French Quarter Fest lineup: Galactic, Astral Project, Ellis Marsalis, Delfeayo Marsalis, Bonerama, Rebirth Brass Band, more.

The French Quarter Festival in New Orleans is a nice alternative to the bigger Jazz and Heritage Festival: Many of the same great New Orleans & Louisiana artists, without the big pop/rock acts.

Admission is free, and the fest is held on stages spread across the Quarter and along the Mississippi River. Meaning: if you get a hotel there, you can walk to everything, and not  hassle with going to and from the Fair Grounds (as you do with Jazz Fest).

The festival will be held April 11-14. The lineup seems to get better every year and, yes, the four-day affair is more crowded than in the early years of the FQF.

astral project

Some highlights of the lineup, just announced:

Thursday, April 11 — Galactic, Jon Cleary, Chubby Carrier, Evan Christopher, Rebirth Brass Band, Tin Men, Sasha Masakowski

Friday, April 12 — Delfeayo Marsalis, The Iguanas, George Porter Jr., John Boutte, Alex McMurray, Leroy Jones, Little Freddie King, Papa Mali

Saturday, April 13 — Bill Summers, Cyril Neville, Ellis Marsalis, Leroy Jones, Paul Sanchez, Shamarr Allen, Walter Wolfman Washington, Jazz Vipers, Treme Brass Band

Sunday, April 14 — Astral Project (above), Bonerama, James Andrews, Dash Rip Rock, Rockin’ Dopsie Jr., Tuba Skinny, James Andrews, Jeremy Davenport

Check it the Offbeat story here.

SUNDAY JAZZ JOURNAL: French Quarter Fest or Bust

FRENCH QUARTER FESTIVAL - 2013 posterHow’s it possible that this one-time regular attendee of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival hasn’t visited the Crescent City in three years?

I was last in New Orleans in 2010, for my fifth consecutive trip covering Jazz Fest for national music mags — I’ve attended the fest, and covered it, umpteen times, but not all those years consecutively.

Why wait to return? The delay wasn’t intentional: Life, family, work obligations, band playing all got in the way, I suppose. In the interim, I’ve also had the opportunity to travel to other fests, including the Montreal Jazz Festival, and three fests at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in north Florida — Bear Creek, Spring Fest and Magnolia Fest.

I’m very excited to be returning to New Orleans this week, to cover the 30th annual edition of French Quarter Fest, April 11-15. I last attended that fest for its 20th annual edition.

(I previewed Jazz Fest and French Quarter Fest in a piece recently published in the Tampa Bay Times; it’s here)

Back in 2004, FQF felt like a smaller version of Jazz Fest, with most of that event’s NOLA and Louisiana acts but none of the big national acts who brought the enormous crowds.

French Quarter Fest, now significantly larger than it was a decade4.1.1 ago, still has a similar flavor (no BNAs) and it’s still a free event. As always, it’s a combustible mix of traditional and modern/mainstream jazz, blues, NOLA R&B and funk, gospel, cajun, zydeco, and world-music flavors.

Nearly 600,000 people are expected to attend performances by more than 1,400 musicians on 21 stages spread out all over the Vieux Carre. The majority of musicians are homegrown; among the few exceptions are European bands playing trad jazz.

There’s way too much music to catch everything, of course, but as of now I’m zoning in on some of the below acts. For the full schedule and additional details on the musicians, visit http://www.fqfi.org/frenchquarterfest or check out the helpful app for iPhone and iPad.

FQF posterIn addition to all the great music, the fest is presenting a series of music-related films, a lecture series, children’s activities and fireworks. For more info, click here.

And did I mention the bazillion varieties of crawfish, and other regional delicacies, on offer at the festival, provided by some of the city’s best restaurants?

Stay tuned in this space for some coverage of the fest.

