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Satchmo SummerFest 2014 and the Return of Wycliffe Gordon

28th July 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

The 2014 Satchmo Sum­merFest (Friday, August 1 – Sunday, August 3) begins explosively at 10:30 a.m. on Friday with the 100-plus members of the youthful Roots of Music marching band hitting the streets at Washington Artillery Park across from Jackson Square. The always impressive group will lead folks down to the Old U.S. Mint, the heart of the festival’s musical and educational activities that celebrate New Orleans legend, trumpeter/vocalist/composer Louis Armstrong.

Friday offers a very special treat when, later in the day, trombonist/trumpeter/vocalist Wycliffe Gordon returns to Satchmo Fest after an extraordinarily exciting performance at his debut last year. He and his band with New Orleans own, drummer Shannon Powell, bassist Roland Guerin and pianist Kyle Roussel, close out the Chop Suey Stage beginning at 8 pm. He will also play on Saturday night at Snug Harbor with Geoff Clapp taking over on drums.



Gordon, who perhaps remains best known as a former member of Wynton Marsalis’ Septet and the trumpeter’s Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, credits being turned on to jazz at the age of 13 by listening to his aunt’s recording of Armstrong. The multi-instrumentalist and Georgia native took his adoration of Satchmo to its inevitable musical coda on his highly-regarded recording, 2011 tribute album, Hello Pops!

Given his background, Gordon naturally had always wanted to perform at Satchmo Fest particularly since it takes place in Armstrong’s hometown. “They’d been asking me to do it for about seven or eight years,” he explains. “It was just they always called too late and I’d already be booked up on that weekend. So last year, I decided to keep it open and I called the people and asked them if they wanted me to participate. I don’t really make cold calls for gigs. If I could, I’d do it every year.”

Gordon acknowledges that performing with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra enhanced his growth in further understanding the music he grew up listening to. That came by way of having the opportunity to play regularly with musicians like New Orleans natives drummer Herlin Riley and bassist Reginald Veal. For New Orleans-themed performances by the orchestra, the trombonist also got to work alongside greats like trombonist Freddie Lonzo and clarinetist Michael White.

“When I began to play with those musicians — guys who not only know the tradition but grew up in it — I began to listen with a different ear,” Gordon explains. “Before that (playing with the LCJO), I only knew New Orleans music through recordings. Wynton would call on the cats because he wanted to make the best representation of the music as far as being authentic.”

During some of Gordon’s first visits to New Orleans, he noticed how many of the young musicians on the street grasped the nuances, such as the role of each instrument, that are core to this city’s traditional jazz. “They didn’t got to any master class but they knew how the music should be played. It is an aural art form.”

Gordon, who can play 23 instruments, has been gaining a reputation for his tuba work. He says he’s bringing his mouthpiece so if there’s a horn in the vicinity, he’s up for playing. Ditto for a didgeridoo, a wind instrument created by indigenous people in Australia, though it is less likely that there would be one of those lying around. “If somebody’s got one, I’ll play it!”

As heard at last year’s festival and his disc Hello Pops!, Gordon stays true to the heart and spirit of the great Louis Armstrong when he’s blowing and/or singing one of the trumpeter’s signature tunes “Basin Street Blues” or an original composition inspired by Armstrong.

“I’m me, that’s how I make it my own,” the trombonist declares. “I can’t be Pops; I can only be Wycliffe Gordon.”

“Look out here, I come,” Gordon jokingly warns. “I’m looking forward to being in New Orleans first and foremost because of the music of Louis Armstrong.”

Not to be overlooked

Some other musical highlights of the Satchmo Fest that take place under tents set up on the lawns next to the U.S. Mint include:

Friday – the smilin’ in-the-pocket drummer Shannon Powell at 3 pm, vocalist extraordinaire John Boutte, at 3:45 pm, the festival debut (unbelievable!) of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at 6:30 p.m.

Saturday – trumpeter Mario Abney performs at 6:30 p.m. and stands as the only musician playing modern jazz at this year’s festival. After a triumphant stint in New York City, Trombonist/vocalist Glen David Andrews hits at 8 pm.

Sunday – Following a Jazz Mass with the Treme Brass Band at St. Augustine Church, corner of Gov. Nicholls and Henriette Delille streets, a second line, complete with brass bands and social aid and pleasure clubs travels to the U.S. Mint. Start time is approximately 11:30 a.m. Trumpeter Mark Braud, who’s been blowin’ great with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, leads his own group the New Orleans Jazz Giants at 5:30 p.m. Trumpeter/vocalist Kermit Ruffins wraps things up first aboard with his Barbecue Swingers at 6:30 p.m. He then hosts the grand finale, a Trumpet Tribute to Louis Armstrong.

There is, a course, a ton more music, a wealth of informative seminars, children’s activities and naturally good food at this free event that is now in its 14th year. It celebrates one of the greatest, most influential musicians to have ever lifted a horn or sung a tune. Wonderfully, those who live in his hometown, are in the midst of his spirit on a daily basis as his music continues to fill our lives.

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Leon Anderson Sr.
July 31, 1944 – July 16, 2014

When there was a Sunday afternoon social aid and pleasure club parade, if Leon Anderson Sr. wasn’t second lining himself, he could usually be spotted standing on the corner watching it go by. For over 40 years he was a member of the Young Men Olympian Junior Benevolent Association and held the position of Recording Secretary. Anderson, along with Henry Gettridge and the late John West, founded the Valley of Silent Men, a social and pleasure club that this year celebrates its 29th anniversary. Anderson died on July 16, 2014 at the age of 69.

“Anything pertaining to the club (Valley of Silent Men) that was right, he was for it,” says Gettridge who had known Anderson since childhood.

Funeral services were held for Leon Anderson Jr. on Saturday, July 26, 2014 at the Israelite Baptist Church followed by a jazz funeral procession to Lafayette Cemetery #2.

This article originally published in the July 28, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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