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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Around the Corner: The Montreal International Jazz Fest

It’s that time of year again: I get to take in the announcements of world-class artists playing amazing summer jazz festivals, some in the United States but mostly in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere around the world.

So many festivals, so little time. But mainly, so little $$ to get there. Still, we can all revel in the fact that jazz is alive and well, at least on the fest circuit, and that so many first-rate players are keeping busy playing these events.

I’ve had the opportunity to attend The Montreal International Jazz Festival three times over the last 14 years, and it’s one of my favorites — loads of high-caliber jazz, world music, blues, pop/rock, and “other” acts, all playing gorgeous indoor theaters, intimate nightclubs, and sprawling outdoor stages. Did I mention that everything is extremely well organized?

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Montreal is an unusually clean and attractive city, and easy to get around via walking and public transportation. In addition to checking out all the amazing music, it was great wandering around the Old Town area, observing Canada Day festivities, savoring the Euro-cosmopolitanism of Montreal and having several outstanding meals, including one at the Stash Cafe, a superb Polish restaurant. Back when, I even had the chance to spend some time there hanging out with my old friend, WUSF’s Bob Seymour and his wife Marian. And it’s always nice running into jazz-journalist colleagues.

Most recently, in 2012, I covered the fest for Relix & Jambands.com — check out my fest overview, and my reviews of Esperanza Spalding (see my video clip, above); SMV (Stanley Clarke/Marcus Miller/Victor Wooten), the Stanley Clarke Band, and Victor Wooten’s group; and Bill Frisell. I also interviewed Stanley for a preview of his multiple Montreal appearances, for a story that ran in Bass Player mag.

Back in 2002, I reviewed the fest for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and in 2001, my coverage appeared at jazzhouse.org (and elsewhere).

This year’s fest, its 35th, takes place June 26 to July 5, and two acts on the bill are really whetting my appetite: The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman, and Snarky Puppy. I’ve seen both bands — The Bad Plus at Jazz Fest in New Orleans and the Clearwater, Fla venue now called the Capitol Theatre; Snarky Puppy just recently at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg — although I’ve never seen Redman with The Bad Plus. Both groups play jazz-oriented music that is deeply creative and often falls on the side of edgy/innovative. These guys are players, and both bands up up to a kind of music that travels beyond typical jazz confines while still honoring the tradition(s).

Also appealing to me: Bebel Gilberto, Al Di Meola, Stanley Clarke, Richard Galliano, Abdullah Ibrahim (solo and with various ensembles), Madeleine Peyroux, Dee Dee Bridgewater with Irvin Mayfield and the NOJO, and Eliane Elias,

So … maybe I’ll get back this year, maybe I won’t. If you get the chance, go. For all the details, click 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)

Aaron Neville, “My True Story” (CD review)


my true storyAaron Neville, “My True Story” (Blue Note)

Fans of the Neville Brothers, whose combination of sweet soul singing, deep R&B grooves, jazzy touches and Caribbean influences practically define the sound of New Orleans, doubtless have been feeling a bit blue lately.

Why? Angelic-voiced front man Aaron Neville has opted to officially exit the group and focus on his solo career. He, rather than the Neville Brothers, will play the closing set at this year’s Jazz and Heritage Festival, while siblings Art, Charles and Cyril, rechristened “The Nevilles,” will cap the first weekend and, one guesses, resume touring — no doubt they’ll be lighter on the sweet harmonies if heavier on the funk.

It would hardly be fair to blame Aaron for making his move. The time is right. After all, the family band, with “Papa Funk” Art Neville now 75 and in less than robust health, largely has been inactive in recent years. What’s more, at 72 and having survived the loss of his wife Joel to lung cancer and relocation from New Orleans to the Nashville area and then New York City in recent years, he’s more than earned the right to go his own way.

