Day 4 / Sunday, April 24


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How should day three at Jazz Fest start? With the 2015 (solo) drill, of course: 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 a 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. Pulled it off again. 

The temperature on the walk over to Canal Street and the shuttles was in the upper 70's and very comfortable. Today's high was in the low 80's under scattered clouds with a light breeze and low humidity. That's pretty close to a perfect Jazz Fest day.

I arrived with plenty of time for food before the music started. Because I was planning to be in the Blues Tent to start, I headed to the Heritage Square food area for a hearty brunch from Down Home Creole Cookin' of Baton Rouge. That brunch consisted of BBQ pork ribs, meaty white beans and rice, and coleslaw. Wow. The only thing that I've had from these folks previously is their peach cobbler, which is very good, but this was outstanding. The ribs just fell apart, requiring no effort to eat, and the beans, well, the beans are cooked with smoked ham hocks, smoked sausage, andouille, tasso, and ham. They were unbelievably good. I could say they almost made the ribs superfluous, but that would be a stretch.  

Bertrand and Renee Bailey of Downhome Creole Cookin' met at Louisiana State University, and this is the 17th year they have been vendors at Jazz Fest. They are able to tell exactly, because their daughter Blaire, who also works in the booth, was born the year they got in.

"I've been in food service 30 years," Bertrand said. "I started cooking as a way to put myself through college. I always had a passion for cooking." Renee also is a teacher and librarian at Winbourne Elementary in Baton Rouge. She grew up in the capital city, and Bertrand is from Edgard in St. John the Baptist Parish, where his father was a farmer. Both learned to cook from their mothers.

The ribs are cooked six hours on a big portable rotisserie hauled in and parked behind their booth, under a tent. They make the ketchup-based barbecue sauce from scratch. "When they're juicy and tender, we put the sauce on and cook it into the meat about half an hour," Bertrand said.

"You have to have your your own recipes and come with your 'A' game every day," he said of being a Jazz Fest vendor. He appreciates the board of health representative on site every day, "because I want to serve good food and keep my customers happy and healthy."

Like most of the Jazz Fest vendors, they have stories about customers who come every year and pay compliments. "We have people tell us they wait all year for the meaty white beans," Renee said. The ribs are the biggest seller, but the beans "are coming up," Bertrand said. Not surprising at all. Next time I might try their turkey wing, but then again I might just get the bowl of meaty white beans!

I washed this hearty brunch down with a strawberry lemonade made by Café Reconcile. The café is but one part of an organization run by a community of concerned people committed to addressing the system of generational poverty, violence, and neglect in the New Orleans area. Their innovative life skills and job training programs help young people who want to make a positive change in their lives. Reconcile's students arrive facing a vast array of challenges, from extreme poverty and high-school attrition to homelessness, violence, and the juvenile justice system. These young people want to break the cycle and become productive members of society. 

Reconcile New Orleans was founded in 1996 by Rev. Harry Tompson, then pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish. He joined with concerned community members in the troubled Central City neighborhood, working with to confront the difficult social reality there. 

Though Tompson died in 2001, his legacy flourishes in the daily activities of the Reconcile programs. To date, Reconcile's Workforce Development Program has successfully graduated more than 1,000 youth. Housed in a five-story building reclaimed in the Central City neighborhood, Reconcile provides an opportunity to learn the life, job, and educational skills necessary for successful entry into the food service and construction industries. It also provides services to address unmet neighborhood needs such as GED education, computer literacy, parenting skills, and organizational support for aspiring local entrepreneurs.

To establish a positive presence in the community, the founders opened a sweet shop, called "Sweet T," on the first floor of their building. With Sweet T as a foundation, Café Reconcile opened for business in September 2000, providing an environment for the kind of life-skills and job training that had been the founders' dream. That's very cool.

I chowed down in the Heritage Square food area's tent (this platter definitely needed a table to eat from) while listening to the sounds from the Jazz Tent. Since I had some time before I wanted to be at the Blues Tent (for the record, here are today's cubes), I headed over there to hear two different groups of students from the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA). Jazz Fest starts out most days, either in the Jazz Tent or on the Lagniappe stage, with students, mostly from local colleges or the occasional high school.

Located along the river in the Bywater section of the city, downriver from the French Quarter, NOCCA is a regional, pre-professional arts training center. It offers its students intensive instruction in culinary arts, dance, filmmaking, audio production, music (classical, jazz, and vocal), theater arts (drama, musical theater, and theater design), visual arts, and creative writing. At the same time it demands simultaneous academic excellence. It was founded in 1973 by a diverse coalition of artists, educators, business leaders, and community activists who saw the need for an institution devoted to the region’s burgeoning young talent.

Among those who have graduated from NOCCA are Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr., Terence Blanchard, and Wendell Pierce. Beyond the famous attendees, every year a remarkable 95 to 98 percent of NOCCA graduates go on to college and conservatory programs across the country, and around 80 percent receive scholarships to pursue such higher education.

The key to NOCCA’s success is the ethic of discipline and responsibility it instills in students, which prepares them for productive adult lives whether or not they choose to pursue arts careers. Admission to its tuition-free programs is by audition only. Students may apply for full-day, mid-day or after-school instructional opportunities. 

     

From the looks of things, the students have a lot of fun, too. Here's my video of the two groups that were on today, and here's another from today that someone posted. As I recall they were separated by age. One more here, a somewhat different group performing an extended set in the studios of WWOZ last year. It's just great that institutions like NOCCA exist, because -- as I have seen this weekend -- there is plenty of young talent down here.

 

Next I hustled over to the Blues Tent to get a mashup of Chicago electric and Mississippi Hill Country blues from Deak Harp. This guy was awesome. He plays an amplified harmonica and electric guitar, prowling around the stage and getting back to a microphone to sing. He's accompanied by a drummer ... and that's it. This was one of the best performances I've ever witnessed in the Blues Tent.

Deak Harp (he does not give his real name) was born in 1962. He has been playing harmonica since he was 12 years old. His biggest early inspiration came when his brother introduced him to the music of James Cotton

He became such a fan that he followed Cotton's band along the East Coast for close to five years. Cotton finally offered him a job driving the band's van. For the next six years, Deak toured with the band, eventually opening for him and then playing along with "Superharp" himself.

