Jazz Fest: Snarky Puppy, Stevie Wonder, Wayne Shorter & Herbie Hancock, Terence Blanchard, Neil Young, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Joe Lovano, more

Yes, as expected, another juggernaut of musical talent is slated for this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

I’ve attended this mammoth and amazing musical gathering umpteen times (although, oddly, not since 2010), and I still get excited by the quality, variety, and sheer quantity of the music presented at Jazz Fest.

Yes, I could do without some of the overtly commercial pop/rock (Nick Jonas? Seriously?) and rap headliners, but there’s enough jazz, blues, funk, R&B, brass band, zydeco, gospel, folk, world beat, and generally rootsy music to whet the appetite of any music lover.

Great to see the mighty, mighty Snarky Puppy on the bill again, along with some big-name acts I’ve caught at previous editions of Jazz Fest, including Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Elvis Costello, and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.

And some great bands and artists I’ve seen elsewhere (some of whom also have played at Jazz Fest) including the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Los Lobos, Neil Young, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, and loads of New Orleans favorites, from Dr. John to the Iguanas.

Then there are several world-class jazz heavy hitters, including the Herbie Hancock-Wayne Shorter Duo (wow!); Jack DeJohnette with Ravi Coltrane and Matt Garrison; Gregory Porter; Arturo Sandoval; Joe Lovano Us 5; and Heads of State Featuring Gary Bartz, Larry Willis, Al Foster, and George Mraz

jazz fest 2016

(This year’s Jazz Fest poster features the Marsalis family in what looks like a double-decker shotgun home)

And, of course, several top-shelf jazzers living in NOLA or with NOLA roots: Terence Blanchard featuring the E-Collective, Irvin Mayfield and the NOJO, Nicholas Payton, Astral Project, Jason Marsalis, Ellis Marsalis, and Donald Harrison, among others.

Who would I be keen to see at Jazz Fest, if I were able to get there this year? Well, here’s the rundown, my top picks, day by day. Modern or traditional jazz or jazz-rooted acts (except brass bands) are in bold.

Friday, April 22: Steely Dan, Gov’t Mule, The Subdudes, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Buckwheat Zydeco, Donald Harrison Jr., Geri Allen, Christian Scott, Jason Marsalis, The Music of Stevie Wonder featuring Brian Blade.

Saturday, April 23: Van Morrison, Pearl Jam, Boz Skaggs, Galactic, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Anders Osborne, John Hammond, DeJohnette-Coltrane-Garrison, Leo Nocentelli (of the Meters), Tribute to Jelly Roll Morton featuring Henry Butler, Butch Thompson, and Dr. Michael White, Tab Benoit, Joe Krown Trio featuring Walter Wolfman Washington and Russell Batiste, Jr.

Sunday, April 24: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Herbie Hancock & Wayne Shorter Duo, Voice of the Wetlands All Stars, Taj Mahal & the Trio, Henry Butler & Jambalaya, Terence Blanchard featuring the E-Collective, BeauSoleil, Little Freddie King Blues Band, Herlin Riley Quintet, The Iguanas,

Thursday, April 28: Tedeschi Trucks Band & Friends, Elvis Costello & the Imposters, Snarky Puppy, Gary Clark, Jr., Cyril Neville & Swamp Funk, Corey Harris Band, George Porter Jr. & Runnin’ Pardners, Savoy Family Cajun Band, Marlon Jordan Plays the Music of Miles, Trane, and Bird, Spencer Bohren & the Whippersnappers, Tuba Skinny, Bill Summers & Jazalsa

Friday, April 29: Paul Simon, My Morning Jacket, Irma Thomas, Elvin Bishop, Los Lobos, Bonerama, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, John Boutte, John Mooney & Bluesiana, Terrance Simien, Irvin Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Joe Lovano Us Five, Nicholas Payton & Afro-Caribbean Mixtape, Astral Project, C.J. Chenier, Raw Oyster Cult, and Tom McDermott & Friends.

Saturday, April 30: Stevie Wonder, Buddy Guy, Dr. John, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, Gregory Porter, Rebirth Brass Band, Arturo Sandoval, Kermit Ruffins’ Tribute to Louis Armstrong, Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen, Roy Rogers & the Delta Rhythm Kings, Cyril Neville’s Royal Southern Brotherhood, New Orleans Klezmer Allstars, Paul Sanchez & the Rolling Road Show, and the James Rivers Movement.

