New Orleans: Serious About Its Identity As a Music Town?

But of course: New Orleans is a music town, one of the greatest on earth, and in many respects the heart and soul of American music.

It’s the birthplace of jazz, and it would be darn near impossible to gauge how great an impact the city and its indigenous arts culture have had on other forms of musical Americana, including R&B, blues, funk and soul.

And yet because of pesky political obstacles or a lack of imagination, the city’s fathers have never quite been able to capitalize on NOLA’s music/arts culture, which encompasses everything from still-vital brass bands to Mardi Gras Indian groups, great modern jazzers, traditional jazzers, amazing funk/rock groups, inspired singer-songwriters, and soul singers — artists like the Dirty Dozen, Rebirth Brass Band (in photo), New Orleans Nightcrawlers, the Wild Magnolias, Ellis Marsalis, Astral Project, Kermit Ruffins, Trombone Shorty, Galactic, Paul Sanchez, Alex McMurray and Irma Thomas, just to name a few.

By capitalizing, I mean spending the time and energy, and devoting the appropriate funding and resources to help leverage New Orleans’ amazing music scene — from Frenchman Street to the Uptown clubs — as an essential element driving visitors from all over the world to the city.

No, I don’t mean handouts, although expanding the available arts grants would be entirely appropriate. I’m talking about consistently creating opportunities for musicians to demonstrate their art, and pushing even harder to get that message out to potential tourists from the U.S. as well as those in Canada, Europe, South America, and elsewhere.

Other American cities have accomplished that task more effectively, and two of those cities are in the South – Austin, which has effectively branded itself as “the live music capital of the world” and  Memphis, where blues haven Beale Street does big business.

What would it take for NOLA to become known worldwide as “the home of American music” or “the heart and soul of American music” or something similar, and for hundreds of thousands of additional music-loving tourists to come to the city year-round, not just for the wonders of Jazz Fest?

These were among the topics discussed in a mayoral forum held Monday at Loyola University. Five of the candidates vying to succeed (the largely incompetent) Ray Nagin for the city’s top job met to share ideas during  a gathering sponsored by Music Swings Votes, an organization comprising local music industry professionals.

“The music and cultural community want to be sure that we are recognized by the next mayoral administration, taken seriously, and that we can actually get the mayor to achieve some agreed-upon goals,” said OffBeat magazine publisher Jan Ramsey, an organizer of Music Swings Votes, according to a piece written by Times-Picayune music writer Keith Spera. “We want to emphasize that this is important and they need to include it in their platform and their administration.”

I don’t live in New Orleans, so I’m not familiar enough with the local issues — including those having to do with racial politics — to weigh in on which candidate is best qualified to lead a city still reeling from hurricane devastation. But I will say that Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu (photo, left) has consistently worked to elevate the music and music industry of New Orleans and the entire state, which also boasts regional musical treasures zydeco and cajun.

During a Jazz Fest press reception several years ago, I spoke with Landrieu about his efforts to promote Louisiana music. I’ll link to that piece here as soon as I can track it down.

“The music community stepped up to remind everybody that New Orleans is the soul of America. … I want to trumpet it, no pun intended, to the rest of the world,” Landrieu told the crowd, which included New Orleans-born trumpet great Terence Blanchard.

Boosting the public profile of the city’s music/arts culture would be of huge benefit to all of the city’s people, not  just for the musicians and other artists. A dramatic increase in tourism would help everyone in New Orleans survive, and again thrive, to regain its footing as a major American city.

Here’s hoping that the city’s next mayor possesses the inspiration and determination to make that happen.

Quint Davis: Jazzfest “The Greatest Entertainment Value for the Money”

Quint is right. He was quoted in a story that ran Dec. 17 in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Thanks to Jazzfest font of knowledge Swag for alerting me (and others) to the story. Here’s the text of the piece:

STELLAR SOUNDS: Unveiling its lineup early, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival offers up a strong bill of old favorites and new headliners

Wednesday, December 17, 2008
By Keith Spera

By 1970, the first year of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Tony Bennett had been a star for two decades. The members of scruffy rock band Kings of Leon were not yet born.

Both are bound for the 40th Jazzfest, now presented by Shell.