"That was really a dream come true," Deak said. "What sold me on his blues was the fierceness of it. You know, when I first started checking him out, he was right at the end of his prime, but it was amazing just to see what he was doing. I was like, 'Wow! I wanna do that! I know I can do that!'" 

Cotton taught him how to summon up the warm, rich, and deep tone that Deak coaxes out of his harmonica, which many acknowledge to be among the best of the best. Deak says, "He told me to stop playing harmonica with my lips ... that's what it is. When I worked for him, I'd have to do the soundchecks and he would be there standing by the soundboard in the middle of the venue and he'd be going, 'Come, on ... dig a little deeper. Come on!' He would be working me to get that tone that I needed. That's how I learned to emulate Cotton's tone. He forced me ... beat it into me, to get that tone. He called me more names -- in a good way -- to get me where he thought I needed to be. You know, I learned from James and he learned from Sonny Boy (Williamson), so I'm third generation, man."

Along with his own band, which has taken many forms, Deak has been a member of the Kilborn Alley Blues Band in central Illinois, where he used to live. He also developed an innovative one-man show combining diddley bow (check it out), snare drum, stomp box (demonstrated here), amplified harmonica, and vocals. This show became a fixture at events like the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Akansas, and the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and carried him across the country.

Deak's transition from diddley bow to electric guitar in 2014 eventually changed his one-man band into a Juke Joint duo. Channeling more drive than a locomotive, Deak drenches one-chord Hill Country blues with his Chicago blues harmonica, giving giving 110 percent to every show. That brought him to Jazz Fest this year, which was followed by a successful tour of Europe over the summer. He did still get out the diddley bow for a song during his show today. 

When he's not on the road, Deak can be found in his truly unique brick-and-mortar harmonica shop, Deak's Mississippi Saxophones and Blues Emporium. You'll find it at 13 Third Street in Clarksdale, just down the street from the famous Ground Zero Blues Club. Deak makes custom harmonicas to order and carries a selection of his craft in the shop. He also does harmonica repairs, gives harmonica lessons, and of course sells CD's and t-shirts. 

     

So how does one get from central Illinois to Clarksdale, Mississippi? Deak says, "The first time that I was in Clarksdale was with James Cotton when I was working for him. He was delivering some harmonicas that were signed, and that was in 1992. I was like, 'Wow! This town is cool!' Anyway, I heard about the Juke Joint Festival and the King Biscuit Blues Fest and came down for those for eight years. Being down here so many times, people thought I lived here anyway, so I moved here. It's the only place that my music went over really good. I was playing the Mississippi Hill Country blues but putting James Cotton’s raw harmonica on top of it.

"Also, Bill Abel was one of the first people that I saw doing the one-man band thing. He is a well-known figure in Clarksdale and was one of my idols. At the time when I was exposed to Bill Abel, I didn't know anything about Hill Country blues. I was a Chicago blues harmonica player. That's all I knew how to do. He was key in introducing me to R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. Back in the 1990's, I was in a band that did a festival with R.L. Burnside. At that point, I was still more into Chicago blues, and Hill Country blues did nothing for me. I was like, 'This ain't blues.' Little did I know, that's where the blues started with Delta blues and Hill Country blues."

William Clarke was another mentor to Deak in the 1990's. "Bill would say, 'Deak, I'll show you anything you want to learn about the blues and the business, but you've got to make your own name, your own music.' That was some of the best advice I ever got," Deak said. "I mean, I can sound like Cotton, but I don't use any of his licks. If you listen to my records, you really don't hear anybody else's but mine. I'm not the fanciest harmonica player, and I know that, but I do have my own thing goin' on. The beauty of the harmonica is, you can take it in so many different directions and everybody can sound like themselves." The spirit of giving that Cotton showed Deak back in the day is what motivates Deak to show the musicians he teaches and mentors at his shop today. To him it's more about passing on traditions than it is about pocketing a paycheck.

Deak performed today with drummer Lee Andrew Williams (born 1983, graduated from Clarksdale High School, Class of 2009), who is also drum instructor at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale. In addition to his gigs with Deak, he is the drummer with Heavy Suga and the Sweet Tones. He was the perfect complement to Deak today. They both looked like they were having a great time.

Here's my video of today's performance. Here's one more that I found from Jazz Fest, and here he is as a one-man band at the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, and here with a drummer at another Juke Joint Festival.

After this show ended and everyone in the Blues Tent gave Deak a standing ovation, I hustled over to the Fais Do Do stage to hear a fairly rare Jazz Fest performance by the great Cajun singer Belton Richard and his band, the Musical Aces. Laurie and I saw Belton on Day 4 at our very first Jazz Fest in 2012, and just loved his voice, songs, and personality.

Richard was born in the Louisiana town of Rayne in 1939. He took up the accordion at his father's knee at age seven. During his teens, early rock and roll music drew his attention, but in 1959 his Cajun heritage pulled him in another direction and he established the Musical Aces. The group is credited as being pioneers in the use of the electric bass in Cajun music, and was possibly the first Cajun outfit to employ the instrument.

Songs Belton Richard wrote decades ago have withstood the test of time and are still routinely played by many Cajun bands. Among these are Un Autre Soir Ennuyant, which was based on Another Sleepless Night by Jimmy Clanton, and Le Paradis des Musiciens. He also recorded French-language covers of a number of other songs, including The Streak and I Can't Stop Loving You

Beyond the songwriting, Richard is top-notch as a singer and Cajun accordion player. In 1997, the Cajun Music Hall of Fame named him as one of its first inductees. He has received a number of other honors as well. 

In the 1960's, Richard set south Louisiana's French music in a new direction with two landmark albums, "Modern Sounds in Cajun Music" Volumes 1 and 2. Instead of the usual 'you left me, my heart is hurting' French lyrics, Richard sang of romance, dreams, and second chances. Those lyrics were wrapped around Richard's honey-smooth, crooning vocals, a major departure from the high-nasal, shouting style from the dancehalls of yesteryear. Twin fiddles and other country-style arrangements added to the fresh sound. Richard and his Musical Aces were in demand nearly every night of the week and even had a dance show on KLFY-TV 10 in Lafayette. The program ran for eight years.