“I put the Neville Brothers on hold for a while so I could do my solo thing,” Neville told Relix magazine. “We’ve been together 35 years and I’m thinking, ‘I don’t know how long I’ve got to do what I want to do.’ I need to take that time now and dedicate it to me, and just try to do my stuff I’ve been wanting to do all my life.”

“My True Story” suggests that Neville’s instincts were, well, true. Initially conceived as a doo-wop project reflecting his formative experiences in the art of street-corner singing, the album expanded into something larger. It’s a broader tribute to the pre-rock era, with a dozen retro pop radio favorites originally recorded during a roughly 12-year period ending in 1964.

Don Was, once part of soul-fired pop act Was (Not Was) and now head of the revived Blue Note label, put together a dream team to back Neville. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards leads a band that includes Benmont Tench, of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, on keyboards; guitarist Greg Leisz (Sheryl Crow, Beck); bassist Tony Scherr (Norah Jones, Steven Bernstein); New Orleans drummer George G. Receli (James Brown, Bob Dylan); and journeyman saxophonist Lenny Pickett (“Saturday Night Live” band, Tower of Power).

The band, with Was and Richards co-producing live-in-the-studio sessions at New York’s Electric Lady Studios, reportedly cut nearly two dozen tracks, all of which benefit from an appealing immediacy — the stuff sounds fresh.

For the first volume of what may become a series, Neville applies his rich, shivery, tenor vocals to material that still comes with a kick after all these years. He opens with the rollicking, starting-stopping “Money Honey,” a 1953 chart topper by Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters, this time featuring Richards’ slinky six-string stabs, and closes with a suitably light and altogether effervescent version of the much-recorded “Goodnight My Love” (Pleasant Dreams).”

In between are 10 other gems that ought to be familiar to anyone with even a passing familiarity with pop music history.

Neville’s voice slides into the falsetto stratosphere on the title track, a 1961 single by the Jive Five that soared up the R&B and pop charts.; the tune, like many on the disc, is bolstered by a blue-chip backup crew of old-school singers, including the Jive Five’s Eugene Pitt, Bobby Jay of the Teenagers, and Dickie Harmon of the Del-Vikings.

There are plenty of other finger-snapping delights here, including “Ruby Ruby,” with its infectious call and response, and Pickett’s crunching bari sax; “Ting A Ling,” all romantic frustration and pounding piano and sax; a pleasantly streamlined “Be My Baby”; heartbreak ode “Tears On My Pillow”; a laidback, gently grooving “Under the Boardwalk”; a chug-a-lugging “Work With Me Annie,” with “Papa Funk” Art Neville on B3; and a medley stitching “This Magic Moment” to “True Love.”

Yes, these tunes inherently come with a strong whiff of nostalgia. Give Neville and Co. credit for reinvigorating these classics in a manner that’s often irresistible. Great concept, beautifully executed. Now, about that sequel.

Jazz Fest Prep 101: Offbeat’s A-Z Guide to Performers

You know the start of Jazz Fest is achingly near when … Offbeat Magazine‘s comprehensive guide to artists is available online.

The list offers brief descriptions of the performers, from trumpeter Mario Abney‘s Quintet at the Jazz Tent on 4/29 to the Zulu Male Ensemble at the Gospel Tent on 5/2.

Here it is.

James Carville on NOLA’s Comeback; C. Ray Go

With the Saints’ Super Bowl win, the nearly simultaneous election of good guy Mitch Landrieu to replace the ineffective (to say the least)  Ray Nagin as mayor, and the arrival of Mardi Gras, the beleaguered city of New Orleans is facing a “perfect storm” of great  opportunities to showcase its comeback, as one NOLA tourism rep described it recently.

And festival season, with French Quarter Fest and the Jazz and Heritage Festival coming in April, is just around the corner.

With all of that, of course, comes greater opportunities, economic and otherwise, for the myriad first-class musicians — jazz, rock, funk, folk, R&B, Americana, gospel, world music, more — and artists who make New Orleans their home.