(You’ll notice that I’ve suggested some shows that are taking place at the same time as other shows; like I said — some hard decisions ahead)

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walter wolfman washingtonThursday: Joe Krown, Walter “Wolfman” Washington (left) and Russell Batiste, 12:45-2 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Sunflower City, 2-3:15 p.m. (WWL-TV Stage); Irma Thomas, 2:15-3:45 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Walter “Wolfman” Washington and the Roadmasters, 4-5:15 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Susan Cowsill, 4:30-5:30 p.m. (Absolut Louis-Louis Pavilion Stage)

Friday: Marc Stone, 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. (Woldenberg Riverfront Park); Dr. Michael White, 12:30-1:45 p.m. (WWL-TV Stage); Waylon Thibodeaux Band,  12:30-1:45 p.m. (Chevron Cajun/Zydeco Showcase); Lionel Ferbos and the Louisiana Shakers, 2-3 p.m. (WWL-TV Stage);  Masters Series featuring Victor Atkins, Steve Masakowski, and Ed Petersen, 2:30-4:30 p.m. (Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Showcase at the Royal Sonata); Alex McMurray, 4-5:30 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); The music of Jelly Roll Morton, James Booker and Professor Longhair presented by the Piano Professors, 5-7:30 p.m. (Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse at the Royal  Sonata); Amanda Shaw, 5:30-7 p.m. (Chevron Cajun/Zydeco Showcase); New Orleans Nightcrawlers, 5:40-7 p.m. (Capital One Bank Riverside Legacy Stage); Stooges Brass Band, 7:15-8:45 p.m. (Capital One Bank dirty dozen brass Riverside Legacy Stage); Brian Stoltz, 7:15-8:45 p.m. (Absolut Louis-Louis Pavilion Stage); Papa Grows Funk, 7:30-8:45 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Dirty Dozen Brass Band (right), 7:30-9 p.m. (Chevron Cajun/Zydeco Showcase); Trumpet Summit featuring Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown and Friends, 8-midnight (Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonata)

Saturday: Donald Harrison, Jr., 12:45-2 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Washboard Chaz Blues Trio, 1:45-3:15 p.m. (Rouses Stage); Tom McDermott and His Jazz Hellions, 2-2:45 p.m. (Cabaret Stage); Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers, 2:15-3:45 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Treme Brass Band, 2:30-4:30 p.m. (Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta); Little Freddie King, 4-5:30 p.m., (Abita Beer Stage); Shannon Powell and His Traditional Allstars, 4:15-5:30 p.m. (French Market Traditional Jazz Stage); Irvin Mayfield (below) and the Jazz Playhouse New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival 2009
Revue
, 5-6:30 p.m. (WWL-TV Stage); Hot 8 Brass Band, 5:30-7 p.m. (Capital One Bank Riverside Legacy Stage); Bill Summers and Jazalsa, 5:45-7 p.m. (Ford World Music Stage); Davell Crawford, 5:45-7:15 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Brass-A-Holics, 7:15-8:45 p.m. (Capital One Bank Riverside Legacy Stage); Glen David Andrews, 7:15-8:45 p.m. (Absolut Louis-Louis Pavilion Stage); Bonerama, 7:30-8:45 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience (Chevron Cajun/Zydeco Showcase); Leroy Jones Quintet, 8 p.m.-midnight (Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta)

