More Highlights from Jazz Fest 2014

23 05 2014

Bits and pieces of Fest highs and lows written for the Gambit and dug out of my notebook that I thought were worth saving/remembering …


The combined rhythmic sensibilities at work in the Jazz Tent during Stanton Moore’s trio set with James Singleton and David Torkanowsky yielded more than a few innovations in time and space as the three veterans interpreted James Black, Herbie Hancock and selections from their own compositional arsenals. Moore repeatedly favored lushness over hard edges in his solos, demonstrating the softer side of a complex groove. They imbued Moore’s funk-soaked “Tchefunkta” with pliant, rolling drum figures that added dynamics to the tune’s signature bass motif.

“You can’t be a drummer in this town if you can’t play this tune,” Moore later announced. He then made a point of giving props to Herlin Riley, Shannon Powell, Johnny Vidacovich and more of his mentors before wrapping things up with a blistering version of James Black’s “Magnolia Triangle.”


In his wrap-up of Jazz Fest’s first weekend, New York Times critic Ben Sisario (rather confusingly) noted that there was no electronic dance music at Jazz Fest; he was wrong.  Canadian producer and DJ trio A Tribe Called Red keeps their beats and samples rooted in what they call “electric pow-wow music,” but the combination of ecstatic, high-ranged Native American vocals and uptempo, dance-inducing pace had a decisively electronic feel at the group’s Jazz and Heritage Stage performance.

Tempos raced through stop-starts and clusters of drum-and-bass-paced beats for most of the set before the trio finally let one sample linger: It was Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” The crowd was gleefully filled in the lyrics – until the guys literally turned the beat around, throwing the sing-songy finish through an effect that transformed it into a pummeling series of sharp-edged synthesized lines.


Houston was most assuredly in the house at Samsung on Thursday when Lyle Lovett sailed through a breezy and endearingly oddball set of hits that included his best-know work from ‘80s and ‘90s recordings like “Lyle Lovett and His Large Band,” “Pontiac” and “The Road To Ensenada.”  Well-worn classics like the pensive yet silly “If I Had a Boat” and the big band flavored “Here I Am” encapsulated Lovett’s characteristically restrained drama, while he got the audience bouncing with the energetic “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas”).

The singer also reserved ample space in the set to praise his band – particularly, the fiddle player, Luke Bolla, who performed a tune of his own.


Tuareg guitarist Bombino’s high energy, rock heavy Blues Tent set on Sunday was defined by propulsive cycles of thickly wrought electric desert blues. Though the lyrics embedded in his shimmering vocal melodies were not in English, the band’s front line of guitar, rhythm guitar and bass created driving rhythmic structures conveying a sense of travel across time and space. Meanwhile, Bombino’s trilled and sometimes eerie vocals intimated the sense of longing and struggle that traditional Tuareg music shares with Western blues. That connection was especially evident for any fest-goers who caught the North Mississippi All-Stars at Acura shortly before Bombino.

The Blues Tent crowd roared in appreciation repeatedly as Bombino launched himself into overdrive, jumping up and down and spinning around as if his blistering, pick-free jams needed any more emphasis. Despite that mesmerizing combo, it was tough not to focus on the bassist, who kept the set rooted in deep lines of grit executed on a uniquely shaped bass with neon pink strings. (No wonder the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach only played bass on one of the tracks he produced for Bombino’s album, “Nomad.”)


Surrounded by an army of familial Indians festooned in hot pink feathers, plus a pair of Skull and Bone Gang skeletons, Monk Boudreaux’s Jazz and Heritage Stage appearance on Sunday was visually stunning — even for a venue where sparkling suits abound. The singer delivered a Indian standards like “(Somebody Got) Soul Soul Soul” as well as a few reggae infused melodies with able backing from what sounded like members of Cha Wa. (It was hard to see the musicians through that wall of hot pink.) Two elements of Monk’s performance stole the show, though. One was the lush, stormy and extended incantation that opened his rendition of “Shallow Water, Oh Mama,” a stark contrast to the brilliant sunshine above. The other was the pint-sized drummer-turned dancer who began the set at one end of the stage, drum sticks in hand before throwing down so much fancy footwork that he eventually dropped the instrument and moved center stage to rock out in front of his Big Chief.