They’ll join Aretha Franklin, Sugarland, the Dave Matthews Band, James Taylor, the Neville Brothers, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Wynton Marsalis, Emmylou Harris, Wilco, The O’Jays, Pete Seeger, Ben Harper, Solomon Burke, Erykah Badu and hundreds more at the Fair Grounds April 24-26 and April 30-May 3.

Producer/director Quint Davis announced the 2009 roster Tuesday at the North Rampart Street offices of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation, the nonprofit that owns Jazzfest and spends its profits on cultural initiatives and free events throughout the year.

The festival has never unveiled its full lineup in December. The early rollout is intended in part as a hedge against a grim economic forecast that may cut into leisure travel next spring.

Ticket prices are unchanged from 2008: $40 per day in advance, $50 at the gate. Also, a new weekend package prices tickets at $35 a day. Tickets for children age 2 to 11 are $5.

Compared with the $125 cost of a single floor ticket to Britney Spears’ March 3 concert at the New Orleans Arena, Davis noted, a three-ticket package for Jazzfest’s entire first weekend is $105.

“And you can see Dave Matthews; James Taylor; Joe Cocker; Wynton Marsalis; Earth, Wind & Fire and many more,” he said. “This is the greatest entertainment value for the money that there is.”

In conjunction with festival co-producer AEG Live, Davis’ Festival Productions Inc.-New Orleans started booking acts in the summer. They scrambled in the past week to confirm as many as possible before Tuesday’s announcement.

“It was like trying to build a house,” Davis said. “You look at it with a week to go and think, ‘There’s no way this will be finished.’ ”

All headlining slots are filled except one second-weekend opening.

First-time Jazzfest performers include Bennett, Spoon, Sugarland, Kings of Leon, rapper Common, Cuban hip-hop band Orishas, soul singer Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and Washington, D.C., “go-go” music pioneer Chuck Brown.

— Return visits —

The schedule is also laden with veteran acts: Bonnie Raitt, Taylor, Cocker, Buddy Guy, Etta James, Los Lobos, Robert Cray, Hugh Masekela, John Mayall, Maze, Johnny Winter, Seeger — who plans to celebrate his 90th birthday at Jazzfest — Toots & the Maytals, the Del McCoury Band and the hundreds of Louisiana acts that are the festival’s foundation.

In a sneak peak at the day-by-day schedule, Davis said the closing day’s Acura Stage lineup boasts Allen Toussaint, Franklin and the Neville Brothers, in that order.

Trumpeter Marsalis closes out the festival’s opening day by reprising his “Congo Square” composition with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and Ghana-born percussionist Yacub Addy. They premiered the piece during the 2006 French Quarter Festival in Armstrong Park, site of the original Congo Square.

The Dave Matthews Band, which last appeared in 2006, is scheduled for the first Sunday.

Several multi-artist tributes acknowledge the legacies of departed local legends. Irma Thomas joins Mavis Staples and Pamela Landrum in a salute to Mahalia Jackson.

The late jazz banjoist and raconteur Danny Barker is the subject of a tribute by trumpeter Leroy Jones and a reunion of the Fairview Baptist Brass Band, which Barker developed into a farm team for local brass bands.

Deacon John hosts a “Dew Drop Inn Revisited” set featuring Wanda Rouzan, Eddie Bo, Allen Toussaint, Robert Parker and Al “Carnival Time” Johnson.

The Meter Men features three of the four original Meters: Guitarist Leo Nocentelli, bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste. They first performed as a trio in August at the Democratic National Convention in Colorado.

Sugarland is this year’s contemporary country headliner. The band employs a New Orleans rhythm section consisting of bassist Annie Clements — daughter of local guitarist Cranston Clements — and drummer Travis McNabb. McNabb will perform with Sugarland the second weekend and with his “regular” band, Better Than Ezra, the first weekend.

— Plenty of rockers —

Perhaps taking a cue from competing festivals, Jazzfest has bolstered its roster of upstart rock bands. In addition to Kings of Leon, the list includes Wilco — the band’s bassist, John Stirratt, grew up in Mandeville — Spoon, Ben Harper and the Drive-By Truckers with guest keyboardist Booker T. Jones.

