Ornette Coleman's much-anticipated Jazz Fest set began with the 73-year-old free jazz forefather introducing his set with a story about Ellis Marsalis and Alvin Batiste driving from New Orleans to L.A. at the apex of Coleman's controversial career to tell him they understood what he was doing. Sixty minutes later, as the packed Jazz Tent was scraping its collective jaws from among the peanut shells, Marsalis and Batiste augmented their friend's trio for one last celebration of the Sabbath. It was the first time Coleman smiled all day -- if only the reclusive, quickly exiting alto saxophonist had lingered for a moment at the end of his set to see the stunned bliss caused by his soliloquy of melodic wizardry.
Henry Butler blew the roof off the Popeyes Blues Tent. By the time the throatiest bullfrog this side of Clarence "Frogman" Henry banged out "Iko Iko," Professor Longhair's "Mardi Gras in New Orleans" and Huey "Piano" Smith's "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu" on his Roland electric keyboard, he could've been flagged by the NOPD for inciting a riot. Fortunately, the dust had settled by the time Eddie Bo caught the same bug in the same place to the same sort of reception the following day.
Most in Need of Bob Dylan's Black Cowboy Hat
Given her recent tangles with the law, Austin singer-songwriter Tish Hinojosa, in her first appearance at Jazz Fest, cut something of a bad-girl pose dressed all in black on the Fais Do-Do stage. Her sexy, Latin folk lilted with Hinojosa's trademark delivery -- youthful innocence personified -- made her appearance that much more tantalizing.
Heals the Sick
While both the newly released CD and DVD of Fats Domino's last appearance at Jazz Fest (2001) capture the afterimage of music history, only the real thing heals the sick. Festgoer Gene Broussard of Lafayette was four days out of major surgery and on the Fair Grounds for Domino's headlining of Jazz Fest's first weekend first Thursday. Having seen Domino live 30 or so times since the late '50s, Broussard wasn't listening to his doctor -- he was going. Two dozen classics later, Fats bumping his Black Yamaha on a "Sentimental Journey" across the stage, Broussard was seriously considering attending the next day's Festival International de Louisiane. Don't tell his physician.
Yet Another Hospital Release
Tom Stamps, front man for Colonel Sanchez, arrived at the Louisiana Heritage Stage from Tulane Hospital just in time for the set opener, an original funk jam titled "SEPA." He was fine: the band members are all former and current Tulane medical students, and Stamps, a pediatric intern, had just been released from a run-of-the-mill 30-hour shift.
We Got to Go Now ... Well, Maybe Not Yet
After turning in one of the most stunning gospel vocal quartet performances of the Fest, legendary ensemble Spencer Taylor & the Highway QC's kept its backing band churning, changing spiritual lyrics to the goodbye salute "We Got to Go Now." Well, not quite: the cheering crowd at the Jazz Tent brought the band back onstage for two more bows.
Best/Worst Tom Green Impression
When the rhythm section of drummer Stanton Moore, percussionist/vibraphonist Mike Dillon and guitarist Charlie Hunter locked into a groove, funk/jazz/fusion outfit Garage a Trois threw down some of the most inspired jams of the first weekend. Too bad maniacal saxophonist Skerik, who bears more than a striking resemblance to comedian Tom Green, derailed the momentum more than once with some Yoko Ono-style screaming, ridiculous stage banter, and messy sax honking. He did pull off one funny line: referring to the customized Garage a Trois promotional foam index fingers that dotted the landscape, he mused of the band's crass commercialization: "What would Mahalia Jackson think?"
Different Look, Same Class
His new quartet sports a serious name, "Allen Toussaint's Jazz Project," but it boils down to the same ol' sandal-wearing piano professor: short tunes, short solos, and nothing short of pure, elegant Ellington-like class. "Meterhead" played tribute to Cissy, "Ruler of My Heart" to Irma and Otis, and "Carlene" to its namesake. Same ol' solace, different dream.