James Carville, the bulldog Democratic strategist, recently wrote a piece detailing this great season of opportunity for New Orleans, and encapsulating the emotional and spiritual uplift its residents — and supporters nationwide — are experiencing. It’s available on the CNN site, or read the full text below:

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New Orleans is storming back

By James Carville

Editor’s note: CNN political contributor James Carville was chief strategist for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. Carville is a resident of New Orleans where he is a professor of practice at Tulane University and serves as co-chair of the 2013 Super Bowl Host Committee.

New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) — In September of 2005, no one could have anticipated what we saw in New Orleans last week. What happened on the football field and parade route after the Saints’ Super Bowl victory is amazing and uplifting. But what’s happening elsewhere in New Orleans also rises to that standard.

Consider the following:

The day before the Super Bowl, New Orleans participated in a historic mayoral election, as Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu won a stunning 66-percent of the vote, with unprecedented support among all races.

African-American candidates also won down-ballot races with majority white support, casting a blow to the notion that New Orleans politics and culture are mired in racial tension.

Just weeks before, federal arbitrators awarded $475 million to Louisiana for the replacement of Charity Hospital in downtown New Orleans which makes way for a multibillion dollar medical corridor that is being billed as the largest development project in the city’s history.

And in late 2009, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ mismanagement at the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet was the cause for flood damage in the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Damages paid to local governments and residents will exceed $1 billion. These judgments validate many locals’ beliefs that the flooding of 80 percent of New Orleans and the billions of dollars in damage were caused more by massive engineering failures than a natural disaster.

To that point, the government is working on a $15 billion upgrade to the region’s 220-plus miles of levees and flood walls that, when completed, will allow them to withstand a storm with a strength level that occurs roughly once every 100 years. Even today, experts will tell you the levees are better than they were before Hurricane Katrina.

Additionally, the population is nearing 80 percent of pre-Katrina levels, in part due to hardworking residents who came back and a new crop of younger, entrepreneurial transplants moving to the city to be part of what is going on here.

The New Orleans economy is bearing the recession better than most, evidenced in one of the lowest unemployment rates of any major metropolitan area in the country. Also, the city now has a bond rating that is investment-grade, which should free up access to tens of millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements.

One of the brightest spots in post-Katrina New Orleans has been in education. In Orleans Parish, academic performance scores in the school district have risen nearly 25 percent. The school system looks to get a ten-figure lump-sum settlement to rebuild school properties across the city. And with over half of its students in charter schools and a large and influential Teach for America corps, New Orleans has become a laboratory and model for education reform.

All of this is not to say that everything is going perfectly in New Orleans. Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu and New Orleanians still have remarkable challenges to tackle and tough decisions to make — including reducing violent crime, eliminating blighted housing, continuing to rebuild communities and business, and restoring wetlands that provide much needed storm protection. But there is a unity of purpose (thanks in large part to the Saints) that wasn’t there even six months ago.

The recovery and rebirth includes citizen-driven reform of local government — a government once marked by corruption, nepotism, incompetence and the like. New Orleanians voted to consolidate the seven assessor’s offices, the criminal and civil sheriffs, and the various levee boards. But most importantly, New Orleanians elected an outstanding man as mayor this past Saturday to lead the next phase of recovery.

The mayoral election was nothing short of staggering, and the confluence of the Saints win and the historic mayoral election, lined up for the city’s best two days since the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

Landrieu was elected in the primary (there will be no runoff) with 66 percent of the vote, including 63 percent of African-Americans and 70 percent of white voters. To say this broad support is unprecedented would be a gross understatement.

Landrieu becomes the first white mayor to govern the majority-African-American city in some 30 years. (His father, Moon Landrieu, was the last white mayor.) And he does it after winning all but one precinct in the primary election. In Landrieu, businesses, congressional leaders, nonprofit organizations and average citizens will finally have a leader and partner in a united city government that promises to restore confidence and get dollars flowing to projects that need them.