Richard says much of his inspiration came from the rock and roll of the 1950's, which he played as a teenager. "I was singing these songs with feeling. That's where I got my ideas from. Then I got into country music and started writing. The old music was dying and we had to do something. I'm not bragging, but we did very well." 

          

Richard admits he sometimes grows tired of singing Un Autre Soir Ennuyant. But fans won't stop requesting it. "I have to sing it, at least two or three times a night," said Richard, writer of 105 Cajun songs. "I made some money with that song and I'm still making it. People think you make a lot of money with these songs, but it's not much. It's not just the money, though. Sometimes it's a lot of fun, and I like to write. It takes time. It's not like it used to be. I could write an album in six days. Now it takes me two years."

Belton officially retired in 1986, and the Festivals Acadiens et Creoles in Lafayette were held in his honor that year. However, 10 years later he returned to recording with the album "I'm Back."

Richard aims to continue to write and have fun as a living legend of Cajun music. He also continues to drive home his belief that Cajun music can survive only with fresh material. "They need to cut some new French stuff. That's the key. My album, right now, is outselling the last three albums put together. That's because I got some new stuff on it. What does that tell you? People want to hear something different. You're not going to see the same movie five times. It's the same with music. You don't want to hear Lacassine Special 35 times." Having heard that, I like this guy even more.

These days, Belton rarely ventures out of Cajun Country, so it was a real treat to get to hear hime a second time. It was another great Jazz Fest moment at the Fais Do Do stage. Here's my video from today's performance. 

When this show ended, I zipped over to the Congo Square stage to catch some of the performance by Henry Butler and his band, which he simply calls Jambalaya. Butler is a New Orleans institution, although this is the first time I have been able to catch him. The show was under way when I arrived, but I found a spot on the new bleachers along the track at the Congo Square so I could see over the crowd to the stage. These bleachers aren't nearly as large as those at the Acura stage, but they serve the same basic purpose, that is, to keep the crowd from congregating on the track. Again, for that purpose and for viewing, they work very well.

Henry Butler is considered one of the best of the New Orleans jazz and blues pianists. A master of musical diversity, he combines the percussive jazz piano playing of McCoy Tyner and the New Orleans-style playing of Professor Longhair to craft, what else but a sound uniquely his own. A rich blend of jazz, Caribbean, classical, pop, blues, and R&B, his music is as eclectic as New Orleans itself.

Butler performs as a soloist, with his blues groups (the Game Band and Jambalaya), with a traditional jazz band (Papa Henry and the Steamin’ Syncopators), and with a more modern jazz band (Butler, Bernstein and the Hot 9). He's always found collaborating with other musicians as well. 

Blinded by glaucoma at birth in 1949, Butler was admitted to the Louisiana School for the Blind (now the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired) in Baton Rouge at the age of five, and moved back and forth between Baton Rouge during the school year and the Calliope Housing Projects in New Orleans in the summer.

His musical ability was recognized from his first days at school. With no piano in his home, he memorized every piano melody he found interesting on the records his mother bought from bargain bins in local stores. Butler remembers the first time his mother brought home something by Fats Waller, and how he took to Viper's Drag. That was the turning point, as he memorized LP after LP until he could get to a piano, in the neighborhood or back at school.

By the age of 12, Butler was not only performing regularly, but also arranging and composing for the groups with whom he now worked nights while he continued to attend school during the day. Although piano was his first instrument, he also mastered baritone horn, valve trombone, and drums. In high school, he began formal vocal training.

After high school, Butler attended Southern University in Baton Rouge, under the masterful tutelage of the late clarinetist Alvin Batiste, and went on to earn his Master's degree at Michigan State University. National Endowment for the Arts fellowships allowed him to study with Sir Roland Hanna and to work with Cannonball Adderley and his pianist, George Duke. He also spent time with Harold Mabern, had a private lesson at the home of Professor Longhair, and played on bills with James Booker often enough to absorb Booker's unique ideas and technique.

Butler is respected for his versatile work as a composer and arranger in a broad range of genres, and as a speaker and educator in high demand on conference programs and college campuses. In addition to teaching in a variety of settings, including the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) and Eastern Illinois University, with many of his former students now featured performers in major jazz orchestras, he has initiated a number of educational projects, for both the sighted and the visually impaired.

Always eager to explore new boundaries, in music and other areas, Butler picked up a camera 20 years ago and has been taking photographs ever since, exploring the sighted world's relationship with the flat representational image and its power. His work continues to be exhibited nationally and internationally and was featured in the 2009 documentary "Dark Light: the Art of Blind Photographers."

While his early albums were jazz recordings featuring such top-notch instrumentalists as Charlie Haden, Freddie Hubbard, and Billy Higgins ("Fivin' Around" in 1986) and Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette ("The Village" in 1988), Butler has increasingly turned to New Orleans music and the blues. His 1990 album, "Orleans Inspiration," was followed by "Blues and More, Volume I" in 1992. Although he briefly returned to jazz with "For All Seasons" in 1996, he's remained immersed in the blues since recording "Blues After Sunset" in 1998.

In 1996, Butler returned home to New Orleans after years in California, New York, and Illinois, and settled in as a major presence in the New Orleans cultural landscape, performing, teaching, composing, and recording.

After collaborating with Corey Harris (see Day 8) on the album "Vu-Du Menz" in 2000, Butler spent the next three years touring with the Delta blues guitarist. After releasing a power-packed, all electric blues-rock album, "The Game Has Just Begun" in 2002, Butler took things even deeper on "Homeland," released in 2004.

In 1993, Butler’s first workshop for blind and visually impaired teen musicians, in North Carolina, laid the groundwork for the camps he would conduct in different locations across the country from 1994 until 2003, when he established what he thought was a permanent home at the University of New Orleans. The camps provided first-class instruction in performance skills as well as an introduction to adaptive technology. The first New Orleans camp is the subject of the 2010 documentary "The Music's Gonna Get You Through." 

Barely two weeks after the second camp ended, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit and the resulting Federal flood decimated the city, the camp at the University, and Butler's home --including his piano, unpublished compositions, scores, masters, and an enormous library of musical material in Braille. Butler is still at work raising funds and developing a network to reestablish the camp.

