Music

Various Artists: Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

Not just for those who've been to Jazz Fest, this collection offers a distillation of the diverse, whimsical, resolute, occasionally profane, and always heartfelt spirit of New Orleans.

Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Various Artists

Smithsonian Folkways

10 May 2019

Roughly 475,000 people just attended the 50th annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which is a far cry from the 300 who showed up to the inaugural event held in Beauregard Square in 1970. Jazz Fest, as it is popularly called, is second only to Mardi Gras in bringing tourist dollars to New Orleans, but it is first in providing a true reflection of the city's soul. Let the college kids have their beads and boobs and Bourbon Street. If you want to experience the real New Orleans' and the depth of its cultural heritage, then you will need to plan a visit for the late April/early May Jazz Fest, when the brightest lights of the region's many musical traditions, along with the magical purveyors of the region's spectacular cuisine, gather at the Fair Grounds.

Led by project manager Jeff Place, Smithsonian Folkways celebrates the golden anniversary of the Jazz & Heritage Festival with a five-CD collection of over five hours of music housed in a 136-page reference book. In all, it's a glorious collection of music, an informative reference work, and a fitting tribute to the people and performers who have made the Jazz Fest a beloved institution.

It would be impossible to encapsulate all that the Jazz & Heritage Festival has meant to its participants, its fans, and to the city itself, but this set makes as definitive a statement as can be made in a concise and affordable package. The collection's producers and arrangers have worked closely with the Festival's leadership to construct a collection that honors both the history and the spirit of Jazz Fest, offering performances from many New Orleans musical legends. It's wonderful to hear Buckwheat Zydeco's infectious cry of "Good Gawd A'mighty!" blast out from the stage during his performance of "Hard to Stop". Of course, Professor Longhair is represented here with "Big Chief", and Boozoo Chavis is heard presenting a live, timeless version of "Paper in My Shoe", which many identify as the first commercially recorded zydeco record.

While, as Keith Spera notes in his history of the Fest, festival organizers made the controversial decision to include nationally-known headline performers from outside the region to the concert line-up in order to draw in the necessary profits to keep the Jazz Fest going, the collection itself smartly focuses exclusively upon Louisiana artists, and it's an often blistering set of music. The Rolling Stones had been announced as this year's big draw before having to cancel due to Mick Jagger's health issues. You can practically taste the spice in Marcia Ball's "Red Beans", while the otherworldly call and response gospel joy of Raymond Myles and the Gospel Soul Children on "Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus" could get even the agnostics in the room reaching for the heavens in dance. Even Jazz Fest founder George Wein appears with the Newport All-Stars for a jazzed-up performance of "Back Home in Indiana". And, of course, the Neville Brothers close out the set much like they did the festival for 35 years, offering the final track, "Amazing Grace / One Love".

Of course, one can't talk of Jazz Fest or New Orleans without being aware of Hurricane Katrina's effects, which still haunt the region. It is fitting that disc one closes with John Boutte's 2006 performance of Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927", where, in a late verse, he changes the original's referencing of President Coolidge and "a little fat man with a notepad in his hand" to President George W. Bush accompanied by "about 12 fat men with martinis" wishing everyone "Great job!" to the crowd's massive, cynical approval. The former president's maddeningly inept response to the tragedy reappears in Sonny Landreth's "Blue Tarp Blues" when he sings that "Air Force One had a heck of a view" of the suffering below.

It would be easy to say that Jazz Fest: 50 Years of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is the perfect souvenir of the festival (along with one of those no-spill neck-strap drink holders Ray Hackett has been selling by the gates since 1985). But that would cheapen the verve and punch of these 50 tracks while also minimizing the impact of the fine historical essays in the set's book. This is a collection not just for those who have been there but for those who've never been. It is a distillation of the diverse, whimsical, resolute, occasionally profane, and always heartfelt spirit of New Orleans.

8
Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Books

Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.

Music

Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.

Film

Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.

Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.