Sunday: Don Vappie and the Creole Jazz Serenaders, 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. (WWL-TV Stage); The Tin Men, 12:30-1:45 (Popeye’s Esplanade in the Shade Stage); The Mercy Brothers, 1-3 p.m. (House of Blues Stage in the Voodoo Garden); New Orleans Jazz Vipers, 1:15-3:15 p.m. (Where Y’at Magazine Stage); Paul Sanchez and the Rolling Road Show, 2-3 p.m. (Absolut Louis-Louis Pavilion Stage); Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band, 2-3 p.m. (Chevron Cajun/Zydeco Showcase); Preservation Hall Jazz Hounds featuring Gregg Stafford (The Advocate New Orleans Edition Stage); Treme Brass Band, 2-3:30  p.m.(Capital One Riverside Legacy Stage); Shannon Powell Trio, 2:30-4:30 p.m. (Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta); The Dixie Cups, 2:15-3:45 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Rockin’ Dopsie and the Zydeco Twisters, 3:30-5 p.m. (Chevron Cajun/Zydeco Showcase); Jeremy Davenport 3:30-4:45 p.m. (WWL-TV Stage); 
delfeayoDwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers
, 3:30-5 p.m. (House of Blues Stage in the Voodoo Garden); Eric Lindell, 4-5:15 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Russell Batiste and Friends, 3:45-5:15 p.m. (Popeye’s Esplanade in the Shade Stage); Delfeayo Marsalis (left) and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra, 5-6:30 p.m. (WWL-TV Stage); Raw Oyster Cult, 5:30-6:45 p.m. (Abita Beer Stage); Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet, 5:30-7 p.m. (Chevron Cajun/Zydeco astral projectShowcase); Astral Project (right), 5:30-7 p.m. (Popeye’s Esplanade in the Shade Stage) Honey Island Swamp Band, 5:45-6:45 p.m. (Absolut Louis-Louis Pavilion Stage); Glen David Andrews, 7-11 p.m. (Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonata)

Trumpet Men on the Big Screen: Dueling Miles Davis Biopics?; and a Louis Armstrong Flick

It’s been common knowledge, for a little while, that Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, the Ocean’s Eleven films) is directing and starring in the Miles Davis biopic, which is being produced by Miles’ nephew, Vince Wilburn, Jr. Wilburn played drums with the trumpeter and lived with him for three years beginning in 1984.

Now comes encouraging news that Herbie Hancock, pianist for Miles’ second great quintet, is scoring the film, and Cheadle is co-writing the script. That’s according to an interview with Wilburn and Erin Davis, Miles’ youngest son, published online at YRB.com.

Wilburn, as quoted by YRB, said: “We’re in the process of OK’ing the script with a new writer. Don didn’t like the other writer that was attached to the movie, so there’s a new writer named Steven Vegelman that Don’s writing with. Once is the script is OK’d by the family, then we go into production.”

The new writer referred to in the YRB story may be Steven Baigelman, who did the screenplays for Feeling Minnesota and My Brother’s Keeper, and is working on the forthcoming James Brown biopic.

According to the Internet Movie Database, the film — yet to be titled — is “in development” for 2011, and the latest chapter in its history stretches back to a treatment/outline that was prepared in April 2006. Cheadle is listed as director/producer, Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson (both of whom worked together on Ali and Nixon) as writers, and  Porter and Wilburn as producers. Wilkinson and Rivele are also listed as exec producers, along with Cary Brokaw.

The film is being produced by Cheadle’s production company, Crescendo Prods., which in November 2008 inked a “two-year, first-look” deal with Overture Films.

Way back in 1993, Wesley Snipes was slated to play Miles. And in 2006, Darryl Porter, general manager of the Miles Davis Estate, told Jazz Times that Antoine Fuqua would be directing the biopic.

Which era of Miles’ long career will be the focus of the film? Two hints, so far, both suggesting an ’80s emphasis —  Wilburn’s involvement, and the fact that IMDB lists rookie Kevin Navayne (seen in one episode each of “Army Wives” and “CSI:NY”) as the actor who will portray Marcus Miller, the bassist/producer who worked with Miles from 1985 until the trumpeter’s death in 1991.

Earlier this month, Cheadle told Vibe that his film is on the verge of beginning production. “In my attempt to tell the story, I’m not trying to do some reverential all-of-us-bow-down-to-Miles-the-icon. I’m trying to present him as a man. I’m trying to make a movie that Miles Davis would want to make.”

He also spoke to Parade magazine about his hopes for the movie: “It’s been a long time coming, but we’re working on the script right now,” Cheadle said for a story dated March 4, the same day that the Vibe piece was published. I think it will happen. I love Miles, but you have to take everything he says with a grain of salt. He would tell a long story, and someone would go, ‘That’s amazing. Did that happen?’ He’d reply, ‘I don’t f— know. You figure it out.’ He wasn’t interested in what you thought about him. He was like, ‘I’m about the music. Deal with that.’ Capturing the essence of that man is a challenge.”

