Kidd Jordan, Wilco and more at the first Friday of Jazz Fest 2015

27 05 2015

The Gambit, April 25, 2015

LagbajaThe first Friday of Jazz Fest opened under cover of dark grey clouds that promised to eventually burst, but the first storm at the Fair Grounds came just after noon in the Jazz Tent in the form of Kidd Jordan and his Improvisational Arts Quintet’s cathartic and brawny excursion into free jazz.

With his 80th birthday just around the corner, Jordan made a crack early in the set about whether he and his bandmates — William Parker on bass, Joel Futterman and Maynard Chatters on piano and Alvin Fielder on bass — would still be around after the show. From the first few bars of their hour-long improvisation, though, it sounded as if the band could outsmart — and certainly outplay — a little thing like mortality.

Against the backdrop of Futterman’s intense and often pounding forays into the piano’s deepest register, with Fielder alternating between complex kit rhythms and waves of bell-topped hand percussion, Jordan unleashed line after line of rich emotion. Whether he was latching onto melodic figures that synced with the rhythm section or skittering through angular solos that unearthed seemingly uncharted musical territory, he balanced out cerebral innovation with muscle and precision from start to finish. Parker, meanwhile, switched back and forth between fierce pizzicato and bow-work that almost sounded like a second horn had joined the lineup. The group brought the long and evocative piece to a climactic close, with Jordan moving seamlessly from sky-scraping high notes to richly textured lows.

Jordan, who noted that some members of the group were headed to Chicago this week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, was smiling at the end, as the crowd got on its feet to cheer. “Y’all are the faithful, standing here today,” he said.

A few hours later at the Congo Square Stage, Nigerian artist Lagbaja demonstrated a completely different approach to sax-fronted, jazz-based music. His set began with a drummer tapping out a beat and dancing circles around the center of the stage before a hushed audience. The rhythm turned into call and response as the rest of the group joined him onstage. Clad in red, orange and white traditional garb, Lagbaja came out last, his face hidden behind a cloth mask. He played a few sunny, bright bars before bringing the intro to a close.

The mask, he said in English, is always the first thing people ask about. “The mask is a symbol that stands for the facelessness of the common man anywhere in the world.”

He explained that the next song, “A Simple Yes or No,” is aimed at the world’s politicians — and their apparent inability to answer the questions of the people they lead. The tune began with a keyboard refrain that set the stage for pop-ready Afrobeat. He and the female vocalist that accompanied him, along with a few of their drummers, launched into a line dance that belied the serious nature of the lyrics.

After giving the stage to the other vocalist for a soulful, gospel-drenched number, Lagbaja returned to helm another beat-centric tune. He paused at one point to give the crowd a little dance training — a move he called “a big backside to the back.”

“Do you have your big backsides ready,” he asked, getting a flurry of claps and cheers in return.

“If you have tiny backsides, don’t say ‘Yes!’”

Big and tiny backsides proceeded to mimic his booty-shaking for what turned out to be an upbeat and entertaining, if somewhat repetitive set.

A sprinkle had started to douse the Fair Grounds by then, but it didn’t seem to bother dancers at the Fais Do Do Stage, who were dancing and cheering wildly for La Santa Cecilia. Hailing from Los Angeles, the Latin jazz, rock, cumbia and salsa hybrid draws heavily on members’ collective Mexican-American heritage for their sound. But as is the case with many of the best acts that tend to land at Fais Do-Do, there were plenty of undercurrents of connection to Acadian folk music, particularly during the group’s accordion solos.

Alternating between Spanish and English, lead singer Marisol Hernandez sang with a sort of triumphant power that hit its apex in her rendition of “Strawberry Fields Forever.”wilco

It made for a nice, if unintentional transition to the Gentilly Stage closer, Wilco, whose songs have often seemed to share a little DNA with the Beatles. If Wilco had plans to play any of the Fab Four tunes they’ve been known to play live on occasion, they were unfortunately cut short by the weather.

