to where it's going, and all the points in between."

At 16, he discovered Charlie Parker. Bebop in general, and Parker in particular, became his obsession. He spent years "trying to understand how that music is put together. Charlie Parker was the key to it for me."

He didn't mask Indian while attending Francis T. Nicholls High School and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. Instead, he studied jazz and played with brass and R&B bands.

After graduation, he spent a year studying under Alvin Batiste at Southern University in Baton Rouge, and with avant-garde saxophonist Edward "Kidd" Jordan. He moved on to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. At a jam session in New York, he met Roy Haynes, the legendary jazz drummer and alumnus of Parker's quintet. After hearing Harrison play, Haynes called him over and said, "You've been born again, brother," meaning that Parker's spirit had seeped into Harrison. Much to Harrison's shock and amazement, Haynes hired him for his band.

At age 20, Harrison landed a gig with jazz-soul organist Jack McDuff. Soon afterward, he joined drummer Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and withdrew from Berklee. He never went back. "I want to do it at some point, but it doesn't seem like it's going to happen."

Blakey’s band was a proving ground for up-and-coming musicians. Its ranks included New Orleans trumpeter Terence Blanchard. Blanchard and Harrison formed their own quintet, which released five albums in the 1980's (here are seven tunes on a YouTube search). By the end of the decade, they had gone their separate ways. By then, Harrison was firmly established. His subsequent albums have ranged across the spectrum of contemporary jazz. And he is still learning from the masters. 

For years, he's been in a trio with former Miles Davis bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Cobham (here are Seven Steps to Heaven and Harrisburg Express from them).

"Those guys do that band so they can impart their knowledge to me, so I can pass it on the right way," he said. "Music is infinite. There are always new vistas and new horizons. I guess I'm an explorer. A tired explorer. But relentless."

His explorations finally led him back to Mardi Gras Indian culture in the 1990's, when he founded the Congo Nation. "At first, I didn't want to be a chief, but I couldn't fight it anymore," he said. "Because it's so much responsibility, I didn't know how I would be able to play music and be a chief too. It's a full-time job, really. I didn't know if I could do two full-time jobs. But I figured out a way."


Harrison does not refer to the Congo Nation as a Mardi Gras Indian tribe. Instead, it is an Afro-New Orleans Cultural Group. "It's a long title, but I think it accurately describes what we're doing. I realized that the music that we play is not Native American. It's African, with call-and-response chants and African-style percussion."

Harrison has mentored successive classes of Tipitina's interns most Monday nights for years, despite the demands of his own schedule. As elders likes Haynes, McDuff, Davis, and Blakey once did for him, he wants to both pass on the music and inspire students to create their own.

"One objective is to give them an easier way in the music business -- I had such a hard way. But also help them have a broad-based source of knowledge, and let them choose what they want to do with their careers. Because it's not my choice. It's their choice. If you know something, you can choose not to do it. But if you don't know it, you can't choose to do it."

Roland von Kurnatowski, the real estate developer who owns Tipitina’s and led the renovation of the Orpheum Theater, is especially impressed with how Harrison deals with students. "Donald has a way of working with young people that is at the same time respectful and authoritative -- very effective," he said. "He is a class act, and his passion for working with the interns is infectious. He has the poise and self confidence that is exhibited by someone who is truly comfortable in their own skin."

Harrison tells his students, "You have to be relentless, and it will pay off." He might as well have been speaking about himself.

Our respect for this incredible musician has no bounds. We'll catch him any time we can. And enjoy it a lot.


Today, however, I caught only the middle portion of the set, because I wanted to spend some time in the Jazz Tent with another great artist, the incomparable pianist Geri Allen. 

On the way over to the Jazz Tent I grabbed a helping of fried alligator bites with onions and jalapeños from the food booth of Sharon and Guilherme Wegner out of Gretna, Louisiana. Also known simply as Guil’s Gator, this is a spicy treat. I've had this same combination in Guil's fried gator po'boys on Day 10 in both 2013 and 2014. This was the first time that I tried it without the bread. It tastes best with one of each of theree items in a bite. You can read a bit more about the Wegners and their gator in Day 10 of the 2013 report. It's another completely unique Jazz Fest experience.

