New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

Arvell Shaw and Jay McShann New Orleans jazz legends 75-year-old Arvell Shaw on bass and 90-year-old Jay McShann on piano perform for a capacity crowd at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

510 Words New Orleans marks 30th Jazzfest with a feast of the senses It's a Happy 30th birthday for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival or Jazzfest as it is commonly known. Now the largest, and the most popular jazz and music festival in the United States, the festival ran from April 23rd to last Sunday with a three-day midweek break It is located on the Fair Grounds Race Course in four tents and seven stages, and the $15-per-day attendees are offered a bewildering array of the best performers in the genre. The focus of Jazzfest is the indigenous music of the soul of America, particularly Louisiana and the city of New Orleans. Each of the venues is devoted to the public served; the older jazz public, modern jazz, the blues, the funk, the folk, and the children. Dixieland, Zydeco, Cajun, Afro-American, or a half dozen variations, all are at Jazzfest. Entrance to the grounds is tightly controlled, and behaviour regulated; no glass, no drugs, no alcohol, only beer bought on-site. Overnight the grounds are picked clean of garbage in preparation for the next day. And the food - traditional delicacies; red beans and rice, crawfish; boiled, pie or etoufféé (smothered in spiced rice); jambalaya, shrimp barbecued, or in Po'Boys (a bread roll); taken with iced tea or cold beer. The quality, portions and price regulated to high standards set by the Jazzfest. Periodically during the day, parades of colourfully clad 'second-line' dancers move through the crowds to the accompaniment of marching brass bands. At the Ray Bay stage, with its giant monitor, the headliners perform. Dr. John kept the crowd jumpin'; Ray Charles disappointed; Fats Domino didn't and Willie Nelson, well... he was Willie; You've seen it all on TV. In the Gospel Tent even the hardest heart was moved by the joyful sounds. Perhaps the favoured stage is in the Economy Hall tent, the festival home of traditional jazz. Pete Fountain played to a capacity crowd that never sat down. Here we found the Hot Swing All-Stars, featuring 93-year old Jay McShann on piano and bassist Arvell Shaw, also playing a capacity crowd. I first encountered Shaw 50 years ago with the legendary Louis Armstrong All Star Band. He stayed with Armstrong for 25 years. Today, with failing eyesight, he is still the master of his instrument, respected by his peers and, when he moves to vocals the audience is brought to their feet by the 20-year-old voice in the 75-year-old man. The day ends at Jazzfest by 7 p.m., but it continues with concerts in the French Quarter at Preservation Hall, the Palm Court Jazz Café and the House of Blues. In New Orleans jazz swings all night long. New Orleans, spoken of as the northern-most port in the Caribbean, is overwhelmingly comprised of the poor and the black, many without funds to attend the Jazzfest. But their presence was here, their culture, traditions and most of all their music. Without them there would be no New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. And we would all be the poorer.



Back to Travel Articles index

Back to Home page