Stanton Moore’s virtuosic drum solo-turned-duo with vibes player Mike Dillon (guesting on percussion) galvanized Galactic’s Jazz Fest set again this year. But the sheer muscle of Maggie Koerner’s vocal performance was the real star of a set that featured chestnuts from Galactic’s early days along with more recent tunes like the bounce-centric new single, “Dolla Diva.” Koerner’s belting reached a new echelon of power when, in the final moments of “Gimme Shelter,” she yanked the monitor out of her ear, tossed it on the ground and delivered the line, “I’m gonna fade away” with so much raw dynamism it looked like her jaw might pop off its hinges.


What exactly was Sixto Rodriguez saying to his New Orleans-based fill-in band during those long, awkward pauses between virtually every song in his performance at the Blues Tent on Sunday? That’s a question guitarist Alex McMurray, who seemed to be the focus of Rodriguez’s conversational attention during those breaks, will probably get asked a lot in the coming weeks.

While the breaks gave the set an off-kilter flow and Rodriguez seemed a bit frail, he was at his best performing music with a similarly vulnerable vibe. His guitar work was graceful, his voice, warm on the moody “Sugar Man” (the hit referenced in “Searching for Sugar Man,” an indie documentary that helped reignite his career). The lovely but sad “Streetboy” elicited almost as much love from the crowd, while tunes like “Lucille” seemed to require a confidence Rodriguez might not have had in him.





Evan Christopher Reflects on his New Orleans Evolution

22 05 2014

A shorter version of this Q&A appeared in DownBeat‘s May 2014 issue, with this expanded version appearing online.

ec2 New Orleans may be the only city in the world that boasts a downtown building with a 13-story tall  clarinet painted on its wall—a fact that local clarinetist Evan Christopher is fond of pointing out. For a  onetime saxophonist whose heart never left his first reed instrument, discovering the clarinet’s central  role in early New Orleans jazz was a revelation and a large part of the reason he moved there from  California two decades ago. Today, Christopher ranks among the city’s premier clarinetists. He’s also  making waves in Europe and beyond with his Django à la Créole project, which, along with his  Clarinet Road solo work, helped him top the category Rising Star–Clarinet in the 2012 DownBeat  Critics Poll.

 A by-product of Christopher’s post-Katrina sojourn in Paris, Django à la Créole fuses staples of Django  Reinhardt’s music with elements of early New Orleans jazz, while highlighting the influence Crescent City clarinetists like Barney Bigard had on the guitar virtuoso. The band’s ambitious third release, Django À La Créole: ‘Live’!, also mines influences spanning the Americas, Europe and Africa to explore common denominators of the “Monde Creole,” or Creole world.

Django à la Créole will tour in the United Kingdom and France in May and June, including stops at the Bath Fringe Festival (May 28), London’s Pizza Express (June 3) and the Dixie Days Festival in Le Havre, France (June 6). The group will return to the United Kingdom in July for the Edinburgh Jazz Fest (July 23), among other dates.

Christopher will hit the road with his Clarinet Road project in August, performing dates at France’s Marciac Jazz Festival (Aug. 9), the Idyllwild Jazz Festival in Idyllwild, Calif. (Aug. 15) and at the Chicago Jazz Festival (Sept. 1). Christopher’s complete tour dates are posted at

DownBeat recently caught up with Christopher in New Orleans to discuss how his work has evolved. This is an expanded version of a story that appeared in the May 2014 issue of DownBeat.

DownBeat: Before Katrina, you studied early New Orleans clarinetists in a musicology master’s degree program at Tulane. What was your goal?
Evan Christopher: I was trying to make an argument for a Creole paradigm for the clarinet style, and advocate for treating it almost like an ethnic style of music—a very style-specific vocabulary like klezmer music. Those world musics have a very distinct vocabulary, but nobody had really talked about New Orleans music in that way. I was looking at it as a basis for aesthetic value judgments as well.

