Day 9 / Friday, April 29

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OK, on a bright, sunny Friday morning, we can report that we have quickly settled into our 2016 drill for two: get up ... get ready ... slather on sunblock ... gather Brass Pass and Jazz Fest ticket, shuttle bus tickets, cameras, and phones, but today no umbrella/poncho backpack because the weather forecast for today was very good. Except that there was a 100-percent chance of mud at the Fair Grounds. Oh well. We grabbed a coffee in the lobby and headed off to the shuttles at the Sheraton. Once again, mission accomplished.

Weather today was fairly typical. Intermittent clouds, fairly high humidity (in the 65-percent range) and temperatures topping out at 85 degrees with a real feel of 90. It was already 82 when we headed out of the hotel. We didn't care; after yesterday the sun felt pretty good, and it was rather breezy, too, and that definitely helped. 

However, it was warm enough that, on an impulse, we decided to have our morning food at the stand of La Divina Gelateria. Laurie had Azteca (dark chocolate, cinnamon and cayenne) gelato, while I had salted caramel gelato affogato (Italian, "drowned"), which means they pour a shot of espresso over it before serving. A perfect way to get going!

Off we went to the Fais Do Do stage to start another great day of music (here are today's cubes) with one of our favorites, FeufolletThis was our third encounter with theis great young band out of Lafayette. We saw them on Day 3 in 2012, and then with their new lineup on Day 11 last year (read much more and see plenty of videos at those pages).

Reverential yet nonconformist, Feufollet plays Cajun music with a dash of Beatle-esque pop, and is it really exciting to hear. Chris Stafford began the group when he was just 12 years old. It has had a number of configurations, but currently the band is made up of Stafford on accordion, Kelli Jones-Savoy on fiddle, Stafford's brother Michael on drums (a member since he was eight years old), Philippe Billeaudeaux on bass, and Andrew Toups on keyboards.  

It's very cool to have an opportunity to see the evolution of traditional Cajun music (and zydeco for that matter) at Jazz Fest. So many young artists are doing really creative things with the traditional, and it's thrilling to be a part of this changing of the guard, as it were. However, make no mistake, the traditional is awesome, too.

Here's my video of Feufollet today, and here are three from the Siberia club in New Orleans recorded while they were in town for Jazz Fest: Hippy Ti-YoQuestions Sans Réponses, and Dans le Magasin.  


We were going to stay at Fais Do Do for the next music, so while they changed out the stage, we zipped over to the Gentilly stage to see some of the set by the Mississippi Rail Company, a soulful, bluesy blend of upright bass, tenor saxophone, keyboard, and drums with a heavy New Orleans influence.

Travers Geoffray, the band's founder, keyboardist, vocalist, and songwriter, originally moved from Virginia to New Orleans for its music. "I love old things," Geoffray says. "I really got into roots music, and I was also listening to a lot of Delta blues." That said, Mississippi Rail Company's take on early New Orleans music has a fresh soulfulness to it; the sound seems familiar but the band's ear-catching melodies and blues-pop rhythms are new. 

The quartet understands showmanship, too. With an old-school sound comes an old-school dress code, and every member suits up for their live show. "It's about having the vibe," Geoffray says. "It's a fantasy sort of thing, but it's more for ourselves. I go back in time to a place where I envision that I'd be, and I think the audience picks up on that, too. Sometimes in the summer we'll take off the jackets, but we always wear the suits."

Mississippi Rail Company formed in 2010 when Geoffray was in college at Tulane University with fellow students Sam Shahin (drums), Calvin Mourin-Martin (upright bass), and Robin Clabby (tenor saxophone). (Clabby also plays a completely different style with the excellent go-go brass band known as the Brass-a-Holics, who we've seen on Day 11 in 2013 and Day 2 last year.) Says Geoffray about adding a saxophone player, "It seemed pretty natural to start putting that into the music. I've always been such a huge Ray Charles fan and listening to some of that music, and some the recordings Allen Toussaint produced, horns are such an integral part. I feel now we've kind of found the spot ... the music is really rounded out very nicely and adds depth, a whole other element to what the music is really about."

Though he majored in Environmental Studies at Tulane, it's certain that studying global warming wasn't the only reason for Geoffray's choice of schools. He studied the styles of renowned New Orleans pianists -- Fats Domino, Dr. John, and Professor Longhair among them -- under another NOLA keyboard great, Tom McDermottHe’d taken music lessons for 13 years from the prestigious Levine School of Music in Washington, D.C. That training might explain his precision as a songwriter. 

"I'll usually spend anywhere from a week to a month making sure I've got the rhyme scheme right, melody right, form right, and then I bring it to the band," Geoffray says. "Even after that, I usually fine tune it a little bit." Geoffray's songwriting is what makes Mississippi Rail Company's 2012 barebones blues album debut "Coal Black Train" a success; only keys, drums, and bass are needed to drive Geoffray's soulful melodies home.

The band began as a college band, but Geoffray says the quartet now sits on the fringes of the college music scene. "As a younger group, people often lump us into the indie category on the basis that we're young," he says. "That's fine, and I'll let people lump us into any category that they want us to. But I would say that a lot of the musicians that I play with are definitely seasoned or becoming seasoned musicians in this city."

