Three's Company Ornette Coleman's much-anticipated Jazz Fest set began with the 73-year-old
free jazz forefather introducing his set with a story about Ellis Marsalis and
Alvin Batiste driving from New Orleans to L.A. at the apex of Coleman's controversial
career to tell him they understood what he was doing. Sixty minutes later, as
the packed Jazz Tent was scraping its collective jaws from among the peanut shells,
Marsalis and Batiste augmented their friend's trio for one last celebration of
the Sabbath. It was the first time Coleman smiled all day -- if only the reclusive,
quickly exiting alto saxophonist had lingered for a moment at the end of his set
to see the stunned bliss caused by his soliloquy of melodic wizardry.
Piano Professors Henry Butler blew the roof off the Popeyes Blues Tent. By the time the throatiest
bullfrog this side of Clarence "Frogman" Henry banged out "Iko Iko," Professor
Longhair's "Mardi Gras in New Orleans" and Huey "Piano" Smith's "Rockin' Pneumonia
and the Boogie Woogie Flu" on his Roland electric keyboard, he could've been flagged
by the NOPD for inciting a riot. Fortunately, the dust had settled by the time
Eddie Bo caught the same bug in the same place to the same sort of reception the
Most in Need of Bob Dylan's Black Cowboy Hat Given her recent tangles with the law, Austin singer-songwriter Tish Hinojosa,
in her first appearance at Jazz Fest, cut something of a bad-girl pose dressed
all in black on the Fais Do-Do stage. Her sexy, Latin folk lilted with Hinojosa's
trademark delivery -- youthful innocence personified -- made her appearance that
much more tantalizing.
Heals the Sick While both the newly released CD and DVD of Fats Domino's last appearance
at Jazz Fest (2001) capture the afterimage of music history, only the real thing
heals the sick. Festgoer Gene Broussard of Lafayette was four days out of major
surgery and on the Fair Grounds for Domino's headlining of Jazz Fest's first weekend
first Thursday. Having seen Domino live 30 or so times since the late '50s, Broussard
wasn't listening to his doctor -- he was going. Two dozen classics later, Fats
bumping his Black Yamaha on a "Sentimental Journey" across the stage, Broussard
was seriously considering attending the next day's Festival International de Louisiane.
Don't tell his physician.
Yet Another Hospital Release Tom Stamps, front man for Colonel Sanchez, arrived at the Louisiana Heritage
Stage from Tulane Hospital just in time for the set opener, an original funk jam
titled "SEPA." He was fine: the band members are all former and current Tulane
medical students, and Stamps, a pediatric intern, had just been released from
a run-of-the-mill 30-hour shift.
We Got to Go Now ... Well, Maybe Not Yet After turning in one of the most stunning gospel vocal quartet performances
of the Fest, legendary ensemble Spencer Taylor & the Highway QC's kept its backing
band churning, changing spiritual lyrics to the goodbye salute "We Got to Go Now."
Well, not quite: the cheering crowd at the Jazz Tent brought the band back onstage
for two more bows.
Best/Worst Tom Green Impression When the rhythm section of drummer Stanton Moore, percussionist/vibraphonist
Mike Dillon and guitarist Charlie Hunter locked into a groove, funk/jazz/fusion
outfit Garage a Trois threw down some of the most inspired jams of the first weekend.
Too bad maniacal saxophonist Skerik, who bears more than a striking resemblance
to comedian Tom Green, derailed the momentum more than once with some Yoko Ono-style
screaming, ridiculous stage banter, and messy sax honking. He did pull off one
funny line: referring to the customized Garage a Trois promotional foam index
fingers that dotted the landscape, he mused of the band's crass commercialization:
"What would Mahalia Jackson think?"
Different Look, Same Class His new quartet sports a serious name, "Allen Toussaint's Jazz Project," but
it boils down to the same ol' sandal-wearing piano professor: short tunes, short
solos, and nothing short of pure, elegant Ellington-like class. "Meterhead" played
tribute to Cissy, "Ruler of My Heart" to Irma and Otis, and "Carlene" to its namesake.
