Day 10 / Saturday, May 6

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It's hard to believe that Jazz Fest is almost over, but that is unfortunately the case. So Day 6 of the Jazz Fest 2017 drill was executed (with a bit of melancholy): get up ... get ready ... slather on sunblock ... get Brass Passes, shuttle tickets, camera, hats, and phones ... and head down to the lobby to grab some coffee and maybe a bit of food, but only enough to tide us over to get to Jazz Fest, where real good food awaited. We were completely successful once again.

Again, no rain gear was needed. The sun was shining brightly all morning, with a few clouds scattered around in the afternoon. When we headed out the temperature was 73 on its way up to a high of 79 later this afternoon. The humidity again wasn't all that high for down here, hanging around in the low 40's. But that means that the Louisiana sunshine is direct, and that means it is hot. The breeze off the Gulf was light, helping a bit. But really, no complaints at all about a day like this.

We expected a big crowd today, and that expectation held true. Stevie Wonder was making up for his rained out performance of last year, as was Snoop Dogg. Meghan Trainor was going to be there for all the youngsters, as Ed Sullivan used to say. So, as expected, the lineup for the bus was much longer than usual. Nonetheless, we managed to get onto the Fair Grounds before any music started, thanks to the efficient folks operating the shuttles, security, and ticket scanning.

We went straight to Food Area I for our brunch because our first music was going to be at that end of the festival. We each got a repeat. Laurie went for the crawfish bread from Panorama Foods out of Marksville, Louisiana. We've had food from these people a lot over the years: I've had it on Day 4 in 2012, Day 8 in 2014, and Day 4 last year (also their sausage and jalapeno bread on Day 2 in 2013). Laurie's had it on Day 2 and Day 11 in 2013, Day 2 in 2014, Day 2 in 2015, and Day 10 last year (also the shrimp bread on Day 4 in 2012 and Day 8 in 2013). I think the bloom might be coming off of the crawfish bread rose a bit. The filling was OK, but Laurie didn't think the bread was very good. That was my impression last year, too.

I got a crawfish sausage po'boy from Vaucresson's Sausage Company out of New Orleans, one of the original vendors at Jazz Fest. Nothng wrong with this really simple sandwich, which is just the sausage and lettuce in a perfect bread. Of course, the Creole mustard adds a lot to it. It's just about perfect for the first meal of the day. This is another one that I've enjoyed a lot: Day 11 in 2013, Day 9 in 2014, Day 11 in 2015, and Day 10 last year. I also had their hot sausage po'boy on Day 3 in 2014. That's also real good.

Today was going to be a day of seeing a lot of people that we have seen before. On a day like this, with the combination of it being Saturday, with great weather, and very popular big-name artists, we know the crowds are going to be immense. Thus we (especially me) sort of hang out around the fringes. That does not mean we get shortchanged on the music one bit. 

Here are today's cubes so you can see what we saw and how we saw it. We were together a lot, which helped us stay in contact (in a huge crowd, particularly one that skews younger, the cell service gets completely overwhelmed as the day goes on). However, we managed a few independent sojourns. And there was one comical bout of confusion that led us to realize that when it is crowded, sometimes we need to rely on the old-fashioned way, setting a time and place as opposed to winging it with texting.

To start we went off in different directions. Laurie went to the Gentilly stage, where she was going to see the awesome singer-songwriter Maggie Koerner. We've both seen Koerner front Galactic (Day 4 in 2014)(see some of that here), and her powerful voice really holds its own and then some against that funk behemoth. Laurie also saw her do her own show on the intimate Lagniappe stage on Day 9 in 2015, where you can read some more background about her.

Koerner has a voice that demands a witness. She has gathered a dedicated following due partly to her year-long stint as Galactic's vocalist, but in large measure it's due to her magnetic voice. Her songs are soulful melodies alternating between pain and ecstacy.

When she talks about her career, Koerner is disarmingly confident. It's the same poise one hears in her music, when she doesn't back down from raw, vulnerable emotion or when she attacks a soulful passage with the swagger of more experienced musicians.

"I want longevity. Respect," Koerner said, "I want a career that stands the test of time. I want my songs to do the same. I think I've grown a lot since the first album. I'm proud of those songs, but the growth in the past five years, I'm so excited to get new music out. I just want to continue to work with people that I like and respect. I want to write great songs, and I want to continue to make people feel."

According to Laurie, mission accomplished. Here's a video that I found of Koerner on the Gentilly stage today. For some more, here is a YouTube playlist with 11 songs from the Vinyl Music Hall in Pensacola, Florida, recorded earlier this month. 

While Laurie was doing that, I went to the Fais Do Do stage to spend yet another great hour with Goldman Thibodeaux and the Lawtell Playboys. Goldman will be 84 next month, but he's still going strong. I think his voice was stronger this year than last. 

I've seen Goldman and the Lawtell Playboys on Day 10 in 2013, Day 3 in 2015, and Day 2 last year, and you can get a lot more information about the band and some insight into Goldman himself on those pages. Goldman and his wife Therese, who still manages the band, celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary in February of this year.

The Lawtell Playboys, who play authentic Creole la la music from the 1920's and 1930's, were formed by Bébé (fiddle) and Eraste (accordion) Carrière (on the right) in 1946. Goldman joined much later, in part because he never really began to play the accordion until he was in his 50's.