Today Clabby was joined by alto saxophone and trumpet players, I know not who they were. We couldn't spend a long time with the Mississippi Rail Company, but certainly would want to if another opportunity arises. Here's my short video and here they are doing Six Feet in the Ground at the French Quarter Festival earlier this month.

We went back over to the Fais Do Do stage to catch the beginning of the set by Jeffery Broussard and the Creole Cowboys, a not-quite Creole la la, not quite zydeco band (call them Creole zydeco) that we have seen a couple of times before, on Day 4 in 2013 and Day 4 last year. These guys are about as good as it gets, and you can learn all about them at those two previous entries.  

In three words, Jeffery Broussard is the real deal. Dedicated to preserving and promoting the Creole culture and traditional Zydeco music, he plays with passion and commitment. "I love my music and I love my culture," he says. "I am proud and honored to be a part of it. By playing traditional music, that is my way of giving back to my community, to my culture, and to get others interested in the music, in other parts of the country, and to fulfill my Daddy's dream." (His father was Delton Broussard, who played with Calvin Carrière, a cousin of Goldman Thibodeaux, in the original Lawtell Playboys, a group that started Creole music on the road to recognition.) 

Jeffery's warmth, love of the music, and talent shine. You can see it every minute he is on stage. The Cowboys, and they make no secret that they are cowboys, are having a great time. 


The Creole Cowboys include noted musician, composer, writer, teacher, and scholar D'Jalma Garnier III on bass guitar. His work with a variety of Cajun and Creole bands is in addition to his as an ethnomusicologist of Louisiana Francophone cultures and forays into avant-garde and electronic music. In 2009, he published a method book with a collection of 14 songs by the masters of Louisiana Creole fiddle music along with an instructional DVD with supplemental performances.

The other members of the group are Paul Lavan on drums, Jim Scott and Bernard Johnson on guitars, and Jeffery's son Jeffery Jr. (aka "Big Truck") on the scrub board. From today, here is my video, and here is a relatively complete performance in one, two, three, parts from the 2016 Anchorage Folk Festival.

Next, we went next door, to the Congo Square stage, to see Dumpstaphunk's Tony Hall and his New Orleans Soul Stars do their annual birthday tribute to James Brown

I saw this revue last year on Day 3 and was wowed by the band's quality and faithfulness to JB's music, so I was really excited for Laurie to see it this year. She was wowed, too. 

You can check out all you need to know about Hall and his fantastic band (saxophonists Jeff Watkins, who was in Brown's band from 1994 through 2006, and Roderick Paulin; Renard Poche on guitar and trombone; Raymond Weber on drums; Tracy Griffin on trumpet; and Vitas Jones on bass) at the 2015 Day 3 link above.


Let me just say this: there is no better music in the world to dance to than James Brown music. And you can take that to the bank, Here's my video from today at Congo Square. I wish everyone could spend an hour with this great band.

Lunch time! Since we were in the neighborhood we hit the Congo Square food area for Laurie, who grabbed a platter of spicy grilled tofu and veggies with peanut sauce from Gambian Foods of New Orleans. You can read about Tejan Jallow and Charlie Mendy of Gambian Foods at Day 10 in 2013, when I had their pita stuffed with grilled steak and Laurie had a pita stuffed with grilled veggies. They have since replaced the veggie pita with this platter.

I had another repeat, that being PQA as it is referred to in the Jazz Fest community. For the uninitiated, PQA stands for pheasant, quail, and andouille gumbo, the richest, most flavorful gumbo you are ever going to taste, prepared by Prejean's Restaurant of Lafayette. You can read about this dish in the Day 4 report from 2013. The secret, as in any top-notch gumbo (mine included I might add) is in the roux.

Believe it or not, from this point on we were pretty much going to be split. That's the way we roll at Jazz Fest these days. Believe me, it's not that we don't care to see what each other is seeing; it's more like what you feel like seeing at a particular moment.

Laurie headed off to the Gentilly stage to see the Raw Oyster Cult, who you can read about on Day 3 in 2015. We caught these guys together that year, and she split from me to see them again on Day 3 last year as well. Briefly, they are a supergroup of sorts, although two of the three groups represented aren't really active anymore. The members are guitarists Dave Malone and Camile Baudoin and drummer Frank Bua Jr. from the Radiators, keyboard master John Gros from Papa Grows Funk, and bass player Dave Pomerleau from Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes. Today, Ed Volker and Reggie Scanlan from the original Radiators joined the Cult in the middle of the set to make it a full-fledged Radiators reunion. Here's a video of the Raw Oyster Cult from Armstrong Park a couple of days after this performance, and here are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 more from the same show if you want to see more.


After that Laurie stopped at the Jazz and Heritage stage to see T-Ray the Violinist and his band Dreams2Reality. T-Ray is an experimental artist whose musical approach is a hybrid of disparate styles. He used to call himself the hip-hop violinist, but has lately begun to incorporate new and distinctly unique elements into his music, adding R&B, jazz, classical, and neo-soul to the original hip-hop.