Best R&B Gem Performed by a Zydeco Band
Geneva Fields (aka Mrs. Thomas "Big Hat" Fields) singing lead on The Falcons "I Found a Love," sounding almost as good as Wilson Pickett himself.
Best Evocation of Louis Armstrong by a Wilford Brimley Lookalike
Looking as if he had just stepped out of an oatmeal commercial with his straw hat and round glasses, Kustbandet drummer Christer Ekhé stood behind his drum kit and growled out a delightful version of Pops' "After You've Gone" to round out a superior second-Saturday set in the Economy Hall Tent. The band -- whose 12 members bill themselves as the "Swinging Swedes of Sweden" -- returned to Jazz Fest for the first time since 1973, with trombonist and emcee Jens Lindgren paying constant homage to such New Orleans greats as Steve Brown, Red Allen and, of course, Armstrong.
If Only Armstrong Had Lived to See Video Games ...
17-year old Trombone Shorty's version of "St. James Infirmary" included brother James Andrews on trumpet and Glen Andrews singing updated lyrics that included references to Sony PlayStations.
Stay Lady Stay
Recorded, Cassandra Wilson is an acquired taste. Live, in the Jazz Tent, the Delta vocal sorceress cast a spell from which there's no escape. Opening with a cover from one of the previous day's headliners, Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay," it was as if Wilson was laying the entire, seam-bursting tent across her own big brass bed. Dinah Washington, Muddy Waters, Jobim, all massaged by her backing trio, notched just as high up the bedpost. What a way to go.
Notable Guest Appearances
Lil' Band o' Gold saxophonist Dickie Landry with Bob Dylan at the night concert. The Fabulous Thunderbirds' Kim Wilson with Jumpin' Johnny Sansone. Los Lobos' David Hidalgo with Terrance Simien. J.D. Hill and Sista Teedy with Deacon John. Troy Andrews with the Neville Brothers.
In Memoriam, Part I
The late songwriting genius Earl King received his share of tributes, as Dr. John paid homage to "one of his podners" with a rollicking version of "Big Chief," Snooks Eaglin covered "A Mother's Love," and New Orleans rock-steady band 007 pulled out King's "Trick Bag." The strangest tribute came unexpectedly from Los Lobos, as David Hidalgo announced that the band was sending a song out to King, and started to pick out the opening chords to "(Come on) Let the Good Times Roll." Then they abruptly went into the Lil' Bob & the Lollipops classic "I Got Loaded."
In Memoriam, Part II
True street culture was presented with the first Sunday's rolling of Uptowner's Hobo Clowns second line accompanied by the Pinstripe Brass Band. Essentially one large extended family, the group formed more than 30 years ago on the Central City blocks of Jackson Avenue with the purpose of remembering and honoring deceased family members. Featuring all homemade costumes, most impressive was founding member Julia Patterson's tribute to her father -- with a hobo clown costume resplendent with face paint, top hot and large, sequined umbrella completely covered in her father's collection of Mardi Gras beads, lottery tickets and Jazz Fest tickets.
In Memoriam, Part III
Gregg Stafford & the Jazz Hounds dedicated their reverent set of trad-jazz to the late great New Orleans bassist Erving Charles, a long-time member of the band.
While rock-steady doesn't necessarily have to feature a keyboard or horn section to make it good rock-steady, something seemed to be missing in 007's set -- especially considering the quality onstage: guitarists Jonathan Freilich and Alex McMurray, and the rhythm section of bassist Joe Cabral and Jeffrey Clements. McMurray's incessant mugging and snide comments (a strength in his solo work, but not here) and a lack of the soulful harmonies made this set a curiosity. Still, kudos for their send-up of The Clash's "Bankrobber"; maybe these talented musicians should stick to the second wave of ska instead of the first.
