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 …
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.
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 WWOZ.org’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.
For tickets and more schedule information, visitnojazzfest.com.