Born in Baton Rouge, T-Ray became enamored with the violin at the age of 9. He progressed to the point where he studied at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) his junior and senior year of high school. In 2006, upon graduating from high school, he moved to New Orleans to pursue a degree in music at the University of New Orleans. During that time, he established a name for himself by performing both as a solo artist and in ensembles at local and regional venues.

Beyond the numerous local artists he has worked with, T-Ray teamed up with DJ RQ Away to create a group focusing on an experimental and cohesive blend between DJ and live instrument. he is also involved in fashion, film, television, and other independent projects through his music production company T-Ray Productions. As an independent artist, he took his music to the world by creating his own first national tour, the Make a Way Tour, and teaming up with DJ RQ Away on a European tour. 

T-Ray is not only a performer but also an educator. He has worked with various music education programs in the New Orleans area and taught in local school systems, confirming a commitment to cultivating the next generation of great musicians.

In addition to T-Ray, his backing band Dreams2Reality is Myla Bocage on keyboards, Thomas Glass on drums and vocals, Ben Kahn on bass, and Stephen Gladney on saxophone. Here's T-Ray on Balcony TV in New Orleans.

As Laurie was doing that, I started in the Jazz Tent. It was pretty crowded, but I found a spot over at the far side entrance against the railing setting off the bleachers reserved for the people with the big-bucks passes. On stage were the great trumpeter and keyboard player Nicholas Payton and his latest project, the Afro-Caribbean Mixtape. Payton is always creative, whether doing straightforward jazz or one of his many other projects. Having seen him in a trio format in 2013 (Day 9) and last year (Day 9), I was excited to see what he had in store this year.

Seeing a full DJ setup front-and-center stage let you know that this performance would certainly be out of the ordinary. Payton could earn a prime slot at Jazz Fest with a mere set full of classics and contemporary jazz favorites. But that type of straightforward thinking doesn't interest him. He relishes the contradictory. He clearly wants the audience to engage with and reflect upon music beyond the familiar.

This group was spectacular. One song featured a spoken word sample about assimilation that led into a traditional bit of elevator jazz phrasing. Another started with bongo playing that would fit within a jam band, pivoted to electronic key voicings à la Stevie Wonder, and then incorporated Payton moving from piano to trumpet solos.

In one tune, Payton took to the mic to repeat the sung phrase "Jazz is a four-letter word," and the soundscape built around these lyrics emphasized the point. Payton started by creating a repetitive piano rhythm and then used a loop pedal to lock in the pattern before heading to the mic. Additional percussion came from electronic drum voicings, and Ladyfingaz mixed in scratching with spoken word samples declaring "We're thinking about MJ, Aretha ... exemplifying the genius of black creativity." Just as everything appeared to be crescendoing towards an even more complex whole, Payton took to the trumpet in order to snap the band out of controlled chaos and into a contradictory bit of uptempo contemporary jazz. The song eventually veered back toward a beat-heavy groove as Payton concluded by compelling his audience to repeat the introductory phrase back at the stage.

Toward the end of the set, Payton paid homage to his New Orleans home by allowing the band to take a familiar stylistic detour with a second-line style beat reminiscent of Tremé Song started up, and Payton led a traditional NOLA-brass track that included rhyming references to Tipitina's and Mandina's

This was a set meant to stay with you long after the last note. The laidback groove was perfect. The band was Kevin Hays on piano, Vicente Archer on bass, Joe Dyson Jr. (who we have seen many times with Donald Harrison and Dr. Lonnie Smith) on drums, DJ Lady Fingaz on the turntables, and Daniel Sadownick on percussion. Here's my video, and here's a playlist with the project's recording. Really fine creative music.

There was now more than a half hour before I wanted to be at the Acura stage, so I spent a bit of time at the Congo Square stage with Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (aka NOJO). Irvin Mayfield founded NOJO in 2002 as a means to celebrate and advance the cultural and historical legacy of New Orleans jazz. The concept came to Mayfield after he created the Institute of Jazz Culture at Dillard University when he was the youngest member of the faculty. 

As Mayfield looked around New Orleans, he found that there was no institution committed solely to the business of jazz or performing it in the city that created it. This led him to create NOJO, designed to celebrate and fortify the American jazz portfolio while providing infrastructure for developing a New Orleans jazz industry. Mayfield assembled a 16-piece band and enlisted a President, CEO, and Board of Directors. NOJO had its first performance in early 2003 at Tipitina's.

NOJO made history on November 17, 2005 when they symbolically reopened New Orleans with the performance of a piece composed by Mayfield, entitled All the Saints, at Christ Church Cathedral. This commission was the first major cultural event inside the city post-Katrina.

Since then, NOJO has headlined at performing arts venues and clubs arounf the country and produced the first local jazz concert series in the history of New Orleans. Their album "Book One" won a Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble.

NOJO considers its mission as creating jazz to enhance life, transform place, and elevate spirit. As a performing arts organization, its goal is to strengthen the business of jazz through performances, tours, recordings, education, and media platforms. They play New Orleans jazz with a blistering Creole fire, unrestrained fun, and exceptional virtuosity. It's a swinging sound filled with horns, piano, bass, and drums.