DB: When you arrived in New Orleans, people gave you guided access to some of the historical jazz resources in town. Did that shape your musicianship beyond academics?
EC: Yeah, part of it was exactly that. When I moved here in the mid-’90s, there were no living clarinetists with whom to study that style of music. Willie Humphrey was the last and he died a few months before I got here. The Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University had all these oral histories, and sometimes the musicians would play on them. So research evolved out of me taking lessons from dead people, lessons from ghosts. Just to kind of piece together what that tradition looked like. As a performer, it’s also natural for me to tell nice anecdotes about musicians or about the songs, and people seem to respond to that in a good way. And the Django à la Créole story that I tell, for example, is how Django got to meet Barney Bigard when the Duke Ellington band was touring in Europe. It became the basis of the whole project because he went in the studio and recorded a few songs.

DB: What’s your process in terms of taking elements from le Monde Creole and incorporating them into tunes associated with Django?
EC: Sometimes to demonstrate the Creolization of a song, I use “Dinette” by Django Reinhardt. In our arrangement, that’s a specific one where the melody he wrote to the chord changes of “Dinah” reflect his admiration for Louis Armstrong. The rhythm of the melody lends itself to fitting with certain Cuban rhythms. Elements of his guitar solo let us use these almost riff-like little hooks and we can build an arrangement. So that if somebody knows Django Reinhardt’s version, they’ll be tickled. But if someone’s never heard it at all, they’ll be tickled. That’s an example where you look as deep as you can and try to figure out where the common ground might be. When the different treatment is almost ordained by rhythmic or melodic or harmonic elements of the song itself, then it feels [like it’s] going to stand on its own.

DB: What kinds of challenges did you face in arranging the new album’s version of “Dear Old Southland” to create such a natural passage into the Django feel?
EC: The challenge is the same with all our material: Finding Django songs that ask to be Creolized and New Orleans material that asks to be Django-ized is the essence of the group. I try not to force that, because if I do, we run the risk of pastiche that’s banal instead of delivering something clever and convincing. There’s nothing worse than songs that get re-harmonized or put in an odd meter or in another style for no evident reason.

DB: How has working with Django à la Créole changed your playing or arranging since its formation 2007?
EC: I’d like to think that the best thing the group has done is to encourage me to paint more boldly and broadly with the stylistic pallet of le Monde Creole, whether a song gets a New Orleans flavor, Cuban, Caribbean or Brazilian flavor. Also, I’m finally starting to figure out how to play clarinet like a lead instrument and enjoy the challenge and primacy of melody. There’s the lost art: melody. When I hear clarinetists playing the instrument like “jazz saxophone” [gestures with air quotes], I laugh to myself feeling that I’ve unlocked some secret that they haven’t.

DB: Numerous clarinetists that you reference in your music were students of renowned New Orleans teachers, Lorenzo Tio Sr., Lorenzo Tio Jr. and Louis “Papa” Tio. Is there a lineage from their teaching to your music?
EC: Oh, yeah, the Tios are great. My emphasis on the primacy and the art of melody comes from the fact that the Tios didn’t teach improvisation. They said that would just come naturally of its own accord. They didn’t teach jazz theory and jazz harmony; they taught people how to get good sounds on their instruments, how to play in tune, how to fix their instruments. They taught them how to read. Emphasizing the Tios’ importance is also about refuting the mythology that this music wasn’t created by schooled musicians. The reality is that the most of the significant musicians who brought the music forward once they left New Orleans and started working with groups in Chicago and New York were schooled. And [during] the transition—where music started being played without written scores—the clarinetists figured real prominently there in a very fun way. Knowing just a little bit of history about the Tios makes it easier to start discussions about the origins of jazz.

DB: A few years back, you said in an interview that you were in the process of “cataloging the way brass bands harmonize in the street.” What was that research about and how does it fit into the larger scope of your work today?
EC: I was trying to come up with a way to teach collective improvisation in a way that made musical sense. So I was trying to see in performance practice what was natural to everyone—self-taught musicians or those who may have started from reading partitions and then changed to reading music without scores. I was putting on paper some of these elements of the vocabulary because at the time, I was working on an orchestral composition. I wanted to figure out the way Mozart, as an example, would use rhythmic elements he heard in folk dance to signify folkiness in his music. So I was looking for elements of vocabulary [I could use] to evoke New Orleans-ness or Southern-ness or blackness or churchy-ness or Mardi Gras Indian-ness. What I found is that because this music, in a lot of ways, is a little bit bound by Western harmony, pretty much the same things that work for Bach work when a clarinet player’s trying to play next to a trumpet player.