Sunday, May 1: Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples, Aaron Neville, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk with Art Neville, Punch Brothers, B.B. King Blues Band, Allen Toussaint Band, Ellis Marsalis, Davell Crawford, The Gospel Soul of Irma Thomas, Walter Wolfman Washington, Marcia Ball, Heads of State Featuring Gary Bartz, Larry Willis, Al Foster, and George Mraz, Rockin’ Dopsie & the Zydeco Twisters, The Mashup featuring Ike Stubblefield, Terence Higgins and Grant Green, Jr., Trumpet Mafia

I should add that, as usual, some of the most amazing shows during Jazz Fest week are held in the evenings, at various clubs and concert halls around New Orleans. Offbeat is the best place to go for all the music listings.

And Swagland, operated by a guy who has attended Jazz Fest for two decades consecutively, remains the essential online guide to “doing” the festival, with loads of practical tips on lodging, logistics, food, and general tips about NOLA.

Headed to Jazz Fest? Here are a few more resources:

Gambit, a major weekly, annually puts out a detailed guide to Jazz Fest acts.

My Spilt Milk is Alex Rawls‘ informative and opinionated blog/site on all things NOLA music (and culture). “Jazz Fest is Re-Reeling in the Years” is the headline on his piece announcing this year’s lineup.

The Times-Picayune, a once thriving daily now largely gutted, is worth checking out, although that paper’s music writers, Keith Spera and Alison Fensterstock, have taken their talents and a deep knowledge of NOLA music, to The New Orleans Advocate, so expect better informed fest coverage there.

And Louisiana Music Factory, an indie record store, remains THE place to go to pick up audio souvenirs of your trip. It’s  jam packed with recordings by New Orleans and Louisiana artists (as well as other musicians, of course). And the in-store performances during Jazz Fest week are great.









Swingadelic, “Toussaintville” (CD review)

(originally published in JazzTimes)


Swingadelic, “Toussaintville” (Zoho)

Any tribute to the creative prowess and influence of Allen Toussaint, the New Orleans pianist and eclectic composer of great imagination, is always welcome. In time for his 75th birthday, New York little-big-band Swingadelic offers just such honors, taking a galvanizing tour through the land of Toussaint’s tangy rhythm music, tunes made famous by a wide variety of bigger names.

Swingadelic pianist and organist John Bauers is out front for much of Toussaintville, starting with the cascading brass and low-slung acoustic funk of “Night People,” the laidback, good-time feeling of the Glen Campbell hit “Southern Nights,” spiked with Paul Carlon’s soprano sax, and a loping “What Do You Want the Girl to Do.” Bauers’ inviting vocals are also heard on a blues-infused “Sneaking Sally Through the Alley,” a saucy rock hit for Robert Palmer, here bolstered by Jeff Hackworth’s tangy bari sax, and the classic Lee Dorsey track “Working in the Coal Mine,” livened with syncopated brass accents. Bauers contributes the CD’s sole original, “Mr. Toussaint,” a sentimental toast highlighted by Audrey Welber’s alto solo.

Other familiar gems abound, notably the pulsating anthem “Yes We Can Can,” associated with the Pointer Sisters; the Irma Thomas hit “Ruler of My Heart,” sung with much heart and soul by Queen Esther; a slamming “(Everything I Do) Gonna Be Funky,” featuring a raucous simultaneous-soloing section from the trombones and open space for drummer Jimmy Coleman; and a trad-jazz grooving “Whipped Cream,” popularized by Herb Alpert. Toussaintville is a great place to visit.

America Needs It Some “Treme”

“America needs it some Kermit,” the New Orleans DJ and sometime musician played by Steve Zahn says, about halfway through the first episode of  HBO’s “Treme,” which debuts tonight on the heels of much critical praise.

Davis McAlary (Zahn), inspired by real-life scenester Davis Rogan, is talking to trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, his bandmates and friends after a show at Vaughan’s, a tiny, shotgun-style bar in the Bywater, where Ruffins has a long-standing Thursday night gig.  In the scene, Davis is lamenting Ruffins’ failure to at least say hello to Elvis Costello, who’s in town for a recording collaboration with pianist-songwriter Allen Toussaint.

Ruffins and Costello play themselves, as does Vaughan’s, where Ruffins plays and cooks barbecue for his listeners.

That authenticity, in a show created and produced by David Simon and Eric Overmyer (“The Wire”), with help from the late David Mills and novelist George Pelecanos, as well as New Orleans writers Lolis Elie and Tom Piazza, has everything to do with why fans of New Orleans music and culture — including native New Orleanians, I hope — will be enthused by “Treme.”

Why? Because Mills and Co. got it right: the broken-down, hardscrabble hand-to-mouth feel of New Orleans, in the months and years immediately following Hurricane Katrina; the unique cultural milieu, as defined in part by the city’s cuisine and Mardi Gras Indian traditions; the brass-band scene.