I read something interesting in preparing this report this year, that D'Jalma Garnier (see yesterday with Jeffery Broussard) was a member of this band for a couple of years around 2002-2004.

In addition to Goldman, the band today, as in recent years was the awesome 'Zydeco Joe' Citizen on the scrubboard (who roams around the stage interacting with the other in the band in the coolest way), Courtney Jeffries on guitar, Lee Tedrow on bass, and Barry Cormier on drums. There was one new addition this year in the great young fiddler Zachary Fuselier, who I've seen at Jazz Fest with Joe Hall and the Cane Cutters (see Day 11 in 2014 and Day 8 in 2015) and also as part of the extended Jambalaya Cajun Band Family with D.L. Menard on Day 3 last year. He seemed to be really enjoying playing with Goldman and Zydeco Joe. Who wouldn't?

      

Here is my video of the scene at the Fais Do Do stage this morning, and here is one more from today on the band's Facebook page. For a bit more Goldman, the cross-referenced pages have links to some longer performances that you can really get lost in if you like this kind of music.

After our respective music ended, we met at the back of the Fais Do Do viewing area and then went over to the WWOZ hospitality tent for some fruit and iced coffee. 

The day was really heating up and the people were really pouring in to the Fair Grounds, and the WWOZ tent is a great place to cool off and relax for a few minutes. 

We then went back to the Fais Do Do stage to see and hear another group that we've caught a couple of times before, the Savoy Family Cajun Band. Even the Fais Do Do area was getting crowded, but we found a good standing spot behind the chair people, with a good look over them and the people standing in front of the stage. If you can get to it and squeeze in, it's a very good location.

You can read a whole lot about this incredibly talented family at Day 10 in 2014 and Day 4 in 2015. Marc and Ann Savoy and their sons Joel and Wilson are strong individual musicians working together to create a tight, intense sound that represents all that Cajun music has been and can be. Their traditional Cajun melodies have a bit of a bluesy touch thanks to the two younger members of the family.

Marc Savoy (they use the French pronunciation, as in sa-vwah) plays the Cajun button accordion, and he's one of the best. In addition to being a chemical engineer, he runs the Savoy Music Center, where he handcrafts Cajun accordions and hosts a legendary Saturday morning jam session. Here's an interesting video where he explains how he came to love the accordion and lead a revival of Cajun music and culture.

Ann Allen Savoy is a native of Virginia. After she married Marc Savoy, she began documenting the Cajun culture, taking photographs, interviewing important musicians, and transcribing Cajun French songs. Her documentation ultimately became a book, Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People, considered the definitive work on the subject. She plays in a number of groups and has recorded an album with Linda Ronstadt (listen here).

Wilson Savoy is a founding member of the Pine Leaf Boys (see Day 2) and has produced films of many of the finest bands in Southwest Louisiana for his production company. Joel (pronounced Jo-el) Savoy was a founding member of the Red Stick Ramblers and today has his own record company, Valcour Records.

Drew Simon was playing the drums today. He's a member of the Pine Leaf Boys and several other Cajun bands we've seen at Jazz Fest over the years, including T’Monde way back on Day 2 in 2012.

Cajun music at the Fais Do Do is simply perfect on a warm, sunny morning. Always has been, always will be. Here's my video, and here are Le Blues de Bosco and Creole Stomp from a bit closer. 

Next we slipped over to the Congo Square stage to catch the last 15 minutes or so of the Soul Rebels' set. These guys were among the first of the modern brass bands we experienced at Jazz Fest, on Day 2 back in 2013. After seeing the Stooges (Day 2) and Rebirth (Day 5) brass bands in 2012, seeing the Soul Rebels sealed the deal for us. We love brass bands! We also saw the Soul Rebels at the Thursday evening Jazz in the Park concert at Armstrong Park on Day 1 in 2015. That was a great time, too. There's more info about the Soul Rebels at each of the cross-referenced pages.

In lieu of any video from Jazz Fest today, here's the full show they did at our very own Rosslyn Jazz Festival later this summer. You just have to love the Soul Rebels. Their YouTube video page has many, many videos to enjoy, including a bunch from their performance with Nas this year at Jazz Fest.

At this time we split again, Laurie off to the Acura stage to catch Ivan Neville and Dumpstaphunk and me off to the Blues Tent to see John Mooney and his band Bluesiana. This was the first time I've passed Dumpstaphunk by. I even went in that awful rain on the last day a couple of years ago. But that's how much I wanted to catch John Mooney's set.

Dumpstaphunk -- Ivan Neville on keyboards, Tony Hall and Nick Daniels on bass guitars (that’s right, two bass guitars; as Ivan says, "don’t try this at home unsupervised"), Ian Neville on guitar, and Alvin Ford Jr. on drums -- were in great form today, and Laurie had a great time. She doesn't mind dancing in a huge crowd. Me, not so much. This YouTube page has 10 videos taken at today's show. Dumpstaphunk is always, repeat always, highly recommended.