Same ol' solace, different dream.
Best R&B Gem Performed by a Zydeco Band Geneva Fields (aka Mrs. Thomas "Big Hat" Fields) singing lead on The Falcons
"I Found a Love," sounding almost as good as Wilson Pickett himself.
Best Evocation of Louis Armstrong by a Wilford Brimley Lookalike Looking as if he had just stepped out of an oatmeal commercial with his straw
hat and round glasses, Kustbandet drummer Christer Ekhé stood behind his
drum kit and growled out a delightful version of Pops' "After You've Gone" to
round out a superior second-Saturday set in the Economy Hall Tent. The band --
whose 12 members bill themselves as the "Swinging Swedes of Sweden" -- returned
to Jazz Fest for the first time since 1973, with trombonist and emcee Jens Lindgren
paying constant homage to such New Orleans greats as Steve Brown, Red Allen and,
of course, Armstrong.
If Only Armstrong Had Lived to See Video Games ... 17-year old Trombone Shorty's version of "St. James Infirmary" included brother
James Andrews on trumpet and Glen Andrews singing updated lyrics that included
references to Sony PlayStations.
Stay Lady Stay Recorded, Cassandra Wilson is an acquired taste. Live, in the Jazz Tent, the
Delta vocal sorceress cast a spell from which there's no escape. Opening with
a cover from one of the previous day's headliners, Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay,"
it was as if Wilson was laying the entire, seam-bursting tent across her own big
brass bed. Dinah Washington, Muddy Waters, Jobim, all massaged by her backing
trio, notched just as high up the bedpost. What a way to go.
Notable Guest Appearances Lil' Band o' Gold saxophonist Dickie Landry with Bob Dylan at the night concert.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds' Kim Wilson with Jumpin' Johnny Sansone. Los Lobos'
David Hidalgo with Terrance Simien. J.D. Hill and Sista Teedy with Deacon John.
Troy Andrews with the Neville Brothers.
In Memoriam, Part I The late songwriting genius Earl King received his share of tributes, as Dr.
John paid homage to "one of his podners" with a rollicking version of "Big Chief,"
Snooks Eaglin covered "A Mother's Love," and New Orleans rock-steady band 007
pulled out King's "Trick Bag." The strangest tribute came unexpectedly from Los
Lobos, as David Hidalgo announced that the band was sending a song out to King,
and started to pick out the opening chords to "(Come on) Let the Good Times Roll."
Then they abruptly went into the Lil' Bob & the Lollipops classic "I Got Loaded."
In Memoriam, Part II True street culture was presented with the first Sunday's rolling of Uptowner's
Hobo Clowns second line accompanied by the Pinstripe Brass Band. Essentially one
large extended family, the group formed more than 30 years ago on the Central
City blocks of Jackson Avenue with the purpose of remembering and honoring deceased
family members. Featuring all homemade costumes, most impressive was founding
member Julia Patterson's tribute to her father -- with a hobo clown costume resplendent
with face paint, top hot and large, sequined umbrella completely covered in her
father's collection of Mardi Gras beads, lottery tickets and Jazz Fest tickets.
In Memoriam, Part III Gregg Stafford & the Jazz Hounds dedicated their reverent set of trad-jazz
to the late great New Orleans bassist Erving Charles, a long-time member of the
Rock Unsteady While rock-steady doesn't necessarily have to feature a keyboard or horn section
to make it good rock-steady, something seemed to be missing in 007's set -- especially
considering the quality onstage: guitarists Jonathan Freilich and Alex McMurray,
and the rhythm section of bassist Joe Cabral and Jeffrey Clements. McMurray's
incessant mugging and snide comments (a strength in his solo work, but not here)
and a lack of the soulful harmonies made this set a curiosity. Still, kudos for
their send-up of The Clash's "Bankrobber"; maybe these talented musicians should
stick to the second wave of ska instead of the first.
Tone Cool The Economy Hall Tent served as a blissful comparison/contrast study in technique
by two of this city's most gifted trad-jazz clarinetists: Tim Laughlin and Evan
Christopher. Laughlin, performing on the first Sunday, dug into his new album
of all-original trad-jazz recordings (a rarity these days), Isle of New Orleans.