As is true about New Orleans, music is soaked into the fiber of “Treme,” as demonstrated by:

  • That aforementioned scene at Vaughan’s, where Ruffins and his Barbecue Swingers play “Skokian”
  • A native New Orleanian trumpet player makes it big in New York, with a scene shot at the Blue Note – Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, anyone?
  • Rebirth Brass Band plays “Feel Like Funking It Up” and the Stones’ “It’s All Over Now”
  • Treme Brass Band plays “A Closer Walk With Thee” during a post-funeral parade
  • McAlary sits at a piano for a few bars of Professor Longhair‘s “Big Chief.”
  • McAlary goes to WWOZ-FM for his weekly show, and rails about being forced to play “the New Orleans canon,” although it’s apparent he loves every bit of it – he goes gaga over a Dave Bartholomew box set, and he blasts NOLA hip-hop just to annoy his genteel, classical-loving neighbors.

The storyline largely centers on the ups and downs of trombonist Antoine Batiste (New Orleans native Wendell Pierce) and McAlary, as well as secondary characters including a professor (John Goodman) raging at the federal government’s decades-long failure to bolster the levees; his wife (Melissa Leo), an attorney fighting for the rights of the dispossessed; a Mardi Gras Indian chief (Clarke Peters) who returns to his devastated home, and hopes to reunite his tribe, the Guardians of the Flame; a bar owner, Antoine’s ex-wife (Khandi Alexander), mourning her brother, apparently lost in the storm; and  a chef (Kim Dickens) desperately trying to rebuild business for her popular neighborhood restaurant.

As might be expected from Simon, the various strands of the larger narrative — NOLA’s return from the brink of disaster — are smartly woven together in the first episode, directed by Agnieszka Holland. The characters are compelling, as are their stories.

Which brings us back to Kermit. Yes, America needs Kermit and his joyful, good-time music, rooted in New Orleans traditional jazz.

And America needs “Treme,” a show that serves as a necessary reminder of all the reasons — music, food, culture, a group of survivors who won’t quit — that New Orleans still deserves to be celebrated as one of our country’s great treasures. It’s “a city that lives in the imagination of the world,” according to something Goodman’s characters says.

Ultimately, “Treme,” which will run 10 episodes for its first season, wants to figure into the continuing rebirth of New Orleans, to play a role in furthering that economic and spiritual renaissance.

It’s off to a great start.

HBO’s “Treme”: Required Viewing?

The forthcoming HBO series HBO “Treme” could be required viewing for fans of New Orleans music and culture, and for those who became addicted to the pleasures of series creator David Simon‘s “The Wire.”

“Treme” looks to be grounded in authenticity, thanks in part to the fact that New Orleans good-time trumpeter and singer Kermit Ruffins is playing himself, and noted NOLA-based music journalist Tom Piazza is contributing to the script, as is New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Lolis Eric Elie, co-producer of a 2008 documentary on Treme.

More bona-fides: New Orleans saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr. is a consultant on the series, and so is Crescent City pianist and music scenester Davis Rogan. Simon’s presence says something (good) about “Treme,” too.

Anticipation for the series, which starts on April 11, likely is spiking this week, thanks to the just-released trailer, which includes cameos from famed NOLA pianist and composer Allen Toussaint and rock-rooted musical explorer Elvis Costello, who teamed with Toussaint for The River in Reverse; the two turned in a terrific Jazz Fest set in support of that 2006 album.

Check it out: Treme

And below is an on-the-set trailer:

My earlier post on “Treme” is here.

Jazz at the Grammys; and props to Lifetime Achievement winner Clark Terry

The Grammy Awards — particularly as demonstrated by its biggest categories — remains the music industry’s overblown high-school prom, a chance for the year’s most popular and/or most attractive rock, dance, hip-hop and country artists to toast each other’s success on the charts and in the media spotlight.

Last night’s ceremony, in that respect, was mostly the same: Does anyone believe that, 20 years from now, anyone will be singing the songs of, or caring much about the likes of Lady Gaga, who opened with a two-piano extravaganza with Sir Elton John (his earliest songs have become classics), or Pink, who did a skin-baring Cirque du Soleil-style act?

Jazz, as usual, got short shrift (yes, there was Herbie Hancock’s big win last year, but that was a fluke).

Lifetime achievement winner Clark Terry (right), the great and gracious trumpeter, and good-humored “mumble”/scat singer, got onstage recognition from director Quentin Tarantino (huh?) and the camera caught Terry, 89, in the audience. Then it was on to a really annoying, profanity-laced performance by Eminem, Lil’ Wayne, Drake and drummer Travis  Barker. No, thanks.