In another sign of the torch being passed, Bob Dylan’s son, Jakob Dylan, is slated to perform a solo acoustic set.

In years past, Jazzfest has featured the music and culture of countries from Africa and the African diaspora. Several international acts will return, including the Crocodile Gumboot Dancers of South Africa.

For 2009, Jazzfest has augmented its selection of premium packages. The Big Chief VIP Experience includes access to raised, covered viewing areas at the main stages and other amenities. The cost is $850, or $1,000 with daily reserved parking, for the first weekend; $900, or $1,100 with parking, for the second.

The Grand Marshal VIP pass offers access to reserved viewing areas in front of several stages, at a cost of $550, or $700 with parking, for the first weekend; $600, or $800 with parking, for the second.

A new premium package, the Krewe of Jazzfest, provides seating at the main Acura Stage only. Krewe of Jazz Fest packages are $350, or $500 with parking, for the first weekend; $400, or $600 with parking, for the second.

— Marketing challenge —

Disposable income may be in short supply for many people next spring. Already producers of Prospect.1, the art extravaganza on exhibit throughout New Orleans until January, have cut their own attendance projections by half.

As the national economic outlook grew ever gloomier throughout the fall, Davis and his team realized they would need additional time to market Jazzfest.

“As the days and weeks went by, it became more important to have the greatest momentum we could so people can get excited and make plans,” Davis said. A national promotional campaign kicks off after Jan. 1.

With the early announcement, they also wanted to pre-empt other festivals that compete for entertainment dollars. Davis is also quick to distance Jazzfest from the competition.

“No other festival has an imperative to present 85 percent local music,” Davis said. “Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Coachella — they’re not this. This is different.

“We like to think that if you’re going to do one thing, you’re going to do Jazzfest, rain, shine, flood or pestilence. Now we’ll put that to the test.”

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster, at the New Orleans Arena box office and at the Louisiana Superdome box office (gate A, ground level). Ticket prices do not include service charges.

Early Christmas Present: New Orleans Jazz Fest Lineup Coming Tuesday

Christmas will come early for Jazz Fest fans — the full lineup  for next year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival will be announced this Tuesday, Dec. 16, according to a report published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

The roster for the 40th annual edition of the festival, April 24-26 and April 30-May 3, will be announced during a press conference scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. (Central).

The announcement of the full lineup typically comes in January or February. Why so early this year?

Blame it on the economy.

“With the general economic downturn likely to affect leisure travel and ticket sales, the early announcement also allows for extra time to market the festival,” according to Keith Spera’s story in the Times-Picayune.

Expectations are that the 40th anniversary lineup will be as impressive a lineup as ever. On the list of artists confirmed to play, or expected to do so:

4/24 – Wynton Marsalis, Jazz Tent; Ellis Marsalis; Amanda Shaw

Wynton Marsalis4/25 – Wynton Marsalis (pictured, right), Congo Square

4/26 – Paul Sanchez

Solomon Burke4/30 – Solomon Burke (pictured, below); George Wein 4oth anniversary band with Jimmy Cobb, Esperanza Spalding, and Anat Cohen; Anders Osborne

First weekend (unspecified date) – Don Vappie

5/1 – Esperanza Spalding; Washboard Chaz Blues Trio; Dr. John;

5/2 – O’Jays; New Orleans/Helsinki Connection

5/3 – Jimmy Cobb’s “So What” band (celebrating the classic Miles album) with Wallace Roney, Javon Jackson, Vincent Herring, Larry Willis and Buster Williams; Juke Joint duo (Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm); Radiators; Dash Rip Rock; John Boutte; Voice of the Wetlands

(Know of other confirmations or solid rumors? Updates? Corrections? Send ’em my way)

Here’s my pitch (hope) for the Jazz Stage: Why not tap Sonny Rollins, (IMO) the greatest living jazz giant?

Also promised for the 40th edition of the fest is “a new ticket package option.” Some fans have expressed hopes that that means something along the lines of a multi-day discount, or perhaps steep discounts for locals and/or kids. Others have suggested that the new “option” could mean another type of V.I.P. package.