DB: Besides early New Orleans jazz, what else has served as inspiration for the Django project?
EC: There’s a lot more that comes from the church—whether intuitively or intentionally—than I ever would have realized. [There’s] the evolution of Shannon Powell’s tambourine playing and its effect on the drum tradition here, or the harmony of the way spirituals are played, or the way brass bands play harmonies amongst themselves. It’s all obviously related to the church tradition.

DB: Which track on the new album best represents the direction Django à la Créole seems to be headed in the future?
EC: Our treatment of “The Mooche” is special to me. Inspired by Ellington’s live Fargo recording, his 85-year-old classic became fresh to us in the spirit of Duke’s own continual evolution. Sure, it’s repertory, but it seeks to harness the composer’s spirit and avoids being bound to old recordings.

Corea Heats Up Second Weekend of New Orleans Jazz Fest

11 05 2014


Chick Corea/courtesy Erika Goldring

Chick Corea/courtesy Erika Goldring

 Chick Corea has said that the “vigil” referenced in the title of his latest album is about guarding the  “precious communication line between artist and audience.” At his New Orleans Jazz and Heritage  Festival performance on May 4, he paid homage to that ideal with tenacious exuberance, using every  faculty at his disposal to engage his listeners and pull them into music that was at once brilliant and  straight-up fun.

 The set drew mostly from the epic, often difficult material on The Vigil (Stretch/Concord Jazz), which  was released in August 2013. But from the outset, Corea’s playful energy and buoyant touch imbued even  the most complex passages with a lightheartedness unique to his live performance.

In the hour-long set, Corea alternately grinned, clapped, bounced around the stage and at one point  appeared to applaud Tim Garland’s sax solo, all while ushering the group through a wild yet seamless  miscellany of Latin and Caribbean rhythms, post-bop, classical figures and fusion-y nods to his ’80s-era  Elektric Band. Or, as Corea said onstage, describing the range of material: “a potpourri of stuff.”

The show began with an acoustic piano-based rendition of Bud Powell’s “Tempus Fugit” (“Tempus Fugue-It”) that maintained the relaxed Latin flavor of the tune’s introduction well into its intense tempo climaxes. The piece also introduced percussionist Luisito Quintero and drummer Marcus Gilmore’s interplay with the first of what would be multiple scorching solos the pair performed almost in tandem.

Given Corea’s stage setup included acoustic piano and two electric keyboards, he could have taken the opener into more experimental territory (à la rock group Yes’ 1980 version). But Corea kept things relatively light and bop-centric at the start, which made for an inviting welcome instead.

As the set progressed, Corea explored his more mischievous side, toying with electronic sustains and samples, as guitarist Charles Altura provided swirls of color over a deeply woven blanket of bass funk. The pianist left his station when the rhythm heated up, grabbing a cowbell while Garland drove the melody forward. Later, Corea got back behind the keys, ushering the ensemble’s kinetic improvisations to a chord-punctuated close.

One of the more evocative moments came during “Planet Chia,” which Corea dedicated to the late guitarist Paco de Lucía (1947–2014), whom he called “one of the most beautiful musicians of all time.” Moving back to his acoustic piano, Corea paired a series of nimble right-hand flourishes with an elongated figure of steady warmth from the bottom register before Altura took over with the tune’s groove-rooted flamenco lines. As bassist Carlitos Del Puerto offered up soft, graceful accents that transformed into a gorgeous solo, Corea found his way out from behind his keyboards again, this time clapping softly alongside Del Puerto, bouncing his knees to the beat and beaming at the crowd.

“We’re gonna do one more tune,” Corea announced, then added the endearing understatement: “Our tunes are kinda long.” (The tracks on The Vigil range from about eight to 18 minutes each.)

