The last week of July and first week of August were busy times for the Dillard University interview series mentioned previously in Independent Ear profiles of Harold Battiste, and Dr. Michael White. Last week I had the great pleasure of interviewing some Crescent City legends: Bennie Jones and the inimitable dapper dan and man-about-town Uncle Lionel, the drumming duo and founding fathers of the Treme Brass Band; New Orleans leading jazz singer Germaine Bazzle; a session with New Orleans oldest living active jazz musician, 97-year old trumpeter Lionel Furbos, who continues to lead the band at the Palm Court, and concluding with a New Orleans modernist, trumpeter Clyde Kerr, frequent bandmate of the city’s free jazz icon saxophonist Edward "Kidd" Jordan. More from those interviews later…
Last week — and every week for that matter when you’re talking about the man I often refer to on-air at WWOZ as the Heavyweight Champion of New Orleans music — was surely Louis Armstrong week in the Crescent City. As detailed below it was the culminating week of the annual Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp for youth which was capped off by some reportedly stellar performances from the youngsters at UNO on Pops August 1 birthday.
As part of the weekend’s 8th annual Satchmo Summerfest in the French Quarter there was a visual arts exhibition and good friend Rick Holton, who has painted some amazing jazz master collages, was in town to represent his wonderful piece on Pops. Satchmo Summerfest kicked off in grand style with a keynote address at the Old U.S. Mint from the great record man George Avakian, who produced some important Armstrong discs, including the champ’s separate treatments of W.C. Handy and Fats Waller’s music. Friday’s action began with a grand Satchmo Birthday Party at Louis Armstrong Park (home of historic Congo Square) with cake (where you gonna go in New Orleans without refreshments?), and music provided by Kermit Ruffins and Japanese Satchmo fanatic Yoshio Toyama. Later Friday evening was the annual Satchmo Club Strut in the Marigny on poppin’ Frenchman Street, with live jazz in every club as well as on certain balconies (Geraldine Wycoff reports that the New Orleans Saxophone Quartet was a particular highlight). As I remarked on WWOZ the preceding Wednesday drivetime show when Jason Patterson, ace impressario of key Satchmo Club Strut participant Snug Harbor (see below), was on for an interview — other burghs call such activities Pub Crawls; but in NOLA it was surely a "Club Strut" ("we don’t have pubs here," Jason said).
I had to head off to the Litchfield Jazz Festival in Litchfield, Connecticut for a NEA site visit so I missed the Club Strut and Saturday festival hits, but got back on Sunday in plenty of time for some good festival-closing sounds on the Traditional Jazz Stage, the Brass Band Stage, the Contemporary Jazz Stage, and the Children’s Stage. The entire Satchmo Summerfest is free and some of NOLA’s finest representing the various stage genres, graced the grounds of the Louisiana State Museum. New Orleans audiences ain’t shy about getting up to shake ’em down at these events, and strolling around the grounds I experienced the Algiers Brass Band, Treme Brass Band, trumpeter James Andrews & The Crescent City Allstars, and the irrepressible Kermit Ruffins & The Barbecue Swingers encouraging just that. Over on the Traditional Jazz Stage, whose proceedings were broadcast live over WWOZ (www.wwoz.org), trumpeter Randy Sandke and a crew of New Orleans finest including pianist Steve Pistorius, drummer Shannon Powell, and the ubiquitous bassist Roland Guerin encouraged some fox trotters and free formers, as did stage closer Dr. Michael White (see our previous blog entry on him), with Guerin, Pistorius, and Powell reprising their roles and Detroit Brooks on banjo. Brooks and Guerin proved once again the exceptional versatility of so many New Orleans musicians (see Snug Harbor below), both in entirely different contexts from other recent sightings, but no less effective. Musically there was much ado about Pops on every stage; by evening’s end I’d heard "What a Wonderful World" on every stage! And while that might sound a bit redundant, not to mention maudlin as that song can be, each time the tune was delivered with carloads of heart & soul, befitting the memory of Pops. Both Sandke and White were quite generous in their Armstrong tributes.
Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp
Without question one of the summertime jewels of New Orleans is the annual Louis Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp. This year approximately 100 aspiring musicians (age 10-18) bristling with youthful enthusiasm participated in this two-week intensive at Medard Nelson Charter School on St. Bernard Avenue. They come mainly from New Orleans-area public schools, but through a cooperative agreement with Columbia College in Chicago several Chicago-area youngsters are attending this session, including one young clarinetist I met who was fortunate enough to stay at flutist Kent Jordan and his wife Christine’s lovely West Bank home.
The Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp is a project of the New Orleans Arts and Council Host Committee, whose good work was represented at their press conference by member Mark Samuels, familiar from his other hat as CEO of Basin Street Records. The heart & soul of this wonderful undertaking however is the executive director Jackie Harris and her spiritual godmother, or "sister" as she referred to herself in her warm remarks, the indomitable Phoebe Jacobs keeper of the Louis Armstrong flame through her Louis Armstrong Foundation.
