Jazz Fest (New Orleans): Another Diverse Mix of Great NOLA & Louisiana Acts, and Pop/Rock Headliners

black keysThe lineup is set to be officially unveiled this afternoon, in a press conference, and then at the Jazz Fest site. Until then, details can be found here.

Word is already spreading on the Internets: Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel, Hall & Oates, the Black Keys, the Dave Matthews Band, and Frank Ocean are among the big pop/rock acts slated to headline this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, slated for April 26 through May 5.

Also in the BNA category, or near-BNA, or used-to-be BNA: Maroon 5, Willie Nelson, Widespread Panic, John Mayer, Band of Horses, Ben Harper and  Charlie Musselwhite, the Mavericks, Earth, Wind and Fire, Patti Smith, Jimmy Cliff, Little Big Town, and the Little Willies (with Norah Jones).

In terms of major, million-selling artists, this year’s group of headliners doesn’t excite me nearly as much as past BNAs like Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Wilco, Phish, the Allman Brothers, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, or Steely Dan, just to name a few. Great seeing the Black Keys on the bill, though, along with Harper/Musselwhite, Los Lobos, and the Meter Men, with all the Meters absent Art joined by Phish keyboardist Page McConnell. 

Jazz, which has its own stage at the festival (two, if you count the trad-oriented Economy Hall), is represented by several first-rate artists — New Orleans based and/or out-of-towners — on the bill, including these modern/contemporary jazz musicians:

Friday, April 26 — George Benson; Joshua Redman Quartet; Jeremy Davenport; The Mashup feat. Terence Higgins, Ike Stubblefield, and Grant Green, Jr., with special guest Ron Holloway

Saturday, April 27 — Irvin Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra; Astral Project; Jason Marsalis

Sunday, April 28 — Dianne Reeves; Shannon Powell Quintet featuring Charlie Gabriel; Next Generation Big Band

Thursday, May 2 — Henry Butler; Delfeayo Marsalis & the Uptown Jazz Orchestra; Kidd Jordan and the Improvisational Arts Quintet

Friday, May 3 — Los Hombres Calientes featuring Bill Summers and Irvin Mayfield; The Cookers feat. Billy Harper, Eddie Henderson, David Weiss, Craig Handy, George Cables, Cecil McBee, and Billy Hart;

Saturday, May 4 — Stanley Clarke/George Duke Project; Terence Blanchard; Bill Summers & Jazalsa

Sunday, May 5 — Wayne Shorter Quartet; Ellis Marsalis

Some good stuff, above, yes, but the fest could still stand to supplement its jazz component with several of the artists that routinely top the major jazz festivals and win jazz mag polls. Since “jazz” is the fest’s first name, why not?

As usual, tons of great New Orleans and Louisiana artists will be back at the fest, playing a rich and diverse mix of jazz, blues, soul, R&B, funk, rock, folk, zydeco, cajun, gospel and much more. I hope to make a return visit to the fest this year.


One notable change, which is sure to disappoint many longtime festgoers: Aaron Neville has officially left the Neville Brothers to focus on his solo career. That means the Neville Brothers’ traditional fest-closing set will be replaced with a performance on May 5 by Aaron’s own quintet, focusing on music from his just-released CD on Blue Note.

Keyboardist Art, saxophonist Charles and percussionist Cyril will continue the group under a new name — The Nevilles. That band plays April 28.

Prognosis: The Nevilles will turn in an even funkier direction, and will move away from some of the pop-lite tunes Aaron favored. On the other hand, those beautiful Nevilles harmonies won’t be nearly as beautiful. Keith Spera of the New Orleans T-P has all the details here.

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