Within days of the storm, Butler joined forces with a group of preeminent New Orleans musicians (George Porter Jr., Cyril Neville, Leo Nocentelli, Monk Boudreaux, Marcia Ball, Dr. John, and others) in Austin, Texas, to become, for the time, The New Orleans Social Club, and record the album "Sing Me Back Home" (2006), one of the first and certainly most powerful post-Katrina recordings. For Butler, the experience provided him with a way to begin to process the losses, in the midst of musicians intent on similar goals of survival and rebirth, and to create something for others along the way.


Butler knows the history and stories behind all the music he plays and has been shaped by, including classical, opera, jazz, blues, Afro-Cuban, Caribbean, rock, and country. Throw him a musician's name, and he will tell you his or her story. Shout out a title, and his fingers immediately find their place on the keyboard and that unbelievably rhythmic left hand mates with his jazz-influenced right one to take you on a journey you didn't know you had been aching for, that oxymoron of a classically trained blues voice grabs you at just the right moment. Henry Butler is a musician with deep philosophical and cultural roots. He gets it from all angles, and he delivers. 

That is definitely true, and it was great to finally see Henry Butler perform. See him here, in my video, and here are four from the WWOZ Piano Night concert, held every year at the House of Blues during Jazz Fest: Hey Now Honey Child, Big Chief, and in tribute to Allen Toussaint, Freedom for the Stallion and Get Out of My Life Woman (must see, featuring Toussaint's guitarist Renard Poché). If you really want to dig deeper, here is a long interview with Henry, produced by the Library of Congress, in which you get a fair amount of piano playing, too. And as long as we have brought him up again, here's the same guy interviewing Allen Toussaint.

At this point in the day I was watching the time very carefully, which is unusual at Jazz Fest. Normally one is just a cube manipulator. However, today I wanted to be in the Jazz Tent for a show that started at 4:10, and it was one that was going to be packed, so I needed to be there plenty early. It was now around 1:45, so I felt like I could fit in just a bit more music outside the tent. First, I bopped back over to the Fais Do Do stage (where else?) to catch some of the set by Corey Ledet and his Zydeco Band.

Corey Ledet is another one of those young zydeco artists who is continuing the traditional while injecting some modern touches. For example, today they did a zydeco tribute to Prince, which featured an incredible version of Purple Rain. Not the only time it would be heard at Jazz Fest, but probably the most innovative.

Ledet was born and raised in Houston, but spent his summers with family in small-town  Parks, Louisiana. While the Creole culture has its roots in Louisiana, it quickly spread into neighboring Texas, and there is a sizeable community in the Houston area. Because of this, he was able to be constantly immersed in the Creole culture and developed a real love for it. 

Summers at the family home in Louisiana further molded and shaped his world in a profound way. He learned everything he could so that he could incorporate the culture in all areas of his life -- including the traditions, the food, and most importantly the music.

Ledet's love for Creole la-la and zydeco music was instant and hard for him to ignore. He studied the originators of the music such as Clifton Chenier, John Delafose, and Boozoo Chavis. He branched out to include studying any (and all) zydeco artists. When he was 10, he picked up shows playing drums for the Houston-based band Wilbert Thibodeaux and the Zydeco Rascals. 

At age 12, he began dabbling with the accordion, taking a few lessons from his cousin, Leon Sam, but learning mostly through a process he calls "hard studying." He caught any band he could, devoured all the zydeco, Creole, and Cajun recordings possible and spent countless hours watching video documentaries and concerts with friend and musical mentor James Adams. Eventually he became experienced with any of the different types of accordions -- single-note, triple-note, piano key, and others. He worked at building his skills until he knew each one fluently.

                              

By the time he graduated from high school, he was certain that he wanted to pursue music as a career. "I would sit down and practice writing my name on how it would look on billboards and stuff," he recalls. Two years out of school he moved to Parks to be closer to the Cajun culture. 

By January 2003, Corey Ledet and His Zydeco Band were up and running, ready to take on the zydeco nation but very differently than the young bands who were pushing the envelope in the contemporary direction. Instead, Ledet's main influence was Clifton Chenier. In fact, Ledet is among the few who can quote the solos of the zydeco founding father perfectly.

It didn't hurt that Ledet's grandfather, Buchanan 'Tbu' Ledet, was one of Clifton Chenier's first drummers. "Before it was Robert Peter, it was my grandfather," Ledet says. "When Clifton hired Robert Peter, he told him, 'I want you to sound as close to this man as possible.' So he would go by my grandfather's and study with him. When you hear Clifton's drums, that is how my grandfather would back up Clifton way back when."

Ledet remains true to his roots and earnestly searches for ways to include them in his music. He keeps one foot firmly in the tradition while exploring surrounding influences in order to create the best of both worlds. He is able to infuse old and new styles of zydeco into his own unique sound from all of the people he studied and was influenced by.

He also appreciates the other traditional sound indigenous to Louisiana in Cajun music and has been able to expand his repertoire to include these influences as well. Corey's Zydeco Band are James "JB" Adams on the scrubboard, Julian Primeaux on guitar, and Jesse Belliveau on bass. Here's my video of today's show at the Fais Do Do, and here are Corey and a bunch of friends on that wild Swamp 'n' Roll TV show (oh, you can spend a lot of time on this one, I guarantee). Finally, here's another complete show from the Downtown Alive series in Lafayette. 

On the way out of the Fais Do Do area, I stopped at the stand of La Divina Gelateria for an afternoon snack of coconut lime gelato. Cool and refreshing!

As I headed over to the Jazz Tent, I was distracted for a bit at the Economy Hall tent, as happens often. Today's distraction was Leroy Jones and New Orleans' Finest, a traditional jazz band led by one of the best trumpet players in the city. We got to hear this great artist last year at the House of Blues on Day 8 as he participated in Kermit Ruffins' Big Easy Trumpet Battle Royale, and you can catch his background there. 

The New Orleans Finest band today consisted of Jones on trumpet, Bruce Brackman on clarinet, Katja Toivola on trombone, Meghan Swartz on piano, Jason Stewart on bass, and Barnaby Gold on drums. As you can see in my video, they play traditional jazz with a modern touch, very cool. If you want to hear some more from this band, here are They All Ask for You and Why Don't You Go Down to New Orleans? from Jazz Fest in 2012.

