Other Places: A JazzFest Post-Mortem

In January, after looking over the lineup for this year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which was laden with rock and pop, I wrote:

More 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…

…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.

To read all of that piece, which includes early JazzFest history, go here:

The festival wound up last weekend. How did it work out? It depends on whom you ask, of course. The bookkeepers in the JazzFest front office may be ecstatic, those who wanted to hear jazz less so; columnist Brian Ross, for instance. Here’s some of what he wrote on The Huffington Post.

Jazz may get top billing on the signage and the posters at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, but it rides the back of the bus on the fairgrounds.
There’s a reason for this too… (Shhhh…) Jazz doesn’t make the festival much money.

The smallish jazz tent at “Jazz Fest” was relegated to a location directly behind the big ACURA main stage where the blow-back of the mega-speakers blaring alternative pop bands like Arcade Fire muddled the music of The Mingus Big Band and others.

Only a festival with the namesake Jazz was positioned for that kind of disrespect. Not Gospel. Not Blues. Not Cajun.

To read all of Ross’s report, go here.

If you attended JazzFest, please use the comment box below to share your impressions with fellow Rifftides readers.

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  1. Jon Foley says

    Doug: I didn’t (and wouldn’t, nowadays) attend the N.O. Jazz and Heritage Festival, but just to illustrate that its snubbing of jazz is not a phenomenon peculiar to that great city – I live near Sonoma, California, a city you’re familiar with. Every year they put on a festival called “Sonoma Jazz +.” This year’s headliners are rock singer John Fogerty, rock singer Sheryl Crow and the Gipsy Kings. Jazz stars, one and all, obviously. An anomaly, someone might say? Last year’s star was the jazz legend – country singer LeAnn Rimes!

    The organizers of these festivals should be ashamed to falsely use the term jazz in their titles. Meanwhile, I’ll just stay home and listen to some real jazz, thank you.

  2. says

    It is the final squalid run of boomer rock suffocation and wealth confiscation. Rock has always either been twee NW European folk music really loud or some sort of bloated blues theft.

    And the promoters are cut from the same cloth. I want to see some numbers when this particular travesty run finally sags away.

    If Robert Plant had a bit of humility and left Jazz alone I’d be fine with it. But no, his ego needs to foist spurious claims of ‘geenyus’.

    Boomers showed up and began hogging all the money when Wein shoved them into Newport Jazz. Then little jazz fests were too small and Plant lived in hockey arena land for a thankfully long time.

    Now all that bloat swill is sliding back down the other side of the slope and confiscating Jazz Wealth again. Welcome to the oligarchic neo feudal where the fat bloat and take all the money for poorly cooked tripe.

    To me there is no difference between these rodeo clowns and the ones in Wall street who vaporized pension funds or the ones in SIlicon valley who cook up monopoly schemes while wearing libertarian on their sleeves.

  3. Rob D says

    It’s happening to every music festival of quality. Our blues fest here in Ottawa was at one time terrific. Then they had a huge crossover success by bringing in Ray Charles (who did a terrific set BTW) and it all changed. The very next year Sting was the healiner and all those obscure but great Chicago area blues guys like Jimmy Dawkins were history. Most of the acoustic sets were gone too. Bye Bye Louisiana Red and Jessie Mae Hemphill!

    What was once a very well attended fest that catered to people with some knowledge of the genre became an overpriced rock fest with blues tinges. As the saying went amongst those who stopped attending because of the hijacking…”I hear there is going to be a blues tent at the BluesFest” O joy…lol..

    Jazz and blues have a lot in common. I love both genres and I wonder what the future of the summertime fests will be for these two great traditions. Even the Chicago BluesFest which I have attended for 4 of the past 5 years seems to be the victim of budget cuts and political infighting this year. Not a good sign.

  4. david gordon says

    Jazz fest is not about jazz,,,that doesn’t make it “bad”,,,it is actually called the jazz and heritage festival,,,and gives exposure to all kinds of music,,,,for those who want a “pure” jazz festival,,,head to Monterey,,,its spectacular,,,,but hold off on being critical of the thousands and thousands who descend upon new orleans to hear all kinds of great music at the jazz and heritage festival,,,,where else could you see Sonny Rollins, the Arcade Fire, Ellis Marsalis, Cyndi Lauper, Allen Toussaint,,,and so on,,,,its a unique musical stew there,,,,,