So here's the score on seeing Dumspstaphunk: We were enlightened on Day 2 in 2012, so much so that we went to see them at the Hamilton in DC in August; In 2013 it was Day 3 at Jazz Fest and Day 5 at the Instruments a Comin' benefit at Tipitina's; then it was Jazz Fest on Day 11 in 2014 and Day 3 in 2015; and finally phunkin’ in the rain on Day 11 last year. They are another band that we just love to see and hear! In past years they’ve been joined by a horn section and/or Cyril Neville and Art Neville, but this year the only guests were a singer who I don't recognize and their former drummer, Nikki Glaspie, turned singer today. Glaspie now has her own band, called the Nth Power, who we have yet to catch.

At the Blues Tent on a crowded day, I have found a spot that works pretty well, providing you have a little patience. You walk around the side of the tent and there, in front of the elevated perch for the video cameraman, you can stand behind the last row of chairs and get a great look at the stage (and not bother the camera operator). Sometimes when you arrive there are already people there, but more often than not they will move on and you can slide into a spot. Of course, there is always the danger posed by the crazy aggressive ushers in the Blues Tent who are intent on keeping their aisles clear, but for some reason they have never attacked this area. I can't say the same for a similar spot (without a camera stand) at the opposite side of the tent, from which I was shooed away last Sunday when there was practically nobody in the tent!

Anyway, from this spot today, I saw John Mooney and his band Bluesiana do one of the best shows I've ever seen in the Blues Tent. Mooney has a distinctive guitar and vocal signature. His sliding technique is a sight to behold, and his songs are first rate, as is the band, which today was C.R. Gruver on keyboards, Doug Belote on drums, and Ricky Cortes on bass. And of course, Bluesiana in any configuration would not be complete without the great Alfred "Uganda" Roberts on the congas.

Mooney left home at 15 and soon met the first and most enduring influence on the development of his music, the legendary Delta blues singer and guitarist, Ed "Son" House (listen here). Impressed by the 16-year-old musician's talent, House and Mooney soon became friends. "I wasn't aware of what the opportunity meant, but I knew there was nobody better in Delta blues," says Mooney. Son's heavily rhythmic style had strong influence on Mooney as the way he adapts acoustic-style playing to a modern electric guitar is one of his most distinctive trademarks.

In 1976, Mooney moved to New Orleans and immersed himself in its vibrant music scene, regularly playing with the likes of Earl King, the Meters, Snooks Eaglin, and the father of New Orleans piano, Professor Longhair. Through the mentorship of Son House and from his years spent playing with New Orleans musical royalty, Mooney began to combine the sounds of the delta with the syncopated rhythms of New Orleans to create the style that has become uniquely his own.

Mooney is another one who, like Anders Osborne (see yesterday), is not only a great guitarist, but also someone who writes great songs. But oh, man, that guitar. And the beat. It’s just great. You can read more about John Mooney at Day 2 in 2013. We also saw him on Day 4 in 2015, and for a few minutes on Day 9 last year. We also got to see him play as part of Marc Stone's Louisiana Blues Throwdown on Day 2 in 2015. Here's my video, and here's 25 minutes of this outstanding guitarist and songwriter at the Louisiana Music Factory this year during Jazz Fest.

        

After this awesome show I left the Blues Tent and crossed the track into the infield with the intent of meeting Laurie and getting some food. It was at this point that we discovered that the cell coverage had become overwhelmed, sort of like the Fair Grounds themselves. It was not as bad as the second Saturday in 2015, the Elton John, Ed Sheeran, T.I. day that essentially gridlocked the place, but it was very crowded. So one of us would send a text, and then another, and then another, going from one place to another, before the first text was even received. By the time the reply to that text got through, it was essentially useless. 

After sending out a couple of texts, I stopped at the Jazz and Heritage stage to catch some of the Kinfolk, a brass band that falls somewhere in between the traditional and modern. They were very good, and they were having a lot of fun, especially the Grand Marshall, who was throwing down all kinds of moves. What could be better? Well, finding Laurie for one thing!

The Kinfolk Brass Band was founded by brothers Percy and Richard Anderson in 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Playing a style of music that brings together New Orleans funk, modern jazz, traditional brass band sounds and even some Mardi Gras Indian chants, they have played a major role in the New Orleans brass band renaissance.

Percy Anderson was born and raised in New Orleans and is an accomplished trumpet and saxophone player. He also shines in his vocal duties with the band. He first started playing music in junior high school under the direction of the late Donald Richardson. As he entered high school he was introduced to the sounds of traditional jazz by an assistant band director who was also a member of the Olympia Brass Band. That's when he decided he wanted to play music professionally. Since then, he has performed with many musicians and bands in New Orleans. In the Kinfolk Brass Band, Percy and his brother, Richard, found the opportunity to create a unique style of brass band music.

Richard Anderson, also was born and raised in New Orleans. Like his brother, he first started playing music in his junior high marching band. His exposure to traditional and modern jazz while in high school influenced his decision to further his musical studies by attending Southern University and A&M in Baton Rouge. He received his music degree under the direction of New Orleans musical icon Alvin Batiste. Honing his professional musical skills playing with many of the top bands in the city, he and Percy decided to gather a group of players together to perform their unique take on the sounds of New Orleans brass band music. The result of that effort was Kinfolk Brass Band. Now in its 10th year, the band has a polished, professional organization that takes on many entertainment requests and ensures that all of their audiences participate in the fun!