Now it was definitely time to get to the Jazz Tent and stake a claim on some space to see Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Even more than 90 minutes ahead of time the tent was really crowded. I have a secret spot, though, and even though it is way in the back, it's a place where you can stand, out of the sun, and look over the top of the audience. The sound is very good there, too. So, I parked myself in this nice spot at the back of the Jazz Tent and would remain standing there for the better part of the next three hours. 

When I arrived, the Herlin Riley Quintet was playing. This really good group is made up of New Orleanian Herlin Riley on drums, Bruce Harris on trumpet, Godwin Louis on alto saxophone, Emmet Cohen on piano, and Russell Hall on bass.   

Herlin Riley was born in New Orleans into a musical family, and first began playing the drums at the age of three. He studied trumpet throughout high school and for two years of college, but his interest in the instrument waned and he began to focus again on drums. From 1984 to 1987, he was a member of Ahmad Jamal's group. He joined the Wynton Marsalis group in 1988 and toured with them until the group disbanded in 1994. 

More recently, Riley has been a featured musician at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and he took part in developing the drum parts for Wynton's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Blood on the Fields." He is a lecturer in percussion for the jazz studies program at the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Riley is that rare drummer who could single-handedly pull off a two-hour concert if he wanted to. When he leads a group, the melodic rhythm is all Riley, guiding, shining, propelling an insatiable groove that stands alone. Other drummers may be content to play second fiddle, holding down the anchor. But Riley performs both as a solid anchor and vigorous frontman, giving insight to his stately, gritty, unpredictable fly-away New Orleans percussive heritage.

Speaking of the musicians playing with him today at Jazz Fest, Riley says, "This group reflects a personal transition from being a musical associate with the likes of Ahmad Jamal and Wynton Marsalis, to functioning in a leadership capacity, both as a bandleader and a composer. Like Art Blakey, I'm trying to maintain a certain exuberance by using all younger musicians, while helping them develop their own voices. So many great musicians and drummers have come out of New Orleans, and that really defines my personal legacy; I'm standing on the shoulders of giants. But I've been playing drums since I was three years old; so, while the bottle is new, this is surely some well-aged wine."

Riley serves as the elder statesmen in this assembly of intensely confident and talented young musicians who grasp the lofty ideals of rhythmic groove in every song, be it jazz- or blues-influenced, from the bayou or the heart of a big city. The music they create is out of this world. The horn players and Cohen are never at a loss for their own working grooves. Riley also brings his New Orleans heritage and various sundry interest in hardcore Afro-Cuban styles to the forefront in his musical choices.

"When the music came to me, it was not with any particular intent. Everything we play is from something I've lived. It's a product of my experience," Riley said. "It's like cooking a big pot of gumbo; you may start out with some very humble ingredients, but by the time you're finished, you have a meal fit for a king. I mean, the essence of jazz music to me is that it is free, but it has form. So our music is modern, and it's progressive, but we're trying to engage people as well. I do love to groove; that is a big part of who I am, and that is why as an expression of where I would like to take my music, this music feels very much like home." 

I guess that's why they ended the set with Danny Barker’s "Tootie Ma."

Bruce Harris' affinity for jazz began when he was a child listening to his grandfather play the alto sax in his family's South Bronx apartment. After seeing Spike Lee's "Mo' Better Blues," he decided to play the trumpet. As a junior in high school, he performed in the "Essentially Ellington" jazz band competition, sharing the stage with Wynton Marsalis. He fortified his studies by training his ear on the piano and by graduation he had been selected to join the National Grammy High School Jazz Band. His journey continued at the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College. He completed his studies in 2004, earning his fine arts degree in jazz performance. In his spare time, he works with young musicians. His eclectic tastes are evident in the variety of bands he performs with, including Latin jazz and blues groups in addition to his quintet and big band.

Alto saxophonist Godwin Louis was born in Harlem and began playing saxophone at age nine. He grew up in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Port au Prince, Haiti, and graduated with honors from Bassick High School in Bridgeport in 2003. As an undergraduate, he received a degree in professional music with an emphasis on education from Berklee College of Music in Boston. He was one of six musicians selected to become the class of 2011 at the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz Performance, a full-scholarship graduate-level program at Loyola University in New Orleans (since moved to UCLA in California. There, under the artistic direction of Terence Blanchard, he and his colleagues honed their skills at performing, teaching and composing.

Louis has worked as a clinician at several music camps, including the Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong Camp, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts Camp, and the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra's Summer Music Camp and Festival. While at Berklee in Boston, he was a member of the legendary Either/Orchestra.

The multifaceted pianist, B3 organist, and composer Emmet Cohen began piano instruction at age three, and his playing quickly became a mature melding of musicality, technique, and concept. He says that playing jazz is "about communicating the deepest level of humanity and individuality; it's essentially about connections," both among musicians and with audiences. Possessing a fluid technique, an innovative tonal palette, and an expansive repertoire, he plays with the command of a seasoned veteran and the passion of an artist fully devoted to his medium.

Cohen holds a Master's degree from the Manhattan School of Music and a Bachelor's degree from the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, where he studied with esteemed pianist and educator Shelly Berg. In his formative years he was tutored in classical piano at the Manhattan School of Music. 

Cohen is avid about the inter-generational transfer of artistic knowledge, history, and traditions. Himself an alumnus of the YoungArts Foundation, he now produces and directs multidisciplinary high-school YoungArts programs that employ creative writing, theater, dance, visual arts, cinematography, music, voice, and jazz. When designing student curricula and selecting master artists as teachers and mentors, he is in his element, connecting effectively with multi-generational performers and audiences. He visits 50 schools yearly through Jazz at Lincoln Center's "Jazz for Young People" program and regularly presents jazz history and performance lectures.  

Russell Hall was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and now resides in New York City. He started playing the double bass at the age of 14 when he was invited to attend Dillard Center for the Arts. While in high school, he also took part in the "Essentially Ellington" competition and was a member of the 2012 Jazz Band of America. He graduated from the Juilliard School, where he was a student of master bassists Ron Carter and Ben WolfeThese days, Hall is a part of Jazz at Lincoln Center and plays at numerous venues in New York City. 

