French Quarter Festival
Various French Quarter Locations
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat., April 9-10; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun., April 11CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD SCHEDULE
On a three-day weekend when the French Quarter Festival fills the historic district's streets with music, Treme's shadow reaches across Rampart Street toward its neighbor. Although not typically thought of as a product of that neighborhood, Louis Prima grew up on the 1800 block of St. Peter Street. Nearing the centennial of his birth (Dec. 7, 1910), he'll be feted at the French Quarter Festival's music colloquium (and also at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in two weeks). It's a focus that highlights an aspect of local music often embraced by locals and difficult for critics.
"From a New Orleans perspective, art and entertainment always go together in jazz," says Bruce Raeburn, curator of Tulane University's Hogan Jazz Archive, who will discuss Prima's career on a panel at the festival. "Even Louis Armstrong got in trouble with critics for playing to the crowd. But a New Orleans jazz musician's job was to satisfy the audience."
Raeburn will discuss Prima's career and the way his popularity grew as the bandleader successively reinvented himself — going from a jazz combo to a big band set up to the Las Vegas headliner and persona for which he is most often remembered.
"He was a born entertainer," Raeburn says. "He also was a hell of a trumpet player. Critics who write him off as an Armstrong imitator miss the reality of that."
Prima was known for both his musical talents and his sense of humor, and was one of the first Italian-American performers to bring that heritage to the stage in a positive light, Raeburn says. It's no accident he grew up in Treme, with its gaudy abundance of musical talents and unique multicultural makeup.
From the Treme Brass Band to musicians including Kermit Ruffins, who was married on stage at French Quarter Festival in 2007, there will be plenty of the neighborhood's talents joining a host of local bands onstage. Headliners include Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and Orleans Avenue, Big Sam's Funky Nation, the Radiators, Anders Osborne, Bonerama, the Soul Rebels and Rebirth brass bands, Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys and the Zydepunks. Besides Prima, there will be tributes to James Booker (by Tom McDermott) and Jelly Roll Morton (by Joe Krown).
The festival's 17 stages feature a wide variety of local music, from rock and jazz to gospel, opera and classical. There are stages on the Riverfront, in Jackson Square, at the Old U.S. Mint and along Bourbon and Royal streets. Indoor venues include Preservation Hall, Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre and the Historic New Orleans Collection, which hosts a new stage for singer/songwriters. The small stage in Dutch Alley will feature visiting European brass and jazz bands. A kid's area at the Aquarium of the Americas will feature children's performers, face-painting, yoga and other activities on Saturday and Sunday. Visit the festival Web site (www.fqfi.com) for a full schedule of events.