He called “Galaxy 32, Star 4,” coyly introducing the whimsical cosmic kook-out that opens the new album. “It’s a particular location. See, this is a solar system. You got a lot of them. After a while, there’s a bunch of planets in there, too.”

A handful of effects-driven space beeps and buzzes followed as an impish Corea toyed with his instrument, flashing the occasional “stay with me” look at the sea of grinning faces before him. Once the roar of Gilmore’s kit kicked in, Corea took off, zigzagging through the drum part’s open spaces then breaking things down with a series of controlled chordal bursts. As the tune moved into a melodic groove, Corea returned to feeding his drum-and-percussion duo angular, electronic riffs. Things soon turned much darker, with Garland, Altura and Corea coming together to issue unison waves of rock in a frenzy of prog that compelled virtually every audience member to rise and cheer.

It was no surprise later when the group exchanged call-and-response vocals with the music; at that point the “line between artist and audience” had been completely redefined.

Porter, Marsalis & Keb’ Mo’ Soar at Jazz Fest in New Orleans

1 05 2014

Branford_Marsalis_2370 From, April 30 2014

 On April 25 at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Gregory Porter stood behind the Jazz Tent, alone.  The first  notes of “Painted On Canvas” wafted back from the stage as Porter calmly spun one arm in circles to the slow beat of the  music, his mouth set in a half-smile, his eyes cocked up at the blue sky.

 The meditative warm-up ended within moments, but the serenity he evoked seemed to stay with him throughout his set,  which spanned selections from his three albums—2010’s Water and 2012’s Be Good(both Motéma) and his Blue Note  debut, 2013’sLiquid Spirit. The performance also featured a strong fill-in from local pianist Jesse McBride.

Porter went on to engage the crowd with a groove-drenched “On My Way To Harlem.” The lilting and poetic “No Love  Dying” followed, Porter’s warm baritone cushioning the ends of phrases through lyrics full of both ominous images and a refusal to accept the end of love. It’s not one of Porter’s overtly gospel-influenced songs, but the audience was soon backing him up, choir-style, on the refrain—a perfect segue into “Liquid Spirit,” which brought the crowd to its feet.

“My mother was from Shreveport and she taught me how to make hot-water cornbread and how to sing in church,” Porter said as an introduction to the song. Praising her for teaching him how to tap into spiritual energy, he added: “She taught me how to think about music.” It wasn’t long before the tent rang out with the sound of hundreds of handclaps and hollers, giving the nearby Gospel Tent a run for its money.

If Porter brought spiritual serenity to the Jazz Tent, the next day’s closer, Branford Marsalis, brought muscle. Alternating between tenor and soprano sax, he led his quartet through a fiery collection of tunes that featured pianist Joey Calderazzo and drummer Justin Faulkner at their most visceral.

A thunderous version of Thelonious Monk’s “Teo” followed a pair of originals by Calderazzo and bassist Eric Revis. Later, Marsalis opened his notoriously knotty “In the Crease” with hummingbird-like flutter breaths—a light touch belied the labyrinthine rhythms that lay ahead.

Things escalated quickly, with Calderazzo and Faulkner taking turns upping the power until Marsalis briefly cooled the tune off with a series of crescendoing lines. Soon, Calderazzo was on his feet behind the piano’s left side, siphoning new sounds out of his instrument as Faulkner forged his way through the odd meter with both brawn and grace. The performance earned the band its first standing ovation of the set.

Its final standing O came after Marsalis invited his brother Jason and father, Ellis, to join him onstage. A stately drumroll and powerful bass solo announced the group’s closing number, “St. James Infirmary.” Eschewing the campy factor that often plays into the New Orleans standard, Ellis delivered a sultry, blues-soaked piano solo that swung to its core. Branford, back on soprano, picked up the melody with dramatic doses of restraint and release, then wailed into an exuberant finish.

Earlier that day across the Fair Grounds, another venerated member of New Orleans’ jazz elite made a surprise appearance with one of the festival’s so-called “guest” touring acts.