Another key member of the band is Byron "Flee" Bernard. His professional music career began in 1988 under the tutelage of the musicians in the Olympia Brass Band, when he began performing with the Olympia Junior Band, which later became known as the Young Olympians. In 1992, the Young Olympians evolved into the Soul Rebels. After six years with the Soul Rebels, he became a member of the Rebirth Brass Band, with whom he played until 2007. Since that time he has worked with many bands and musical groups, but the majority of his time and energy is spent playing with the Kinfolk Brass Band and spreading their particular brand of brass band music to the world.

Here's a quick video of the scene at the Jazz and Heritage stage this afternoon with the Kinfolk Brass Band.

Still doing the text thing trying to meet up with Laurie, I had to grab some food. When Jazz Fest is like it is today, you sort of eat around the fringes, too. At the very end of Food Area I, pretty close to the Jazz and Heritage stage, is Linda Green's booth, home of her famous Ya-Ka-Mein.

We've each had Ya-Ka Mein a couple of times. Laurie had veggie Ya-Ka-Mein on Day 11 in 2014, and that's where you'll find the backstory on Linda Green. Then I tried it on Day 4 in 2015 (when Laurie also had the vegetarian version) and had it again on Day 3 last year. We've each had Ms. Linda's rum soaked bread pudding, too, Laurie on Day 11 in 2014 and me on Day 3 this year.

Ms. Linda, who won a championship on the Food Network's show Chopped, also serves a pork chop sandwich, and I decided to try that. The line was short, so why not?

There isn't much too it, just two slices of white bread around a thinly sliced and floured (with spices) deep-fried pork chop. The bone is still there, which makes it tricky to eat. You just have to eat around it. But the bone has got to be there in order to keep the flavor in, according to Ms. Linda. She will sell about 4,000 of these sandwiches during the seven days of Jazz Fest. On the counter are condiments in thin-tipped bottles, so you can apply mayonnaise, Creole mustard, and/or catsup to suit your taste. I ate mine without anything. For the first time I needed to taste it on its own. It was really quite good.

Inside the booth, a cook tosses pork chops in a tub of flour before lowering them into the deep fryer, where the chops tend to twist like thin-cut catfish filets. "Mine are thin," Ms. Linda says. "They're much better fried thin than thick. Thick would still be raw and I'm not going to kill nobody."

One secret of the sandwich is the seasoning in the flour, Green confirmed. "You've got to season a pork chop. People want to taste," she said.

The portability of the sandwich is also part of its appeal. The sandwich is inserted into a paper sleeve, neat and tidy to transport and eat, and the bread acts as an insulator to keep the pork chop warm.

Somewhere out there, Laurie was eating, too. She made up for her lackluster brunch with the platter made up of seafood au gratin, spinach artichoke casserole, and a sweet potato pone from Ten Talents Catering of Covington, Louisiana. How many times has Laurie had this platter? Let me count the ways, er, days: Day 10 last year (with recipes), Day 11 in 2015 (with recipes), Day 9 in 2014 (with the story of the sweet potato pone), and Day 3 and Day 10 in 2013. Big downside to not finding her: I usually get tastes of everything on the platter because it is a very large amount of food, and all three components are very tasty. Too bad for me ... 

I continued my quest to find Laurie, bouncing around the central area of the infield, first at the St. Charles Vision sunglass store (Jazz Fest really is like a small city), and then to a relatively uncrowded area behind it, in front of the Cuban pavilion, which I peeked into to catch some of Adonis and Osain del Monte, the same group that Laurie saw at Congo Square yesterday. Here's the quick video I took of the scene in the Cuban pavilion.

All of this activity was near the flagpole and also the Bayou Wear and Jazz Fest posters store, which is where I waited next (all the while sending texts to nowhere). While waiting there I noticed that I could see the huge video board at the side of the Congo Square stage. On that screen, in all its frenzy, was Big Freedia's show. All I could hear was the pulsing beat; however, what I could see was a whole lot of bounce dancing. I will tell you that it is like nothing you have ever seen before, guaranteed. Have a look.

A few quick facts about Big Freedia (pronounced Freeda), who is credited with popularizing the genre of hip hop called bounce, which had been largely underground since developing in the early 1990's.

Born Frederick Ross in New Orleans, Freedia took piano and sang in choir and says music was always a part of her life. Her mother exposed her to artists such as Patti LaBelle, and she was also influenced by the disco singer Sylvester, Michael Jackson, and Salt-n-Pepa. She attended Walter L. Cohen High School, where she became the choir director. This experience made her realize she could write and produce. She says she initially suffered from stage fright and had to coax herself onto stage until she became comfortable performing.

In 1998, a young drag queen by the name of Katey Red (on the left) performed bounce music at a club near the Melpomene Projects where Ross grew up. That led to Ross, who had grown up four blocks away from Katey Red, performing as a backup dancer and singer in Red's shows. According to Ross, "I wanted a catchy name that rhymed, and my mother had a club called Diva's that I worked at. I called myself the queen of Diva's, so I coined it: Big Freedia, Queen Diva."

Freedia began recording on her own in the late 1990's. After being forced to relocate to Texas after the Federal flood in 2005, she began performing bounce shows for the locals, helping spread awareness of the genre. She moved back to New Orleans at the first opportunity and played six to ten shows a week at block parties, nightclubs, strip clubs, and other venues while the city recuperated. She began to gain national exposure after a closing gig with Katey Red and Sissy Nobby at the 2009 Voodoo Experience (check it out here). That led to gigs with Galactic and a summer tour in 2010 with DJ Rusty Lazer. In the fall she had her first national television appearance. 

