Satchmo SummerFest turns it up a notch
29th July 2013 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
The flame has really been turned up on the schedule for the 13th edition of the Satchmo SummerFest. Held in and around the Old U.S. Mint from Friday, August 2, through Sunday, August 4, the free event celebrates all things Louis Armstrong and that means jazz.
This year, the musical performance element of the festival has expanded to three full days. (In previous years, only the seminars were offered on Fridays). Friday kicks off at 11 a.m. with a second line led by the New Birth Brass Band that begins at Jackson Square and ends at the Mint.
With an eye on getting people out to the festival on the new day and with the financial help of Chevron, the event’s first major corporate sponsor, the presenters hired some musical big guns and broadened its outlook to include a national artist, the great trombonist, trumpeter and vocalist Wycliffe Gordon who closes out Friday in the cool of the evening at 7:45 p.m.
Gordon is certainly a perfect candidate to receive the invitation to perform at Satchmo SummerFest. Perhaps best recognized as the trombonist in the Wynton Marsalis Septet and the trumpeter’s Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Gordon became enthralled with the legendary Armstrong by listening to his aunt’s recordings at the early age of 13. He really showed his traditional jazz colors and love of Armstrong on his highly-regarded, 2011 album, Hello Pops! On the disc, which opens with Gordon paying a warm, lyrical tribute to the legend on the self-penned title cut, he also displays his chops on trumpet, an instrument he’d been heard on before but not to this extent. He also hits both vocally and instrumentally on classics like “Basin Street Blues” and “Black and Blue.”
Gordon will be performing at the festival with a New Orleans rhythm section with bassist Roland Guerin, pianist Michael Esnault and drummer Geoff Clapp. On Saturday night, he appears at Snug Harbor with the same group with the addition of saxophonist Wess Anderson. The repertoire that night will no doubt include some straight-ahead jazz swinging.
Preceding Gordon to the stage and adding further sizzle to the Friday schedule will be pianist, vocalist and composer Allen Toussaint, who just over two weeks ago was at the White House shaking hands with Barrack Obama when the President presented him with the prestigious National Medal of the Arts Award.
Toussaint, of course, is most recognized in the New Orleans rhythm and blues field writing and playing hit after hit. In 2009, he broke out of the mold when he released a jazz album, Bright Mississippi, which includes Toussaint spinning his magic on such chestnuts as Jelly Roll Morton’s “Winin’ Boy” and Joe “King” Oliver’s “West End Blues.” It’s difficult to imagine the crowd will let Toussaint leave the stage without doing some of his R&B hits though in the spirit of Armstrong he’s sure to offer some traditional New Orleans jazz.
Years ago, the Satchmo SummerFest presented a separate stage for modern jazz and is again embracing the genre and in a big way. On Saturday evening at 6:45 pm – again when the temperature takes a slight dip – noted New Orleans pianist, composer and educator Ellis Marsalis will perform with a quartet including his son, drummer Jason Marsalis, bassist Jason Stewart and saxophonist Derek Douget.
Not unexpectedly, this master of modern jazz says that he doesn’t intend to take a different approach to his music despite the festival’s more traditional theme. Marsalis, who was in the forefront of this city’s modern jazz movement, did do some work as a sideman in classic jazz settings with artists including trumpeter Alvin Alcorn, banjoist Albert “Poppa” French and his sons drummer Bob and bassist George French.
Decades ago, Marsalis got a peek at Armstrong performing. “I did see part of something that he was doing in Detroit in 1953,” the pianist remembers. “I was up there and didn’t have much money and me and a friend of mine were looking through the canvas – it was one of those tents. (Vocalist) Velma Middleton was still with him at that time.”
Like most jazz musicians, Marsalis was influenced by Armstrong though perhaps in a less direct way than other artists.
“For the most part, when you deal with the people out of the genre that you’re functioning in, if they have any influence on you, it’s usually because of a common piece or song and the way you phrase it,” says Marsalis who, as an aside, mentions Armstrong’s collaborations with modern jazz legends like vocalist Ella Fitzgerald and pianist Oscar Peterson. “The way somebody phrases something can make all the difference in the world in terms of the manifestation of their influence.”
While this year’s Satchmo SummerFest offers some new, exciting elements, it brings back fan favorites like Sunday’s second line parade that gets rolling around noon following a jazz mass at St. Augustine Church. Setting the pace will be the Treme Brass Band, the Baby Boyz Brass Band and the TBC Brass Band with steppers from the Sudan, Zulu, Undefeated Divas and the Dumaine Street Gang social aid and pleasure clubs and more.
As always, Kermit Ruffins will lead the final “Trumpet Tribute” on Sunday as some of New Orleans finest blow in celebration of the magnificent life and music of Louis Armstrong.
For the full music schedule and all of the activities surrounding the Satchmo SummerFest go to www.fqfi.org/satchmosummerfest.
This article originally published in the July 29, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.