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that a)the Cheadle film indeed will get made, and b)Miles’ story won’t be overtly Hollywood-ized. In the case of Miles Davis, the truth about his life is stranger, and more interesting, than any fiction that could be tacked on for dramatic purposes.

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Miles’ offspring have experienced at least some degree of conflict, as his sons Gregory and Miles IV reportedly were excluded from his will. Meanwhile, his estate is being handled by Miles Davis Properties, LLC, a group that includes Erin Davis, Wilburn, Miles daughter Cheryl and his brother-in-law Vince Wilburn Sr.

That conflict may be played out on the big screen, in terms of competing visions of Miles’ life: Another Davis biopic, also listed by IMDB as “in development” for 2011, is Dark Magus: The Miles Davis Story, adapted from Gregory’s 2006 book “Dark Magus: The Jekyll & Hyde Life of Miles Davis.”

Dark Magus is being scripted by Isaac Fergusson, and produced by Ged Dickersin and Nick Raynes, according to IMDB, in an entry last updated on Oct. 9. The production company: Davis Raynes Productions Inc.

The New York Post, on Oct. 2, 2008, had this to say about the Dark Magus film: “…Nick Davis Raynes is a well-mannered movie producer who just optioned the rights to “Dark Magus: The Jekyll and Hyde Life of Miles Davis,” by the jazz great’s son, Gregory Davis. “I’m a huge fan of Miles Davis. We plan to tell his true story and preserve his legacy,” Raynes told Page Six. Gregory was the only son who traveled with Miles on tour, but then had to sue his father’s estate because he was left out of his will. Besides the lead role, there will be juicy parts playing Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Jimi Hendrix. “Miles was a huge mentor to Hendrix,” Raynes said.”

Interesting side note to all of this: Earlier this year, rapper Snoop Dogg said that he wanted to play Miles, according to a blog called, simply, The Miles Davis Movie. The blog isn’t officially affiliated with the Cheadle movie, or any other film.

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Forest Whitaker, who played Charlie Parker in 1988’s Bird, tries on another jazz legend, Louis Armstrong, in What a Wonderful World, scheduled for release sometimes next year. Whitaker, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of President Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, is also directing the film, from a script written by veteran screenwriter Ronald Bass (Amelia, Entrapment, Snow Falling on Cedars, Dangerous Minds, Rain Man).

The Armstrong movie, naturally, will be shot in New Orleans. Last week, Whitaker said that he’s spending a year learning to play trumpet and preparing for the role, according to an item posted online at AceShowbiz.

Whitaker also said that the film won’t shy away from Armstrong’s passion for marijuana.

“He smoked weed every day and it’s in the movie where he wrote to the president to try and make it legal. We will have that in the film.”

The movie is the fourth feature film to be helmed by Whitaker, who made his directorial debut with 1995’s Waiting to Exhale.

Why direct the Armstrong film? I’d guess that it stems in part from Whitaker’s apparent recent love affair with New Orleans. In recent years, he’s acted in several films set or partly set there, including Hurricane Season and My Own Love Song.

Here’s what he told Variety, a couple of years ago, according to a story published at Nola.com: “Armstrong left a monumental mark on our lives and our culture. He lived an amazing life and, through his art, shifted the way music was played and would be heard after him, not just here in the U.S. but all over the world.”

Satchmo Summerfest, held every summer in New Orleans, is an annual interntaional focal point for all things Louis Armstrong. This year’s event, again organized by the same group that produces the French Quarter Fest, will be held in the steamy season – Aug. 5-8. For more information, click here.

New Orleans Wins, and It’s Not Just About Football

The New Orleans Saints are bound for the Superbowl in Miami. And that reality, after last night’s victory, means something so much larger than football, as several commentators have pointed out.

It’s a big shot in the arm for the confidence of a city just beginning to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. And it’s a chance for the city of New Orleans to shine, to show off its pride and, more importantly, its unique indigenous culture, for a global television audience.