Geri Allen, Professor and Director of the Jazz Studies Department at the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned a master’s degree in ethnomusicology, is a pianist, composer, bandleader, and educator. She is nothing less than a cutting-edge performing artist. Today's show focused on the music of the great Erroll Garner. Her work on the piano was polished and forceful, and she led the quintet, which consisted of second pianist Christian Sands, the great drummer Victor Lewis, Darek Oles on bass, and Russell Malone on guitar, with ease. Picking up from years past in the Jazz Tent, this was just another incredibly good performance.

        

Allen was born in Pontiac, Michigan, but when she was very young, her parents moved to Detroit, where her father was a teacher and later an administrator in the Detroit Public Schools. She enjoyed the diversity of music in Detroit. "I loved all of it. I listened to radio station WJLB and danced to soul, disco -- everything. But my heart was in jazz. My father was always a huge jazz fan. When I was growing up, he played records by Charlie Parker, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, and Bud Powell. The music was always in our home. Just before high school, I made a commitment to myself: I was going to be a jazz pianist."

She received her early music education at Cass Technical High School in Detroit and the Jazz Development Workshop, where her mentor was trumpeter Marcus Belgrave. Allen says, "The entire jazz scene in Detroit has been fortunate to have Marcus there. He was striving to give young musicians a shot. He gave me a sense of hope. By believing in my talent, Marcus gave me a certain layer of confidence to pursue jazz as an art and a lifestyle. He also gave many others and me the opportunity to test out our abilities in real time -- on stage. I came away with a greater respect for the whole African-American music continuum. The music of the Supremes and Muddy Waters and the church -- it's all connected and meant to be revered and taken seriously. I also learned that as a pianist, it's important to be able to play many different things."

In 1979, she earned her Bachelor's degree in Jazz Studies from Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she studied under composer Thomas Kerr and pianists Raymond Jackson, John Malachi, Fred Irby, Arthur Dawkins, and Komla Amoaku. After graduation, she moved to New York City, where she studied with the veteran bop pianist Kenny Barron. From there, at the behest of the jazz educator Nathan Davis, she attended the University of Pittsburgh. When she returned to New York in 1982, she began touring with Mary Wilson and the post-Diana Ross Supremes.

In the mid-1980's, Allen became a charter member of both the Black Rock Coalition and the Brooklyn M-Base movement, a collective including saxophonists Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, and Gary Thomas, and vocalist Cassandra Wilson, among others. She has played on several of Coleman's albums and was the original keyboard player in the band most associated with M-Base, the funk-oriented Steve Coleman and Five Elements.

She recently left New York to return to Pittsburgh. Now a mother of three, Allen is passionate about her work with her students at Pitt. "Meaningful access to music is one of the keys to success in any field, and music informs our sensitivity to others," she has said. She is a fierce advocate for all children of all ages to have direct hands-on access to music, and the creative and empowering process jazz inspires.

"Every music has its own set of idiosyncrasies and audiences are very sophisticated," she said. "People coming to experience the music come because they want to participate in the spirit of adventure that improvised music brings. Alice Coltrane said that 'music is fundamentally a spiritual language that speaks to the heart and soul.' I feel this way as well."

Allen's body of work is large and diverse. She has almost 20 recordings as a leader and has collaborated with all-time greats, including (all of these links include her with the artist) Ornette Coleman, Paul Motian and Charlie Haden, Oliver Lake, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, Dianne Reeves, Joe Lovano, Angelique Kidjo, Dewey Redman, Betty Carter, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane, Terri Lyne Carrington and Esperanza Spalding, John Abercrombie and Charles Lloyd, and many others. Although deeply rooted in jazz, her music is a richly layered tapestry that can at times be dense and at other points offers an ethereal, spiritual light.