From there her career exploded. She starred in a reality show on the Fuse TV channel chronicling her growing mainstream attention and life back in New Orleans. During publicity for the show, Freedia led a crowd of hundreds in New York City to set the Guinness World Record for bounce dancing.

Freedia has stated "I am not transgendered; I am just a gay male... I wear women's hair and carry a purse, but I am a man. I answer to either 'he' or 'she.'" However, she said in a 2013 interview that her preferred pronoun is "she."

I don't know if I could last through an entire Big Freedia performance, but what I saw on the big screen today was crazy fun. 

I finally met up with Laurie in this area, but basically all we did was fill each other in on our plans for the rest of the afternoon and where we were going to meet, realizing that texting was no longer an option.

Laurie was off to the Gentilly stage to see Tank and the Bangas. The crowd there was very large, so she stood in the back to see the end of that show. It's actually not too bad from back there; the sound is good and the video boards are easily seen. You can read all about Tank and the Bangas, another young band that is breaking out nationally, at Day 3 in 2015, when I caught them. They are quirky, yes, but very talented.

She then headed back to the other end of the grounds by way of the WWOZ hospitality tent, after taking a quick look at the Kids Tent, to have a look at Trout Fishing in America (check them out here).

I was off to the Acura stage for my annual audience with the Soul Queen of New Orleans, the fantastic Irma Thomas. Irma is one my all-time favorites and it is a performance I will never miss. 

I was expecting close quarters in the standing area at the Acura stage, as Irma was paving the way for Stevie Wonder's return to the festival after rain canceled his set last year, but it wasn't reidiculously crowded. Again, you have to pick your spots on a day like this. We always approach the stage from the track side, where there is an entrance that a lot of people don't notice because it looks like it is part of a beverage concession. That places you in front of the video board, in an area that is usually relatively open. From there you can slip into the crowd or try to work your way along the fence separating the "regular people" standing area from the "special people" standing area. If nothing else you can move away from the front and see some of the stage but have a great view of the video board. If I wade into the crowd I will look for a recycling container to stand behind so that I won't be blocked by somebody taller than me (which is just about everybody).

Irma hasn't missed a performance at Jazz Fest since 1974. "I'm honored at my age, 76, to still be called upon to perform," Thomas says. "I do it with great joy."

Irma says she enjoys the crowd so much because most are fans who have followed her since she began singing in the 1950's. "I'm not singing to total strangers. I used to teach them all the latest dances and a lot of those people are still fans today. Some have become friends, who've brainwashed their kids into listening to my music. They're bringing their kids and their grandkids."

She said her performances rarely include a set song list. "If they ask me to sing their favorite song and I wasn't planning to, I will sing it," Thomas said. "That's why people come to the festival. They want to hear the songs that make them feel closest to that entertainer. That's the relationship I have with my audience and I don’t want them to leave disappointed."

They don't. The crowd loves Irma. Her performance is very well paced, and her band, known as the Professionals, are top shelf. Her voice, as strong as ever, her songs, almost every one instantly recognizable, and her personality just draw you in. It's Raining, Wish Someone Would Care, You Can Have My Husband But Please Don't Mess with My Man, Time Is on My Side, Ruler of My HeartPlease Send Me Someone To Love, and on and on. She also did the song that she recorded with Galactic, Heart of Steel, which unknown to me, Laurie was also seeing at the opposite side of the stage, as she had returned to this end of the Fair Grounds and had some time to kill. This followed, of course, the audience participation medley of Done Got Over It / Iko Iko / Hey Pocky Way with the second line, where the crowd must wave handkerchiefs, hats, umbrellas, or whatever and put their backfields in motion. And remember, it's not how well you put your backfield in motion, it's the spirit that you do it in! 

      

Here's my video from today, and 1, 2, 3 more from further back, where you can see how big the crowd is at the Acura sage on a Saturday afternoon. Here's a special treat: an entire concert recorded on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise earlier this year. And here's the cross-referencing on Irma, where you can see more videos and get more information: Day 4 in 2012, Day 11 in 2013, Day 4 in 2014, Day 4 in 2015, and Day 9 last year.

I got out of the Acura crowd, the same way I came in, working against all the people coming in for Stevie Wonder. I didn't have to go too far for my next music, the great pianist Kenny Barron in the Jazz Tent with Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums.

Barron is one of the most articulate and polished mainstream-to-bop improvisers in the jazz of the past 40 years. He doesn't play old tunes with respectful courtliness but with a warmth and delicacy that comes from having lived with their nuances for a very long time.

Today the songs were secondary to the trio's dynamics, especially Blake's excursions into a contemporary rhythmic world very different from Barron's. On one song Barron released a stream of fast piano runs and snatches of salsa over Blake's blend of cymbal chatter, snare rolls, and occasional rimshots that was jaw dropping.

Barron is a master of developing a song with the most sparing of touches and sly turns. The trio charts a classic jazz course while sounding modern. His playing is elegant, which is why the Los Angeles Times named him "one of the top jazz pianists in the world" and Jazz Weekly called him "the most lyrical piano player of our time." 