Laughlin's no showman; he stays completely within himself but in the process produces
tons of tone, as he displayed on his cheekily titled "Suburban Street Parade"
-- an homage to Paul Barbarin's "Bourbon Street Parade." By contrast, Christopher
is a magnificent showman who, unlike Laughlin, was fearless in his stage presence
and wailing while performing on the second Thursday with Danza. The group is a
collaboration with pianist Tom McDermott (who, along with bassist/tuba player
Matt Perrine, also backed up Laughlin), and examines the musical connection between
Brazil and New Orleans.
Tent Revival The Holmes Brothers put on one of the best sets in the Blues Tent, and wrapped
up their performance with dazzling three-part harmonies on "Amazing Grace" and
a rolling version of "Jesus is on the Mainline," timely reminders of the close
connection between blues and gospel.
Gumbo Revival Spectators at Zatarain's Food Heritage Stage got more sermon than they bargained
for during a panel discussion titled "Gumbo: The Way I Do Mine." Participating
chefs Leah Chase, Frank Brigtsen, Richard Stewart and Faye Ann Gardner bantered
about which is the greater mortal sin: a gumbo without seafood; a vegetarian gumbo
des herbes; or omitting a limb of the Creole "holy trinity" of onion, celery and
green bell pepper. Moderator Lolis Eric Elie, in the role of Solomon, never pronounced
Advice From One Who's Been There Sean Ardoin & Zydekool proved that there is in fact a next generation hoping
to fill the void left behind by the recent deaths of zydeco lions Beau Jocque
and Boozoo Chavis. Ardoin, who sort of resembles a dancing refrigerator onstage,
boogied his way through James Brown-fueled funk versions of zydeco on his triple-row
accordion while rousing the crowd into action before a prescient warning. "Last
year, I played here the same time of day, but it was 20 degrees hotter," Ardoin
said, already sweating. "And I almost passed out! I had to have a seat on the
speaker. Someone said, 'That man can put on a show!' ... So, for every three beers
y'all drink, drink a water!"
Ride Your Pony While the Plastic System Band of Martinique played its version of Duke Ellington's
"Caravan" at the Congo Square Stage, it was so funky that the big gray police
horse patrolling the adjacent track started cantering and jumping up and down.
Ride a Painted Pony With its hot, accordion-based traditional music and hand-painted ponies, the
Chouval Bwa Carousel from featured country Martinique proved the biggest surprise
of this year's Fest. Kids abandoned the Kids' Tent to climb aboard the fast, muscle-propelled
merry-go-round, while couples danced within earshot of the attraction. The Count
pronounces Chouval Bwa this year's Fest Best, and hopes it can become an annual
attraction. Still, he noticed that for some folks, what seemed like a lovely spin
didn't mix well with Miller Lite, Fest food and hot sun. "Here comes my Crawfish
Monica," said one green-faced rider, before stumbling toward a trash can.
Sonnus Interruptus Sonny Landreth and his band members couldn't have been working harder during
their Acura Stage set -- not that the audience could hear. In one of the worst
sound lapses at the big stage that the Count can remember, the speakers began
to fade in and out midway through Landreth's set, then gave out altogether. After
a sweaty, extended jam that aired in silence over the screens, the band launched
into another song, despite the frantic pantomime of frustrated fans up front trying
to tell the band to "Cut!" until the sound was fixed. A few minutes later, the
speakers came back on full force, and the consummate professional Landreth thanked
Quint Davis and his staff "for putting together an incredible festival."
