As mentioned in Rifftides from time to time, many who attended or played in the original New Orleans Jazz Festival remember it as an example of what a jazz festival can be. The 1968 and 1969 editions of JazzFest were intimate compared with what later became the Jazz And Heritage Festival, a massive Crescent City party in which jazz is often more evident in the name than in the music.
Six of the people who made the ’69 festival memorable were its house band and its producer. The band was Clark Terry, trumpet; Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone; Jaki Byard, piano; Milt Hinton, bass; and Alan Dawson, drums. The producer was the Voice of America’s Willis Conover, who emceed part of the ’68 festival and whom the board of directors hired to be festival’s artistic guide the next year. The house band played often during the week of the festival. Among other appearances, they had a gig on a Mississippi river boat cruise. In major concerts, Byard, Dawson and Hinton supported Sarah Vaughan and the Gerry Mulligan-Paul Desmond Quintet.
Maristella Feustle, the librarian looking after the Willis Conover Archives at North Texas State University, sent an alert to video of Conover and the house band in a mini-concert at the ’69 festival. It was at the Court Of Two Sisters on Royal Street, then and now one of the French Quarter’s prime tourist spots.
A welcome surprise memento of a great jazz festival.