“Michael’s never played this song, but he can play anything,” quipped singer-songwriter-guitarist Keb’ Mo’ while introducing clarinetist Dr. Michael White, who sat in on the traditional jazz-inspired “Old Me Better.”

“He can play way harder stuff than this,” he said. “We don’t play hard stuff, just fun stuff.”

The guitarist was half joking, but much of his set’s beauty came from its stripped-down nature. On a weekend that also featured the grinding blues-rock of the North Mississippi Allstars and the driving Delta-meets-desert blues of Tuareg guitarist Bombino, Keb’ Mo’ presented a welcome reminder of the more comforting side of the blues.

Joined by Tom Shinness on electric bass and cello, and Casey Wasner on drums, Keb’ Mo’ focused on material from his new album, BLUESAmericana (Kind Of Blue), which, as the name suggests, draws on a range of American roots traditions beyond blues—spiced by episodes of lyrical irony.

The playfully rendered dark side of tunes like the groove-filled opener, “The Worst Is Yet To Come,” gave the set an edge, while Keb’ Mo’s addictively warm vocal range and his band’s instrumental interplay kept the vibe upbeat.

Shinness lent a rootsiness to the performance, switching from bowed cello (“Government Cheese”) to electric bass (“Life Is Beautiful”) to slinging his cello like a guitar on the divorce-themed “The Itch.”

Many hours after his festival performance on Fais Do Do Stage, Keb’ Mo’ got a taste of the local roots-music scene when he sat in with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the hall’s “Midnight Preserves” series.

Jazz Fest continues May 1–4 with performances from Trombone Shorty, pianist Chick Corea, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, pianist Jon Batiste, trumpeter Terence Blanchard and more.


Fest Focus 2014: Gregory Porter

26 04 2014

GregoryPorter From OffBeat’s 2014 Fest preview coverage … 

 No male jazz singer has elicited more attention recently than Gregory Porter, who, since his 2010  debut, Water, has consistently been hailed as the best new voice in the genre.

 In February—after earning multiple jazz and R&B Grammy nominations over the course of three releases—  he snagged the award for best jazz vocal album with Liquid Spirit, his first recording on Blue Note. And  while there’s no doubt that Porter’s velvety baritone and evocative songwriting contributed to his meteoric  rise, something deeper sets him apart, too. His music is a focused expression of emotion that’s both honest  and unfailingly self-aware.

 A college-football star turned musical-theater performer, Porter came to jazz relatively late, bringing with  him a kind of openness that must have suited his dramatic work. (His best-known theater piece is an  autobiographical play about how Nat King Cole’s music filled in some of the emotional blanks left by his absentee dad.) When Porter switched gears to jazz singing, he stuck with the complex personal narratives and deftly pinpointed the themes he wanted to tackle. In the case of Liquid Spirit, those ranged, in Porter’s words, from “mutual respect” to “male vulnerability” to the importance of uplifting others.

“My mother and a number of other people in my family are ministers, so when [the title track to]Liquid Spirit started to develop in my head, it sounded like what I sang when I was five years old,” says the California-raised, Brooklyn-based singer, now 42. “It was straight from my childhood—the feeling, the energy. I think people yearn for that uplifting and wider-thinking song that came in the ’70s,” Porter explains, referencing Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway and Curtis Mayfield. “It’s about brotherhood, political facts, a conversation of wider, upward thinking.”

It’s also frequently about love for Porter, though not necessarily the kind that revolves around flowers and kisses. With complex lyrical themes, Porter draws on not just jazz but what he calls “a family reunion” of genre influences, from blues to gospel and beyond.

“Moments of vulnerability, strength, questioning, wonder—they all are something people want to hear in music, and jazz is a genre that can sometimes separate the brain and the heart,” Porter muses. “I’m trying to put the brain and the heart together.”


Jazz Fest preview: Roger Lewis’ Baritone Bliss

26 04 2014

cover_story-6From The Gambit‘s 2014 Fest preview coverage, Week 1 …

 As part of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, baritone saxophonist Roger Lewis tends to hold down the funk, carving out the low  end on melodies and adding deep texture to bass figures. Though his instrument’s rich tone plays a key role in forging the  band’s overall sound, it doesn’t often play the lead. Lewis’ side project, Baritone Bliss, however, is all about the baritones.

