July 2009 Archives
Blinded by diabetes, lacking the musical archives he lost in the flood of 2005, and sitting in an office chair with his back turned to the crowd, arranger and bandleader Wardell Quezergue nonetheless commanded the newly renovated Alice Tully Hall through the sheer force and elegance of his arrangements to a catalog of R&B hits and his stern but subtle command of a tight nine-piece band. It didn't hurt that, for this concert, produced by Ponderosa Stomp Foundation in alliance with the Lincoln Center Festival, some of the singers that made these songs famous were on hand: Jean Knight ("Mr. Big Stuff"); Tammy Lynn (whose performance of "Mojo Hannah"); Robert Parker ('Barefootin'); and Dorothy Moore ("Misty Blue").
Oh, how I wish I'd been in Morocco last week. Saxophonist Donald Harrison, who is also Big Chief of the Congo Nation, a tribe in the Mardi Gras Indian tradition, made the trip to Essaouira, Morocco, for the 12th annual Gnaoua & World Music Festival.
This must have been some melding of spiritual power and rhythmic drive. Here's how Willard Jenkins, who organized the trip along with Snug Harbor's Jason Patterson, described it (you can also find some excellent background on the Gnawa archived at Willard's Independent Ear blog):
For two performances - one midnight event at the Chez Kebir club space with Gnaoua musicians from Agadir, Morocco, the other a grand collaboration on the big stage at Moulay Hassan Square with a Gnaoua ensemble from Essaouira before approximately 100,000 celebrants - Donald Harrison's Congo Nation ensemble, with percussionist Shaka Zulu masking in stunning green, performed an uproarous concert with the Gnaoua ensemble of Maalem (master) Mohamed Kouyou. Donald characterized their connection as "profound" and his having been "transformed" by the experience of bringing his Black Indian traditions to this unique partnership.
I've tried wherever I can to lend a sense of context to presentations of New Orleans music, in terms of history and especially the current situation. So I was thrilled when The Wall Street Journal asked me to host a July 15th panel discussion at Lincoln Center's Kaplan Penthouse about just that topic, as part of "Summer Scoops: Live with the Wall Street Journal," the paper's new series of intimate discussions with culture-bearers.
Please pass the word on about the following and, for or those of you in New York, please let me know if you'd like to attend the panel (There'll be a limited number of press and guest seats available.)
Wednesday, July 15, 7:30 p.m.
Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, Lincoln Center
Trumpeter and film composer Terence Blanchard, singer Tammy Lynn, and Ira "Dr. Ike" Padnos, the founder of the Ponderosa Stomp, a festival dedicated to promoting American roots music, gather to tell the city's untold stories and to reveal the fight to preserve art and culture in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, in discussion with Larry Blumenfeld, who writes about jazz for the Wall Street Journal. A live performance by the Terence Blanchard Quintet concludes the evening.
Ticket price: $30
$22.50 student tickets available! Students may buy up to four tickets in advance at the Avery Fisher Hall Box Office or online at lincolncenter.org. For online purchase use promo code STUWSJ25. Students must present a valid student ID when purchasing or picking up tickets at the box office.
This panel is an outgrowth of my writing about New Orleans during the past four years for The Journal and other publications. Trumpeter Terence Blanchard is one of this generation's most powerful jazz voices, via his trumpet, his band, and his wide-ranging film scores; his 2007 CD A Tale of God's Will is among the most articulate and pointed musical responses to Katrina. Tammy Lynn possesses a singular voice, fierce one moment, tender the next; more so than perhaps any other New Orleans-bred singer, she blends R&B with bebop, owing to her work decades ago with the landmark AFO collective. And Ira "Dr. Ike" Padnos supports New Orleans culture in many less-than-obvious ways; through his "Ponderosa Stomp" he's quite visibly revived careers, thrilled aficionados, and created one of the great American-music celebrations.
STOMPING: For years, my friends had urged me to check out Ponderosa Stomp, a jewel of a festival each year for the past eight in New Orleans, tucked in between the weekends of the annual Jazz & Heritage Festival (These days, it's the action during that in-between week that forms my own personal festival.) In 2008, my Ponderosa Stomp moment came via a tribute to composer-arranger-bandleader Wardell Quezergue, who has been called the "Creole Beethoven" and must certainly be in anyone's New Orleans pantheon of Midas-touch hitmakers (think "Iko, Iko," "Mr. Big Stuff," "Chapel of Love"...)