Best musical moment: Jeff Beck‘s performance of “How High the Moon,” with singer Imelda May, in a too-short salute to Les Paul, introduced by actor Jeff Bridges (huh?) Beck played a sunburst Les Paul guitar for the occasion.

This year’s jazz nominees, for the most part, were musically solid. Several of the recordings that appeared on my Top 10 list — discs by singer Roberta Gambarini, pianist Allen Toussaint, and bassist John Patitucci — grabbed nominations, but not wins.

Nice to see New Orleans artists take home trophies in two categories — trumpeter Terence Blanchard for best improvised jazz solo, and trumpeter Irvin Mayfield‘s New Orleans Jazz Orchestra for best large jazz ensemble album — although it’s a bit of a shock that the latter category didn’t include nominations for first-rate recordings by Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge, and the Gerald Wilson Orchestra.

The Jazz Surge’s CD, The Comet’s Tail: Performing the Compositions of Michael Brecker, did get attention in the category of best instrumental arrangement. Talented veteran arranger Bill Cunliffe won, for “West Side Story Medley” from the Resonance Big Band’s tribute to Oscar Peterson. Note: Mendoza was nominated twice in this category, so that may have hurt his chances for a win.

And it ought to be noted that neither acclaimed pianist Vijay Iyer, nor his trio’s Historicity, which topped this year’s Village Voice Jazz Critic Poll (I voted), were to be found among the nominees. UPDATE: Vijay let me know that Historicity “was released two weeks too late to qualify for the awards.” Here’s hoping that NARAS will honor the CD next year.

Kurt Elling won in the jazz vocal category for another impressive recording, but I wonder if the superb discs by Robert Gambarini (my pick for ’09’s best jazz vocal CD) and Tierney Sutton resulted in a vote split leading to the Elling win.

It was satisfying to see several veterans pick up wins, including late Weather Report keyboardist Joe Zawinul, for the final CD from his Zawinul Syndicate band, and pianist Chick Corea and guitarist John McLaughlin, for a live recording from their Five Peace Band.

Dan Morgenstern, director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers-Newark, picked up another Album Notes Grammy, his eighth, for his contributions to The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946).

Finally, how many father-and-son recordings have won Grammy awards? In the Latin jazz category, the great Cuban-born pianist Bebo Valdes and his son, pianist Chucho Valdes, won for Juntos Para Siempre.

The jazz winners and nominees….

Best Contemporary Jazz Album

*Winner: 75 Joe Zawinul & The Zawinul Syndicate

[Heads Up International]

Urbanus Stefon Harris & Blackout [Concord Jazz]

Sounding Point Julian Lage [Emarcy/Decca]

At World’s Edge Philippe Saisse [E1 Music]

Big Neighborhood Mike Stern [Heads Up International]


Best Jazz Vocal Album

*Winner: Dedicated To You: Kurt Elling Sings The Music Of Coltrane And Hartman Kurt Elling [Concord Jazz]

No Regrets Randy Crawford (& Joe Sample) [PRA Records]

So In Love Roberta Gambarini [Groovin’ High/Emarcy]

Tide Luciana Souza [Verve]

Desire Tierney Sutton (Band) [Telarc Jazz]


Best Improvised Jazz Solo

*Winner: Dancin’ 4 Chicken Terence Blanchard, soloist Track from: Watts (Jeff “Tain” Watts) [Dark Key Music]

All Of You Gerald Clayton, soloist Track from: Two-Shade [ArtistShare]

Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey Roy Hargrove, soloist Track from: Emergence [Groovin’ High/Emarcy]

On Green Dolphin Street Martial Solal, soloist Track from: Live At The Village Vanguard [CamJazz]

Villa Palmeras Miguel Zenón, soloist Track from: Esta Plena [Marsalis Music]


Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual Or Group

*Winner: Five Peace Band – Live Chick Corea & John McLaughlin Five Peace Band [Concord Records]

Quartet Live Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow & Antonio Sanchez [Concord Jazz]

Brother To Brother Clayton Brothers [ArtistShare]

Remembrance John Patitucci Trio [Concord Jazz]

The Bright Mississippi Allen Toussaint [Nonesuch]


Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

*Winner: Book One New Orleans Jazz Orchestra [World Village]

Legendary Bob Florence Limited Edition [MAMA Records]

Eternal Interlude John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble [Sunnyside]

Fun Time Sammy Nestico And The SWR Big Band [Hänssler Classic]

Lab 2009 University Of North Texas One O’Clock Lab Band [North Texas Jazz]


Best Latin Jazz Album

*Winner: Juntos Para Siempre Bebo Valdés And Chucho Valdés [Sony Music/Calle 54]

Things I Wanted To Do Chembo Corniel [Chemboro Records]

Áurea Geoffrey Keezer [ArtistShare]

Brazilliance X 4 Claudio Roditi [Resonance Records]

Esta Plena Miguel Zenón [Marsalis Music]

HBO’s “Treme” Actually Gets New Orleans Music/Culture Right?

