The Pfister Sisters (Holley Bendtsen, Karen Stoehr & Yvette Voelker) had it right with their hit song about the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival! Being “down at the jazz fest” is a like-no-other experience and although many international performers have headlined the fest in more recent years, the local scene is unique and distinctive.
Besides the seven days of Fest (three days the first weekend and four days the second weekend) held at the Fair Grounds Race Course from 11 am to 7 pm, there are hundreds of other performances at various locations around town including larger venues i.e. the Saenger Theatre, The Fillmore, The House of Blues, The Orpheum Theater and The Joy Theater. The Jazz Museum and Louisiana Music Factory feature dozens of musicians contributing during the off days between the two Fest weekends.
Getting there is not a problem with many city/shuttle busses, vans, cabs, bicycles and pedestrian modes. With two general admission entrances and one entrance for musicians and vendors, the lines provide a chance to meet up with old friends and make new ones with topics of discussion being “where are you from?” and “who are you going to see?” being the ice-breakers. Rains are common and most of them occurred during the middle of the day so it was easy to plan your activities. The last Saturday had a 90 minute rain delay but that was minor in comparison to some previous years.
Hal Smith’s On The Levee band emphasized Kid Ory’s numbers with Joe Goldberg (cl) (returning to visit from Florida), Kris Tokarski (p), Josh Gouzey (bs), Charlie Halloran (tb), Ben Polcer (tp) and Alex Belhaj (gtr). Hal is a master on the drums and also a contributor to this publication, The Syncopated Times; although he lives in Arkansas, he finds time to visit his favorite musical city.
Doreen Ketchens (cl) and Lawrence Ketchens (sousa) are local favorites and always busking at Rouse’s Market on Royal at St. Peter. Both of them received their doctorates this past year and certainly made good use of the “down” time on the New Orleans street scenes. They have performed nationally and internationally and were preparing for a command performance at the Kennedy Center with their other band members. Doreen led us through the intricacies of a true jazz funeral with detailed explanations and the correct audience participation when shouting “hey!”
Leroy Jones (tp) and New Orleans’ Finest with Katya Toivola (tb), Meghan Swartz (p), Bruce Brackman (cl), Barnaby Gold (dr) and Jason Stewart (bs) brought some favorite numbers to the set and a beautiful original piece that Katya wrote after the Katrina experience.
Many of the bands paid tribute to Joe “King” Oliver reflecting on the 100th anniversary of his many recordings in 1923. Don Vappie (bj/gtr) with Tom Fischer (cl), Charlie Halloran (tb), Andrew Baham (tp), Richard Moten (bs), Jason Marsalis (dr), Jamil Sharif (tp) and Mike Esnow (p). Don always has an outstanding ensemble and later in the week presented his group, the Creole Jazz Serenaders with many of the same musicians and guest artist Jon-Erik Kellso (tp) visiting from New York plus vocalist Quiana Lynelle, a dynamic chanteuse.
Craig Klein (tb) hosted a tribute to Lucien Barbarin, a revered trombonist most associated with the Preservation Hall, Harry Connick Jr. and Palm Court jazz bands who passed away in January 2020. On stage with Kevin Louis (tp), Steve DeTroy (p), James Singleton (bs), Molly Reeves (gtr) and Jerry Barbarin Anderson (dr), Craig displayed a large portrait of an always-smiling Lucien who was definitely with the band in spirit.
Clive Wilson (tp) and his New Orleans Serenaders with Tommy Sancton (cl), Seva Venet (bj), Kris Tokarski (p), Hal Smith (dr), Charlie Halloran (tb) and Tom Saunders (bs) included several New Orleans’ standards.
Wendell Brunious (tp) and Caroline Brunious (cl) and the New Orleans Allstars with Tom Hook (p), Richard Moten (bs), Shannon Powell (dr), Fred Lonzo (tb) and Grand Marshall Andrew Le Duff had a rousing set with Andrew, in required attire including the Marshall’s umbrella, dancing on and off stage.
The Paulin Brothers Brass Band and the Treme Brass Band are always a favorite especially when there are the Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs parading through the tent or the appropriately dressed Baby Dolls. They beckon attendees to dance and strut with them and, yes, I did!!
