Day 8 / Thursday, April 28

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Today it was back to the 2016 drill plus Laurie: get up ... get ready ... slather on sunblock ... gather Brass Pass and Jazz Fest ticket, shuttle bus tickets, cameras, and phones, and today a backpack with an umbrella and our poncho-type pieces of plastic. Unfortunately the forecast, like yesterday, called for a pretty good chance of thunderstorms around mid-day. We hit the Staybridge lobby to grab some coffee. No food would be consumed at the Staybridge. One of us was very anxious to get some real good food someplace else. Even with the slight adjustment (as in an extra person), it was mission accomplished.

Weatherwise, when we left the hotel for the shuttle bus stop at the Sheraton, the temperature was 82, and that was about as warm as it would get today. At that time it felt like 87 because the humidity was 77 percent. At least there was no direct sun; the sky was overcast to threatening to stormy to mostly cloudy all day. 

We easily got one of the first buses out, which really helps when you have to wait in the line at the entrance to the festival grounds. Yes, that's right, I was back to waiting in line, because Laurie didn't have a Brass Pass (it's a seven-day ticket). She couldn't wait with me in the express lane because the scanners there wouldn't work with her ticket. When the gates opened we passed through security together, and when we got to the ticket scan point we split, me to the entrance for people with passes while she continued through the regular ticket entry. We met on the other side. No problem, really.

I've said it before, and it is true. The Thursday of Jazz Fest is really the best day. With the smallest crowds of any of the seven days, and the fact that many locals attend with school and church groups, it just has a much more mellow atmosphere than the Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. It feels more like a community event.

When we arrived we had plenty of time for food. Food Area I was closest to our first choice for music, the Fais Do Do stage of course (have a look at today's cubes here), so we each found something there. I went for the Cajun duck and shrimp pasta from Crescent Catering of Slidell, Louisiana, and Laurie had the spicy vegetarian red beans and rice from Burks and Douglas of New Orleans. 

We had this exact combination early on Day 9 last year so you can read their interesting stories on that page. On Day 3 in 2013 I tried Crescent's Cajun duck po' boy, which was very good, but having tried the duck with shrimp in pasta with Cajun brown sauce twice now, I can declare this dish is way up there on the must-eat list. 

At the Fais Do Do stage, the Dog Hill Stompers, a zydeco band we hadn't seen yet, which is getting more and more uncommon every year, was getting started. Members of this band, which hails from Lake Charles, Louisiana, are Quincy Trail on accordion and vocals, Rellis Chavis Jr. on accordion and drums, Cornell Chavis on accordion and drums, Mason Trail on bass and vocals, Justin Chavis on scrubboard and vocals, and Bryan Allen on guitar.

You'll notice a couple of interesting things about that lineup. First, there are three accordion players. Each one provided a different style of zydeco music, which was very interesting. 

The second thing you notice is that three of the Stompers have a very famous last name, and there is a reason for that, as those three, along with their first cousins Mason and Quincy Trail, are are the grandsons of the legendary Boozoo Chavis. Bryan is considered an honorary family member. 

The band takes its name from Boozoo's ranch, called "Dog Hill," (a great read) which was located outside of Lake Charles. It was also a Boozoo Chavis song. Not surprisingly, Boozoo Chavis songs make up about 70 percent of their repertoire, the rest being collaboratively written original songs.

Practically every zydeco band has at least one Boozoo tune, if not several, in its repertoire, and having one is practically a requirement to be considered legit. All of the Stompers have been around their grandfather's music all their lives. When they were boys, they would all sit behind the Magic Sounds' drummer, Rellis Sr., during Boozoo's Labor Day Festival and pretend that they, too, were drumming, imitating the moves and motions of their father and uncle. 

Mason recalls, "We would act like we had drumsticks in our hands and would mark everything that was going on onstage. Every year we looked forward to doing that, and that's how we started learning how to play."