 “I always wondered how five baritones would sound,” says Lewis, thinking back to the project’s 2011 inception. Since then,  the group has performed sporadically, playing a few shows at Snug Harbor and one set at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage  Festival. “It’s the only group of its kind in the history of Jazz Fest to my knowledge,” Lewis adds, echoing a sentiment Tony  Dagradi boasted from the stage at Baritone Bliss’ rollicking, bass-heavy 2011 performance.

 Lewis says it was clear in January when the group played a sold-out show at Snug Harbor that what was imagined as an  experiment is turning out to be a big success.

 “It’s not often you see just a bunch of big horns,” he says.

 The big horns in question are four baritone saxes played by Lewis, Astral Project’s Dagradi, the ubiquitous and versatile Tim  Greene and Calvin Johnson, who has handled tenor sax duties for the Dirty Dozen, Rebirth Brass Band and Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, among other groups. Lewis also invited the prolific Dan Oestreicher, currently best known for his extended, booming solos in Trombone Shorty’s Orleans Avenue. Oestreicher takes the ensemble’s low-end theory one step further by introducing a bass saxophone to the lineup.

Rounded out by Mari Watanabe on piano and Ocie Davis on drums, the ensemble performs a mix of original compositions, including a handful of Dirty Dozen tunes Tony Dagradi arranged for multiple baritones. Among them is “L’Ascenseur,” from the Dozen’s 1996 album Ears to the Wall, plus a somber ode to Lewis’ late son, written after the 22-year-old’s death. Watanabe’s “After the Surge” is a memorial she wrote to commemorate the 2011 tsunami in Japan. “Mandela” honors the late South African leader. Past Baritone Bliss performances have featured Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” made famous by Harry Carney’s gorgeously supple baritone performance, and Dagradi’s “The Wheel.”

Lewis is quick to point out that even the group’s serious-minded material “is music you can dance with,” and notes that the baritone is more flexible than some listeners may realize.

“The baritone is a very powerful instrument,” he says. “It can sound like a tenor in the alto register. And the way Tony approaches it, well, he can just go into the stratosphere. You can play as high as a trumpet if you alter the fingering.”

Friday, April 25 – Zatarain/WWOZ Jazz Tent – 1:30 p.m. – 2:20 p.m.

New Orleans’ Jazz Fest To Feature More Than 500 Acts

22 04 2014

The last weekend in April through the first weekend in May is basically my version of Christmas … minus the mindless consumerism, cold weather and religion. Here’s a quick look at some of the jazz and blues highlights on this year’s Jazz Fest schedule. Were word count not an issue, there would also be copious recommendations about why you should see Public Enemy, Lyle Lovett, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Irma Thomas’ gospel set, A Tribe Called Red, Lil Bird Lady and Young Genius, the Bingo! Show and many more …

Click here to read the Fest preview on

Trombone_Shorty_2362 The 45th annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival begins on April 25, ushering in seven jam-packed  days of music at the Fair Grounds Race Course, plus more than a week’s worth of special shows at venues  across town.

 In addition to jazz headliners like Chick Corea, Branford Marsalis and Trombone Shorty, the fest also  presents a diverse array of rock acts, including Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Robert Plant, Arcade  Fire, Eric Clapton, Public Enemy and Phish.

Singer Gregory Porter’s mix of gospel-influenced soulfulness and r&b aesthetics makes him an ideal  addition to a festival where programming hinges on the connections between multiple genres, including  jazz, gospel and the blues; he performs on April 25.

On May 2, Pharoah Sanders returns to the Jazz Tent, a breezy venue that always seems to enhance both the raw intensity of his saxophone lines on classics like “The Creator Has A Master Plan” and the harmonic richness of his free playing.

Corea brings the electric space odyssey of his Vigil project to the festival on May 4 for its last U.S. show before the group heads to Europe. Terence Blanchard, who also performs on May 4, seems poised to combine material from 2013’s Magnetic(Blue Note) with an arrangement or two drawn fromChampion, the jazz opera about gay boxer Emile Griffith he’s currently campaigning to record.

