new orleans invades tiny maine island

I'm up in Maine, to produce the annual Deer Isle Jazz Festival. This year, the festival is thoroughly focused on New Orleans. Saxophonist and Mardi Gras Indian Chief Donald Harrison has already arrived, and is serving as musician-in-residence at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. I arrived yesterday, and folks were already buzzing about Harrison's compact history-of-jazz presentation earlier in the week. The Hot 8 Brass Band are on their way. Tonight, we'll screen Royce Osborn's wonderful film "All On a Mardi Gras Day." Tomorrow night, I'll read some of my work, and hold a panel discussion about cultural recovery. Come Sunday, we'll see if those lobstermen can second-line. 

For me, this is a labor of love (the festival, in its 8th year) dovetailing with the work that has captured my heart and soul (writing about New Orleans). As a bonus, a Saturday night party should raise funds for Sweet Home New Orleans.

Here's a piece in today's Bangor Daily News. The full (very long) press release is below.




From New Orleans, saxophonist and Mardi Gras Indian chief Donald Harrison; the Hot 8 Brass Band; a second-line parade; movies; panels; jazz clinic; and more

STONINGTON, MAINE-Opera House Arts' (OHA) eighth annual Deer Isle Jazz Festival, July 24 thru 27, 2008 at the Stonington Opera House, is an expanded version of the event focusing on the music and cultural life of post-Katrina New Orleans; and on the ways New Orleans' unique musical culture is being used to rebuild the city and its local communities. This year's festival features saxophonist and Mardi Gras Indian chief Donald Harrison, who will also be the Guest Artist in Residence at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts July 21-August 2nd, and his quartet; and New Orleans' own Hot 8 Brass Band. The festival will open Thursday, July 24 with a special screening of a classic film, "All on a Mardi Gras Day," and will include studio sessions at Haystack with Harrison; a panel discussion facilitated by noted jazz critic Larry Blumenfeld, and a reading from his book-in-progress; two concerts; a jazz clinic, post-show party and jam session with the Hot 8; culminating in a "second-line" parade along Stonington's Main Street working waterfront. [A complete schedule of events is attached at the end of this release.]

"New Orleans: Culture, Crisis & Community" builds upon the resounding success of the Deer isle Jazz Festival's past seven years and forcefully advances the festival's goals: to bring world-class jazz musicians to Down East Maine, and to involve these musicians with local community members in dynamic and down-to-earth ways. This year's festival explores the significance of culture, and especially music, to community development, recovery, and sustainability in New Orleans; and asks how some of this knowledge might be used to the advantage of rural communities in Down East Maine as they struggle with the disappearance of: the fisheries which are their historic lifeblood; affordable housing; and jobs. Extending his role as volunteer producer of the festival, Larry Blumenfeld has drawn inspiration for this edition from his work as a Katrina Media Fellow with the Open Society Institute.

The Deer Isle Jazz Festival has been breaking new boundaries and enriching the state's cultural life since its inception in 2001. The debut event drew fans from throughout the New England region to hear, among others, the legendary saxophonist Dewey Redman. Since then, the 250-seat former vaudeville house with its charmed acoustics has played host to artist including Brazilian singer Luciana Souza; pianist Jason Moran; standard-bearing vocalist Andy Bey; free-jazz hero bassist William Parker; Latin jazz innovator Arturo O'Farrill; and legendary pianist Randy Weston, among others. "Stonington is a perfectly natural setting for jazz," Alicia Anstead wrote in the Bangor Daily News. "Far out on the town dock, the music coming from the Opera House slipped and slid through the air."