Tuba Skinny is a respected group of former buskers and they have garnered a huge following. Shaye Cohn (tp), Craig Flory (cl), Barnabus Jones (tb) and Erika Lewis (v) with their other band members have brought an old-style format with up-to-date arrangements enjoyed by all.
Native New Yorker and vocalist Catherine Russell is the daughter of pianist/composer Luis Russell who was Louis Armstrong’s musical director. Catherine brought some of her own band members and had a commanding stage presence. (See Scott Yanow’s review of the New Luis Russell Recordings in the May issue of The Syncopated Times.)
John Joyce (bs) and the Secret Six with Hunter Burgamy (gtr), Zach Lange (tp), Haruka Kikuchi (tb), Craig Flory (cl), Nathan Wolman (tp), Dizzy Incirlioglu (wash) and James McClaskey (bj) dedicated their set to King Oliver and some of his lesser played works.
The New Leviathan Oriental Fox Trot Orchestra is always very entertaining and with George Schmidt back in town, it was more than fantastic. A full 20+ piece orchestra with the famous “theremin” being used on several tunes, this orchestra is one of the Fest highlights. The theremin is an electronic musical instrument that is played without being touched. Think of the opening notes of TV’s Star Trek theme. It has an ethereal sound and is a unique addition to this unique ensemble.
Gregg Stafford’s Jazz Hounds included Mari Watanabe (p), Herlin Riley (dr), Tyler Thomson (bs), Bruce Brackman (cl), Seva Venet (bj/gtr) and Detroit Brooks (bj/gtr). Gregg (tp) also led his Young Tuxedo Brass Band later in the week with Daniel Farrow (sax), Michael White (cl) and Louis Ford (sax) and a few other brass players.
Preservation Hall Brass Band with Mark Braud (tp), Roderick Paulin (sx), Kevin Louis (tp), Richard Anderson (tb) and Glen Finister Andrews (dr) offered some traditional favorites.
Dr. Michael White (cl), with Aurora Nealand (cl) and Donald Harrison Jr. (alto) paid tribute to clarinet/soprano sax icon Sidney Bechet with Herman LeBeaux (dr), Tyler Thomson (bs), Frank Naundorf (tb), Detroit Brooks (bj/gtr) and Steve Pistorius (p). Aurora did a later set with her band, The Royal Roses which included Matt Perrine (sousa), Alex McMurray (gtr) and Matt Bell (gtr).
The Pfister Sisters took to the stage with Gerald French (dr), Jim Markway (bs), Matt Rhody (vln), and Amasa Miller (p) in the rhythm section for their selections channeling the Boswell Sisters and the Andrews Sisters in perfect three part harmonies.
Jamil Sharif (tp) had Richard Moten (bs), Leslie Martin (p) , Louis Ford (cl) and Jason Marsalis (dr) on stage for an active set. Then Tommy Sancton’s New Orleans Legacy Band with Clive Wilson (tp), Lars Edegran (p), Richard Moten (bs), Ronell Johnson (tb) and Walter Harris (dr) took to the stage. The New Orleans native clarinetist has lived in Paris for many years and enjoys his musical visits to his hometown.
Vocalist Banu Gibson (also the Executive Director of the New Orleans Traditional Jazz Camp) is a local treasure. With Hal Smith (dr), Tom Fischer (cl), James Singleton (bs), David Boeddinghaus (p), Charlie Halloran (tb) and Ben Polcer (tp) on stage, she bolted out a few classic tunes and is generally an animated leader.
Louis Ford (cl/sax) and the New Orleans Flairs had Mari Watanabe (p), Joey Lastie (dr), Jamil Sharif (tp), Charlie Halloran (tb) and Tyler Thomson (bs) on stage with some perennial favorites.
Gerald French (dr) had an earlier set with his dad’s (George) New Orleans Storyville Band with Richard Moten (bs), Tom Fischer (cl) Fred Lonzo (tb), Wendell Brunious (tp), Roderick Paulin (sax), Mike Lemmler (p) and vocalist Jolynda Chapman on several dynamite arrangements. This set was with the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band with Larry Sieberth (p), Richard Moten (bs), Andrew Baham (tp), Roderick Paulin (sax), Haruka Kikuchi (tb), Detroit Brooks (bj/gtr) and vocalist Yolanda Robinson. Gerald is a powerhouse drummer/leader and always puts together a terrific band.