Here's the video I took of this performance. There's a lot of commotion, so it might be better for listening, but you'll definitely get the feel of this great quintet. If you want more (and you should), here's a high-quality 40-plus minutes from Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Lincoln Center

Now it was time to wait for the stage to be set up for Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. I didn't dare move. Even the standing area at the back where I had staked my claim was getting crowded. More and more people were coming into the Jazz Tent and began to stand in the aisles, including the one in front of me, the one that went across the back of the tent. (There were five or six rows of chairs between me and the aisle.) The stage host warned these people to stay out of the aisles, that the fire marshall would not let them stay. The ushers kept clearing them out, only to have others fill the aisle back in. I've never seen anything like it. When the show began, the ushers made the people standing in the aisles kneel down, which at least protected my view of the stage.

Hancock and Shorter entered to a sustained standing ovation. Their past takes in a wide swath of the history of jazz. And the two of them had leading roles in much of that history. They were half of the second great Miles Davis quintet (the first featured John Coltrane, whose son Ravi I saw yesterday with Jack DeJohnette and Matt Garrison). The pair played on Davis' first fusion album, "In a Silent Way," and Shorter continued with Davis on "Bitches Brew."

As leaders, they have produced some of the greatest jazz recorded. Shorter co-founded the celebrated fusion group Weather Report. Hancock formed the seminal Headhunters and brought Rockit to MTV. On and on. In 1997, the pair won a Grammy for a song on their duet album "1+1." 

     

Today, anyone seeing Hancock and Shorter on the schedule and expecting to hear Cantaloupe Island or Speak No Evil received a reality check. When Hancock sat down at the piano and Shorter picked up his soprano sax, the music they played sounded like a wordless conversation of two old friends, sharing memories, telling jokes. Like friends who have a deep history, and can finish each others sentences. It was as if we'd all been allowed to eavesdrop on two geniuses.

The first song stretched across most of the meditative set. It began with as many rests as notes. The two, somewhat tentatively at first, tossed phrases back and forth. Soon they were responding to each other. And at times they would briefly lock into a groove, before stepping back, with Hancock, at first on a Steinway grand piano, often grounding the music and Shorter playing delicate, haunting runs above.

Shorter began with a pair of extended, mellow soprano saxophone lines. Hancock echoed his friend's introspective vibe as he dug in on the piano positioned alongside his keyboard setup. Even when he engineered a series of fast, dark motifs, the music remained contemplative. As Hancock pressed on, seemingly anchoring much of the music's direction, Shorter altered his approach, shifting timbre and power to simultaneously play up and build out the musical narrative Hancock was creating next to him. At one point he even whistled a phrase. For most of this nearly 50-minute journey, Hancock alternated between intensely cerebral figures, cascading harmonies, and a use of time and space that said as much through silence as his more virtuosic moments said through sound.

Shorter, meanwhile, mixed swirls of color with vaults into unexpected registers that seemed as if they could lift the top of the tent off and send it careening skyward.

In one quiet moment, the audience was fooled into clapping, believing the song had ended. Hancock put that to rest by moving to his Korg Kronos, and a series of extra terrestrial sounds, some dissonant, some not, wafted out over the crowd. Hancock unleashed retro, outer-space noises and otherworldly, breathy chords that rang like bells. A drum machine began to beat out an spare, yet insistent rhythm, and the reflective tone momentarily vanished. The music became urgent, at times angry. Shorter added restrained improvisations to the top of this new mix, which by then had more in common with parts of Hancock's "Future 2 Future" than with "1+1." Then, the drums stopped, and the pair returned to he piano and a more meditative state.

For those with the right inclination (and sufficient concentration to block out the in-tent commotion and the occasional thudding beat from the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the Acura stage nearby), Hancock and Shorter offered a spiritual experience. Their music was about looking inward. When they finally came to a rest almost an hour after starting, Hancock looked at his watch. They still had time left in their set. Hancock gestured to Shorter that they should play more. And they did. 

At this point they sounded invigorated by what had just transpired between them. Shorter's energy and power shone through more decisively as Hancock set up complex, high-speed harmonies beneath him. Later, Hancock worked his way into a deep-toned groove and Shorter played off of it, mixing wild upper register torrents with playful nods to Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.

Many people inexplicably left during this performance. It obviously was not what they were expecting. Those who stayed got it, and got to hear two jazz giants paint notes together as only two intuitive masters can. This was unbelievably astonishing music. I can't put it any other way. Simple and elegant, textured and layered, it was brilliant.

Several weeks prior, Shorter and Hancock co-wrote an open letter that detailed not only how to be a great artist but also how to be a better human being in general. And after their set at Jazz Fest it appears that the jazz legends practice what they preach. Some of the major talking points in the letter were on peace, humanity, the unknown, diversity, loss of ego, historical knowledge, and living a life of wonder. Hancock and Shorter touched on all of these points musically in this performance.

Here is my video, all 27 minutes of it, because once I started the recording, there was really no place to stop! Again, because of the commotion in the tent, it may be better just to sit back, close your eyes, and listen. Here is one other, which may be included in my video, but it isn't as long and was recorded from closer to the stage, so you can see the artists better.

This was not a particularly easy afternoon in the Jazz Tent. The crowd was stress inducing and the music was demanding. But was it worth it? You bet it was.

However, I had some pent up energy to release. What would it be? Red Hot Chili Peppers? Ummm, not for me. Nick Jonas? No way. J. Cole? Never heard of him until now. John Mayall was in the Blues Tent, and that was tempting, but I was done with the tent experience for the day. So how about some Mardi Gras Indian funk? Oh yeah, that will work perfectly. So it was off to the Jazz and Heritage stage to see Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles, and that would be just what the doctor ordered.

The doctor also ordered some food. I was beyond hungry, so the Heritage Square food area, right next to the Jazz Tent but mobbed, of course, was going to have to work. I waited in a releatively short line for some crawfish bisque from Li'l Dizzy's Café,  the same people who do the trout with crabmeat (see yesterday) that is sooo good. 