"Music is a gift from God and I feel blessed and so very privileged to be a musician," she said. "I am moved by the spiritual power of John and Alice Coltrane’s music, for instance. So clear and direct in intention. Mary Lou Williams highlighted scripture infusing her music with great healing power. Music can change the dynamics of the moment in a variety of ways and we are attracted to it for the many aspects of our humanity it reflects. The social times of singing the blues together, like when we hear the Queen of Soul or the Motown songs that became the soundtrack of my youth. These all have their connections to the joys and challenges of living life day to day. I appreciate the variety that is the breadth of choices. Choices are important."

When discussing the tribute to Erroll Garner, Allen explains how the project came about. "Mary Lou Williams raved about Erroll Garner and was a staunch supporter, acknowledging him as one of her favorite piano greats. When I first heard his playing I was in high school and my father had "Concert by the Sea" (Side A and Side B) in his record collection. It was a revelation hearing the piano played that way. His had a very individual expression—virtuosic and jubilant. We want to celebrate his genius and the importance of his contribution to the people of New Orleans. This will be my first time coming to your iconic city and I am very happy to come celebrating Erroll Garner."

That was obvious from watching this group play together. Here is my long excerpt from today's outstanding performace. To show a couple of other sides of Geri Allen, here she is taking part in the Joe Lovano All-Star Band's celebration of John Coltrane's 90th birthday just a couple of weeks after her Jazz Fest performance. That takes place in the Apple Room at Lincoln Center -- a spectacular venue woth looking at even if you don't listen to the whole performance. Also, here is some more from the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2001, where she is part of the Charles Lloyd Quintet with John Abercrombie, Marc Johnson, and Billy Hart. 

Hard to believe, but I was going to fit two more performances into this day. I hurried back over to Congo Square for the first of the day's headliners, that being the dynamic Janelle Monáe. Today, her show had one purpose and one purpose only. She had been publicly silent about the man who served as a mentor, collaborator and dear friend. That is, until she was brought onto the stage on a hand cart by a roadie. "Tonight, we're going to do something a little different," she said, standing in her signature black-and-white ensemble, bowtie and suspenders. "We're gonna pay homage to the legendary -- to my friend -- to Prince."

Givin' Them What They Love was a track the pair had written together for Monae's 2013 sophomore album, "The Electric Lady." It was just the first in a set that saw Monae effusive, energetic, and fierce, telling stories about her Prince and even doing impressions of his voice. Every pose, every strut was meant for one person.

"We're gonna party. We're gonna celebrate Prince," she said. "My entire set is dedicated to him. He was free. He was fearless. He was music. He was rock and roll. ... I am because he was. We're gonna break boundaries, just like he did."

In the funky, psychedelic Dance Apocalyptic, she thrust a fist into the air with sheer power. During Q.U.E.E.N., she flipped her hands in concert with her dancing back-up singers and stomped across the stage. In Tightrope, she swung a velvet cape around her shoulders and pirouetted on the drum riser. The stage itself was outfitted with all-white, from the drums to the mic stands to the clothing her band wore, making for a near-blinding view as the late afternoon sun turned its full face onto the Congo Square Stage.

Prince "stood for the weirdos. He stood for the unique and he stood for those who couldn't stand up for ourselves," she said, all the while the band raising the sounds of Cold War behind her. "This is a time when we have to protect ourselves as human beings. Not black or white. As human beings." She finished the set with Prince's own Let's Go Crazy.

"Scream for Prince," Monae yelled, begging her audience to share her spiritual call. "Show him how much you love him!"

If you aren't familiar with this wonderful artist, Janelle Monáe Robinson was born in 1985 in Kansas City, Kansas. Her mother was a janitor and her father was a garbage truck driver who struggled with drug addiction throughout her childhood. "I come from a very hard-working family who make nothing into something," she says. Her hardscrabble background and early experiences with the perils of drug addiction inspired her intense drive to succeed.

"I've never forgotten where I come from," she says. "It's crazy, but I really want to be the one to show everyone back home that it can be done. And not by selling drugs but by being passionate about the right thing -- and the right things will come your way." She pays homage to her parents with a signature black-and-white tuxedo she wears for every performance. "I call it my uniform," she explained. "My mother was a janitor and my father collected trash, so I wear a uniform too."