Tim Laughlin (cl) with Kris Tokarski (p), Matt Perrine (bs), Duke Heitger (tp), Hal Smith (dr), and Charlie Halloran (tb) had a few of Tim’s own compositions which are now classics! It is hard to believe I was there when he introduced many of his original tunes on his Isle of Orleans CD 20 years ago!!
Mark Braud (tp) and his New Orleans Giants included Meghan Swartz (p), Bruce Brackman (cl), Aron Lambert (dr) and Haruka Kikuchi (tb) for more traditional numbers.
Lars Edegran (p) paid tribute to the early 1900s singer Gertrude “Ma” Rainey (often referred to as the Mother of the Blues) with vocalists Yolanda Robinson and Thais Clark in outstanding form. With band members James Evans (cl), Mark Braud (tp), Mitchell Player (bs), Herlin Riley (dr), Don Vappie (bj/gtr) and Fred Lonzo (tb) the mood was established and the era was defined.
Kris Tokarski (p) had his set with Hal Smith (dr), John Gill (bj), Charlie Halloran (tb), Tom Saunders (tuba), Jon-Erik Kellso (tp) and Tom Fischer (cl) enjoying some standards and Kris entertained us with a few ragtime solos.
Solid Harmony (with Yolanda Robinson, Jolynda Chapman and Caleb Windsay) paid tribute to their mother and grandmother, Topsy Chapman, who passed away in November. Caleb is Yolanda’s son and a terrific singer and trombonist. How could he not be with that background?! I remember when he was introduced at Fest over 15+ years ago and now I enjoyed watching him sing and play for his grandmother’s tribute. Another local icon, John Boutte, sang some favorites with the trio and also performed a solo. Kevin Louis (tp), Christian Winther (sax), John Jones (dr) and Mike Esnow (p) completed the band.
Dr. Michael White’s Original Liberty Jazz Band featured vocalist Thais Clark. The well-known clarinetist often has Thais on stage along with Gregg Stafford (tp), Steve Pistorius (p), Tyler Thomson (bs), Seva Venet (gtr), Detroit Brooks (bj) and Herman LeBeaux (dr). Dr. White’s quartets and bands feature some of the finest musicians for his many performances.
Songstress Judith Owen and Her Gentlemen Callers play up some of the bawdier old favorites and her audience appreciates her attention to detail. Kevin Louis (tp), Ricardo Pascal (cl/sax), Pedro Segundo (dr) and musical arranger David Torkanowsky (p) provide the beat and Judith made sure to feature them in her remarks.
Bassist Mark Brooks had his son Marlon (dr) on stage with him and their back-and-forth glances were beaming with pride from both father and son. Roderick Paulin (sax), Meghan Swartz (p) and Kevin Louis (tp) completed the group and Marlon was able to keep up with the front line. At one point, Roderick started to play an A-flat piece in G – he was mortified but the good natured band members had fun with it and lots of laughter ensued!
Lars Edegran (p) and the Palm Court Jazz Band featured Richard Moten (bs), Shannon Powell (dr), Louis Ford (cl/sax), Gregg Stafford (tp) and Robert Harris (tb). These musicians are very tight with each other and are a few of the many regular members of the Palm Court’s bands. Lars (p) then brought on the Ragtime Orchestra with Charlie Halloran (tb), Jamil Sharif (tp), Tom Fischer (cl), Matt Rhody (vln), Jason Marsalis (dr) and Mitchell Player (bs). The ragtime numbers are precursors to the well-known traditional standards and provide a nostalgic look into the beginnings of New Orleans jazz.
Nonagenarian Charlie Gabriel (cl/sax) is always smiling and displays such excitement to be up on stage entertaining his devoted fans. With Kevin Louis (tp), Craig Klein (tb), Shannon Powell (dr), David Torkanowsky (p) and Preservation Hall’s Ben Jaffe (bs), Charlie could not be any happier than when performing! His audience is very appreciative of this master artist.
Kermit Ruffins closed out the Fest in Economy Hall with a tribute to Louis Armstrong. He segued from one number to the next with nary a comment in between. With David Torkanowsky again on the piano, Kermit hit all the right notes in his homage to Pops. There could not have been a better ending to a fabulous Fest!