The dark, rich stew of crawfish tail meat and seasonings takes extra time to prepare because of its distinguishing feature, stuffed crawfish shells that float in the roux-based gravy, served in a bowl over rice. The crawfish meat is removed from the shell and sautéed into a dressing with onions, celery, and spices. The stuffing then goes back into the empty shells. Wayne Baquet and his cooking team prepare about 10,000 stuffed shells for Jazz Fest.

Concocted using a recipe from Wayne's wife, Janet Bacquet, Li'l Dizzy's bisque is of a distinctly Creole style due to a base of peanut butter-colored roux that's cut through with the addition of a touch of tomato sauce. The rusty-hued stew is offered as a special at Li'l Dizzy's restaurant on Esplanade Avenue every Friday during Lent.  

Wayne explains how Dizzy's bisque came to be, saying, "When we decided to start doing crawfish bisque some 19 years ago at Jazz Fest -- that’s how long we've been doing crawfish bisque there, I had to use my grandmother's recipe, which my mom had to cook for us, which was crawfish bisque in a brown gravy, which is the original way it was fixed. And then my wife's recipe, which she got from her mother, which was crawfish bisque in a light Creole gravy -- not a real tomato gravy but a light Creole gravy. And I made the choice that the one in the light Creole gravy was better, and that's the one that we use."

Each year in early April Li'l Dizzy's team begins to stuff the 10,000 pre-cleaned crawfish heads they will need for the 3,500 or so portions of bisque sold each year at Jazz Fest. "I'm on the phone with the restaurant every day from the Fest," says Wayne, "and I feel real bad when I have to say 'it's time to get on it again. You've got to stuff some more heads.' But people want it: they want that bisque. We put three heads in every bowl; two if the heads are really big."

That came as a complete surprise to me, as I was not familiar with the dish at all. I don't know what took me so long to try it, because it soared into the top of my list of favorite dishes at Jazz Fest.

I detoured on my way to the Jazz and Heritage stage so that I could grab a draft beverage and, as usual when in the neighborhood, I checked out the Gospel Tent. There, playing at Jazz Fest for the 20th year, were Tyrone Foster and the Arc Singers. Based out of the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in the Carrollton section of the city, Foster and his youth choir could restore the faith of even the most jaded (cough).

Foster is minister of music at St. Joan of Arc. As a member of the renowned Gospel Soul Children from age 11 to 19, he was mentored by one of the patriarchs of New Orleans Gospel, founding director Albert Sylvester Hadley. Foster says, "It was Mr. Hadley that first noticed my talents, gave me the opportunity, and got me into directing." Foster became assistant director of the choir until Hadley passed in 1986, and soon after Foster was asked to start up a choir at the St. Joan of Arc Church. He has been there ever since. 

It wasn't until his fifth year at the church that Foster began taking his youth choir to outside engagements and concerts. Then, after every performance, more and more kids from outside his church would ask to join the choir. Finally Foster decided to rename the choir the Arc Singers and have it be a non-denominational, all-inclusive youth choir. Soon enough, the Arc Singers swelled to 80 members (at one point it approached 100) and became one of the most in-demand and respected gospel choirs in the city. There aren't many places outside New Orleans where kids would be chomping at the bit to join a church choir, but such is the infectious joy Foster and his Arc Singers display in their performances. 

Part of the success of the Arc Singers comes from the backing band, which boasts one of the finest rhythm sections in the city. Says Foster, "They know me and each other so well. They can sense when I'm about to do something different, something unexpected. No words are necessary."

The choir's famous stage moves and choreography are all original. "Basically, I come up with the choreography," says Foster, "But I give them the opportunity to put some moves in." The choir's steps are highlights of their performance, blending hip hop swagger into their sanctified praise-giving and permanently destroying one's image of a passive, arms-folded church choir.

Because of the strength of their sound and performance, one would expect a tough audition process and criteria for new members, but the opposite is true. Foster says, "My doors swing open to anyone. I have some who think they can sing, some who know they can't but still want to be a part of it. Bad voices mixed with good voices make a melodious sound. I don't turn anyone away."


Beyond teaching the kids the rigors of singing in his choir, Foster believes many of them learn life lessons as well. "The Arc Singers provides an opportunity for these kids to learn structure," he says. "These days there's so much peer pressure, there's so much coming at them, that it's important to have something positive for them to get into. I try to walk in a way that is respectful. I expect them to walk in the same way. Humility is something I try to impress upon them."

I might interject here that the same philosophy is behind the many, many young local groups who perform at Jazz Fest, including brass bands, jazz combos, and Mardi Gras Indian tribes. 

At Jazz Fest, the line between ministering and entertaining often becomes blurry for the Arc Singers. "The kids get caught up and distracted, so I have to keep reminding them, and myself, what we're trying to do, which is minister. We're going to give God praise first, and have fun second. Once I feel the spirit moving, nothing else matters. I can see it in the faces of the audience, they're enjoying themselves, but are still feeling the spirit."

Here's my quick video, taken from the periphery of the Gospel Tent, here's another from this year, and here's something a bit longer, from 2013. I'll say it again: there is always something special going on in the Gospel Tent. There is nothing else like it at any other music festival. 

I arrived at the Jazz and Heritage stage just in time, as the Golden Eagles' backing funk band was just getting cranked up, transitioning from tuning up into a jam, which is how it usually goes for a Mardi Gras Indian performance. The band cranks the crowd up for awhile, the Indians follow and excite the crowd up some more, then the Big Chief takes the stage. 

These first songs today were Put the Voodoo on Me (here by the Neville Brothers) and Going Down Slowly (here by Galactic and Living Colour's Corey Glover)The Big Chief entered to They Don't Know (in this great version he's doing the song with Anders Osborne and Johnny Sansone; you can see it from today's show in my video, linked below).

Big Chief Monk Boudreaux (Joseph Pierre Boudreaux) was born in New Orleans in 1941. He is widely known for his long-time collaboration with Big Chief Bo Dollis in the Wild Magnolias, and he and Dollis are considered to be the originators of Mardi Gras Indian funk music. Boudreaux joined the Wild Magnolias in the late 1960's. He had been close fiends with Dollis since their childhood and they remained friends until Dollis passed away last year.


The history of Mardi Gras Indians is a mysterious one. Some have traced their existence back to the 1700's, where official records note the presence of Africans in Native American attire in New Orleans. Boudreaux says, "I've been telling people this for years. Friend of mine who is a college professor comes down every year. He saw in the newspaper that they had a bunch of black Indians in the 1700's." 