As time went on, Boozoo would let his grandsons play a few numbers onstage, thus showcasing their emerging talent. "He was real proud of that," says Rellis Sr., now co-manager of the Stompers. Sometime in the late 1990's, Cornell played a few of his grandfather's songs in an accordion contest at the Zydeco Extravaganza. Rellis Sr. continued, "Everyone was just floored how well he played. So I just kicked it around and said, 'Well, okay, Cornell and the Dog Hill Stompers.'" Later, they shortened the group's name to just the Dog Hill Stompers.

Even though the seeds had been planted, it still took Hurricane Rita in 2005 to germinate them. The tight-knit family evacuated to Natchez, Mississippi, and with little to do, Mason bought a bass and an amp, and then taught himself how to play the four-string. "He pretty much surprised the hell out of us," recalls Rellis Jr. "It sparked a new flame in us. He initiated us in picking up our instruments again."

Since the Dog Hill Stompers have been around their grandfather's music all their lives, they know where the quirky chord changes are. "Somebody else would make the changes differently," explains Rellis Sr. "The Dog Hill Stompers sound pretty close to the real thing." 

The other thing that distinguishes the Stompers is its triple-threat on accordion. Though each plays his grandfather's music competently, each has his own style. Rellis Jr. plays the closest to Boozoo, Cornell is the most progressive, and Quincy falls somewhere in between.

The band's first recording, strangely, has only one Boozoo song (Jolie Catin), with the rest being originals. Mason describes the music as "modern-sounding enough, where you can tell it's in this day and age." With songs about their lives, Creole women, and country cooking, the group hopes that one of the songs will yield a hit, which will lead to more touring and a possible retirement from their day jobs.

There were not a lot of people at the Fais Do Do stage to enjoy it, but we sure did. Here's my video, with dancing umbrellas and two-steppers in the rain. Here's another one from today's performance. It's just fantastic that these guys are keeping their family legacy alive. 

Unfortunately, the last half of this show was marred by the beginning of the expected rain. As the picture below shows, some people deal with the rain by covering up, others deal with it by taking off! We stuck it out to the end, because it was just a light rain, and we had our umbrella and ponchos. 

However, knowing that more rain was on the way, we decided to pass by shows on the big stages by George Porter Jr. and Mia Borders on the big stages (oh heck, Mia is so good, here's another, a tribute to Prince) and the Savoy Family Cajun Band at the Fais Do Do stage to head to the Jazz Tent for some shelter and a performance by Chris Severin and his band.

Chris Severin is an accomplished musician with roots in the Tremé area of New Orleans. He was one of the first graduates from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), in 1976 during its early years, and he received his musical training from jazz greats like Alvin Batiste, Ellis Marsalis, and Walter Payton. Later, he attended Southern University of New Orleans, studying music education. Now a skilled teacher himself, in settings that include NOCCA, Severin believes in and promotes consistent practice as the path to a musician's success and emphasizes an understanding of music history, theory, and fundamentals. Among the subjects he teaches are music, media arts, and jazz. He also continues to provide private lessons on everything bass and is a teacher during the Sunday Youth Music Workshop at Tipitina's.

Over his 30-year career, Severin has played his seven-string electric and stand-up acoustic bass instruments with a virtual who's who of the music business, including Dianne Reeves (wow!), Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Bonnie Raitt, Nicholas Payton, Ellis Marsalis, Lou RawlsDonald HarrisonDeacon John MooreCorey Harris (see below), Henry ButlerBob French, Maria Muldaur, Stephanie Jordan, and Irma Thomas.

He also took part in the Celebration of New Orleans Music to benefit the MusiCares Hurricane Relief, and "Goin' Home," the tribute to Fats Domino, and worked on the movie scores for "Barbershop," "Next Friday," and "Make It Funky!"

Today Severin dedicated his set to New Orleans artists and their music, including recently departed greats like Smokey Johnson (listen), Batiste, Toussaint, and Wilson "Willie Tee" Turbinton (listen). Interestingly, the group also did several tunes written by Nicholas Payton (see tomorrow).