From a very young age, Monáe distinguished herself as a highly artistic and intelligent child. She stood out as a singer at the local Baptist church and appeared in local productions of musicals such as "The Wiz" and "Cinderella." She was also a precocious young writer. She joined the Young Playwrights' Roundtable at Kansas City's Coterie Theater  and wrote several full-length plays and musicals. One script, completed when she was only 12 years old, told the story of a boy and girl who compete for the love of a plant -- an idea inspired by Stevie Wonder's 1979 album "Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants."

"I was infatuated with photosynthesis," she offered by way of explanation.

After graduating from F.L. Schlagle High School in Kansas City, Monáe received a scholarship to study musical theater at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City, where she was the only black woman in her class. However, she dropped out because she felt creatively stifled. "I wanted to write my own musicals," she recalled. "I didn't want to have to live vicariously through a character that had been played thousands of times -- in a line with everybody wanting to play the same person."

She moved to Atlanta, where she lived in a boarding house with five other women and took a job working at an Office Depot. She self-produced a demo CD entitled "Janelle Monáe: The Audition" and relentlessly toured local colleges to perform and promote her music. It was on one such tour that she met two like-minded young songwriters, Nate Wonder and Chuck Lightning. The three of them soon founded the Wondaland Arts Society, a record label and artists' collective to promote innovative music and art.

Monáe's big break came in 2005, at the age of 20, when she performed Roberta Flack's Killing Me Softly With His Song at an open mic. Big Boi, one half of the famous hip-hop duo OutKast, was in the audience and was thoroughly impressed with Monáe's performance. He featured her on two tracks, Time Will Reveal and Lettin' Go, on the southern hip-hop supergroup Purple Ribbon All-Stars' album "Got Purp? Vol. II," and a year later, OutKast featured her on two more songs, Call the Law and In Your Dreams, on their acclaimed album "Idlewild."

She then set out to create her own music with the help of her two partners in the Wondaland Arts Society. Her 2007 EP, "Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase)," attracted the attention of the famous producer Sean Combs, who signed her to his label. Combs said, "I was looking for things that were different and innovative. Because if you're a leader in this industry you want to be helping to push it forward, and she's an artist that would help to push it forward."

In 2010, Monáe released her debut album, "The ArchAndroid." Based loosely on the 1927 German expressionist film Metropolis, which depicts a dystopian futuristic world, it is a concept album about a robot named Cindi Mayweather in the year 2719. The album is at once a futurist sci-fi story and an allegory for African-American history.

"The android represents a new form of the Other," she says. "And I believe we're going to be living in a world of androids by 2029. How will we all get along? Will we treat the android humanely? What type of society will it be when we're integrated? I've felt like the Other at certain points in my life. I felt like it was a universal language that we could all understand."

In 2013, Monáe released her second album, "The Electric Lady," which stays consistent with the theme of her debut, taking listeners on a musical journey alongside Cindi Mayweather. 

Perhaps what most distinguishes Monáe from other young stars is her commitment to creating challenging music. "I feel like I do have a responsibility to the community," Monáe said. "The music that we create is to help free their minds and, whenever they feel oppressed, to keep them uplifted. We want the music and the vision that we have to be their choice of drug, if you will. So we need a manifesto. If we want to stay on message, we have to believe in what we're fighting for, and we do."


This is one incredibly talented woman. Here is my video of today's performance at Jazz Fest. And here are one, two, and three complete songs from this show, and here she is doing the Jackson Five's I Want You Back.

But I wasn't done yet. I zipped over to the Blues Tent to catch most of the performance by the equally dynamic Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Along the way I grabbed a light dinner, a crawfish pie from Mrs. Wheat's Foods of New Orleans. 