Among the members of the orchestra, many of whom have been mentioned in this blog in other capacities over the years, are Ed "Sweetbread" Petersen (tenor saxophone), Victor "Red" Atkins (piano), Adonis Rose (drums), Leon "Kid Chocolate" Brown (trumpet, vocals), Derek Douget (tenor saxophone), Bernard Floyd (trumpet), Emily Fredrickson (trombone), Rex Gregory (alto saxophone, clarinet, flute), David Harris (trombone), Peter Harris (bass), Khari Allen Lee (alto saxophone), Branden Lewis (trumpet), Eric Lucero (trumpet), Jason Marshall (bass clarinet, baritone saxophone), Irvin Mayfield (trumpet, vocals), Ashlin Parker (trumpet, vocals), Edward Petersen (tenor saxophone), Don Vappie (banjo, guitar), Michael Watson (trombone, vocals), and Jason Weaver (bass). Dee Dee Bridgewater often joins the orchestra on vocals as well.

NOJO’s first building project, the Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market, is a performing arts venue and jazz community center in the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans. It's located on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, formerly Dryades Street. This neighborhood produced jazz legends such as Buddy Bolden, Kid Ory, and Jelly Roll Morton. In the early to mid-1900's, it was flourishing, culturally diverse, and home to African American, Jewish and Italian merchants. It went downhill in the late 1900's, but in the years since Hurricane Katrina has experienced a resurgence in business and foot traffic. 

The Jazz Market is a proud part of Central City's redefinition as a bolder and brighter place. It features music education experiences for all ages, a New Orleans Jazz Archive, tributes to current and past Jazz Masters, the Bolden Bar, and performances by Irvin Mayfield, NOJO, and other renowned musicians. It's housed in the former Gators Department Store building, which once housed the historic Dryades Market.

The Jazz Market's Jazz Literacy Program hosts discussions of the legacies of featured jazz masters and leads participants on an adventure through the canals of jazz history. It also hosts community lectures focused on topics such as art, literacy, and the development of great ideas. Its Jazz Archive and Book Collection is building a comprehensive book and magazine collection focused on music, art, design, and history for both adults and children.

Among the orchestra's activities at the Jazz Market as it endeavors to promote jazz in the city are the Saturday Music School and Summer Music Camp, developed to provide music instruction for local students ages 8 to 17. Each Saturday during the school year, NOJO hosts free classes led by the most respected teachers in New Orleans. At the end of each semester, students participate in a collective performance at the Jazz Market. NOJO also hosts a four-week Summer Music Camp. Now going into its 23rd summer, the program costs only $75 per student per year.

NOJO has also created the beginning of a digital "STEAM Zone" in the Jazz Market to teach the fundamentals of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math through arts and jazz principles.

So it's a great organization, to be sure. There was controversy surrounding funding this year that has left it in some disarray, and Mayfield has resigned his leadership position to focus on his music. We can only hoope NOJO and the Jazz Market continue to exist and grow. Here is my video of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra from today's performance, and here is a half hour recorded in 2013 at Spaso House, the U.S. Ambassador's residence in Moscow.

My highlight of the day was next, my annual visit with the Soul Queen of New Orleans, the incredible Irma Thomas, and her outstanding band, which she calls the Professionals. 

I have Irma's performance every year since we've been attending Jazz Fest, so this year makes number five. The first time I was like a little kid I was so excited. And as I say every year, as long as Irma is there, I will be there. She is a treasure. Here's where you can read about the previous shows: Day 4 in 2012, Day 11 in 2013, Day 4 in 2014, and Day 4 last year.

Today's performance had a touch of sadness. Irma very subtly but a number of times paid tribute to her friend Allen Toussaint, and her renderings of It's Raining and Ruler of My Heart were poignant reminders of the great work they did together. The next few paragraphs contains Irma's memories of Toussaint, taken from a tribute in Jazz Times magazine. Since you can read about Irma at the links above, this seems like the best use of this space this year:

"Allen Toussaint was what I would call an undiscovered genius. He was given credit for being able to produce and create the way he did, but he was never labeled a genius and he was one.

"The first time I met him I was about 17 and he was three years older. I was auditioning for the New Orleans label Minit Records and got turned down. Then I did a record for Ron Records, and Minit decided they wanted me onboard. Allen was playing piano on that first audition, and I thought he was the man who was saying yes or no on the songs and turned me down. I would always tease him, until one day he finally told me, 'I didn’t have any control over that.'

"Usually when he was producing me, we knew where we were going before we got to the studio, because back in those days there were only two tracks -- no overdubbing, no room for flubs. You can't come back later and put your vocals on. It was all done at the same time, so we were well rehearsed and well prepared; his parents' living room was our rehearsal hall. He wrote It's Raining while it was actually raining, and he didn't give me the second verse until we were in the studio -- I mean literally in the middle of recording! I was recording it when he put the second verse on the music stand in front of me. He had that much confidence in my ability. It became a song I can't get through a show without doing.

"He always studied the artist he was writing for. He listened to their voice and wrote according to their vocal abilities. The songs always fit. When Allen wrote a song for you, it was for you. It was your glove to put on.