The members of the band are drummer Herman Jackson, saxophonist Clarence Johnson, keyboardists Kyle Roussel and Darrell Lavigne, and vocalist Antoine Diel. This was really good jazz for mid-day at Jazz Fest, a perfect way to stay out of the inclement weather. Here's my video from this performance, and here are entire takes on I Want to Stay in New Orleans and Toussaint's Brickyard Blues from today.

               

The rain had subsided, so we ventured out to get some food. Unfortunately the subsiding was short lived, for as soon as we got our food the skies opened up again. Fortunately there are covered eating tents in the vicinity of Food Area II and the Congo Square food area, where we got our dishes, so we got to eat and stay relatively dry at the same time. Here's what the rain looked like from the shelter.

Our food? For Laurie it was a repeat of an old standby for her, the spicy sauteed spinach (aka jama jama) and fried plantains from the folks at the Bennachin restaurant in the French Quarter. She's had this every single year we have been at Jazz Fest (Day 4 in 2012, Day 9 in 2013, Day 11 in 2014, and Day 4 last year), and I would bet she'll be having it as long as we are there and it is served. 

I tried something new, lamb tagine from Jamila's Café of New Orleans. I had their merguez (grilled lamb sausage) sandwich last year and was looking forward to trying this dish this year. It's a Tunisian-style leg-of-lamb stew flavored with marinated garlic and lemon and other spices, served over basmati rice with a hint of saffron. This was an excellent dish, comfort food perfect for a rainstorm.

The downpour dialed back to just rain, and the radar showed that the storm was moving on and no more would be following it, so we took a chance and sloshed over to the Gentilly stage to see some of the Lost Bayou Ramblers set. We've seen this band before, on Day 3 in 2013 and Day 9 in 2014 (lots more info there). They bring an indie rock flavor to Cajun music that is absolutely stunning. What made them even more rain-worthy today was the fact that they brought the great Rickie Lee Jones along with them for a couple of songs. Rickie Lee has recently relocated to New Orleans, Bywater to be precise, where she began writing her brilliant record "Pirates" back in the 1980's. Since relocating she has become friends with Louis Michot of the Lost Bayou Ramblers, and that friendship helped kickstart her dormant songwriting.

Unfortunately, as soon as we arrived at the Gentilly stage, what had been mere light rain once again turned into a back-of-storm downpour. The musicians were undeterred. The Ramblers are a great Cajun band, but they feature a number of indie rock players, including Brass Bed's Jonny Campos on guitar (see more on this band on Day 4 last year). Michot's fiddle tone is often aggressively raw, so much so that it occasionally sounds like a guitar feeding back -- a comparison easier to hear when Campos plays actual feedback right in front of his amp. 

The Ramblers flowed back and forth between traditional and progressive, often in the same song. Michot's brother Andre made his accordion emit sounds Buckwheat Zydeco never imagined in Pine Grove Blues

Rickie Lee Jones joined the show still wearing her clear plastic rain poncho to duet with Michot on Hank Williams' Ramblin' Man, then sing J'ai Connais Pas and Valtz de Mon Pere from the album she recorded in New Orleans in 2015, "The Other Side of Desire." 

As she finished, lightning stuck close enough to the Fair Grounds to startle everybody, including me. Laurie was undeterred. Michot quipped, "I don't know if that was thunder or Rickie Lee," then resumed their set. Soon enough, the sun made an appearance. 

Alll totaled, about an inch and a quarter of rain fell on the Fair Grounds.

After a few songs including Valse du Balfa, also known as The Bathtub from the movie "Beasts of the Southern Wild," they brought out Spider Stacy from the Pogues, another transplant to New Orleans. He, too, has been playing now and then with the Lost Bayou Ramblers. After all, an Irish folk group and a Cajun outfit are both acoustic string bands with fiddles and accordions. Irish tin whistles and American steel guitars met inside that overlap. However, that's not our thing, and we took the opportunity to move on.

The other members of the band are Korey Richey (bass) and Eric Heigle (drums). Here's the rainy video I took from 'way back in the Gentilly crowd. 