The Economy Hall Tent served as a blissful comparison/contrast study in technique by two of this city's most gifted trad-jazz clarinetists: Tim Laughlin and Evan Christopher. Laughlin, performing on the first Sunday, dug into his new album of all-original trad-jazz recordings (a rarity these days), Isle of New Orleans. Laughlin's no showman; he stays completely within himself but in the process produces tons of tone, as he displayed on his cheekily titled "Suburban Street Parade" -- an homage to Paul Barbarin's "Bourbon Street Parade." By contrast, Christopher is a magnificent showman who, unlike Laughlin, was fearless in his stage presence and wailing while performing on the second Thursday with Danza. The group is a collaboration with pianist Tom McDermott (who, along with bassist/tuba player Matt Perrine, also backed up Laughlin), and examines the musical connection between Brazil and New Orleans.
The Holmes Brothers put on one of the best sets in the Blues Tent, and wrapped up their performance with dazzling three-part harmonies on "Amazing Grace" and a rolling version of "Jesus is on the Mainline," timely reminders of the close connection between blues and gospel.
Spectators at Zatarain's Food Heritage Stage got more sermon than they bargained for during a panel discussion titled "Gumbo: The Way I Do Mine." Participating chefs Leah Chase, Frank Brigtsen, Richard Stewart and Faye Ann Gardner bantered about which is the greater mortal sin: a gumbo without seafood; a vegetarian gumbo des herbes; or omitting a limb of the Creole "holy trinity" of onion, celery and green bell pepper. Moderator Lolis Eric Elie, in the role of Solomon, never pronounced his judgment.
Advice From One Who's Been There
Sean Ardoin & Zydekool proved that there is in fact a next generation hoping to fill the void left behind by the recent deaths of zydeco lions Beau Jocque and Boozoo Chavis. Ardoin, who sort of resembles a dancing refrigerator onstage, boogied his way through James Brown-fueled funk versions of zydeco on his triple-row accordion while rousing the crowd into action before a prescient warning. "Last year, I played here the same time of day, but it was 20 degrees hotter," Ardoin said, already sweating. "And I almost passed out! I had to have a seat on the speaker. Someone said, 'That man can put on a show!' ... So, for every three beers y'all drink, drink a water!"
Ride Your Pony
While the Plastic System Band of Martinique played its version of Duke Ellington's "Caravan" at the Congo Square Stage, it was so funky that the big gray police horse patrolling the adjacent track started cantering and jumping up and down.
Ride a Painted Pony
With its hot, accordion-based traditional music and hand-painted ponies, the Chouval Bwa Carousel from featured country Martinique proved the biggest surprise of this year's Fest. Kids abandoned the Kids' Tent to climb aboard the fast, muscle-propelled merry-go-round, while couples danced within earshot of the attraction. The Count pronounces Chouval Bwa this year's Fest Best, and hopes it can become an annual attraction. Still, he noticed that for some folks, what seemed like a lovely spin didn't mix well with Miller Lite, Fest food and hot sun. "Here comes my Crawfish Monica," said one green-faced rider, before stumbling toward a trash can.
Sonny Landreth and his band members couldn't have been working harder during their Acura Stage set -- not that the audience could hear. In one of the worst sound lapses at the big stage that the Count can remember, the speakers began to fade in and out midway through Landreth's set, then gave out altogether. After a sweaty, extended jam that aired in silence over the screens, the band launched into another song, despite the frantic pantomime of frustrated fans up front trying to tell the band to "Cut!" until the sound was fixed. A few minutes later, the speakers came back on full force, and the consummate professional Landreth thanked Quint Davis and his staff "for putting together an incredible festival."
What Not ToDo During a Groovy Old-School Set
Gladys Knight wafted from hard-edged soul to gospel to Motown standards on a set of still-silky pipes on the Acura Stage, and guest saxophonist Vince Preister got a rousing response when he came onstage blowing hard with Knight and her brother, former "Pip" Bubba Knight. About a minute later, though, Preister inexplicably swung the mood 180 degrees -- from Al Green to Celine Dion -- by launching into a somber Kenny G-style soprano sax solo on "My Heart Will Go On," followed by a similarly mellow "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "If I Only Had A Brain." By the time Knight joined him on "That's What Friends Are For," many "friends" had wandered off.
