They Still Call It JazzFest

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival yesterday announced the lineup for the 2011 edition. The festival will run the weekends of April 29-May 1 and May 5-8. In New Orleans, they still refer to the event as JazzFest. Here is a partial list of the hundreds of major attractions.

Arcade Fire, Bon Jovi, Jimmy Buffett, Kid Rock, John Mellencamp, Wilco, Willie Nelson, The Strokes, Robert Plant, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Tom Jones, Jeff Beck, Sonny Rollins, John Legend & The Roots, The Avett Brothers, Cyndi Lauper, Wyclef Jean, The Decemberists, Bobby Blue Bland, Mighty Clouds of Joy, Edie Brickell, Kebâ•˙Moâ•˙, NOJHF 2011 Poster.jpgRance Allen, Ahmad Jamal, RAM, Punch Brothers, Ron Carter Trio, Fisk Jubilee Singers, Ivan Lins, Charlie Musselwhite.

A few of the Louisiana performers:

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, The Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Mystikal, Pete Fountain, Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers, Better Than Ezra, Rebirth Brass Band, Galactic, Tab Benoit, The Radiators, Cowboy Mouth, Ivan Neville˙s Dumpstaphunk, Marcia Ball, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Ellis Marsalis, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Sonny Landreth, Henry Butler, Papa Grows Funk, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, John Boutté, Terence Blanchard, Amanda Shaw, The New Orleans Bingo! Show, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes, Nicholas Payton, Astral Project, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux & the Golden Eagles and Banu Gibson.

For a complete list of performers and information about the festival, go here.
JazzFest, as it was christened at its birth in the late 1960s, began as the purest of jazz festivals, integrated with a judicious smattering of associated events involving Louisiana food and culture. The 1968 and ’69 festivals, along with certain years at Newport and Monterey, were among the music’s milestone large events. They were not big money makers and they did not fit some New Orleans movers’ and shakers’ vision of what a festival should be in a city whose motto is “Let The Good Times Roll.” These were the headliners in 1968, JazzFest’s first year:

Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman, Dave Brubeck & GerryJazzFest '68 program.jpg Mulligan, Pete Fountain, Ramsey Lewis, Max Kaminsky, Lurlean Hunter, Art Hodes, Pee Wee Russell, Cannonball Adderley, Carmen McRae, Ray Bryant, Teddi King and Gary Burton.

Among dozens of New Orleans musicians were:

Sharkey Bonano and his Kings of Dixieland, Al Belletto, Danny Barker, the Papa French band, the Olympia Brass Band, Louis Cottrell, Willie Tee And The Souls, the Dukes of Dixieland, June Gardner Quartet and Armand Hug.

Most of the concerts in ’68 and ’69 were sit-and-listen affairs in the Municipal Auditorium, with a sprinkling of riverboat cruises and events in Jackson Square. The focus was on jazz and its central role in the history and life of the city.
In 1970, George Wein’s Festival Productions company took over JazzFest from the locals who created it, renamed it the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and—with promotional skill and canny marketing—made it the world-famous party it is today. The fact that the bash is overwhelmingly pop, secondarily heritage and minimally jazz doesn’t bother the promoters and doesn’t bother New Orleans. It was probably inevitable in the city that care forgot, that JazzFest would become a big, fat, swirling celebration full of R&B, rock, country, gospel, Zydeco and soul. In the 2011 lists above, you may have to do a little searching to find the names of jazz artists.
JazzFest wide shot.jpgMore than five years after Katrina, with the city recovering but much of it still resembling a post-war nightmare, a party called a jazz festival symbolizes New Orleans’ determination to recover. That speaks of a spirit that rises from within New Orleanians and cuts through a malaise of failed leadership, politics and bureaucracy. For eight years, I was a New Orleanian. I understand that spirit. It grows out of the curious combination of laissez faire and obstinance that animates folks whose blood has a component of coffee with chicory.
Partying, food, boogying and getting down are wonderful. Few Orleanians would disagree with any of that. But this is the city that gave us Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Henry “Red” Allen, Barney Bigard, Raymond Burke, Danny Barker, Paul Barbarin, James Black, Johnny Vidacovich, Al Belletto, Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison and the Marsalises.
It is clear that popular taste no longer embraces jazz as a central element. It is equally clear that the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is here to stay as a kaleidoscope of entertainment. It would be welcome if the city also had room for a festival that honored and nurtured the music that is the living symbol of the New Orleans spirit. Somehow, jazz ended up with a bit part in what the natives still call JazzFest.

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  1. Ken Dryden says

    Even during the 1970s, when I attended Tulane University, the jazz content at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was far greater than it is now. I have no interest in attending it with its current pop-heavy lineup.

  2. Doug Zielke says

    So, just where is the “Jazz” in the “Jazz Festival”?
    I don’t think the absence of the real thing in New Orleans is unique to that Festival. My hometown festival in Vancouver, B.C. has had minimal jazz content for years. It really should be renamed a “World Music” festival. You mention Monterey… another venue that has been watered down with other genres of music since the brilliant years of it’s inception. As a true fan of the music, I find it sad. My form of protest is not to buy tickets.

  3. says

    Some years are more Jazz than others, and 2011 does feature Rollins, Jamal, Carter, Marsalis, Blanchard, Payton, plus others from the dwindling number of NOLA Jazz musicians, traditional or otherwise. I think the city long ago decided to celebrate NEW ORLEANS and HERITAGE as much or more than Jazz only. Thus the Zydeco, Cajun, r&b, blues, gospel, Congo Square elements are given big play now too. Why the rock and pop from other corners of the world, though… beats me. Or maybe we all mean: Money beats locale–revenue trumps tradition.

  4. says

    It doesn’t matter who’s headlining the Acura Stage or the Gentilly Stage. Fans who want to see jazz and only jazz can grab a good seat in the jazz tent and have a great day of listening, with great headliners like Sonny Rollins, Ahmad Jamal and Ron Carter. If cramming 90k people in front of one of the big stages to see Bon Jovi keeps ticket prices down around $45, then I’m all for it. That $45 on the closing Sunday gets me Sonny Rollins, Ellis Marsalis, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Treme Brass Band, etc. If I want to see Sonny Rollins’ show a week later at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, it’ll cost me $48 to be in the back of the house, $109 to be up front. And that’s just Sonny! For the money, JazzFest cannot be beat.

  5. Frank Wagner says

    A very incisive and truthful article on the present NOJ&HF. I remember the original Jazzfest sessions with Connover as MC. That was realy jazz and with international performers, also. There is much less Dixieland on Bourbon Street now, too. Guess it’s pop and rock that sells today. But Rhodes Spedale and I are still trying our best to keep jazz going in this city that care forgot…and we’re having a ball.
    Thanks for your great articles!

  6. says


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