Once we looked at the cubes, our first split of 2016 occurred (well, that didn't take long!). 

Laurie headed off to the Congo Square stage to see the great Cyril Neville and his Swampfunk band. You can read about Cyril in the Day 8 report from last year, when we saw him as a solo act with some of the musicians in Swampfunk but a decidedly different style of music. We also have seen him with the Voice of the Wetlands Allstars, Dumpstaphunk, the Meters, and probably others. I mean, who wouldn't want one of the greatest voices ever singing with them?

Along with Cyril, Swampfunk is Norman Caesar on keyboards, Cranston Clements on Guitar, Dean Zucchero on bass, and Cyril's son Omari on drums. Here's a video of this band from the Lacombe Crab Festival in June 2015. Cyril is a versatile musician, from the Caribbean and reggae tinged music of last year to this straight-up blues band, he can do it all.

I went to the Jazz and Heritage stage to see the great percussionist Bill Summers lead his band called Jazalsa. I saw this band for a few minutes last year on Day 4, and you can read his story there. I have also seen Summers play any number of times with Donald Harrison Jr. (Day 8 in 2014Day 9 last year, and Day 2 and Day 6 this year) and with Pat Casey's band the New Sound (Day 8 last year).

               

As the name implies, the music is Latin, and it is outstanding. In the band today were Vincent Panella on sax, Ashlin Parker on trumpet, Michael Watson on trombone, Alexey Marti on timbales, Pat Casey on bass, Julian Addison on drums, and one more percussionist, name unknown. Here's my video of this great band from this year's Jazz Fest.

After these shows, Laurie and I met at the Grandstand, where the small Lagniappe stage is located. Lagniappe means a little something extra, and it is a place where Jazz Fest places new, acoustic, or eclectic artists who wouldn't really fit in on the big stages. 

One of those types of artists is the solo cellist Helen Gillet, who creates a wall of sound by recording and looping and then recording more and looping that on top of what she's already looping and playing on top of. Layer upon layer, it's absolutely stunning. We saw her on Day 10 last year, and you can read all about her there. We also caught her on Day 2 in 2013 as a member of the Mardi Gras Indian Orchestra  and in 2014 we saw her play and sing on Day 9 as a member of the trio called the Gloryoskis!, along with Debbie Davis and Myshkin. 

          

Helen Gillet is one of those artists that must be seen to be believed. She is an incredibly creative and talented musician. Here is my video. It would be wonderful to see and hear her performance in a more formal (that is, quieter with less commotion) setting. Here she is at the Euclid Records store in a more relaxed setting, leading off with the Velvet Underground's Ride Into the Sun, an incredible take on this great song. The camera angle in this video allows you to see how she works her magic, and here, lucky you, are 90-minutes plus from the LA46 General Store and Vintage Market located in the St. Claude Arts District in December of this year.

We left the Grandstand area, stopping at the WWOZ Brass Pass hospitality tent for a snack of fresh fruit and iced coffee, and then headed for the Blues Tent to see yet another great artist, Corey Harris.

Like Keb' Mo' (Day 3 in 2014) and Alvin Youngblood Hart (last Friday), Corey Harris is one of the few contemporary bluesmen who can channel the raw, direct emotion of acoustic Delta blues without coming off as an authenticity-obsessed historian. Although he is well versed in the early history of blues guitar, he's no well-mannered preservationist, mixing a considerable variety of influences, from New Orleans to the Caribbean to Africa, into his richly expressive music. In doing so, he's managed to appeal to a wide spectrum of blues fans, from staunch traditionalists to more contemporary sensibilities.

Harris was born in Denver, Colorado, in 1969. He fell in love with music at an early age and made his own music with a toy guitar he received at the age of three. Growing up, his favorite music television shows included both "Hee Haw" and "Soul Train," and he listened to all of the popular music of the day. However, when his mother turned him on to a real guitar and the blues of Lightnin' Hopkins, the 12-year-old Corey found his true musical calling. 