Kenny Barron was born in Philadelphia in 1943 and while still a teenager started playing professionally with Mel Melvin's orchestra. At age 19, he moved to New York City and freelanced with Roy Haynes, Lee Morgan, and James Moody after the tenor saxophonist heard him play at the Five Spot

In the years to follow, he worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, Chet BakerBuddy Rich, Yusef Lateef (who encouraged Barron to earn his B.A. in Music from Empire State College), Ron Carter, Billy CobhamBuster Williams and Ben Riley, Eddie Harris, Stan Getz (with whom he recorded the Grammy-nominated record "People Time"), Charlie Rouse, Gary Bartz, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, and many more. Wow! 

In 1973, Barron joined the faculty at Rutgers University as professor of music. He held this tenure until 2000, mentoring many of today's young talents, including David Sanchez

This was yet another thrill provided by the Jazz Tent. The opportunity to hear all-time jazz greats like Kenny Barron is one of the best things about Jazz Fest for me. The performance was simply outstanding. You can see some of it in my video, and here's 45 minutes of this group last year at Koerner Hall in Toronto. If you don't like the live experience, here is the trio's album, "Book of Intuition."

    

I had a bit of time before the last group that I wanted to see today was to begin, so I walked out of Heritage Square to the track and then entered the infield at the pathway leading to Economy Hall. Remember, to stay out of the crowd, approach from the edges. At Economy Hall, I stopped to hear some of the performance of Debbie Davis and the Mesmerizers. In this very talented group, Debbie Davis play ukelele and sings, Matt Perrine (who happens to be Debbie's husband) plays sousaphone, Alex McMurray plays guitar, and Josh Paxton plays piano. Every member of this group is an accomplished musician on his own, but together in this band, with Davis a lead, they are something uniquely special.

The daughter of two opera singers, Davis was born a singer. Making her first professional singing appearance at the age of two, her childhood was peppered with performances in opera and musical theater. As a young adult she was on track for a career as an actress, singer, and dancer when a knee injury diverted her energies toward singing exclusively. She became well known in her native New Jersey as a singer in several rock bands, dabbling in jazz standards when opportunity allowed.

Davis moved to New Orleans in 1997 and began making a name for herself in the local music community, singing jazz and all manner of musical styles. She's gone on to record with people like John Boutté, the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, the Dukes of Dixieland, Paul Sanchez, Tom McDermott, the Tin Men, and Marc Stone. She was even the jingle singer for the 2003 Zatarain's ad campaign produced by David Torkanowsky. In 1999, she joined the vocal group the Pfister Sisters and has spent the last 14 years performing locally and internationally with that group.  

In 2009, Davis began work with one of the most ambitious and critically acclaimed local projects to date, Nine Lives -- the Musical, singing several character roles and assisting in the vocal arrangements, not only for the 39-song recording but for the numerous subsequent live productions. She played herself in seasons 1, 3, and 4 of the HBO series Tremé, and was on the soundtrack recording. In January 2012, Debbie and her ukulele traveled to Jazz at Lincoln Center for a performance with friend and Tony Award winner Michael Cerveris. Her first solo recording, "It's Not the Years, It's the Miles," was released in 2012.

In 2014, Davis and the Mesmerizers released "Linger 'Til Dawn," the last full recording produced and mixed at the legendary Piety Street Studio in New Orleans. The group recorded 13 songs on the spur of the moment in a single afternoon -- to popular and critical praise. 

    

Davis has a lush and wryly sultry voice, infused with intelligence and wit, and the talented Mesmerizers are a perfect setting for that voice. They work together like surefooted dance partners, making the musical twirls and dips look easy.

They split the difference between American songbook classics, vintage jazz, and soul, but also arrangements of less-expected rock and pop. Those kinds of choices and what's done with them, for a jazz vocalist, are what separate the true songbirds from the parrots. Davis, spanning a hundred years of pop music, does so ably and with a sharp understanding of the bones of a song.

"Standards, the songs that are a part of the American songbook, are just pop tunes that are now considered jazz -- when they were popular, jazz was the pop idiom," she said. "After Hours is as traditional a jazz song as Irving Berlin ever wrote. It's only when you take it out of context that you realize that, and it suddenly becomes a very universal song."

In addition to the Mesmerizers and the Pfister Sisters, Davis performs with Ingrid Lucia's New Orleans Nightingales Revue, Paul Sanchez's Rolling Road Show (see Day 10 last year and Day 2 this year), Sophie Lee, Banu Gibson, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, and the Gloryoskis (with Myshkin and Helen Gillet) (see Day 9 in 2014). She and Paxton have done a recording together, called "Vices and Virtures," which was recorded in front of an audience in one 90-minute take. She and Perrine host an annual revue at holiday time, called Oh Crap, It's Christmas. She is a valuable player on the New Orleans scene, with regular gigs at Frenchmen Street (and Frenchmen-adjacent) spots like Three Muses and Buffa's. She collaborates regularly with a laundry list of artists even beyond those mentioned here.

"I can't think of another city in this country that could sustain such a large community of full-time musicians as New Orleans does," she said. "It's a culture where hundreds of musicians can make a living. We have a community that supports this. And locals really feel like they have an actual part in it."