Other marquee names at the fest include Keb’ Mo’, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, René Marie, Al Jarreau, and Rubén Blades and the Roberto Delgado Orchestra. Meanwhile, local Jazz Fest staples such as Allen Toussaint, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Irma Thomas and Aaron Neville—who will close out the festival with a solo set for the second year in a row—keep the larger stages anchored in the sounds of the city.

Beyond jazz artists, highlights of the 2014 lineup include Brooklyn soul singer Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires, Texas-based singer-songwriters Alejandro Escovedo and Lyle Lovett, and the Lost Bayou Ramblers, a Pilette, La.-based Cajun rock outfit that updates traditional Acadian music motifs with hooks wrought from lap steel, accordion and fiddle.

The mammoth event, which attracts more than 400,000 attendees, will showcase a handful of unique collaborative efforts in the jazz realm. On May 2, clarinetist Dr. Michael White will leads his Buddy Bolden Revisited project, which looks back at the earliest and most formative music of New Orleans’ past. On April 25, Dirty Dozen Brass Band saxophonist Roger Lewis resurrects his sometime-side project, Baritone Bliss (which features four baritone saxes and one bass sax). The group enlists Astral Project’s Tony Dagradi; Trombone Shorty’s bandmate, Dan Oestreicher; saxophonists Tim Green and Calvin Johnson; pianist Mari Watanabe and drummer Ocie Davis. Baritone Bliss will perform originals by various group members arranged for the unlikely format.

Another horn-centric collaboration comes May 3 in the form of perennial fest favorite Midnite Disturbers, the all-star brass collective led by drummers Stanton Moore and Kevin O’Day. The special-occasion ensemble often boasts as much as a 10-horn front line, including Ben Ellman (Galactic), Mark Mullins (Bonerama), Shamarr Allen, Matt Perrine and more of the city’s top players.

While the unlikely combo of trumpeter Steven Bernstein and Crescent City pianist Henry Butler sounds like a special Jazz Fest one-off, they’ve been performing regularly for months as Butler, Bernstein & The Hot 9. The New York-based, early New Orleans jazz-inspired ensemble hits the Jazz Tent on May 3. (The group plans to release its debut album next month in Europe on Impulse!)

This year’s festival features a solid lineup of local rising star artists. Highlights include multi-reedist Aurora Nealand and her traditional outfit The Royal Roses; electric bluesman Little Freddie King; singer Meschiya Lake; drummer Stanton Moore, debuting a straightahead trio project; cellist Helen Gillet; and trombonist and singer Glen David Andrews.

Around Town

Outside the Fair Grounds, live music is available virtually all day and night from April 25 through May 4. Preservation Hall presents its late-night Midnight Preserves series over both weekends, showcasing the Preservation Hall Jazz Band alongside a variety of surprise special guests.

WWOZ-FM’s annual Piano Night returns to the House of Blues on April 28 with performances by Ellis Marsalis, Cyrus Chestnut, Jon Cleary, Davell Crawford, David Torkanowsky, Marcia Ball and others. That same evening, Galactic, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Anders Osborne and others appear at Tipitina’s 13th annual Instruments A Comin’ benefit for local school music programs.

Legendary producer and arranger Harold Battiste, who was named one of this year’s Jazz Heroes by the Jazz Journalists Association, is the focus of a special International Jazz Day concert by Jesse McBride and the Next Generation at the Prime Example on April 30. In the Treme neighborhood that evening, the Carver Theater celebrates International Jazz Day with performances by Donald Harrison, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah and The Bridge Trio.

The Louisiana Music Factory hosts free showcase sets every day from April 25 through May 4 at its new Frenchmen Street location.

Watch or listen online

If you can’t make it to the fest, WWOZ-FM and’s live broadcasts from the Fair Grounds offer streams of shows including Gregory Porter (April 25), René Marie (April 27) and Lionel Ferbos (May 2).

AXS TV will also broadcast live from the fest, giving off-site viewers a chance to see a slew of festival headliners. Last year, more than 5 million households tuned into coverage of the festival on AXS TV.

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