What Not ToDo During a Groovy Old-School Set
Gladys Knight wafted from hard-edged soul to gospel to Motown standards on a set
of still-silky pipes on the Acura Stage, and guest saxophonist Vince Preister
got a rousing response when he came onstage blowing hard with Knight and her brother,
former "Pip" Bubba Knight. About a minute later, though, Preister inexplicably
swung the mood 180 degrees -- from Al Green to Celine Dion -- by launching into
a somber Kenny G-style soprano sax solo on "My Heart Will Go On," followed by
a similarly mellow "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "If I Only Had A Brain." By
the time Knight joined him on "That's What Friends Are For," many "friends" had
They Sound Good in Sunlight, Too The New Orleans Jazz Vipers made an effortless transition from the late-night
vibe of their regular Spotted Cat gig to an afternoon set in blazing sun on the
Lagniappe Stage. The band's acoustic sound was a perfect fit, with violinist Neti
Vaan's violin wafting toward the skies on tracks like "Blue Drag," and guest vocalist
Linnzi Zaorski's airy vocals effortlessly floating through the paddock.
Best Quint Davis Moment When Chouval Bwa of Martinique took over the Fais Do-Do stage, the band's
graceful songstress reached out and dragged a headset-wearing Quint Davis onto
the stage to dance. He obliged with a unique, doubled-over at the waist, legs
kicking out, how-did-I-get-here two-step. You had to admire his pluck, if not
his moves, and the crowd cheered.
If Loving You is Wrong, Al Jarreau Doesn't Want to Be Right Well-known for his stage-as-soapbox performance style, Al Jarreau was in rare
form closing out Congo Square the first Sunday, taking a few minutes to showcase
his still-powerful vocal range, after which he said, "Damn, I'm good. Thirty years
and still on the radio!" Later monologues touched on class warfare: "That silver
spoon, that 17-year-old with the Porsche, does not impress me, and he should not
impress you. That's not how we live." Jarreau then told the crowd he was happy
to be playing Jazz Fest, but that he likes "the intimacy of the club, where I
can walk around and hug you and kiss you and tell you 'I love you.'' Strangely,
he then promised to do just that at a performance that night at the Funky Butt
-- which was news to the club itself, which had Astral Project scheduled that
night. Jarreau never showed.
How About a Hail Mary? New Orleans' pro sports teams -- and the Big Quarterback in the Sky -- got
some spiritual shout-outs in the Gospel Tent. On Friday of the first weekend,
Pastor Woodrow Hayden of the Shiloh Baptist Church Mass Choir, sporting a New
Orleans Hornets T-shirt, asked the crowd to "support my New Orleans Hornets tonight.
But first, give a big hand to God." The following weekend, director T.C. Hawkins
of the 2nd Nazarene Baptist Church Gospel Choirasked the audience: "If
you were at a Saints football game and the Saints scored a touchdown, you would
make some noise, right? Well, Jesus scored a touchdown a long time ago!" he hollered
over the cheering crowd, before leading the choir into an exuberant chant of "Go
Jesus, go Jesus, go!"
Where's Your Daddy? It was misleading to bill Lil' Romeo's set the first Saturday as coming with
a "very special guest" as most observers -- including the Count -- predicted the
teen rapper's mega-star father, Master P., would surely make an appearance. It
didn't happen. Even without Dad, Lil' Romeo delivered a danceable, family-friendly
set, concluding with a skilled retooling of Rob Base's mid-80s smash "It Takes
Best Opening Question and Response for an Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage
interview Steve Armbruster asked Jo Cool Davis, "How long have you been 'Cool'"? Davis
responded, "All my life."
Panic Has a Ball Legitimate grumblings against Jazz Fest's typical granting of Georgia rockers
Widespread Panic two full time slots notwithstanding, the band delivered at the
Fair Grounds by stretching out in one marathon, high-energy and uptempo set. The
harder rock edge in its sound was a new twist, as guitarist George McConnell delivered
strong licks on classic and new material from the CD Ball, restoring the
band to a crunchy and booming sound missing in McConnell's first months as replacement
for deceased founding guitarist Michael Houser.
Best Pele Imitation Colombian superstar Carlos Vives and his band played one of the more energetic
sets at the Congo Square stage. During one accordion solo, Vives head-butted a
soccer ball seven times before hoisting it into the crowd and returning to the
mic for the chorus.