Davis is a live entertainer par excellence, an adroit and broad-minded interpreter of the pop canon with a sharp sense of humor and a keen awareness of the room. Any time you get to see her is a real pleasure. Here's my video, and here is one more from today at Economy Hall. Her video page has about a dozen examples of her work with various collaborators. If you are curious about Oh Crap, It's Christmas, here's a page with some more videos from that.

One of the coolest walks at Jazz Fest is going from Economy Hall over to the Jazz and Heritage stage when both have performances going on. You walk away from the traditional jazz toward the brass or Mardi Gras Indian funk, and for a time the two blend together in a mashup that could happen only in New Orleans. Then the brass or funk takes over. It's very cool. I took this video of it last year.

I was closing my day at the Jazz and Heritage stage with Big Chief Bo Dollis Jr. and the Wild Magnolias. Laurie joined me there later on for this joyous, funkified set of Mardi Gras Indian chants and then some.

Before that, however, Laurie, having seen Irma Thomas, once again got caught up at the Jazz and Heritage stage while I was in the Jazz Tent. She was seeing the Original Pinettes, an all-woman brass band, believed to be the only such band in New Orleans. 

The band was founded in 1991 at St. Mary's Academy, a Catholic girls school. Taking direction from band director Jeffery C. Herbert, they began playing New Orleans-style jazz. At the school's spring concert in 1992, the band played the Rebirth Brass Band's Freedom (you can play a sample here), and the favorable crowd response gave Herbert the idea that he could fashion the musicians to play contemporary brass band music rather than traditional New Orleans jazz. Some of the band members' parents were having difficulties paying tuition to St. Mary's, so Herbert's idea was to capitalize on the possible commercial success of an all-female brass band to pay for tuition to the school. He dubbed the band the Pinettes, a feminization of the name of his own band, the Original Pinstripe Brass Band.

As with many brass bands in the city, the Pinettes have had a lot of turnover in membership over the years. The flood caused by the levee failures following Hurricane Katrina forced the band members to relocate to other cities throughout the country. At that time, bandleader Christie Jourdain took leadership of what was left of the band and made an effort to recruit new band members because some members weren't able or willing to come back to New Orleans. That effort was resoundingly successful.

In 2013, after 22 years as a band, the Pinettes released their debut full-length CD, appropriately titled "Finally." That same year the Original Pinettes Brass Band won the Red Bull Street Kings competition. Facing three other prominent New Orleans brass bands, the Pinettes not only won the title, but changed its name to ... "Street Queens."

"It's an obvious fact when you see us; we are all females," Jourdain says. But she added, the band members hope that fans can see, or hear, past the group's gender. "We're actually musicians, so I think when we're performing, if you don't see us, you won't know that it's all females. That's how we want to be recognized, as musicians more than females."

Jourdain said that the members of other brass bands around town once viewed the Pinettes as a "cute" novelty, but over time they've come to be seen as friendly rivals.

Jourdain has been around from the beginning. She started out as an alternate drummer when the band was formed at St. Mary's. She moved to Houston in the 1990's, but since her return in 2000, she's been a steady Pinettes fixture. Despite her natural shyness, she said that somewhere along the line she was recruited to be the band spokesperson. In recent years, Jourdain said, the Pinettes roster has included young women from schools across the city, as well as St. Mary's. "Now we have girls from (local high schools) Eleanor McMain, NOCCA, McDonogh 35, and Warren Easton; we have girls from (Xavier) Prep, we have them from Carver, we've had them pretty much from all over," says Jourdain

The primary members of the band are, in addition to Jourdain, are Dee Holmes on tuba, Dionne Harrison on trombone, Natasha "Saxy Lady" Harris on saxophone, Veronique Dorsey on Trumpet, and Jazz Henry on Trumpet. Jazz is the daughter of Corey Henry of Galactic and the Tremé Funktet (see Day 3). 

Today they were joined by Anjelika "Jelly" Joseph from Tank and the Bangas doing some vocals.

Some of the Pinettes have other careers, from college students to a computer tech, and some are wives and mothers. But nothing will stand in the way of these women who consider one another sisters. Says Jourdain, "We're not blood related, we're love related." Here is a full hour of the Pinettes last year at one of the Downtown Alive shows in Lafayette.

After this, Laurie decided to check out Stevie Wonder. She didn't last too long, as she found that when she was there he was doing more talking than playing. All reports say that when he did play it was pretty good. Nonetheless she joined me at the Jazz and Heritage stage sooner rather than later, and that was a good thing!

For the record, Wonder's voice was in top form as he belted out hits like Master Blaster, Higher Ground, and Sir Duke. His band sounded well polished and helped bring out the energy in the songs. Following a barrage of hits like Signed, Sealed and Delivered, My Cherie Amour and You Are the Sunshine of My Life, and I Just Called to Say I Love You, Wonder invited another Jazz Fest performer, Corrine Bailey Rae, on stage for a passionate run through Living for the City. After paying homage to some of the musicians we've lost over the past year or so, the famous drum intro to his biggest hit, Superstition, kicked in, and Wonder delivered a rendition that had everyone dancing. 

So that's the thing about the big-name headliners. If you are willing to put up with the crowd (and all the talking and commotion and singing along that it entails) for a greatest hits show, then you'll have a great time. Laurie and I, at the intimate Jazz and Heritage stage, had an uncrowded BLAST with Big Chief Bo Dollis Jr. and the Wild Magnolias.