They Sound Good in Sunlight, Too
The New Orleans Jazz Vipers made an effortless transition from the late-night vibe of their regular Spotted Cat gig to an afternoon set in blazing sun on the Lagniappe Stage. The band's acoustic sound was a perfect fit, with violinist Neti Vaan's violin wafting toward the skies on tracks like "Blue Drag," and guest vocalist Linnzi Zaorski's airy vocals effortlessly floating through the paddock.
Best Quint Davis Moment
When Chouval Bwa of Martinique took over the Fais Do-Do stage, the band's graceful songstress reached out and dragged a headset-wearing Quint Davis onto the stage to dance. He obliged with a unique, doubled-over at the waist, legs kicking out, how-did-I-get-here two-step. You had to admire his pluck, if not his moves, and the crowd cheered.
If Loving You is Wrong, Al Jarreau Doesn't Want to Be Right
Well-known for his stage-as-soapbox performance style, Al Jarreau was in rare form closing out Congo Square the first Sunday, taking a few minutes to showcase his still-powerful vocal range, after which he said, "Damn, I'm good. Thirty years and still on the radio!" Later monologues touched on class warfare: "That silver spoon, that 17-year-old with the Porsche, does not impress me, and he should not impress you. That's not how we live." Jarreau then told the crowd he was happy to be playing Jazz Fest, but that he likes "the intimacy of the club, where I can walk around and hug you and kiss you and tell you 'I love you.'' Strangely, he then promised to do just that at a performance that night at the Funky Butt -- which was news to the club itself, which had Astral Project scheduled that night. Jarreau never showed.
How About a Hail Mary?
New Orleans' pro sports teams -- and the Big Quarterback in the Sky -- got some spiritual shout-outs in the Gospel Tent. On Friday of the first weekend, Pastor Woodrow Hayden of the Shiloh Baptist Church Mass Choir, sporting a New Orleans Hornets T-shirt, asked the crowd to "support my New Orleans Hornets tonight. But first, give a big hand to God." The following weekend, director T.C. Hawkins of the 2nd Nazarene Baptist Church Gospel Choir asked the audience: "If you were at a Saints football game and the Saints scored a touchdown, you would make some noise, right? Well, Jesus scored a touchdown a long time ago!" he hollered over the cheering crowd, before leading the choir into an exuberant chant of "Go Jesus, go Jesus, go!"
Where's Your Daddy?
It was misleading to bill Lil' Romeo's set the first Saturday as coming with a "very special guest" as most observers -- including the Count -- predicted the teen rapper's mega-star father, Master P., would surely make an appearance. It didn't happen. Even without Dad, Lil' Romeo delivered a danceable, family-friendly set, concluding with a skilled retooling of Rob Base's mid-80s smash "It Takes Two."
Best Opening Question and Response for an Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage interview
Steve Armbruster asked Jo Cool Davis, "How long have you been 'Cool'"? Davis responded, "All my life."
Panic Has a Ball
Legitimate grumblings against Jazz Fest's typical granting of Georgia rockers Widespread Panic two full time slots notwithstanding, the band delivered at the Fair Grounds by stretching out in one marathon, high-energy and uptempo set. The harder rock edge in its sound was a new twist, as guitarist George McConnell delivered strong licks on classic and new material from the CD Ball, restoring the band to a crunchy and booming sound missing in McConnell's first months as replacement for deceased founding guitarist Michael Houser.
Best Pele Imitation
Colombian superstar Carlos Vives and his band played one of the more energetic sets at the Congo Square stage. During one accordion solo, Vives head-butted a soccer ball seven times before hoisting it into the crowd and returning to the mic for the chorus.
Best Trend We Hope Will Be Shamelessly Emulated Throughout The Fairgrounds
After all those harangues last year about the oppressive heat in the Blues Tent, Jazz Fest organizers installed two rows of mist-spraying pipes suspended from the ceiling above the back and left sides of the tent. The contraptions helped, and may we be the first to point out that there's never too much of a good thing.