Donald Harrison is one of the most confident and convincing improvisers in jazz today. CBS Sunday Morning recently called Harrison, "one of the most important musicians of the new millennium," and the Chicago Tribune hailed him as "... one of the more innovative bandleaders New Orleans has produced in the past 20 years." Harrison began his career with the legendary Art Blakey, co-led a band with trumpeter Terence Blanchard, and has appeared during the last 20 years with luminaries of the jazz and cultural worlds such as Lena Horne, Spike Lee, and Latin-jazz giant Eddie Palmieri; as well as with hip-hop artists, Jazzmatazz, The Notorious BIG, and Digable Planets. The boundary leaping New Orleans alto saxophonist's distinctive broad-toned sound is immediately recognizable as his own, regardless of the context. Harrison is the originator of the Nouveau Swing style, which merges acoustic swing with modern R&B, second-line, hip-hop, New Orleans African American roots culture, and reggae rhythms. His groundbreaking recording, "Indian Blues" captured the essence of Mardi Gras Indian culture within a jazz context. His latest recording, "The New Sounds of Mardi Gras," updates New Orleans music, putting the sounds of Mardi Gras Indian music into Hip-hop, R&B, and Funk.

As Big Chief of the Congo Nation and son of Big Chief Donald Sr., Harrison also perpetuates Mardi Gras Indian culture. He is famous for the beaded and feathered suits he creates, part of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian tradition of "masking." These rituals, which date to at least the mid-1800s, are an African-American homage to the Native Americans who once sheltered runaway slaves; and to the spirit of resistance. Harrison is also working hard, as an educator and leader, to help New Orleans rebuild. "I'm going to continue to mask in beads and feathers," Harrison told Larry Blumenfeld in an interview. "I'm going to play my saxophone. If enough people do their part, everything will endure. But that's the question: Will people be allowed to do their part?" At the Stonington Opera House, Harrison's quartet will include pianist Victor Gould; bassist Max Moran; and drummer Joseph Dyson.

On Saturday night, July 26, New Orleans' Own Hot 8 Brass Band will take to the Opera House stage, before taking to Stonington's Main Street in a second-line parade Sunday, July 27. The Hot 8 Brass Band has epitomized New Orleans' street music for over a decade.   The band plays the traditional Second Line parades, hosted each Sunday afternoon by Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, infusing their performances with the funk and energy that makes New Orleans music loved around the world.   The members of the Hot 8 Brass Band were born and raised in New Orleans and many began playing together in high school. The group has toured in Japan, Italy, France, Spain, Finland, England and Sardinia. The Band performs annually at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, world and jazz festivals across the US and Europe, and were featured in the Spike Lee documentary "When the Levees Broke." The Hot 8 has released three critically acclaimed recordings and is featured on the latest Blind Boys of Alabama recording on Time-Life Records.

The Hot 8 Brass Band is also keeping the brass band tradition alive by providing opportunities for students and the public to learn about and experience a unique cultural tradition, and will lead both a free clinic and a second line parade during their time in Stonington. The band has toured with the program Finding Our Folk, in which they worked with young people to harness their historical and cultural traditions and to promote individual and community strength, development and self-determination. The Hot 8 Brass Band has been part of many important relief projects following Hurricane Katrina. SAVE OUR BRASS! is a local grass-roots project that has brought music and instruments to shelters, temporary trailer parks, and communities across the Gulf Coast. In May 2008, OHA brought two members of the Hot 8-band leader Bennie Pete and trumpet player Shamarr Allen-to in-school residencies at Deer Isle-Stonington and George Stevens Academy.

In addition to the two traditional jazz concerts, the 2008 Deer Isle Jazz Festival includes a variety of free and participatory events to provide audiences with the opportunity to experience and understand the ongoing challenges in New Orleans-and how music and culture can play vital roles in community development, recovery, and survival. Please see the full festival schedule for details.

The expanded 2008 Deer Isle Jazz Festival is made possible with support from the Maine Humanities Council; the Maine Arts Commission; the New England Foundation for the Arts; the Open Society Institute; Annie and Chuck Holland; and Jack Shaw and Ellen Shockro.

Tickets for the festival may be obtained online at, by calling or visiting Opera House Arts' box office, on the corner of Main and School Streets in Stonington, 207-367-2788. Tickets are $25; $20 fixed income (students, senior citizens, sliding scale); and $15 under 17 years of age. Island Students Free with advance reservations. A festival pass is available for $65. Tickets for the Saturday night post-show benefit party and jam session are $50 and must be reserved by calling 207-367-2788.

 For more information call 207-367-2788 or visit the Opera House's website at


July 24, 2008 11:32 AM |
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