Prior to that, Wilco played a strong set, marked by a dizzying number of guitar changes and lots of smiling, good-natured energy on the part of lead singer and guitarist Jeff Tweedy. The brief set featured crowd-pleasing, country-tinged renditions of tracks from a mix of albums including Yankee Hotel Fox Trot(“Kamera,” “Heavy Metal Drummer”), Mermaid Avenue (“Secrets of the Sea”) and Being There (“Red-Eyed and Blue”). But by the time they tackled “Hummingbird” from A Ghost Is Born, the rain poured and lightning began.

Wearing a mischievous grin, Tweedy launched into a moving and heartfelt version of “I Got You (At the End of the Century)” also from 1996’s Being There, that ended with a three-part guitar climax. Pat Sansone wound up his arm, windmill style, and as he struck the final cord, one of the day’s largest and closest bolts of lightning appeared overhead.

The band barely got through another song before the festival was shut down early due to weather.

“On our guitar picks,” Tweedy had explained earlier in the set, “it says, ‘It could be worse.’” An apropos sentiment for a day in which thunder replaced breezy, nostalgic guitar riffs.

Jazz Fest Focus: Angelique Kidjo

27 05 2015

Offbeat Jazz Fest issue 2015

c9392832_origBuilding physical bridges requires labor, some creative engineering and a determination to connect two worlds that may not seem connectable. When it comes to cultural bridges—like the ones Angelique Kidjo has dedicated her career to building—the same basic requirements apply.

That fact was evident when the singer trekked through Kenya and her native Benin with a six-track recorder, working with eight women’s choirs to incorporate their sounds into the music she’d written for her Grammy-winning 2014 album, Eve. Though she dedicated the project to “the beauty and resilience” of “the women of Africa,” many of the vocalists she recorded didn’t have experience working with the kinds of jazz and pop-based song structures she used. Yet together, they found ways to bridge the divide.

Kidjo faced a new challenge with her latest project, Sings: How to make songs from her catalogue—a hybrid of international influences buoyed by strong and often innovative rhythms—work in the classical context of the 110-piece Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra.

“Even musical worlds that seem so far apart are able to find a common ground,” she said in a recent email, explaining her willingness to proceed with the potentially difficult collaboration.

Unlike previous projects that hinged on honoring particular groups or exploring cultural concepts, she said Sings was pure “musical adventure.”

Kidjo had long dreamed of singing with an orchestra, and when she had the chance to perform with Luxembourg’s philharmonic in 2011, she leapt at it—and was rewarded with a swell of love from the audience.

“I was called back to the stage five times,” she recalled.

When it came to recording with the orchestra, Kidjo had to rethink her compositions from the inside out.

“Everything changes. On most of the songs, there are no percussion, so for once, the groove is not leading the music,” she said. “I don’t feel like the orchestra is ‘backing me up.’ I am just one voice among many beautiful melodic lines that the strings and the winds are creating. Sonically, it is a totally different experience. You are surrounded by the sound. It carries you. You feel like a bird flying on a musical wave.”

The waves were choppy at times. The track “Ominira,” for example, is based on a Brazilian rhythm in which percussion plays a key role. Arranged for the orchestra without percussion, the tempo suddenly didn’t work—so the group got creative, devoting more time and determination until they discovered Kidjo could create what she called “syncopations and rhythmical tensions” with her voice.

In the end, “Ominira” became one of Kidjo’s favorite tracks on the album. In a larger sense, it serves as a reminder that even disparate ideas can often be connected.

“This is what excites me in doing music and breaking new ground.” she said

Jazz Fest Focus: Monty Alexander

27 05 2015

Offbeat, Jazz Fest issue 2015

MontyAlexander-392x588In the late ’50s, in Kingston, Jamaica, the steady diet of music feeding the young pianist Monty Alexander’s growing creative appetite came primarily from the radio. There was just one station for music in Kingston back then, transmitting a diverse juxtaposition of sounds: classical music alongside American pop, jazz and R&B.

Alexander was particularly fascinated by the music of Louis Armstrong and the rhythm and blues coming out of New Orleans courtesy of artists like Professor Longhair, Huey “Piano” Smith and Clarence “Frogman” Henry. But the lack of separation between genres on the radio offered exposure to a much wider range of ideas.