Best Trend We Hope Will Be Shamelessly Emulated Throughout The Fairgrounds
After all those harangues last year about the oppressive heat in the Blues
Tent, Jazz Fest organizers installed two rows of mist-spraying pipes suspended
from the ceiling above the back and left sides of the tent. The contraptions helped,
and may we be the first to point out that there's never too much of a good thing.
Best Replacement for Dear Abby Irma Thomas used time between songs for a mid-life crisis tirade. Her advice
to men: "When you get out of that little sports car and your knees make noises
you never heard before, then it's time to go back to the lady you been with all
Pops Would Be Proud Despite a train-wreck of an extended heavy metal-esque guitar solo in the
middle of the Staples Singers' soul anthem "Respect Yourself," Mavis Staples upheld
her family's legacy with funky versions of "If You're Ready" and "Let's Do It
Again," not to mention a sweet run through The Band's "The Weight," and the Carter
Family classic "Can the Circle Be Unbroken."
Most Generous Offer Several times throughout Amammereso Agfogamma of Ghana's set, the group told
the Popeyes Blues Tent audience that it would give away its collection of drums
to anyone who came backstage after the set. "We don't want to sell them, we want
to give them away," the group promised, sparking a mild stampede to the stage.
Most Contemporary Folk In the Folk Barn, a planned demonstration of T-shirt making by the husband-and-wife
team of Dwayne and Danyell Smith, owners of Impressive Designs T-shirts and Sno-Balls
in Broadmoor, was derailed. The couple's craft became notorious when an alleged
conspirator in the John McDonogh shooting wore a shirt memorializing the youth
he was targeting. A demonstration and explanation of the memorial shirts will
have to wait until next year, because Dwayne Smith was severely injured in a car
wreck the week before their appearance. The Count wishes the Smiths well and Dwayne
a speedy and full recovery, and we'll see them next year.
Best Way To Get Up Close And Personal With Your Fanbase Angelique Kidjo invited a diverse group of about 20 audience members onstage
during her live-wire Congo Square performance the second Friday, all the while
telling the rest of the audience how great it is to be up there. "Y'all don't
know what you're missing!" The chosen audience members ended their impromptu appearance
with a mass group hug around Kidjo before rejoining their less fortunate counterparts
on the grass.
Most Minimalist Puppet Show Julia Yerkov rarely performs these days, but she entranced children in the
Kids' Tent with her nuanced, less-is-more approach to puppetry. No Punch, no Judy:
just gently moving, finely detailed figures speaking directly to fascinated children.
How To Be Hot and Cool at the Same Time Theresa Andersson gave the expression "painted-on clothes" new meaning during
her Louisiana Heritage Stage set the first Saturday. Andersson wore a blue bikini
top, psychedelic body-paint "pants" (covering a bikini bottom) and a wicked smile
as she and her band delivered the goods from her latest CD, No Regrets.
The following Thursday, however, she sported a much more conservative pair of
shorts as she sang backup for Papa Grows Funk.
Best Rock Star Confession During an interview at the Miner Music Heritage Stage, Soul Asylum front man
and adopted New Orleanian Dave Pirner admitted that he'd spent most of his days
in the pop spotlight as a "deer caught in headlights," before moving to New Orleans
to "get schooled."
Best Display of Modesty by a Blow-up Doll For several years, the Acura Stage has been home to a tall pole bearing a
blonde blow-up doll in the buff, cheekily bobbing and waving to the crowd below.
She was back again this year -- but after just a few hours in flagrante delecto,
appeared on top of the pole for the remainder of the festival wearing a white
T-shirt that said "I USED TO BE NAKED." The pole's owners explained that security
guards made them take her down the first weekend, saying she wasn't conducive
to the Fest's family environment.
It Ain't Over 'til Aaron Neville Sings Why, oh why, does Aaron Neville insist on wedding his angelic pipes to canned
music? At the Gospel Tent, he once again performed with tapes, to the dismay of
many. But at the end of the second Sunday, the crowd at the Acura Stage shared
a bittersweet moment as Aaron Neville's lovely solo on "Amazing Grace" -- nothing
canned here -- wafted through the early evening air, bidding farewell to Jazz
Fest for another year.