He learned to sing and play by ear, listening to his favorite albums over and over again until he knew all the parts. He sang in church groups, played trumpet and then tuba in his junior high school marching band, and played in a rock band in high school. 

Through Bates College in Maine (where he majored in anthropology), he, along with his newly acquired National steel guitar, traveled to Cameroon in West Africa to study African linguistics. He returned to Cameroon on a postgraduate fellowship. While there, his love for acoustic blues grew, as did his understanding of the importance of the indigenous jùjú music and its complex polyrhythms. The polyrhythmic drumming associated with jùjú is clearly reflected in Harris' propulsively rhythmic, drum-like guitar playing. He soaked up as much African music as possible.

After returning to the United States, Harris taught English and French in Napoleonville, Louisiana, under the Teach for America program, and during his spare time he began to play on the street corners of nearby New Orleans. Before long, he was not only playing on the streets but also in coffeehouses, colleges, and clubs. His local reputation eventually earned him a deal with Alligator Records, and in 1995 he released his first recording. 

"Between Midnight and Day" was a one-man, one-guitar affair that illustrated Harris' mastery of numerous variations on the Delta blues style. Including songs by Sleepy John Estes, Fred McDowell, Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters, and Booker White, it won rave reviews and even some mainstream media attention, marking Harris as an exciting new presence on the blues scene. "Harris brought time to a stop," raved the national edition of The New York Times, "invoking the ghosts of Robert Johnson, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Howlin' Wolf.

It also earned him an opening slot on tour with ex-10,000 Maniacs singer Natalie Merchant.

His next recording, "Fish Ain’t Bitin'," saw him expand his style by adding a New Orleans-style brass section on several tracks, while emphasizing his own socially conscious songwriting to a much greater degree. The Village Voice said, "After a debut that established his mastery of the Delta idiom, Harris does something really hard -- he proves he's big enough to fool around with it. His virtuosity springs to life."

Successful solo performances at festivals (including the Chicago Blues Festival and Jazz Fest) and clubs earned Harris more critical praise. When Billy Bragg told Natalie Merchant he wanted a blues singer for the Woody Guthrie project he was working on, she immediately brought in Harris. Bragg, Harris, Merchant, and the band Wilco all hit it off. The resulting album, "Mermaid Avenue" (on which Harris plays guitar and sings on a few songs), received unanimous praise and was nominated for a Grammy award. 

During those sessions, Harris sang and wrote music for a number of Guthrie lyrics, including the song Teabag Blues, which, along with vocal help from Bragg, is included as a bonus track on "Greens from the Garden," an album The Chicago Tribune called "a landmark effort."  That recording delved deeper into New Orleans funk and R&B, while recasting its covers in surprising but effective new contexts (even reggae and hip-hop). The result was a kaleidoscope of black musical styles that earned Harris even more widespread attention than his debut. 

Veteran pianist Henry Butler (see last Sunday) appeared on "Greens from the Garden," and the two decided to record an entire album together. That recording, "Vu-Du Menz," updated several different strains of early jazz and blues. Featuring sometimes serious, sometimes rollicking, acoustic duets from these two exceptionally gifted artists, it is a joyous celebration of deep South musical styles, an album of pure Southern musical magic.

"Vu-Du Menz" was recorded in four days in January 2000 at Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana. Although separated by 20 years in age, Harris and Butler are of one musical mind, communicating almost telepathically throughout the album's 15 songs (including 13 originals), which range in subject from timeless expressions of love to biting social commentary. The songs range from straightahead blues to ragtime to New Orleans funk to jazz to gospel. The guitar and husky vocals of Harris perfectly blend with Butler's genre-defying piano playing and huge, soulful singing voice through every song on this tradition-based yet forward-thinking album.

In 2002, Harris released "Downhome Sophisticate," a typically eclectic outing that explored his African influences and added Latin music to his seemingly endless sonic palette. In 2002, he collaborated with Ali Farka Touré on "Mississippi to Mali," fusing blues and Touré's music from northern Mali.

A year later, he linked the blues in yet another way by contributing to "Johnny's Blues: A Tribute to Johnny Cash," an album of Johnny Cash covers that took the Man in Black's music in a slightly different direction.