Things changed after “music business people” as he puts it “separated the idioms.”

“When I heard music as a kid, it was just one wonderful world of song and rhythm,” he recalls. “So, maybe that’s how I navigate between the places.”

The places in question are Kingston and Harlem, the namesakes of the project he’ll feature at Jazz Fest, and the origin of the music the band blends on 2011s Harlem-Kingston Express and 2014’s Harlem-Kingston Express, Vol. 2: The River Rolls On.

Speaking from his home in New York, Alexander explains that New Orleans represents not only a physical “center point” between his two musical home bases, but also a figurative one. The Crescent City gave birth to the jazz in which Alexander has been steeped professionally for five decades, while early New Orleans R&B contributed to the development of ska and reggae in Jamaica.

“I was already very young when I began listening to that kind of jazz—the swinging kind of jazz, the kind that makes you want to tap your foot to,” he says. “My heroes of jazz music were about that. It was about a release and revelation and celebration.”

A devotee of Armstrong and Nat King Cole who also recorded with Jamaican music luminaries like Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, Alexander’s elegant approach to melody and deep rhythmic mastery attracted players ranging from Frank Sinatra to Dizzy Gillespie to Modern Jazz Quartet vibraphonist Milt Jackson. But it’s Alexander’s work as a leader that shines the brightest.

On his second Harlem Kingston Express recording, the pianist pairs lush yet open jazz arrangements of material by Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye with originals that combine billowing harmonics with the energetic drive of swing-based motifs with plenty of groove.

“I like to say that kind of music makes the lower part of your body wanna move,” says Alexander, whose “express” travels frequently into Latin rhythms as well.

Considering how he navigates the elements at work, seamlessly marrying different concepts without sacrificing their unique cultural flavor, he pauses.

“Harlem is a destination. But my roots are total Jamaican,” he concludes. “I play my life.”

Jazz Fest Focus: Cecil McLorin Salvant

27 05 2015

Offbeat, Jazz Fest issue 2015

courtesy John Abbot

Cecile McLorin Salvant, courtesy John Abbot

By the time Carmen McRae comes to the final lyric of “Trouble Is a Man” during a performance on the ’60s show “Jazz Casual,” she’s relayed the gamut of emotions experienced by the song’s protagonist—a woman whose love interest has failed to keep his promises. “Trouble is a man I love,” she finally sings, lengthening the word “I” in a way that implies regret, pain, anger, frustration and eventually, the tenderness she can’t let go of.

“She just brings everything, all the meaning out into that song,” says Cecile McLorin Salvant, the 25-year-old singer who, since winning the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, has been hailed repeatedly by critics as a bright new light in vocal jazz. “I sing that song by myself at home—I’ve never performed it live—but it’s really informed and touched and moved me just as a person.”

Born in Miami to parents of French and Haitian descent, Salvant transitioned from classical voice and piano to jazz while living in Paris. And if her Grammy-nominated U.S. debutWomanChild is any indication, it was the right move. Salvant’s impressive technical chops are matched by an uncommon devotion to great storytelling. She inhabits the characters about which she sings, conveying their emotions and narratives as much by careful phrasing and use of her expansive range as by language.

“Anytime I sing, I try to really get to the sense of the lyrics,” she says. “That is something that’s really important to me, and it comes from extensive Carmen McRae listening, but also Billie Holliday and Abby Lincoln and all these singers who were able to make you feel beyond the music what the story is.”

This year, Salvant is channeling that energy into telling her own stories. She’s currently working with a new batch of original compositions, most of which center around love—and not the warm and fuzzy kind.

“They’re about yearning for love and lost love and love that is not mutual,” she says, adding that her trio—pianist Aaron Diehl, drummer Lawrence Leathers and bassist Paul Sikivie—helped her feel comfortable getting more personal.

Still, the stakes are probably high for a singer with Salvant’s propensity for exhuming the core meaning out of a song and expressing it through her voice, as if by osmosis. Now, with each new song about some painful aspect of love, the real-world experience is buried within her own heart.

“It’s not a story, it’s me speaking in my voice—and that’s hard to share,” she admits. “You’re afraid of what the reactions can be.”