Add to that the fact that New Orleans will be front and center on the world stage for much of the next decade, hosting a series of national and international sporting events, including Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, back-to-back NCAA Men’s and Women’s Final Fours, and the Bowl Championship Series National Championship in 2012, among many others. In 2015, the nation will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans. And in 2018, New Orleans’ tricentenary will focus not only on the founding of New Orleans but also its successful rebirth 300 years later.

You see, the effort to rebuild and recover has been not just an engineering feat to save a city, an entire culture has been at stake. We have our own cuisine, music, architecture, funeral traditions, literature and cultural structure. And as of late, it looks like it will be preserved.

More restaurants are in operation than before the hurricane, New Orleanians took home two Grammy awards this past year, and many important cultural sites have reopened recently or are scheduled to reopen soon.

The world should take notice. Thanks to the Saints, you’re looking. But take a deeper glimpse beyond football at what’s going on here. For as challenging a decade as the 2000s were for New Orleans, the 2010s may prove to be the brightest time in the city’s nearly 300-year history.

The momentum is building.

New Orleans is not just coming back and not just on its way back. New Orleans is storming back.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of James Carville.

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Then there’s the sad spectacle of Nagin, clearly self-serving and probably incompetent. For a taste of how deluded one politician can be about his own “accomplishments,” check out his recent interview with Essence magazine. About the widespread disapproval of him? Blamin’ Raymond says that’s due to “a concerted effort to minimize my accomplishments.”

Most NOLA residents seem to be overjoyed to see Nagin leave (although, oddly, they happily voted him in for a second term).

Anyone in agreement with that sentiment might get a chuckle out of visiting Nagin’s Last Day, a site devoted to celebrating Nagin’s departure. It comes complete with a countdown clock — 73 days, 9 hours, 59 minutes, and 35 seconds to go until Landrieu takes office, as of this writing. Bumper stickers, car magnets, and party banners are available.

Jazz Fest Poster Unveiled: Louis Prima, by Tony Bennett

This year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival poster has been unveiled, and it comes with an intriguing story.

The poster features the great New Orleans-born trumpeter, singer and entertainer  Louis Prima, who would have turned 100 this year.

The artist: Anthony Benedetto, AKA legendary jazz and pop singer Tony Bennett, who played last year’s Jazz Fest.

“He was an exceptional performer and a dear friend and he embodied the buoyant spirit of New Orleans,” Bennett said about Prima, who died in 1978, in a press release.

This year, Jazz Fest will feature performances by Prima’s son Louis Prima, Jr., his daughter, Lena Prima, and Keely Smith, Prima’s fourth wife and stage partner (they also appeared together in the 1959 film Hey Boy! Hey Girl! ) Also on the fest bill: Bobby Lonero’s Tribute to Louis Prima with Johnny Pennino & the New Orleans Express.

My first encounter with the joys of Prima came when I was a child, and I thrilled to Disney’s The Jungle Book, and its accompanying soundtrack. Prima was the voice of King Louie, the orangutan who kidnapped young Mowgli. The unforgettable tune: A swinging “I Wanna Be Like You.”

The Prima poster apparently will be the first in a series of Jazz Fest posters created by musicians, according to the official press release:

“Although we can’t match the reinventive force of Louis Prima, 2010 also marks the launch of the third generation Jazz Festival Poster Series: The Musical Artist as Visual Artist. Graphic artists creating mostly imaginary scenes dominated the first generation of the series in the 1970’s and 80’s, followed from 1989 through the 2000’s by painters depicting New Orleans music legends, harkening back to our celebration of legendary grand marshals in the first two posters. We now turn to artists whose talents are not bounded by a single medium and who bring a heightened level of understanding to the subject.”

For more info on the poster, titled “The Chief of New Orleans: A Portrait of Louis Prima,” click here. And to see more of Bennett’s art, click here.

Last year, Bennett, now 83, donated dozens of musical instruments to a New Orleans charter school. For details, check out the USA Today story.