"As far as his personality, Allen was a gentleman. He was very laid back, very conservative and very introverted. He would have a conversation with you, but he may not be the one to initiate it. He was always gracious, humble, cool, very soft spoken. Even in anger he wouldn't yell out; that wasn't in his nature. You'd really have to push him for him to cry out; his anger was a quiet anger. He would walk over to you and tell you what he needed to say.

"He was also a person who always had to have everything just right when it came to clothing. Allen always wore a suit, more than whatever was in style at that time. He didn't tour until after Katrina, so in the earlier days he was never one to fall into what was current, like the leisure suits. He didn't have to be style conscious. Allen did what Allen liked to do for Allen. He wasn't someone who had to be noticed or had to be seen. To be in his company you didn't have to acknowledge him in that way. He was not offended if someone didn't know who he was. He liked being in the background as a producer and songwriter. That was his joy.

"The last time I saw Allen was on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise, where we both performed. It was a couple weeks before he died. He did three sets on the ship and I did four because I did the gospel brunch, and then we did a sit-down talk on the history of the music of Louisiana. Allen talked about his aspirations for, and his inspiration from, the city of New Orleans, and about the artists he grew up listening to. 

"He was the picture of health at that time. None of us ever know when we're gonna go, but if it's any consolation to his family and friends, he was doing what he loved to do." 

Irma sang Walk Around Heaven All Day accompanied by Davell Crawford at Toussaint's memorial service in the Orpheum Theater.

Irma ended her Jazz Fest performance on a high note as usual, with the rousing New Orleans second line Done Got Over It / Iko Iko / Hey Pocky Way medley and her spectacular take on Forever Young, which she always dedicates to her fans. 


Irma's voice is still incredibly strong, one of a kind. She sings so effortlessly, even at 75 years of age, you just marvel at it the whole time she is on the stage. Here's my video from today's performance, and here's another one that I've found: You Got to Take It with You and It's Raining.


For some more insight into Irma, here's a web page from a radio show called "Music Inside Out" that has a really fun two-part interview with Irma. And here is the joint interview with Toussaint and from the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise last year that Irma mentioned in her remembrance above.

Laurie and I met in the Heritage Square food area after our separate forays for an afternoon snack. We went to the stand Ba Mien Vietnamese Cuisine of New Orleans, which we have been to at least three other times over the years.

On the left, I had the Goi Cuon (spring roll with shrimp, pork, crisp vegetables, and cool vermicelli noodles wrapped inside rice paper with a touch of mint, served with a peanut sauce). On the right, Laurie had Bun (vermicelli with grilled shrimp served with a sweet and hot nuoc cham dipping sauce). 


And because why just eat when you can eat while listening to music, we took out food to the Jazz Tent, where we found seats on the bleachers in the back and spent some time with the outstanding guitarist John Mooney and his Bluesiana band. 

I've heard John Mooney at Jazz Fest on Day 2 in 2013 (you can read all about him there) and Day 4 last year, and we also got to see him play as part of Marc Stone's Louisiana Blues Throwdowm last year on Day 2

I didn't do any video in the Blues Tent, so to get some taste of John Mooney's greatness, here are two of his best tunes: Sacred Ground, played here with the New Orleans Suspects, and Poison (an awesome, awesome song ... that's Alfred "Uganda" Roberts smoking the congas as a member of Bluesiana) from last year's French Quarter Festival.

It was time for the closing headliners, so guess what? We split again! Laurie wanted to see Paul Simon (who can blame her?) and I wanted to see Joe Lovano in the Jazz Tent. What actually happened was much more than that.

Laurie hit the Acura stage for the Paul Simon performance (here is an excerpt), and it didn't take long before she realized that a festival crowd wasn't necessarily the best place to be for a performance by Paul Simon. As she reported it, there was far too much chatting during the unfamiliar and singing along during the familiar. 

Sooo ...

Laurie ended her day at the Gentilly stage, where My Morning Jacket was alternative roots rocking their way to the end of the day. MMJ is absolutely one of the best bands going today, and they are one of the headlining acts that "gets" New Orleans (and I must add here, it was not that Paul Simon didn't). 

My Morning Jacket opened their set with a churning Victory Dance followed by the funky and rollicking Compound Fracture, their take on dubbed-out reggae with Off the Record and then Spring (Among the Living), a crescendoing psychedelic jam. Next were the soaring Believe (Nobody Knows), Tropics (Erase Traces), Circuital, Mahgeetah, Wordless Chorus, and Touch Me, I'm Going to Scream (Part 2). Then, the band paid homage to Prince with covers of Sign o' the Times and Purple Rain -- joined by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band -- blending the latter into the finale of One Big Holiday, which is on my video

I had joined Laurie at Gentilly during Sign o' the Times so that we could end this fabulous day at Jazz Fest together. Like the Tedeschi Trucks Band yesterday, My Morning Jacket is at or near the top of American rock bands these days, playing incredible music music with great lyrics and great stage presence. They've been doing it a long time now, and if you are not familiar with them, it would be well worth the time to check them out. To get you started, here is "Okinokos," a two-hour concert film recorded at the Fillmore in San Francisco, the recording of which is what turned me on to them back in 2006. They have only gotten better in the years since, if that is possible, which you can see from this nearly three-hour tour de force at Red Rocks in Colorado from this year.