Salvant’s new work, along with a handful of jazz standards, are due out on a sophomore Mack Avenue Records release in August.

Jazz Fest Focus: Christian McBride

27 05 2015

Offbeat Magazine Jazz Fest issue 2015

cchristianAsked to describe the musical common denominator he shares with Dianne Reeves and Jeffrey Osborne, bassist Christian McBride responds without hesitation.

“Soul,” he says, the timbre of his deep voice adding a layer of emphasis to the word. “Classic soul music.”

In recent years, McBride’s live performances have focused heavily on post-bop material taken from a pair of releases featuring his trio (Out Here) and quintet (People Music). But over the course of his career, the prolific three-time Grammy Award winner has never shied away from juggling multiple projects. He held down a weekly DJ gig in Brooklyn for much of the past year—a new interest he credits in part to WWOZ and Hustle Party DJ Melissa “Soul Sister” Weber. And since unveiling his first large ensemble recording (2012’s The Good Feeling), he’s presented intermittent, yet reliably swinging performances of the Christian McBride Big Band.

Various guests have appeared on those gigs, but few combinations promise to walk the line between jazz and soul like that of McBride with Reeves and Osborne.

Growing up in Philadelphia, McBride says he had every solo album released by Osborne—the sultry voiced crooner behind ’80s hits like “I Don’t Really Need No Light” and “On the Wings of Love.” The bassist also loved Osborne’s recordings with the long-running ’70s R&B/funk act L.T.D., whose coordinated dance moves and orange jumpsuits during a 1978 “Soul Train” appearance are almost as classic as their music.

Such listening experiences left the bassist, in his words, “trying not to be too much of a fan-boy” when Osborne tapped him decades later to play on 2013s A Time For Love.

“It’s a jazz album,” McBride notes. “People think that’s unusual, but it’s not. Almost every soul singer of Jeffrey Osborne’s generation has experience singing jazz. Up until the late ’70s, the thread between jazz and soul was very blurred.”

Reeves, an innovative improviser with unmatched technical agility, also sings with one foot in the world of soul and R&B, particularly on her latest album, the emotion-loaded, Grammy-winning Beautiful Life, which draws on the work of Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley, among others.

Some of the material from that album—along with tracks from Osborne and McBride’s A Time For Love collaboration—turned up in a 2013 performance of the Christian McBride Big Band that featured Reeves and Osborne.

There were still a few surprises.

“Working out the repertoire, Jeffrey I think assumed we were going to stick closely to his album. But I said, ‘You got to give me one L.T.D. tune,’” McBride says, laughing.

“I was so happy he was so cool and gracious and flexible to let me arrange ‘Back in Love Again’ for my big band.”

Bring on the “Soul Train.”

Irvin Mayfield’s expanding world

6 04 2015

Offbeat April 2015 

Irvin Mayfield debuts a new, permanent home for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, a massive coffee table book and a slew of new recordings this month, just in time for French Quarter Fest, where NOJO performs a different program of music each day on the mainstage. He and his partner in crime Ron Markham gave me the rundown on their spate of new projects for Offbeat’s April cover.

cover.0415.offbeat.hires_-300x384 Past a two-story wall of windows, up a wide set of  wooden stairs, and set back from the concert stage  at Irvin Mayfield’s newly christened New Orleans  Jazz Market sits a room the trumpet player  identifies as his office. There’s no desk in this office.  No computer, no phone and no trumpet—just two  places to sit and a chessboard. This is fitting  enough, given the amount of strategizing that went  into transforming an old Gator’s discount store into  what Mayfield hopes will become a shining new  beacon for jazz.

“Symbols matter,” says Mayfield on a Saturday afternoon in late January. Seated in the new office, he’s dressed in a navy blue T-shirt emblazoned with a fire department insignia—only instead of “NOFD,” the shirt bears the acronym for Mayfield’s New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, “NOJO.” He’s making a familiar argument to a reporter: New Orleans was “built on the DNA” of innovators like Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and Danny Barker, he contends, but “we haven’t really embraced that.”

