Smithsonian Folkways Celebrates 50 Years Of Jazz Fest's Serendipity

Jun 7, 2019
Originally published on June 8, 2019 5:28 pm

This past May, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary, attracting an estimated 475,000 people to its annual celebration of Louisiana music and culture. To mark this milestone, Smithsonian Folkways has released its Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival box set that includes rare live recordings and photographs of the momentous gathering.

At Jazz Fest, the fear of missing out is real. It's pretty much unavoidable. There's music happening on 14 stages — sometimes, all at once. The Smithsonian Folkways anthology reflects the festival's incredible range of music. The set is not organized by genre or chronology, like typical historical sets. Instead, it replicates the serendipitous randomness of a walk through the festival grounds.

Disc One includes invocations from Mardi Gras Indians and there's also a brilliant duet between boogie-woogie piano legend Champion Jack Dupree and one of his many followers, the songwriter and producer Alan Toussaint, recorded at the 1990 fest. Toussaint turns up again on Disc Two, leading his own band through one of his infectious uptown-funk hits from the 1970s.

Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival box set includes 5 discs, over 300 minutes of music and a 136-page book.
Smithsonian Folkways

At this fest, and maybe no place else on earth, it's a short walk from funk to the traditional dances of Cajun country. Jazz Fest celebrates Louisiana as a kind of miracle mixing bowl – not just the birthplace of jazz, but a cauldron that's given the world countless grooves and styles. Among them is "rum boogie," the cross between boogie-woogie and Caribbean rhythm that the late pianist and singer Professor Longhair developed in the 1950s. He was a regular at the festival in its early years, when there were only a few stages and tents.

This anthology does not include performances by Bruce Springsteen, the Dave Matthews Band, and others — headliners who've opened the festival to criticism that it's strayed from its mission. Instead, it focuses almost exclusively on legends and rising stars from the region. It doesn't go too deep in any one genre. It offers tastes, not full meals. But if you've never experienced the Jazz & Heritage Festival, this rollicking, spirited celebration of living, breathing music history shows exactly what you've been missing.

Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is out now via The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation, Inc.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now we take a trip to one of the places you were likely to find Dr. John every spring - the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GRIS-GRIS GUMBO YA YA (LIVE)")

DR JOHN: (Singing) They call me Dr. John, known as the Night Tripper.

KELLY: There he is in 2001. The festival turned 50 this year, attracting nearly half a million people to its annual celebration of Louisiana music and culture. To mark the milestone, Smithsonian Folkways just released a box set of dozens of songs from the festival's archives, including some rare live recordings. Reviewer Tom Moon says it captures the wide-ranging, eclectic spirit of the festival.

(SOUNDBITE OF DR. MICHAEL WHITE & PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND'S "MY BUCKET'S GOT A HOLE IN IT (LIVE)")

TOM MOON, BYLINE: This is a story about a walk you can only take on a couple of spring weekends every year - a walk through the Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans, La.

(SOUNDBITE OF DR. MICHAEL WHITE & PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND'S "MY BUCKET'S GOT A HOLE IN IT (LIVE)")

MOON: At this festival, fear of missing out is real and pretty much unavoidable. There's music happening on 14 stages, sometimes all at once.

(SOUNDBITE OF DR. MICHAEL WHITE & PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND'S "MY BUCKET'S GOT A HOLE IN IT (LIVE)")

MOON: This new anthology reflects the festival's incredible range of music. The box is not organized by genre or chronology, like most historical sets. Instead, it replicates the serendipitous randomness of a walk through the festival grounds. Disc 1 includes invocations from Mardi Gras Indians.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INDIAN RED (LIVE)")

THE GOLDEN EAGLES: (Singing) Early in the morning, we won't bow down.

MOON: And there's a brilliant duet recorded at the 1990 fest, between boogie-woogie piano legend Champion Jack Dupree and one of his many followers, songwriter and producer Allen Toussaint.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALLEN TOUSSAINT & JACK DUPREE'S "BRING ME FLOWERS WHILE I'M LIVING/RUB A LITTLE BOOGIE (LIVE)")

MOON: Toussaint turns up again on Disc 2, leading his own band through one of his infectious uptown funk hits from the '70s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YES WE CAN CAN (LIVE)")

ALLEN TOUSSAINT: (Singing) Take care of the children, the children of the world. They're our strongest hope for the future, the itty-bitty boys and girls.

MOON: Here and maybe no place else on earth, it's a short walk from funk to the traditional dances of Cajun country.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIDLAND TWO-STEP (LIVE)")

THE SAVORY FAMILY CAJUN BAND: (Singing in foreign language).

MOON: The festival celebrates Louisiana as a kind of miracle mixing bowl - not just the birthplace of jazz, but a cauldron that's given the world countless grooves and styles. Among them is rum boogie, the cross between boogie-woogie and Caribbean rhythm that the late pianist and singer Professor Longhair developed in the 1950s. He was a regular at the festival in its early years, when there were only a few stages and tents.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG CHIEF (LIVE)")

PROFESSOR LONGHAIR: (Singing) Me got fire, can't put it out. Heap fire water, going to make me shout. I'm going down to get my squaw. Me might buy a great big car. I'm going to do everything I could. Me, Big Chief, I'm feeling good.

MOON: The anthology does not include performances by Bruce Springsteen, the Dave Matthews Band and others, headliners who opened the festival to criticism that it had strayed from its mission. Instead, the anthology focuses almost exclusively on the legends and rising stars from the region. It doesn't go too deep in any one genre. It offers tastes, not full meals. But what tastes? If you've never experienced the Jazz & Heritage Festival, this rollicking celebration of living, breathing music history shows exactly what you've been missing.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAYMOND MYLES & THE GOSPEL SOUL CHILDREN'S "CAN'T NOBODY DO ME LIKE JESUS (LIVE)")

KELLY: The new box set from Smithsonian Folkways celebrates 50 years of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAYMOND MYLES & THE GOSPEL SOUL CHILDREN'S "CAN'T NOBODY DO ME LIKE JESUS (LIVE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.