As I said, I got my start toward that moment in the Jazz Tent listening to the great Joe Lovano and the band he calls Us Five. 

Joe Lovano was born in Cleveland in 1952 and grew up in a very musical household. His father, Tony, aka "Big T," was a barber by day and a big-toned tenor player at night. Big T, along with his brothers Nick and Joe, also tenor players, and Carl, a bebop trumpeter, made sure Joe's exposure to jazz and the saxophone were early and constant.

Joe's mom, Josephine, and her sister Rose were serious listeners, as well. His mother remembers hearing Big T play opposite Stan Getz when they were engaged. And his Aunt Rose went to hear Jazz at the Philharmonic with Ella Fitzgerald when they came through Cleveland.

Not surprisingly, Joe began playing the alto at five, switching to the tenor a few years later. By the time he got his driver's license at 16, he was a professional musician. He started playing club dates (sometimes subbing for his dad), and with Motown cover bands, eventually saving enough money from these gigs to put himself through college.

Joe remembers, "My dad was a fantastic saxophone player with a really deep passion for the music. I grew up with his record collection and when I was a teenager, he'd bring me around to rehearsals and jam sessions."

After high school, Joe attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. His college years were pivotal, a precursor of future collaborations and career opportunities. He had been searching for a way to incorporate the fire and spirituality of late-period John Coltrane into more traditional settings and at Berklee he found it, discovering modal harmony.

"My training was all bebop, and suddenly there were these open forms with deceptive resolutions. That turned me on, the combination of that sound and what I came in there with. I knew what I wanted to work on after that."

During his Boston years, he was part of a vibrant scene, always jamming and meeting new musicians, something he has done his entire life. To finance his education, he continued working club dates and other assorted gigs, including an organ trio engagement he shared with George Garzone down in Boston's Combat Zone.

His Berklee instructors also played a key role in his development. Among these was Gary Burton. Joe was in Burton's number one ensemble during the great vibraphone player's first semester on the faculty at Berklee.

Twenty years later, Joe was the recipient of a Distinguished Alumni Award from Berklee and an honorary doctorate in 1998. Berklee also awarded Joe its first endowed chair, The Gary Burton Chair for Jazz Performance in 2001

Post-Berklee, after six weeks on the road backing Tom Jones, Joe returned to Cleveland. With his reputation ascending, he soon got a call from Dr. Lonnie Smith, who was living in Detroit at the time. Joe joined the organist for a series of gigs in the Motor City, as well touring on the Chitlin Circuit in 1974.

A six-month tenure with Brother Jack McDuff was next. The album Joe recorded with Dr. Lonnie Smith, "Afro-Desia," started getting a lot of airplay on jazz radio across the country at that same time, resulting in some early name recognition when he worked new clubs with McDuff.

"I was used to being in a multicultural world, playing with my dad and his bands, so when I started working the Chitlin Circuit with Lonnie, I was pretty much the only white cat in the club. In this music, you're on testing ground all the time, and every time you come through it into the sunshine, you stand taller."

Eventually, the group played in New York, including his first Carnegie Hall gig, and in Harlem. Playing in New York was so intoxicating that Joe moved to Manhattan. He began sitting in with friends, and ended up working with Chet Baker at Stryker's, Albert Daley at Folk City, and Rashied Ali at his club, Ali's Alley. The city was a hotbed of music at the time, with a flourishing loft scene at Sam Rivers' Studio Rivbea and an exciting lineup at the lower east side club, the Tin Palace. He played in Woody Herman's 40th Anniversary Concert and with Stan Getz on "Early Autumn," both at Carnegie Hall. 

Joe ended up doing a three-year gig as a soloist with Woody Herman that included tours of Europe and major international festivals. The band's nearly nonstop schedule, with only two weeks off every year, included a number of colleges and high schools, where Joe had his first experiences doing workshops and master classes.

"During my time with Woody, I spent every waking moment gigging, composing, studying, listening and trying to figure out where I was going to go from there, musically. It was an eye opening experience, traveling around the world and seeing what was happening."

When he returned to New York, he moved into a Chelsea loft that would be his home for the next 20 years. Thanks to his travels and playing experiences, he had already developed a network of great musicians. He began playing gigs, jamming, and playing with some of the best musicians on the planet. 

In 1981, Joe began playing with Paul Motian in a trio that included guitarist Bill Frisell. Working with Motian helped Joe gain further exposure and renown, particularly in Europe. 

Riding the wave of his European success with Motian, Joe began touring as a leader. He also began collaborating with some of Europe's finest players, at the same time, teaching and doing workshops. His next high-profile gig was in a quartet led by guitarist John Scofield, with whom he recorded and toured from 1989 to 1993.

In 1991, he signed with Blue Note records and since then has been leading his own groups, producing nearly 25 recordings as a leader and becoming one of the great jazz artists of our time.