“I mean, there’s a problem here,” he says. “Have we really not built a monument for the one thing we built as a city?”

The Jazz Market, Mayfield hopes, is a step toward filling that void. He asserts that it’s the first concert space in New Orleans ever designed exclusively for jazz.

It’s certainly the most ambitious. Billed as NOJO’s permanent new home, the 340-seat theater is poised to elevate the local profile of the big band. Meanwhile, its acoustic and conceptual customization for jazz makes it a potential magnet for major touring acts. Plans are also in the works to give the Jazz Market a community space vibe. The latest phase of construction involves building technological assets like touch screens connected to the New York Public Library’s jazz archive, a “digital STEAM” education zone (a visual curriculum connecting science, technology, engineering, art and math), as well as Wi-Fi access in the foyer’s Bolden Bar area. Daytime programming targeted for senior citizens and a growing selection of music-related works of visual art round out the vision.

Ultimately, though, the Jazz Market is a form of brand extension for Mayfield—and that’s where the strategizing comes in. In conjunction with the venue’s opening—a ribbon-cutting celebration is planned for April 2—this month marks a large-scale push to launch NOJO and its trumpet-wielding artistic director onto a higher plane of visibility.


Leading up to the ticketed gala on April 24 where the Jazz Market makes its official debut, NOJO is slated to perform every day of French Quarter Fest, which runs April 9-12. The sets showcase a wide range of repertoire, including the music of Stevie Wonder, the Beatles and the Grateful Dead in one set, the music of Led Zeppelin, Nirvana and Queen in another set, and an entire day devoted to children’s music. The last day will focus on the New Orleans songbook.

“As a general rule, we try not to have duplicate performances by bands at French Quarter Fest,” said French Quarter Festivals Entertainment, Inc. Entertainment Manager Greg Schatz in an email. “Irvin proposed the idea of four shows and assured the entertainment committee that each performance would be a unique concert with a completely different program [featuring] different guest artists.”

Mayfield pitched the French Quarter Fest series as a celebration of his new venue, but he’s simultaneously celebrating the one he opened in 2009 at the Royal Sonesa Hotel on Bourbon Street.

On April 7, Basin Street Records releases “Irvin Mayfield: Jazz Playhouse,” a 304-page coffee table book devoted to the trumpeter’s venue of the same name at the Royal Sonesta. The hefty, photograph and design-heavy volume comes with a seven-CD box set culled from a week of live performances at the Playhouse featuring a smaller NOJO ensemble along with regular club guests like Don Vappie, Shannon Powell and James Rivers.

Both the book and the music that accompanies it are divided into sections based on the days of the week, highlighted by essays, lists and other musings about Mayfield’s sources of inspiration.

“The reason I did this,” he says, gesturing at a galley copy of the book he’s placed on the chessboard before him, “was because I knew this was coming.” He motions towards the Jazz Market stage outside his office door.

“I wanted to put that business, which is my personal business, in a really safe space and really say what that space was and what it was about. When I first started doing the CDs and looking at that, I started feeling that that space was a lot more than just the four walls in the Royal Sonesta… We live out these moments there,” he says.

Somewhat less romantically, he adds: “I wanted to really write about brand extension from a venue through music.”

Meanwhile, Mayfield is gearing up for the August 11 release of “Dee Dee’s Feathers” (Sony Music) a collaboration with Grammy and Tony award-winning vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, who also serves as NOJO’s Honorary Chairperson and the namesake of the Jazz Market’s main stage.

Following a string of international tour dates with NOJO, Bridgewater will help program the Jazz Market’s inaugural fall season.

Having run through descriptions of the market, the book, the new music, the tour and the festival series, Mayfield leans back in a crisp white leather armchair.

“Did I mention the E-book? There’s an E-book, too,” he says, grinning like a mischievous kid.

“It’s a lot of shit.” The grin erupts into a giggle.

“The whole idea is that the Jazz Market is just a physical extension of what we have been doing. The CDs are the musical extension of what we’re doing. Then there’s the book extension,” Mayfield says. “Our work is about conveying truth, love and beauty—it’s a lot of stuff, but it’s really the same thing in different ways.”