Dollis Jr. talked often about his father, legendary singer and big chief, Bo Dollis, who is depicted in a yellow feathered Mardi Gras Indian suit above the stage. Dollis Jr. wore a white suit (with the image of his father painted on the back) and was flanked by lots of suited Mardi Gras Indians from the Wild Magnolias, including his mother, Big Queen Rita Dollis That's her below), his kids, and spy boys from the Wild Magnolias and other tribes.

Dollis' vocals are becoming ever more like his father's signature deep gravely snarl. It's almost scary how much he sounds like him. Early in the set, Dollis showed off his singing chops leading the band on a funky version of Papa Was a Rolling Stone, which after some solos, the band seamlessly segued into the Wild Magnolias' classic hit Smoke My Peace Pipe. The group also played the Magnolias' tunes Injuns, Here They Come, We Come to Party, and Handa Wanda. The show closed with Professor Longhair's Hey Now Baby," which Bo Dollis Sr. turned into his signature song, repeating "one more, one more time" over and over.

I've seen this great leader and group of musicians through some very emotional times at Jazz Fest. The first was on Day 11 in 2014, the first Jazz Fest that Big Chief Bo Dollis Sr. couldn't attend due to his failing health. Then on Day 11 in 2015, their first performance at Jazz Fest after the Big Chief passed away, was incredibly sad and uplifting at the same time. We missed them last year due to the deluge on Day 10, so this year was the first year that they seemed to have come to terms with the loss of Dollis Sr. and they went all out, believe me.

The beat and the funk laid down by Michael Burkhart on the keyboards, Andrew Price on the bass, Walt Lundy on the drums, and Matt Galloway on the guitar drove this show throughout, and it was nothing but a party, a great way to end a great day at Jazz Fest. You always go there on this day in particular thinking that it's the next to the last day, but you always leave so elevated that it just doesn't matter. Until tomorrow, that is.


Here's my video of this awesome funk extavaganza, and here's a great video of We Come to Party taken from Walt Lundy's drum kit, a perspective on a set like this that you rarely get a chance to see. This next one, taken during Oops Upside Your Head, is notable because you can see my camera recording some of the same tune early in the video and then our hats bopping to the music later on!

Not unexpectedly, the line for the shuttles was long this evening, but the Gray Line people had plenty of them waiting for us, so things moved right along. As you drive out of the Fair Grounds, you can see that the streets in the surrounding neighborhood are alive with people and musicians. That's the picture at the bottom of today's entry.

We were back at the Staybridge with plenty of time to de-Fest and then head out to what has become our favorite restaurant in New Orleans, GW Fins on Bienville Street in the French Quarter, just a half block up from Bourbon Street.

Fins is recognized for their discerning standards. Owner Gary Wollerman (that's the GW) and Chef Tenney Flynn select only the most pristine fish, not just from the Gulf of Mexico, but all over the world. And when it comes to the Gulf, Wollerman often will be on a boat and even be doing some of the fishing. Flynn, one of the country's foremost seafood authorities, especially when it comes to the Gulf, is known for his impeccable attention to detail. Together they have a reputation as being two of the most meticulous restaurant owners in New Orleans.

The GW Fins philosophy is simple: nature writes the menu. Flynn and Executive Chef Michael Nelson locate the highest quality fish from all parts of the world to augment the bounty of wonderful seafood they locally source from the Gulf. Using seasonal ingredients and subtle culinary techniques, the wonderful flavors and textures of each variety of fish are showcased in elegant simplicity. They will serve every variety of seafood only at its seasonal peak. They work only with whole fish. Masters of preparing fish, the chefs work on a specially created refrigerated table, enabling the fish to consistently maintain a cold temperature, ensuring optimal freshness.

Based on the variety of fish they receive each day, the chefs create the perfect presentation to bring out the natural flavors and textures of each type of fish.  This continually evolving variety of seafood is why Fins prints a new menu every afternoon. They have a great wine list, with more than 50 available by the glass. There is energy in the dining room, yet the atmosphere is relaxed. The service is beyond outstanding. It's a magnificent dining experience. 

Our wine was, for Laurie, Plowbuster Pinot Noir 2013 from the Willamette Valley of Oregon, while I had the same wine I had last year, Seghisio Zinfandel 2015 from Sonoma County in California. Our appetizer was, as usual, the smoked sizzling oysters (shown above). Fresh oysters are cold smoked, then dipped in drawn butter. Meanwhile, the shells are heated to 500 degrees. The cold oysters are dropped into the hot shells and brought to the table semi-raw and sizzling, the liquor bubbling. It's an awesome dish.

     

Laurie's main dish was redfish with a Thai mirliton slaw, blue crab fritters, pepper jelly, and citrus chili oil (that's the one on the left). Mine was an audacious dish: chicken-crackling (that's crispy chicken skin) crusted drum with white sweet potatoes, thin beans and pecans. Both meals were perfect. For desert we had crème brulée with berries. I also had a glass of 14 Hands Moscato 2014 from the Columbia Valley of Washington to finish the meal.

That put an end to a beautiful day with lots and lots of music, all of it fantastic. Jazz Fest ends tomorrow, but there are going to be a lot of great performers to keep our minds off of that. ... we hope!

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© Jeff Mangold 2012