Saturday, May 12, 2007

Jazz Fest!

So! Jazz Fest was a blast. Pictures here!

The Jazz Fest website has links to a list of live Jazz Fest recordings you can buy. I'm not sure I'll be buying any of the live recordings, but I'll definitely be buying Maurice Brown's debut album, as well as the Alvin Baptiste one. This was my favorite music of the day.

Maurice Brown was the first act we saw. He's kind of a funk jazz bebop trumpet player who has drums, bass, piano, and a tenor sax in his combo. "Hip to Bob" was an incredibly fun song, and he played a lovely ballad of his new album called, I believe, "Love You." Both of these were composed by Mr. Brown himself, and I'm really looking forward to hearing what else he has.

We took the chance between sets to go check things out a bit. I found the ice cream booth and snagged some chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream in a waffle cone while the boys were in the Borders tent. They were selling quite a bit of music right there, but I decided I would wait until later, just so I'd know that I really liked what I wanted to buy. Because basically everything sounded fabulous to me, and if I'd impulse bought, I'd have bought it all!

Patrick and Kyle and I went over to watch the University of New Orleans Louis Armstrong Quintet. I don't remember a whole lot of their set, but they were really good, and very fun to listen to. They were playing on a stage tucked away in a little courtyard behind the race track grandstand. There were some restaurants back there, too, and a fountain with flowers around it. It was pretty, fairly empty, and much more intimate than the big stages.

Patrick and I were going to split the pork chop, rice, and cornbread plate for lunch, but they'd run out of cornbread. We ended up with just the porkchop, and then I bought a big fat piece of butter pecan cake to split amongst us all back in the Jazz Tent. The pork chop had a good flavor, but was pretty dry. The cake was delicious!

Back in the Jazz Tent we caught Jeremy Davenport, who was a more classical jazz trumpet player and vocalist. I was interested in seeing his show, and we needed to start camping out in the Jazz Tent at that point anyway, to make sure we had seats to the Branford Marsalis performance. He had an amazingly dark tone. I kept looking to make sure he was really playing a trumpet and not a flugelhorn, it was that dark. But that was the only thing interesting about his performance. Every time he started singing, he sounded kinda just like a lounge act. In fact, I ended up taking a bit of a nap. He wasn't bad. Just not... interesting to me.

As I said before, I thoroughly enjoyed the Marsalis Music performances with Mr. Baptiste's family, Harry Connick, Jr., etc. They all had stories to tell, and while it felt like a bit of an imposition to be there, not knowing the man at all, it was still amazing to have that opportunity to get to know him, albeit posthumously. They told the story of how he dismissed Branford from his group. They talked of how at 70 years old he agreed to teach young musicians in New Orleans. They sang his songs. It was wonderful.

There were other stories to be told as well. At one point, Bob French was introducing a song, and said, "Let's go out to the ghettos! We all been out to the ghettos before!" And Harry Connick, Jr. leaned around the piano and shook his head emphatically. He said something to Mr. French, and Mr. French replied, "What, you ain't been out to the ghettos? You was there every Saturday! What? You weren't? What, is your father in the audience? Oh. He is! " :-P Harry Connick, Jr. nodded and hung his head, and turned to the folks seated off to the left of the stage and shrugged penitentially. Oops!

After a while I left that tent just to wander around some on my own. I'm pretty sure the tall older gentleman in the orange striped suit who was walking with some security folks was Allen Toussaint. Then a security guard stopped us pedestrians to let a limo pull onto the vehicle path from behind the Acura Stage. Yup, that was Steely Dan.

I rambled through the craft booths and looked at all the stages, listened to whatever acts were performing, and wandered on. I stopped by a stall selling all sorts of baked goods. I asked the man and woman behind the counter, "What's the best thing you have?" "Are you a chocolate person?" the man responded. Heh, oooooh yeah. So he and the woman recommended the chocolate eclairs as being just wonderful. They also had the benefit of being stored back in the cooler, so they were cold. I bought one of those. It was a divine mess of chocolate on top of puff pastry wrapped around more richer sweeter chocolate. I got chocolate on my nose. I got chocolate on my chin. I got chocolate all over my hands.

Now THAT'S a dessert!

I poked my head into the Economy Tent to listen to some dixieland jazz, but the only standing room I could find was really muddy. It sounded like a lot of fun, though, and people were packed into a pretty little space to enjoy it. I ran into Erik and Joe, who had decided to leave, so I walked around with them for a bit as they bought some ice cream, then headed out. Then I decided to head back to the Jazz Tent to catch the Branford Marsalis Quartet.

As I wandered that way, I got sucked into the gospel tent by a truly joyful noise. With so much to see and hear, I didn't get to experience everything, of course. But I'm glad I caught at least that bit of gospel music. People were dancing and clapping and raising their hands. The sound was like waves breaking on rocks. It was a roar and a splash and a bubble of music. The leader was all over the stage, and the choir would fall silent, then thunder out with a wave of his hand. It was better than James Brown in the Blues Brothers movies! :-P

I did finally break away from that to get back to the Jazz Tent. The Branford Marsalis Quartet was by far the most polished, put together, and inovative act I saw. It was a lot less structured and more free form than I tend to care for. At times it seemed like everyone was playing a improvisational lines, but somehow it all laid down together into one beat. It was pure quality. The bass player played an amazing solo all over that bass, making sounds I'd never heard before. Not for me the most enjoyable part, but definitely the most musically impressive and enriching. An experience I've never had before, seeing jazz of that quality performed live.

Everything I saw was new and wonderful and different. It was hot and blazingly bright and muddy and dusty by turns. But the food was delicious and the music swept me away. A day given over to art and passion and good downhome southern cooking is definitely a day well spent! I'll be going back next year, and for as many years to come as I can manage.

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