These folks generously stuff a empanada-shaped flaky pastry with whole crawfish tail meat and the trinity of peppers, onions, and celery sautéed in a blend of Louisiana spices with a bit of rice. This is something that was off my Jazz Fest food radar for some reason, and it was just an impulse where I got a bit hungry as I was passing by. It was delicious.

Mrs. Helen Wheat was a very real person who lived in Natchitoches, Louisiana, where she worked as a home economics teacher. As a general rule people in Natchitoches are fun loving, but very serious about meat pies. Mrs. Wheat was no different in that regard; her mother had taught her to make a pretty spectacular meat pie. She felt driven to make that old recipe even better and to figure out how to make enough for everyone to enjoy! She did a very good job with this. It is perhaps the most crawfishy crawfish dish I've had at Jazz Fest.

Onward to the Blues Tent, where the Dap Kings were just finishing up their opening numbers. The eight-piece band encouraged the crowd in the tent to ditch the chairs as they sent waves of funk at us. Guitarist Binky Griptite told us we might as well get on our feet because for the next hour we would get up, get down, and shake what we got. When he introduced the fabulous Miss ... Sharon .... Jones, the place erupted.

Sharon Jones knows how to get down. The fever gets into her feet, and she kicks and stomps onstage to get it out. She races in place, legs pumping up and down, always keeping in rhythm with the band. She throws her rear end side to side, back to front, side to side again. She puffs out her chest. She shimmies. She dances so hard the audience can't help but scream. She transfers the ecstatic. Oh, and she sings, too. 

She emerged in a shimmying, sparkly turquoise minidress and was in control of the place from beginning to end. She was, at turns, frenetic, funky, sultry, and bewitching as she rolled through Dap Kings staples like I'm Not Gonna Cry, If You Call, Let Them Knock, Natural Born Lover, When I Come Home (which she dedicated to Prince), and Keep On Looking.

One of the highlights of the show is when Sharon takes the crowd through a Soul Train like review of the great dances of the 60's and 70's. She did the Monkey and rode a horse. She twisted. She was a funky chicken. She confessed that she didn't camel walk the same way that James Brown camel walked, but she showed us the way she liked to do it. She swam, she shook, and she sent us somewhere else for 12 minutes. She had us dancing, yelling, and throwing our hands in the air. 

As she introduced the band, and told them to "do something mean" with their instruments. To a man, each obliged. Then Dapette Saundra Williams (Starr Duncan was not present today) had her moment with the microphone, to share her message with the world. It was: "Don't be mean, don't be mean, don't be mean, don't be mean, don't be mean, don't be mean."

The greatest thing about Sharon Jones is that in every performance, she would give you the very best of Sharon Jones. She would not mimic. She exuded pure, exuberant self in every performance. If the show had been any longer than an hour it would have been exhausting. I feel so fortunate to have seen this force of nature twice in the last year (also last summer in Baltimore with the Tedeschi-Trucks Band).

Because now, she, too, is gone.

When she performed, the fringe on her sequined dresses never stopped moving. Her hips and shoulders were in constant motion as she belted out the soul tunes, fueled by the Dap-Kings. But the fringe stopped moving in November when Sharon finally succumbed to the pancreatic cancer she had been battling since it was first diagnosed in 2013. She was 60, but her career had been all too brief. She didn’t release an album under her own name till 2001 at age 45.

Oscar-winning director Barbara Kopple showed the lows and highs and in-betweens of Sharon's life with a surprisingly candid look at an artist on the ropes in her film "Miss Sharon Jones." It's not a Hallmark Channel story of a dying woman who bears her burden with saintly smiles; it's the tale of a prickly woman who gets angry at the multiplying cells within her and at the well-meaning people around her. But she ultimately channels that feistiness into a determination to get back into the studio and back on the stage.

The film ends as she takes the stage at the Beacon Theater in New York, bald and barefoot in a tight, shiny silver dress, giving the crowd a foot-stomping, elbow-flying performance of the R&B dances number

But at the film’s premiere in 2015 she announced that her cancer had returned. 