Today’s press event was primarily in recognition of the kick-off of a week with this year’s Artist-in-Residence, the versatile keyboard wizard-producer George Duke. The camp’s faculty is an exceptional assemblage of some of New Orleans finest, including the taskmaster with a heart of gold and a saxophone of pure steel, artistic director Edward "Kidd" Jordan, who was recently honored by this year’s Vision Festival in New York for his steadfast journey on the cutting edge of the music. Other camp faculty included Kent Jordan, Maynard Chattters (trombone), Jonathan Bloom (percussion), Clyde Kerr (trumpet), Roger Dickerson (piano), Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Herman Jackson (drums), Germaine Bazzle (voice), and an impressive crew of other teachers. By way of introduction, the Jordans and Chatters are part of one of New Orleans’ most distinguished musical clans, as detailed in an earlier Independent Ear entry detailing violinist Rachel Jordan’s superb concert earlier this summer, a clan that also includes the late clarinet master Alvin Batiste.
In addition to instrumental and vocal music the camp also boasts a dance program inspired by this year’s other artist-in-residence legendary Savoy Ballroom Lindy Hopper Norma Miller, who delighted those of us old enough to recall her references to working with Pops, and hopefully inspired the youngsters with her spinning of history.
Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp
124 Roselyn Park Place
New Orleans, LA 70131
504/392-2002 or 212/987-0782
Snug Harbor Joys
There simply is no better place for jazz in NOLA than Snug Harber, one of the jewels of the entertainment strip on Frenchman Street in the Marigny, the bustling neighborhood just below the French Quarter. Much like Blues Alley in DC, Snug Harbor enjoys the tourist trade phenomenon. At one point during last Saturday’s superb performance a woman two tables up leaned over and asked who that marvelous alto saxophonist was on stage who was delighting her so much. Well, on this particular evening that saxophonist was Wessell "Warmdaddy" Anderson. Though a native of Brooklyn, Wes Anderson is something of a homeboy, having prepped under Alvin Batiste at Southern University in Baton, Rouge. The big man was clearly right at home, deep in the swinging shed with guitarist Detroit Brooks, who quite successfully and soulfully recalled vintage Wes Montgomery through the filter of George Benson but decidedly in his own sweet way; drummer Herman Jackson, pianist Larry Sieberth, and one of the most versatile, hardest working bassists on the scene today, Roland Guerin — who we’d just seen two weeks prior on bass guitar bottoming out a New Orleans R&B review at Harrah’s, the first weekend in May as the busiest bass player in town at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival where he played no fewer than six varied gigs throughout the second weekend, and a week prior to that as bassist with the Marcus Roberts Trio.
Soulful and swinging straight out of the gate, Warmdaddy wasted no time diving headlong into "Billie’s Bounce." From there it was on to Stanley Turrentine’s familiar "Sugar" and beyond. There was no pretense, no grasping for some elusive newness, no sense of trying to confuse his audience, just pure, heartfelt jazz in its highest form, all served up with Anderson’s optimistic bounce. In that respect, and also with the purity of his tone and adroit facility, not to mention his physical form, Wes Anderson has always reminded me of Cannonball Adderley, but his is very personal sound and approach.
Celebrating A Living Legend
It’s always a wonderful thing when deserving folks are celebrated while they can still smell the figurative roses. Such was the case on Sunday, June 22 when a spirited crowd gathered at the Christian Unity Baptist Church to celebrate the legacy of saxophonist-composer-arranger and record man Dr. Harold Battiste (see our earlier Independent Ear profile for details of his rich life). Dr. Battiste, who was bestowed an honorary doctorate degree by his alma mater Dillard University, was honored by several presentations, including music from the Treme Brass Band, Ellis Marsalis, vocalist Philip Manuel, vocalist Germaine Bazzle, and a tribute from poet Kalamu ya Salaam. Marsalis, Manuel, Bazzle, and Salaam have all recorded for Harold Battiste’s AFO (All For One) New Orleans modern jazz record label. The program opened, appropos for a New Orleans tribute, with selections from the crack Edna Karr High School Band. (Where else but New Orleans would a high school marching band have to excuse itself early from a Sunday program because they "had another gig"!) There was also a rousing African drum and dance processional and heartfelt remarks from many, including Pastor Dwight Webster. It was a beautiful afternoon, including the reception repast that followed — which we, despite alternate dinner plans, were implored to take part of in typical New Orleans parlance, by a kind sister who virtually blocked the door to prevent us from leaving without filling our plates. As a good friend once remarked, you can’t go anywhere in New Orleans without there being food… good food… and lots of it!