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Jazz in the Park – A four-day celebration of music and crustaceans

27th March 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Jazz in the Park pulls out all the stops to celebrate its 11th season. First of all, it jumps on the food-related festival bandwagon to kick off its spring season with the Jazz in the Park Treme Crab Festival, an unprecedented four-day event Thursday, March 30, through Sunday April 2, 2017, in Armstrong Park. The temporary ban on crabbing, put in place to assure rejuvenation, has been lifted so it’s the right time to give some accolades to the crustacean.

The highlight of the fest is Friday’s arrival of internationally renowned musicians, vibraphonist Roy Ayers who will share the impressive bill with singer and songwriter Michael Franks with each headliner bringing in their own bands. This show, which is sponsored by Budweiser and attorney Morris Bart, is ticketed with funds raised benefiting the Covenant House, a neighbor of Armstrong Park, and the continuation of the Jazz in the Park Thursday series. New Orleans’ own, vocalist Stephanie Jordan will open Friday’s performance at 4 p.m. Ticket and further information is available online.Roy-Ayers-032717

On Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, the shows are free and open to the public just as they are and have been throughout Jazz in the Park’s history. They feature some of New Orleans’ finest and best loved musicians who perform primarily in front of audiences who know them well. In other words, Jazz in the Park is a family affair, more exactly a Crescent City family affair, where dancing doesn’t need to be encouraged, it’s just the way it is. These performances also begin at 4 p.m.

Thursday sets the tone with a double bill of the Soul Rebels and Spodie & the Big Shots. Trumpeter Spodie is known formally as Derrick Shezbie and is also nicknamed Kabuki as he was perhaps best known when blowin’, steppin’ and providing antics as a longtime member of the Rebirth Brass Band. A truly talented guy, some might also remember his 1993 venture into modern jazz on his fine album, Spodie’s Back. Well, he’s back again.

Saturday, trombonist Corey Henry’s Funktet, stands as the star of the day and except perhaps for his gigs on Thursdays at Vaughan’s, there’s no better place to catch the group than at Armstrong Park where he’s surrounded by family and old friends. From way uptown come the Caesar Brothers Funkbox, with drummer/vocalist Ricky and brother keyboardist/vocalist Norman Caesar bringing on the 13th Ward-style funk – think Meters and the Neville Brothers. They are bonafide members of the Neville nation and have that sound down. Mardi Gras Indians have also always been in their genes and Big Chief Juan Pardo will step up to give it that beat.

Singer and songwriter Michael Franks

Singer and songwriter Michael Franks

The Tremé neighborhood, the home of the festival, is well-represented on Sunday. Musicians who grew up in the musically rich area and were and continue to be denizens of the neighborhood – oh, yeah, you see ‘em around – are in abundance. The Treme Brass Band, led by the legendary drummer Benny Jones, who cut his musical teeth in that neck of the woods, is regular at Jazz in the Park. The Rebirth Brass Band, now world renowned and Grammy-winning, came up under the Treme’s influence and all the musicians who showed them the way. Trumpeter and vocalist Kid Merv is in that number of those who had the opportunity to learn from the elders. He’ll be heading his own group, Kid Merv and All That Jazz. For some blues, Sunday also features the always dapper and straight-up authentic, guitarist and vocalist Little Freddie King.

Considering all of these homegrown, Tremé related musicians, this festival could be considered a history lesson of sorts. These musicians represent a link to the past and influential artists like the late great Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen, drummer and vocalist Uncle Lionel Batiste and more. Now, these guys are the ones passing on the music and their wisdom to another generation.

Regular editions of the Jazz in the Park Thursday series will continue — with a break during French Quarter Festival (April 6 – April 9, 2017) – on Thursday, April 13, headlined by the Preservation Hall All-Stars. Trumpeter and vocalist James Andrews & the Crescent City All Stars heat things up New Orleans-style on April 20 just as they did at the recent Congo Square Festival – Andrews, as always, was over the top in a good way. The series runs weekly through June 1, 2107 with pianist/vocalist Jon Cleary wrapping it up.

Brackeen Brilliance

Joanne Brackeen is very special. She’s a creator, an illusionist and a brilliant pianist. That’s why so many of jazz music’s legends like the great saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Ornette Coleman, drummer Art Blakey and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard called on her talents. She’s recorded some 25 album as leader beginning in 1975 and including the wonderful and critically acclaimed Pink Elephant Dreams in 1999 that included our own trumpeter Nicholas Payton. Brackeen, who for a time was a regular visitor to New Orleans, will perform at Snug Harbor on Saturday, April 1. She’ll lead a trio with bassist Roland Guerin and Brian Richburg, a young NOCCA student who is making big waves on the jazz scene. He recently played at the Prime Example with Payton and knocked everyone out so he and Brackeen should make a fine pairing. Showtimes are 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.

This article originally published in the March 27, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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