Jones was born in James Brown’s hometown of Augusta, Georgia, the youngest of six children. Her family moved to New York City when she was three to escape an abusive father. She grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. (She wrote a song about this for her Christmas album, Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects.) She sang gospel music in church and soaked up Brown, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Stax, and Motown from the radio. From the 1970s on, she sang with funk bands and wedding bands, sang backup at recording sessions and led church choirs. She returned to the South most summers. There, she absorbed the fundamentals -- both sonic and visual -- of classic soul music.

To support herself, Ms. Jones worked as a prison guard at Rikers Island in the late 1980's and then as an armed security guard for Wells Fargo. At one recording session directly after work, she was still wearing her Wells Fargo uniform, complete with gun. It led to the title of one of her early singles, Damn It's Hot.

She got a break in 1996 when she was hired to sing back-up on a single by Lee Fields, the funk singer unknown to most but a legend to fanatical record collectors. One of those collectors, Gabriel Roth (aka Bosco Mann), was running the session for his fledgling label Desco Records. When that label folded, he started a new one, Daptone Records, and he picked Jones as one of his first artists.

Sharon claimed that all the big record companies had told her she was "too short, too fat, too black, and too old" to make it. So she made common cause with Roth and his band of young R&B renegades, the Dap-Kings. The recordings they made were respectable but not spectacular. It was only when you saw Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings live on stage that you understood their immense appeal. Like her role model Brown, she created a performance that linked the sound of her voice to the movement of her body to the mood of the moment. That created an experience that could only be approximated by recordings or even by videos. The sheer physicality of being in the same space with her was transformative.

In this, she was the mirror image of Amy Winehouse, another retro-soul singer who used the Dap-Kings as a backing band in the studio and on the road. Winehouse could be spectacular in the studio, but she often wilted in front of an audience. Jones was the opposite; she seemed to fully blossom only in front of a live crowd. She hit the stage with encore-level energy and never let up until she walked off again.

During her shows, she performed Get Up and Get Out. It's a song about an illicit affair where she has to shoo her lover out of the apartment before the morning light. She sang the lyrics very slowly at first, and then switched gears into overdrive. "Get up, get up, get up, and get out," she shouted as a command. "No one can know that you are here -- for you I’ve shed so many tears." By the middle of the song, though, she was no longer singing to a man; she was singing to a disease that was threatening everything she had struggled to achieve. "Get up and get out," she wailed at the frenzied ending.

The cancer got up, but it didn’t get out. 


After a reasonably short wait to catch a shuttle bus back downtown, I realized how totally exhausted I was. I had considered going up Poydras Street to the Little Gem Saloon for a repeat of last year's Louisiana Blues Throwdown with Marc Stone, but the leftovers from the flu plus two days of walking around in the Louisiana heat told me the smarter thing to do would be to just chill. So, back to the Staybridge, I unloaded everything, hosed the Fair Grounds dust off, and put my feet up for a bit. After a while I headed to the Pinkberry for another late sort-of dinner or dessert, whatever you want to call it (I call it good). Then I called it a day.

A last vignette from the day. We're used to seeing musicians all over Jazz Fest and New Orleans. If you keep your eyes open you could see almost anyone. We had several close encounters with Allen Toussaint in years past (no more, sadly) and one time saw Johnny Sketch sprinting away from the Gentilly stage on his way to get somewhere. In our first year at Jazz Fest we found ourselves standing next to Regina Carter as we watched Esperanza Spalding at the Congo Square stage. Also in that first year I found myself sitting two seats away from Sharon Jones in the Delta Airlines terminal at the airport. There have been others, too, both at Jazz Fest and on the street in the French Quarter. Today it was Bill Summers, the great percussionist from Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, who plays with Donald Harrison Jr. and a whole bunch more New Orleans groups. He was hustling across the infield in the direction of Congo Square at Jazz Fest today when I saw him, probably on his way to Harrison's set from who knows where, carrying a large African shaker-type percussion instrument. Just another Jazz Fest moment to savor.

It was a great day. Can't say I disagreed with the sentiments of the Fais Do Do stage emcee one bit! 


© Jeff Mangold 2012