The more I hear about forthcoming HBO series “Treme,” the more I’m encouraged that producer David Simon (“The Wire,” “Homicide”) is going to get it right, in terms of artfully and accurately capturing the homegrown music and idiosyncratic culture at the heart of what makes New Orleans the only city of its kind in the world.

There are some good signs that Simon will do so, as related in jazz journalist Larry Blumenfeld‘s recent Wall Street Journal piece on the series, which takes its name from the neighborhood thought to be the oldest African-American neighborhood in the U.S.:

  1. Irrepressible trumpeter, barbecue maker and raconteur Kermit Ruffins, as New Orleans as New Orleans gets, is playing himself, and reportedly will get substantial screen time in the series, which focuses heavily on Mardi Gras Indian tribes and brass bands.
  2. Eric Overmyer, Simon’s longtime associate and a co-creator of “Treme,” for more than two decades has resided part-time in New Orleans.
  3. The writing staff includes NOLA-based author Tom Piazza, whose short book Why New Orleans Matters was an essential post-Katrina read, and New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Lolis Eric Elie, co-producer of a 2008 documentary on Treme.
  4. Wendell Pierce (“The Wire”), who plays a trombonist, is native to NOLA’s Pontchartrain Park neighborhood.
  5. Underappreciated jazz and funk saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr. is an advisor on the series. So is pianist and music scenester Davis Rogan. Rogan is working closely with actor Steve Zahn (Rescue Dawn), who portrays a local music devotee and DJ.
  6. Elvis Costello, a huge supporter of NOLA music (he teamed with pianist/composer Allen Toussaint for 2006’s The River in Reverse, and the two collaborated for a terrific performance at Jazz Fest) plays himself.

“It’s easy to get it terribly wrong, and terribly hard to get it right,” Simon told Blumenfeld.  “‘This won’t be ‘The Wire’ with a better soundtrack. It’s a completely different animal.”

I’m holding Simon to his pledge of authenticity. For the rest of the WSJ piece, click here.


The series’ first 10-episode season will debut in April, according to a Nov. 8 report in the Times-Picayune.

“That this decidedly oddball project – set among the quirky denizens of a floodwall-failed city, it fits no recognizable TV genre – is proceeding at all counts as a small miracle,” Dave Walker wrote in the T-P.

Stay tuned.

(photo, above, left to right: Zahn, Ruffins, Pierce).

Sco Goes NOLA

Musicians wanting to dig into a certain type of groove — funky, earthy, rooted to a jazz vibe that goes all the way back to the African percussionists of Congo Square — go to New Orleans to find it.

Last year, the Blind Boys of Alabama headed to the Crescent City for Down in New Orleans, on which they hooked up with the trio of pianist David Torkanowsky (ex-Astral Project), bassist Roland Guerin, and drummer Shannon Powell (Harry Connick, Jr.). Guests included Allen Toussaint, the Hot 8 Brass Band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

John Scofield, a fiercely talented guitarist rooted in jazz but also drawing from rock, blues, and fusion, worked with pianist-singer Jon Cleary and Meters bassist George Porter, Jr. (both based in New Orleans) and drummer Ricky Fataar — for the just-released Piety Street (Emarcy). The album of refried gospel tunes was recorded in the Crescent City.

Sco is taking the band, or a variation thereof, on the road. The tour touches down May 1 at Jazz Fest in New Orleans (is Porter REALLY not playing the Jazz Fest date, as indicated on Sco’s site?) and heads to Europe at the end of June. His show Sunday in New York generated a glowing review from New York Times critic Nate Chinen.

“…it’s Mr. Scofield’s old-time gospel album, recorded in New Orleans with a band drawn mainly from that city’s robust R&B scene. It’s a basic concept, and it makes all kinds of sense. (Scofield achieved) the proper blend of grace and grit. He didn’t sound like a visitor in the realm. He sounded at home and happy to be there.”

Click here to read the rest.

(I’ve yet to hear this disc – but it’s on my list …)

Note to Sco: Please bring the Piety Street band to Florida!