Native Americans helped escaped slaves by hiding them in their settlements. There was intermarriage between the two groups as there was between all different ethnic groups in New Orleans. The Indian customs were passed down mainly orally, and the tradition was very much underground and back of town, even to the people who masked or followed it. Even today, when the tradition is more open and high profile than ever, it still maintains a great degree of mystery and mystique. 

The more one delves into the history of the Mardi Gras Indians, the deeper and more fascinating it becomes. Where does the language, a patois that seems to be made up of Creole French, West African dialects, and the unique way of speaking in New Orleans, come from? What does it mean? Where does the music come from? And why do the people who practice this tradition mask as if they are Native Americans from the Great Plains? There are different answers for each question, when there are answers at all. The most important question these days is, how can something so deep and fulfilling to both the people who practice it and those who follow and observe it be so musical, so funky, and so badass? The answer is simple. Because it is.

Mardi Gras Indians used to have the reputation of being scoundrels. They were thought to be drunks, drug addicts, and violent sociopaths. But since the late 1960's, the focus began to change from being the toughest Indian on the street to being the prettiest Indian, the one with the most beautiful patches or the one who can sing best. This was not a random occurrence. Boudreaux and Dollis and several other Big Chiefs, most notably Allison "Tootie" Montana of the downtown Yellow Pocahontas, began refocusing their efforts within their gangs and within the community at large to tamper down the fighting and violence when Indian groups met. They did this through their standing among the Indians and the sheer artistry of their suits. 

It's pretty amazing that in such a macho, male-dominated milieu, the people who are most valued now are the ones who are the "prettiest," but that's another part of the mystique. For the amount of "playing Indian" that goes on now, there is almost no violence despite the intensity that has been there from the beginning. These warriors are still doing this as if their lives depend on it. In their minds and on the streets, it still does.

It was Monk's father, Raymond, who was a member of the Creoles and Wild Squatoolas Mardi Gras Indian gangs, who introduced him to the culture. However, Boudreaux didn't mask with his dad. At age 12, he became the Second Spy Boy for the White Eagles, who were led by the noted Big Chief Lawrence Fletcher. The gang changed its name to the Golden Eagles in 1962, and Monk took over as chief in the early 1970's. Remarkably, his father, who had left the tradition, came back to join Monk as his Second Chief in the Golden Eagles.

In 1970, Boudreaux appeared with the Wild Magnolias at the very first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. That same year, the group released the single Handa Wanda on Cresent City Records, the first studio recorded music by Mardi Gras Indians. In 1974, he recorded with the Wild Magnolias on their self-titled debut album, which featured, among others, Snooks Eaglin, Earl Turbinton, Alfred "Uganda" Roberts, and Willie Tee as supporting musicians. 

Boudreaux left the Wild Magnolias as a result of disputes with the group's manager over guarantee payments. As his career went forward, he was featured on the Golden Eagles 1988 recording "Lightning and Thunder" and has performed and recorded with artists such as Anders Osborne (video above), Galactic, and Papa Mali. Eventually he and Dollis reconciled, and the two appeared together as often as Dollis' health would permit.

Big Chief Boudreaux has also participated in recording and touring with the Voice of the Wetlands All Stars, a band with a message led by Tab Benoit, which also features Cyril Neville, Osborne, and Sansone, among others. Check this out.

In 2010, Boudreaux appeared in the feature-length documentary "Bury the Hatchet." The film is an intimate look at the Mardi Gras Indian tradition, following Boudreaux and several other Mardi Gras Indian Chiefs in the year before Hurricane Katrina, through the storm and the years after. And this year he received a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship

Unlike almost all the other tribes (except maybe the Wild Magnolias), the Golden Eagles, the people who are the real members of the gang sewing suits and such, are all kin to Monk. It really is a tribe. Monk Boudreaux's grandson J'Wan, who also sings in the great funk band Cha Wa, sang lead on a couple of tunes at today's performance, and the Big Chief made a point of telling the crowd how important his family is to him. There is a story about J'wan when he was about 8 years old and 4 feet tall confronting another tribe's Spy Boy who was twice his height, three times his weight, and four times his age. J'wan did the whole thing right, chanting, "I'm Spy Boy J'wan from the Golden Eagles with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. I don't bow down ... don't know how" and on and on until he stopped and stood his ground. What else could the rival Spy Boy do but look down and step aside with a wry, yet appreciative, look on his face and say, "Go on."  

Other songs and chants Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles did today were Dance With MeShallow Water, Oh MamaIndian RedLittle Liza Jane; the reggae-tinged Rising SunDive in the Gumbo; and Sew Sew Sew. Here's my video.

Big Chief Monk Boudreaux is a formidable singer, a powerful moral presence, and a fearless leader. As such he commands tremendous respect in New Orleans, whether in costume or not. He has a street-level grace, serious history, sheer toughness, and unique creativity. Through these qualities, he has given to everyone who has seen him in the community and to anyone who has heard his music or seen him sing onstage a greater understanding of New Orleans and of the complex, deep, and sustaining spirituality that is the essence of the tradition of the Mardi Gras Indians. A perfect way to end this day at Jazz Fest, which featured legend upon legend, to me the essence of this festival, with a good bit of youth in the mix as well.

I stopped off at the Panorama Foods booth on the way out of the festival grounds and grabbed a crawfish bread to take back to the room for dinner. If you haven't ever read any of this blog over the years, where it appears often, crawfish bread is a calzone-like bread filled with cheese and crawfish tails and baked until it turns into a cheesy, melty mess of goodness. Because I lingered at the Jazz and Heritage stage until the end, and because both Nick Jonas and the Red Hot Chili Peppers ended their sets early, it was much to my surprise smooth sailing to catch the shuttle bus back downtown. Nonetheless, by the time I got back to the Staybridge I was done for the day. I enjoyed the crawfish bread and a beverage from the refrigerator and that was that. It was TV and laptop the rest of the evening.

So now it is time for the Daze Between and ... Laurie at last! Jazz Fest is still fun when you're on your own, but I much prefer the company.

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© Jeff Mangold 2012