Here’s hoping that the Crescent City’s movers and shakers fully avail themselves of the chance — even from a distance — to spotlight the region’s music, art and food in a manner that best represents New Orleans and that that results in bringing droves of tourists back to the city.

That could result in long-term, long-lasting economic benefits for the city. Tourism means dollars, and more dollars can help in vital rebuilding projects.

In the short term, let’s hope that the city — particularly its educational institutions, arts organizations, and initiatives that address unemployment and related housing and hunger issues — benefits immediately from the hundreds of millions of dollars that will cycle through the Superbowl.

The Superbowl is just the first of several high-profile opportunities for New Orleans to shine, including the French Quarter Festival, Jazz Fest, and, perhaps most significantly, the April debut of HBO’s music-driven series “Treme.” How could  a television show starring ebullient trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, as himself, NOT charm audiences?

Opportunity’s knocking. Here’s to a great and productive season for a city poised for an overdue rebound.

Festival Season in NOLA Means New CDs

If it’s April, it’s music festival season in Louisiana.

The free-admission French Quarter Festival, a great chance to see loads of top-shelf artists from New Orleans and throughout Louisiana, kicks off this Friday, April 17 and continues through Sunday. Last year’s FQF, the 25th, reportedly attracted an attendance of 435,000 people.

The following two weekends — April 24-26 and April 30-May 3 — are reserved for Jazz Fest, aka the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, a sprawling gathering of regional artists and big national acts. I’m attending first weekend this year, and counting the hours until the start of the event’s 40th annual edition.

Then there’s the 23rd annual Festival International de Louisiane, a gathering of Louisiana and world-music artists, April 22-26 in Lafayette. That’s one I’ve never attended. This year’s lineup includes groups from Europe, Africa and South America.

Festival season in Louisiana means tons of CDs by locally based and/or locally connected artists are released to coincide with the arrival of several hundred thousand visitors.

Already out are Wynton Marsalis’s He and She, Cyril Neville’s Brand New Blues, John Scofield’s Piety Street, and Leroy Jones’ Sweeter Than  a Summer Breeze. On the way are new recordings from Kermit Ruffins, Buckwheat Zydeco, Zachary Richard, Allen Toussaint, Brian Blade, and many others.

For a partial list of NOLA/Louisiana CD releases, check out the lineup at Satchmo.com. A great source for information about the region’s music is Louisiana Music Factory, accessible online here.  And don’t forget about the very successful home-grown label Basin Street Records.

French Quarter Festival in New Orleans

No doubt, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, AKA Jazz Fest, is the Mac Daddy of roots-and-branches music bashes in New Orleans (and maybe the entire Southeast).

But the Crescent City is also home to another extraordinary music festival, one that places the spotlight entirely on artists from New Orleans and throughout Louisiana.

fqf1I’m talking about the French Quarter Festival, which celebrates its 26th anniversary with another great lineup, April 17-19, a week before the start of Jazz Fest.

The free-admission FQF drew an attendance of 435,000 in 2008, and a strong turnout is expected for this year’s event, featuring performances all day long  on stages throughout the French Quarter.

Among the headliners:

  • Friday, April 17 – Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, the Zydepunks, Soul Rebels, and the Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band.
  • astralSaturday, April 18 – Astral Project, Ingrid Lucia,  Charmaine Neville, 101 Runners, Little Freddy King, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, Treme Brass Band, and J.D. Caillier & the Zydeco Knockouts.
  • Sunday, April 19 – Irvin Mayfield, the Radiators, Bonerama, Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. & the Zydeco Twisters, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Susan Cowsill, New Orleans Nighcrawlers, John Boutte & Paul Sanchez, Big Chief Bo Dollis, Jr. & the Wild Magnolias, and Leroy Jones & New Orleans’ Finest.

Last time I attended FQF, maybe eight years ago or so, I found the fest to be relatively laidback and accessible. It offers hours of great performances by regional artists — jazz, blues, cajun, zydeco, R&B, funk, rock — minus the big national acts (and attendant crowding) of Jazz Fest.

For the complete schedule, click here.