"Daily Bread" in 2005 infused African melodies with Jamaican touches, then Harris turned completely to Jamaica and roots reggae for "Zion Crossroads" and "Blu. Black" in 2007 and 2009. These reflected his travels to Ethiopia during 2006. In 2013, "Fulton Blues" found Harris revisiting several of his hybrid blues forms.

"I always deal with Africa and the blues and roots on my records," he says. "Those have been my primary themes throughout most of my career. I want to express my love for great black music, and demonstrate that love in original song form. It's the same goal I've been pursuing for some time -- to make original music and try to educate people in the process."

Harris played fairly straightahead blues today. His band was Gordon Jones on saxophone, Jayson Morgan on bass, Chris "Thelonious Nut" Whitley on keyboards, and Paul Dudley on drums. It was outstanding. Here is my video from today's performance. For some more, here's almost an hour from a festival in Toronto a couple of years ago and here's more than an hour from an unknown venue in 2014.


Laurie ducked out partway through the show to head for the Acura stage and the Tedeschi Trucks band, a group she apparently will never miss. Can't say as I blame her because this 12-member juggernaut pretty much the best band going these days. We saw them last summer at Pier 6 in Baltimore and then in February at the Warner Theater in DC, and that was good enough for me considering the other artists to be seen today, but it was a difficult choice to be sure, because Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks welcomed special guests Jimmie Vaughan of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.

For the record, Laurie saw the set open with the title track of their 2016 release "Made Up Mind." The opening portion of the set also featured covers of Derek and the Dominoes' Keep On Growing and the Box Tops' The Letter.

When they welcomed Jimmie Vaughan, his three songs were Louis Jordan's Let the Good Times Roll, Allen Toussaint's I Like It Like That, and Freddie King's Palace of the King. They then brought out Billy Gibbons for two more blues rock numbers, Johnny Moore's How Blue Can You Get? and ZZ Top's Going Down to Mexico. The presence of lost legends was really felt during the set, with the Toussaint cover and a number of staples from B.B. King's repertoire, including Let The Good Times Roll and How Blue Can You Get? After Bound for Glory, Midnight in Harlem and Let Me Get By, they closed out with the Beatles' With a Little Help from My Friends and Ray Charles' Let's Go Get Stoned (both à la Joe Cocker). Here's a video of the four of them doing some of How Blue Can You Get? For those who want more, and why wouldn't you, here is the two-night engagement at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles on September 16 and September 17 this year. You can find audio of today's entire performance, and tons more, here at archive.org.

As for me, I was hoping to walk over to the Jazz Tent to see the set by Snarky Puppy, a jazz-fusion-rock amalgamation that's very highly regarded by people that I read and listen to. However, the tent was packed, very surprising for a Thursday, and the first few minutes I heard from the back of the tent just didn't move me, so I moved on. That's when I discovered a snack was called for.

On my way to Food Area II, as usual, I got waylaid at the Jazz and Heritage stage, where the outrageous Fi Yi Yi and the Mandingo Warriors were playing some classic Mardi Gras Indian funk. These folks have the most interesting and colorful outfits I have ever seen. Big Chief Victor Harris embraces the spirit of Fi Yi Yi with much energy and a sense of drama as he leads the group. This well-regarded downtown gang takes its inspiration from Africa in costume and face paint, and they've been doing it for more than 30 years. Other key members are Jack "Master of the Needle and Thread" Robertson and Wesley "The Drummer" Phillips on percussion and vocals. Built on rock-steady rhythms, this group is sort of the Mardi Gras Indian version of dub -- all beat, all the time. They aren't the best singers I've ever heard, but still are really fascinating. Check it out.

My choice for a snack allowed me to hear some of the Tedeschi Trucks set (sans Laurie), as I was at the very back of Food Area II where the Crawfish Monica people share space with Creole's Stuffed Bread. I finally tried the stuffed bread on Day 8 last year and was I ever glad I did. You can read all about Merline Herbert and this great little bun stuffed with meat, sausage, cheese, and peppers (and lots of seasonings) there. Beyond the fact that the bread is incredibly delicious, Ms. Merline is just so darn nice it's ridiculous. 