Juggling multiple projects is hardly a new experience for Mayfield, who also helms a jazz education program (the New Orleans Jazz Institute at UNO) and sits on the boards of the Soledad O’Brien’s Starfish Foundation, the New Orleans African-American Museum and the Tulane School of Architecture, among others.

At times, his wide-ranging extra-curricular activities have raised questions about his methods and goals. As the newly-named chairman of the New Orleans Public Library system in 2008, he revamped budgets and staffing so drastically that the Times-Picayune ran a lengthy feature focused on the resignations, some of which were reportedly forced, that resulted from Mayfield’s leadership. (Writer David Hammer, Mayfield suggests, seemed bent on proving a musician had no place in library administration. “He’s doing investigative journalism on TV now,” Mayfield cracks, “and I think he’s enjoying that.”)

Asked why he feels the need to diversify the way he has, Mayfield says it’s a valid response to the music industry’s decline.

“If you saw Martha Stewart was on 12 boards, would you really be that shocked?” he asks. “You would expect she would be diversified.”

Some of his music-related ventures have faltered in recent years (the I Club at J.W. Marriott is now shuttered and the label Poorman Mayfield Music Group was scrapped last year). But there’s a palpable cohesion to his ventures these days.

Mayfield and his team also have the benefit of hindsight, having backed other recent jazz center proposals. In 2006, Mayfield, along with then-Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu and Mayor Ray Nagin, publicly supported hotelier Laurence Geller’s plan to build a $716 million jazz park downtown along Loyola Avenue. By 2007, Geller seemed to blame everyone around him for the project’s lack of progress, telling a Reuters reporter, “New Orleans is a study in ineptitude at every level.” A revised, smaller-scale vision for the park also failed to get off the ground. Two years later, Mayfield backed a controversial proposal to renovate the Municipal Auditorium into an entertainment center featuring, among other things, a jazz museum and a permanent home for NOJO. Again, the plan failed to launch.

“We weren’t completely in charge of those projects, we were partners,” Mayfield says. “It wasn’t 100 percent our project like this from the cradle to the grave. We built it. We designed it. This was my vision. It wasn’t a shared vision with any other institutions.”

But he did have help. Mayfield is prone to speaking in broad strokes and superlatives—a fair mix given his dual roles as artistic director and businessman. Ronald Markham, the President and CEO of NOJO—and a pianist who has been Mayfield’s best friend since childhood—has a way of filling in the blanks.

Mayfield’s explanation of the orange accents in the new theater, for example, involves a recollection of the sunset-inspired color scheme in Wynton Marsalis’ home. Mayfield says he borrowed the sunset idea for NOJO’s logo because it reminded him of the brilliant colors over Lake Pontchartrain at nightfall.

Markham, once a mechanical engineering major at UNO, recalls that the pair spent about 100 hours planning the building’s design. He says he sent the Atlanta, Georgia-based architecture firm Kronberg Wall examples not only of arts centers they liked, but also arts centers they hated in order to be as clear and detailed as possible about their vision.

“The warm tones, that’s Irvin’s dream,” Markham said in a phone interview. “The glass, concrete, clean lines, the modernity? That’s me.”

Markham oversees the nuts and bolts of NOJO’s projects, including the financial aspects of buying and opening the Jazz Market.

“We had to figure out a lot of very new things in a short period of time,” he says.

He points out that NOJO was only established in 2002, making it a young organization.

“But even for the most experienced person, putting together the financing for a multi-million dollar project, buying the building, certifying all the tax credits, getting all that in place, then building it in 11 months is hard,” he says.

“We bought the building in August 2013. It was very risky to buy that building because you had to have site control before you sit down and talk to anyone about putting millions of dollars into a project.”

Prospective lenders wanted to know what made the Jazz Market project special.

“When the response was, ‘We have an opportunity to build the first high quality space for jazz in the city that created it … they said, ‘Absolutely,’” Markham recalls.

“Then our job is to take that and figure out just how far we can stretch it and just how many opportunities we can create for people around music.”

Markham closed on an estimated $10 million worth of major financing with Goldman Sachs on Christmas Eve 2013.