As much a composer as player, Joe is constantly seeking new ways to express his muse. Although he's one of the most successful musicians working today, his lifelong regime of practicing, jamming, and trying new sounds, endures. In addition to his reed arsenal, Joe has a collection of gongs and a full drum set. At home, now in the Hudson Valley in upstate New York, in his studio, he enjoys these multiple outlets for his creativity and has played drums on three Blue Note recordings.

The Us Five ensemble in the Jazz Tent today, with its two drummers, Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela, plus James Weidman on piano and Peter Slavov on bass, provides incredible polyrhythmic energy. Surrounded by these younger players, Lovano, with his boundless vitality and improvisational smarts, powers this battleship of a band in a sort of churning 21st-century expressionism. It's awesome.


Lovano, a monster player in all directions, was definitely the central focus on tenor saxophone and other strange saxes. But you can tell he relishes the interplay of Brown and Mela, plus the lean muscle provided by Weidman and Slavov. 

Here's my video from today's performance, and here's a complete 10-minute tune from Lovano's website. And here's a real find if you find you have some time to spare, a complete performance from 2011 at Jazzwoche Burghausen, near Munich in Germany. Sometimes Us Five incudes the exciting Esperanza Spalding on bass. That would be fun to see. This has definitely been a jazz-centric Jazz Fest for me, and this performance certainly took that one step further.  

After Lovano's set ended, I had but one thing on my mind, and that was taking place at the Jazz and Heritage stage. On my way over, while the sound check was wrapping up, I took a wide turn into the very end of Food Area I, where Ms. Linda Green sets up shop. There, I grabbed a late afternoon snack of her bread pudding with whiskey and rum sauce. Laurie's had this before (Day 11 in 2014) but it was a first for me, and I must say it was very tasty. Ordinarily I prefer my bread pudding to be breadier than this, but I am not complaining, as there are many ways to roll with bread pudding. In this one, the sauce soaked into the bread and made it outstanding.   

On the Jazz and Heritage stage, the Mardi Gras Indian funk band known as the 101 Runners was up. They started playing a sort of a jamming sound check, which is better than a lot of live music I've heard in and of itself, and then, when they were all ready to start, sousaphone player Kirk Joseph grabbed the microphone and said, "Where y'at Jazz Fest 2016? So ... y'all in the right spot. Y'all are really in the right spot. I really mean this, for only one reason. (He points toward Congo Square and Ms. Lauryn Hill.) What you got goin' on over there, you can hear on the radio at any given time. (He points toward the Acura stage and Paul Simon.) And what you got goin' on over there, you can hear that on the radio at any given time. But the shit that's about to go down right here, this shit is the real shit. Real New Orleans shit, all right? So buckle your seat belts and get ready to go for a musical ride y'all, with the 101 Runners!"

Now that's what I call an introduction!

For more than 10 years, the 101 Runners have brought their "Heavy Percussive Mardi Gras Indian Funk" to the world. This 9-member band with fully costumed Mardi Gras Indians (link is to an excellent background) is filled with some of the best veteran musicians New Orleans has to offer. That includes War Chief Juan Pardo of the Golden Comanche Mardi Gras Indian Tribe plus original members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (oh yeah, a full hour of the DDBB), Dr. John's Lower 911 band (oh yeah, a full hour of the doctor), Papa Grows Funk (oh yeah, a full hour of PGF), Dumpstaphunk (oh yeah, well, you get it), and the Rebirth Brass Band (you get it now?). 

Over the past 40 years, Mardi Gras Indian funk has found its way in the world of contemporary music. From the chants of the early recordings of the Wild Magnolias and the Wild Tchoupitoulas (backed by what became the Neville Brothers), it has evolved into remarkable mashup of the two styles, which you can see in modern bands like Cha Wa and the 101 Runners. These bands are not affiliated with any one tribe of Mardi Gras Indians, but focus more on the music. That's not to say that many of the long established Mardi Gras Indian tribes haven't gone funky; many of them surely have, as documented often in these pages.

The 101 Runners are fronted by emerging master singer Pardo, and he is often joined (but not today) by Big Chief Monk Boudreaux (see last Sunday) of the Golden Eagles. The chiefs are backed by a relentless rhythm section led by kit drummer Raymond Weber with Ajay Mallery (former Rebirth Brass Band) on snare drumLionel Batiste Jr. (former Dirty Dozen Brass Band) on bass drum, Boubacaar Cissikko on African drum, and founder Chris Jones at the congas. Jimmy Carpenter plays baritone saxophone, the awesome, awesome June Yamagishi (former Papa Grows Funk, who you see literally all over the place at Jazz Fest) plays guitar, Cornell Williams is on bass, Tom Worrell is on the keyboards, and the aforementioned Kirk Joseph is on sousaphone. Isaac Kinchen helps out with the chanting. Later in the show, another great funk guitarist, Billy Iuso, joined the proceedings. Of course, as always in these affairs there were quite a few others on the stage. 

The name 101 Runners is based on a number woven into Mardi Gras Indian lore, but its exact meaning is unclear. Chris Jones, the 101 Runners founder, manager, and percussionist (at least one of them), says his favorite story involves a long-ago Indian gang comprised of castoffs from other tribes. Referred to informally as the 101's, they didn't practice, sew elaborate suits, or subscribe to the traditional tribe hierarchy. Instead, they hit the streets at the last minute on Carnival Day with whatever was at hand.