I took the stuffed bread around the corner so I could see the Acura stage and listen to Tedeschi and Trucks. When I was there they were playing The Letter.     

As I was leaving the Acura area and heading back to the back to the infield, I passed by Creole's stand and was close enough to tell Ms. Merline that the stuffed bread was "so good," and I got a big thumbs up from her. She's simply a wonderful lady and I hope she's at Jazz Fest for many years to come.

The snack Laurie got while she was on her way to the Acura stage was a seaweed and cucumber salad from the Ajun Cajun people of New Orleans, the same people who do the Yakiniku po' boy that I had last weekend. Not much to say about this dish. It's thin-sliced cucumbers and seaweed tossed with rice vinegar dressing. It was fresh and cool and perfect for what had become a rain-free but pretty humid afternoon.

My final choice to end the day was at the Gentilly stage, where Elvis Costello and the Imposters were playing. Costello was a great friend of Allen Toussaint and together they recorded a brilliant album, "The River in Reverse," in 2006 to express their feelings about the loss inflicted on New Orleans by the levee failure after Hurricane Katrina. They began to record it in Los Angeles, but realized it needed to be done in New Orleans, so they moved to Piety Street Studios in the Bywater section of the city, barely four months after the storm, with a curfew in place and military Humvees still patrolling the streets. "Allen looked around," Costello said, "and he had such a gracious attitude about it. It made me think about everything you all had lost." Here is a 30-minute documentary on the making of this great recording. If you can't quite get the connection we feel with New Orleans and its musicians and the loss we feel with the passing of Allen Toussaint, perhaps it will help

Costello, ever the acidly articulate British rocker, came out thrashing, wailing on his Fender Jazzmaster like it was the 1980's all over again. He wore a striped jacket and a purple (raspberry?) beret that may very well have been a tribute to his contemporary, Prince. Pinned to the beret was a button bearing the face of Toussaint. He blasted through, with barely a break between, What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding, Watching the Detectives, Mystery Dance, and Radio, Radio.

Behind him were two of his three original band mates in the Attractions, Steve Nieve on keyboards and Pete Thomas on drums, plus Davey Faragher on bass. Costello vamped, mugged, crooned, used and electric megaphone/siren, and issued abrupt, aggressive guitar licks.     

Costello has had a long affinity for New Orleans. When he played a concert at Frank Gehry's riverfront amphitheater during the 1984 World's Fair, he admitted to the audience that he'd shamelessly borrowed the bass line from Toussaint's Working in a Coal Mine for use in his own ironically bouncy Sour Milk Cow Blues.

His devotion to New Orleans became most emphatic after the hurricane, when he teamed with his hero for their album of songs and a concert tour inspired by the city's recovery struggle. His affection for Toussaint was obvious Thursday as he shared anecdotes about his work with the Socratic pianist and composer, who never criticized, Costello said, only pointedly questioned the rock star's errant musical decisions.

Costello wrote new lyrics for Toussaint’s minor-key reinvention of the Professor Longhair classic Tipitina. They titled the result Ascension Day. Toussaint wouldn't say he didn't like something in the studio. As Costello recalled, "He would say, 'Welllll ... what do YOU think of that?'" He would leave it to the other party to reconsider the error of his ways.

Costello performed Ascension Day during a solo show at the Civic Theater in March 2015. Toussaint played piano -- a mere eight months before he passed. Costello "took the precaution of taking out all the difficult chords. I was waiting for him to say, 'Well ... what did YOU think of that?'" Instead, "he said, 'Most interesting.'" With that, Costello finger-picked his way through a hushed Ascension Day at Jazz Fest.

He would not stay hushed for long. He and the band took care of a bit more Imposters business via fully amped versions of (I Don’t Want to Go To) Chelsea and Everyday I Write the Book.