Best Replacement for Dear Abby
Irma Thomas used time between songs for a mid-life crisis tirade. Her advice to men: "When you get out of that little sports car and your knees make noises you never heard before, then it's time to go back to the lady you been with all along."
Pops Would Be Proud
Despite a train-wreck of an extended heavy metal-esque guitar solo in the middle of the Staples Singers' soul anthem "Respect Yourself," Mavis Staples upheld her family's legacy with funky versions of "If You're Ready" and "Let's Do It Again," not to mention a sweet run through The Band's "The Weight," and the Carter Family classic "Can the Circle Be Unbroken."
Most Generous Offer
Several times throughout Amammereso Agfogamma of Ghana's set, the group told the Popeyes Blues Tent audience that it would give away its collection of drums to anyone who came backstage after the set. "We don't want to sell them, we want to give them away," the group promised, sparking a mild stampede to the stage.
Most Contemporary Folk
In the Folk Barn, a planned demonstration of T-shirt making by the husband-and-wife team of Dwayne and Danyell Smith, owners of Impressive Designs T-shirts and Sno-Balls in Broadmoor, was derailed. The couple's craft became notorious when an alleged conspirator in the John McDonogh shooting wore a shirt memorializing the youth he was targeting. A demonstration and explanation of the memorial shirts will have to wait until next year, because Dwayne Smith was severely injured in a car wreck the week before their appearance. The Count wishes the Smiths well and Dwayne a speedy and full recovery, and we'll see them next year.
Best Way To Get Up Close And Personal With Your Fanbase
Angelique Kidjo invited a diverse group of about 20 audience members onstage during her live-wire Congo Square performance the second Friday, all the while telling the rest of the audience how great it is to be up there. "Y'all don't know what you're missing!" The chosen audience members ended their impromptu appearance with a mass group hug around Kidjo before rejoining their less fortunate counterparts on the grass.
Most Minimalist Puppet Show
Julia Yerkov rarely performs these days, but she entranced children in the Kids' Tent with her nuanced, less-is-more approach to puppetry. No Punch, no Judy: just gently moving, finely detailed figures speaking directly to fascinated children.
How To Be Hot and Cool at the Same Time
Theresa Andersson gave the expression "painted-on clothes" new meaning during her Louisiana Heritage Stage set the first Saturday. Andersson wore a blue bikini top, psychedelic body-paint "pants" (covering a bikini bottom) and a wicked smile as she and her band delivered the goods from her latest CD, No Regrets. The following Thursday, however, she sported a much more conservative pair of shorts as she sang backup for Papa Grows Funk.
Best Rock Star Confession
During an interview at the Miner Music Heritage Stage, Soul Asylum front man and adopted New Orleanian Dave Pirner admitted that he'd spent most of his days in the pop spotlight as a "deer caught in headlights," before moving to New Orleans to "get schooled."
Best Display of Modesty by a Blow-up Doll
For several years, the Acura Stage has been home to a tall pole bearing a blonde blow-up doll in the buff, cheekily bobbing and waving to the crowd below. She was back again this year -- but after just a few hours in flagrante delecto, appeared on top of the pole for the remainder of the festival wearing a white T-shirt that said "I USED TO BE NAKED." The pole's owners explained that security guards made them take her down the first weekend, saying she wasn't conducive to the Fest's family environment.
It Ain't Over 'til Aaron Neville Sings
Why, oh why, does Aaron Neville insist on wedding his angelic pipes to canned music? At the Gospel Tent, he once again performed with tapes, to the dismay of many. But at the end of the second Sunday, the crowd at the Acura Stage shared a bittersweet moment as Aaron Neville's lovely solo on "Amazing Grace" -- nothing canned here -- wafted through the early evening air, bidding farewell to Jazz Fest for another year.
- Tracie Morris/Young Studio
- Louisiana legend Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown is an annual Fest highlight.
- Eileen Loh Harrist
- A blow-up doll makes her statement.
- Scott Saltzman
- The Count to Quint Davis: Bring back the Chouval Bwa!
- Scott Saltzman
- Ornette Coleman never looked back.