"They were renegades that didn't have strong leadership," Jones said. "That sounded like a good name for this band." It took Jones three tumultuous years to forge a band and sound before the 101 Runners released their first formal album, "New Orleans Funk 101."

As a Grace King High School student in the 1980s, Jones was a classic rock fan. Then he attended a Neville Brothers concert and discovered, "I was living somewhere where something different was going on."

At a Charmaine Neville gig at Tipitina's, he met conga player Michael Ward. He asked Ward for lessons. Thus began a years-long apprenticeship and friendship that concluded with Jones serving as grand marshall for Ward's funeral in 1998. Ward's influence "is immeasurable, and not fully realized by me," Jones said. "He understood New Orleans and the importance of keeping things in the pocket. He's still giving me these amazing New Orleans experiences. I feel like he trained me for this." 

Jones' fascination with Mardi Gras Indians also runs deep. He and his wife were married by Bo Dollis Sr. on Mardi Gras Day in 1999. Jones claims to have followed Dollis every Carnival for two decades.

But music was just his hobby. Jones worked in the restaurant business, opening New Orleans-themed eateries around the country. For several years, he and his wife operated the Thibodaux Jones Creole Kitchen in Asheville, North Carolina. Jones encouraged visiting New Orleans musicians to interact with North Carolina bluegrass musicians, resulting in the hybrid "BlueBrass" project in 2004. 

The Asheville restaurant closed in 2005. Back in New Orleans a year later, Jones formed the 101 Runners in what he calls "by accident." Maple Leaf Bar owner Hank Staples asked him to assemble a band for the 2007 Krewe of O.A.K. party. The new project was modeled after the Wild Magnolias and Wild Tchoupitoulas -- an electric funk band backing Mardi Gras Indian vocalists and percussionists. Weeks after their first Maple Leaf show, the 101 Runners landed a slot at Jazz Fest in 2007.

"I wanted the band to sound uniquely ours," Jones said. "We're not going to be confused with the Wild Magnolias."

The process hasn't been easy. But having no prior band experience, Jones said, "I hadn't been banging my head against a wall. Not being jaded gave me the energy to put up with a lot of the crap." And with 10-plus members, "if someone doesn't show up, you just slide another one over."

And with the 101 Runners, "I'm not in control," Jones said. "I'm just in charge."

This was absolutely astounding music. Here's my video, and here's 10 more minutes from the FiyaFest in 2014 and here are 1 and 2 from the Bayou Boogaloo last year. Finally, from 'way back from the French Quarter Festival in 2010, here are the two Big Chiefs together, plus Anders Osborne on guitar.

I knew I needed to get over to meet Laurie at the Gentilly stage, so I tore myself away from this show a few minutes early (it wasn't easy) so I could catch some of My Morning Jacket there. As described above, that was well rewarded.

Another uneventful bus ride back downtown was followed by an hour of so of rest and then off we went to to St. Peter Street in the French Quarter and a late dinner, our fifth year in a row at Emeril's NOLA restaurant.

We love this place. It's in an old warehouse, on three levels, with most of the dining taking place on the second floor, which is open to the entryway below, in front of the central elevator. Our table was along the side of the area entered to the right as you step out of the elevator. NOLA is a busy, boisterous place. The kitchen is open on the first floor, and the downstairs bar is lively as well. When you're being taken to your table and the elevator doors close, the noise all goes away for about 30 seconds as you ride up to the second floor. And then you step back into it as you leave the elevator. Very cool and very strange at the same time.

As always the service was impeccable, very friendly and personal. At this restaurant you get a team to serve you and they work together like, well, like a team. It's astounding how they always know exactly when to be at the table. 

Our wine this evening was from Pali Wine Co. out of Lompoc, California, the 2011 "Bluffs" pinot noir, a rich blend from two vineyards in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. You always get a mini-loaf of bread and a jalapeño cornbread muffin to start. Appetizer for Laurie was a New Bedford scallop with oyster dressing. Mine was the pork-cheek boudin balls with tomato-bacon jam and creole mustard aioli. 

My entree was the grilled Niman Ranch pork chop with brown-sugar glazed sweet potatoes, toasted pecans, and a caramelized onion reduction sauce. Hey, I know the appetizer and entree were a repeat of last year. First of all, it is really good. The pork chop is outstanding and the boudin is something you just don't encounter every day. Second, I had asked for the evening's special, a pork shank with with dirty rice, but the chef apologized as they had just served the last one.

Laurie had the vegetarian entree with quinoa, braised Brussels sprouts, cherry tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, butternut squash with a fresh green sauce, roasted fennel, and marcona almonds. She keeps ordering stuff that I can't find pictures of.

And yes we had dessert and coffee, although tonight we shared just one. For a change. It's not easy. It was pistachio cake with lemon icing, topped with whipped mascarpone, served with strawberry-rhubarb compote and rhubarb sorbet. 

Just another great day at Jazz Fest and in New Orleans.

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© Jeff Mangold 2012