For the rest of the show, it was Toussaint time. Following the 2006 release of "The River in Reverse," Toussaint and Costello toured the world together, two especially dapper songwriters demonstrating that their joint project was a genuine collaboration and not simply a gimmick. They brought along a New Orleans horn section dubbed the Crescent City Horns. Those horns reunited with Costello onstage today: trumpeter Joe Fox and saxophonist Amadee Castenell, who spent years backing Toussaint as members of the funk band Chocolate Milk; saxophonist Brian "Breeze" Cayolle, a longtime member of Toussaint’s latter-day band; and trombonist Big Sam Williams, one of the first New Orleans artists who led us to our love for the city and its music.

The Crescent City Horns kicked the set up a notch, or three, starting with The River in Reverse title track. They pumped up that album's Wonder Woman and then Deep Dark Truthful Mirror, from Costello's 1989 album "Spike," to which Toussaint contributed. 

Organist Bob Andrews, formerly of Graham Parker and the Rumour and British pub rock band Brinsley Schwarz, joined in for Ernie K-Doe’s I Cried My Last Tear, a musically succinct, on-point moment. Costello performed a public service to New Orleans and the world when he helped open Toussaint up to revisiting his substantial catalogue, and Thursday seemed like a great opportunity to further those efforts. 

As Andrews came out, Costello remembered how on tour he had his dressing room as far as possible from Toussaint's so he wouldn't feel the insecurity that comes with having someone with his talent looking over his shoulder while he was working something out. Costello routinely tried to come up with versions of more songs that Toussaint had written to include in the show, and he remembered playing one as Toussaint walked into his room and simply said 'Wellllll.' 

"He was surprised that I knew it," Costello said. 

Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further, followed, and then the set concluded with a celebratory Pump It Up, finishing on a high note. Toussaint would have approved.

For many audience members, Costello will always be beloved for expressing the angst and outrage of youth with musical craftsmanship that has stood the test of time. And today proved that his stage persona has stood the test of time as well, blending a sense of mature gentlemanliness with a certain un-extinguished wickedness. 

A great, great show. And I to think that I wasn't even planning on being there. Although I must say that I had to keep shifting because of the puddle forming around my feet if I stayed in one place too long! Here is my (quite long) video, and here's the video from AXS-TV.

And file this under 'If I had only known' ... I read later that Costello, just like Toussaint, had been hanging out at the back of the Gentilly stage most of the day, just greeting and talking to Fest-goers. That would have been cool. He really does care for this city. He could have stayed in his trailer backstage, but he had clearly come to honor his late friend and collaborator. And as Laurie and I know, Toussaint was a guy whose ability to inspire awed stares and handshakes never kept him from passing out warm greetings by the food stands or by his Rolls Royce after it pulled up on the track. Shortly after the brown fedora–clad Costello arrived backstage for his set, he exited the trailer, teacup in hand, and chatted with whomever passed by, smiling for pictures with giddy fans and looking content as he watched other artists come and go under the darkening, rainy, and then clearing skies.


Once we met at the back of the Gentlly stage field and got back to the Staybridge, we didn't really have the energy to go hiking around the French Quarter looking for food, so we decided to go local. That took us to Lucy's, but for some reason (probably a convention), Lucy's was packed, and it was going to take awhile to get anything there. So we headed down to Harrah's Fulton Street pedestrian mall to check out the offerings down there, near the casino.

              

We ended up at the Gordon Biersch Brewery restaurant, which is a chain, but not bad as chains go. And it is New Orleans, so even a port in a storm can be good. I had a glass of their Hefeweizen and blackened mahi mahi on toasted ciabatta with tomato, greens, and Cajun remoulade and seasoning. Laurie had a spinach, fruit, and nut salad: spinach, pears, blueberries, raspberries, dried cherries, yellow peppers, spiced pecans and toasted almonds in lemon vinaigrette. Also some of my beer. It was a big beer.

That's all for today. The weather forecast for tomorrow looks great, and so does the music schedule!

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© Jeff Mangold 2012