“If anything says how complicated a new market tax credit is, the fact that I had to sign 600 pieces of paper on Christmas Eve should say it,” he says, laughing.

They broke ground on the project at 1436 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard in February 2014, by which time local realtors were already pitching the once bustling Central City corridor as New Orleans’ next big region for growth. Markham, who recalls playing piano at churches in the neighborhood with Mayfield when they were kids, was well aware that words like “gentrification” would come into play once they began developing the property.

“When I say, ‘I know that community,’ I’m not pandering,” he says. “I know pastors in the community. I used to play at Israelite. I played at Pure Light. I know all the guys over at New Home and New Hope. Same thing with Irvin.”

Markham and Mayfield both envision the venue as a way to bring new resources into the neighborhood, positing jazz as a fulcrum for community development. And because the project relied heavily on public money—particularly state historic tax credits and theater infrastructure tax credits—Markham points out the NOJO organization must deliver on its promises.

“Outside of music, we’re talking to partners about getting people in to do things like job fairs, a homework help center,” he says, adding that he’s working with the Jazz Market’s title sponsor, People’s Health, to bring a mobile health unit into the center. Discussions are also underway about hosting a farmer’s market, which would be a boon to one of the many neighborhoods in New Orleans where fresh produce is not readily available.

“The Jazz Market for us is a physical representation of the real power of this music to be a door opener.”

The plot of land at 1436 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard represented the opening of doors long before NOJO got there. The venue’s name refers in part to the Dryades Market that once stood in its place on the corner of what were then Dryades and Melpomene Streets. The busy, two-building cluster of grocers and other vendors served a mostly black clientele, though shop owners there refused to hire black employees for jobs paying better than janitorial work.

As Adam Fairclough details in “Race & Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana,” shoppers and civil rights activists (including future CORE leader Oretha Castle) banded together in 1960 and boycotted the stores that would not desegregate. Many stores closed, contributing to a generation of economic decline in Central City. But an estimated 30 jobs were created for black residents and similar boycotts followed in other parts of town. The protest is often cited as the first major Civil Rights action in New Orleans history.

On a Friday night in February half a century after that protest, a few hundred well-heeled philanthropists, arts administrators and local tastemakers took seats in an intimate theater space where vendors once sold meat, poultry and fish. NOJO had invited them to watch their first practice run on the stage, which opened with 15 minutes of stop-and-start bars of music as techs toyed with the adjustment of curtains and lobby doors to get the sound just right.

Once the room was tuned, the band launched into a high-energy concert, punctuated by a gut-rattling solo from saxophonist Ed “Sweetbread” Petersen, a warm and blues-drenched take on Stevie Wonder’s “The Life of Plants” and a stage-stomping rendition of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

It was the first time the entire orchestra had performed for an audience in their new home. They had just returned from a long tour, and as trombonist and NOJO Music Curator Emily Frederickson later recalled, seeing a New Orleans crowd respond to music they’d been playing for people across the country was “electric.”

More electrifying though, was to experience ensemble playing in a space created just for them. “It was the first time we were able to hear ourselves acoustically,” she marveled. “We weren’t used to hearing our own sound, which is strange and beautiful.”

Frederickson described the feeling it evoked as a mix of happiness and confusion. She was also proud, which is something her boss says he wants for all the musicians who perform in the new venue.

“If you can imagine New Orleans as a person, I’m just trying to help New Orleans feel good,” Mayfield says. “Because if New Orleans feels good, there are a lot more possibilities.”

Delfeayo Marsalis: Humanity & Humility

8 01 2015

DownBeat February, 2015

cdelf “The Last Southern Gentleman” marks Delfeayo Marsalis’ first full recording with  his dad, Ellis Marsalis. And as Delfeayo explained to me over a few weeks of  conversation, he didn’t arrive at the title lightly. The idea behind the album is that  warmth and human connection — elements valued by antebellum southern society  — are losing their foothold in contemporary jazz. Delfeayo wants to bring them  back.

Check out the full feature here on Downbeat’s website (and apologies in advance  for the PDF): Delfeayo Marsalis: Humanity & Humility.




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