35th Annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

35th Annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
by Matthew Robinson
Rebirth Brass Band – April 24, 2004

Dressed like the LSU offensive line, these strong local players kicked off their 21st year together with a Jazz Fest hometown throw down. From the hot and funky two step “Pumpin’ It Up” to the Chicago-esque “Talkin’ Loud,” and the second line “Do Watcha Wanna” with a Blues Brother-y “Somebody to Love,” Rebirth wrapped the crowded stage in grooves that ranged from one end of the Mississippi to the other. Though the inclusion of multiple generations of R&B-ers and even some dancers crowded the stage at times, the band’s frequent solo slots gave everyone time to catch their breath and spread out before coming together again into unified choreography. Mixing doo wop-y vocal weaves with flatulent tuba and multi-handed percussion, the band combined strong originals with snippets of the theme from “Gilligan’s Island” and Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner,” infusing traditional Jazz with Hip-Hop energy and demonstrating how they have been able to stay current for over two decades.

Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra – April 24, 2004

Known as New Orleans’ latest musical ambassador, horn man Irvin Mayfield relegated himself to the role of band leader for most of this energetic set. From an Ellington suite about his hometown to an original interpretation of the infamous “Strange Fruit,” Mayfield conducted himself and his band with a gently swaying hand. From the brassy blast of “Whoopin’ and Hollerin'” (featuring fellow young lion Jason Marsalis on drums) to slices of “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” and breezes of “The Summer Knows,” Mayfield took his talented team through a wide variety of sounds. And though he was most often able to bop and shake along with his 15-piece band of local stars, sometimes the vibe was too strong and Mayfield just had to take up his horn, blasting away with bumblebee flights and bringing everyone closer for noisy undertones. By the time the raucous Dixieland closer “Dr. Jazz” came around, everyone was up and dancing, as they should be in this most musical of towns.

Wanda Rouzan and A Taste of New Orleans – April 25, 2004

Swirling among a trio of bouncy horns and a dress as colorful and free as her personality, the dramatic and limber Wanda Rouzan invited the audience to “Sing It” right away, and most of them complied! Though Rouzan’s crisp vocals were often just under the amplifier hum, the hot brass pops cut through, and when the band cut out for an a capella breakdown, the music filled the echoey tent. “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” brought some Domino sway to the set, before Rouzan spiced it up with the groovy splays of “Salty Dog.”

Though it was a bit more Kansas City than New Orleans, a gritty “Take Me As I Yam” (sic) was fitting for the Popeye’s Blues Tent. When the familiar intro to Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” came up, it appeared that Rouzan was preparing to go even further afield, but she quickly tethered herself (somewhat) to a crowd-pleasing rendition of “The Electric Slide.” After leading the crowd in this infamous choreography, Rouzan brought it all back home with a second line roll call of “Bourbon Street” that demonstrated where her band got its name. Recalling and reprising her first recording (the unfortunately timely “Man of War”), Rouzan reached out once more for Alicia Key’s “If I Ain’t Got You,” before paying tribute to native son Harold Battiste with a take on the classic doo wop-er “I Know” that turned the Blues tent into a southern sock hop. Though the set included a variety of sounds, Rouzan’s energy and spirit was all Crescent City and gave the thousands of visitors a solid feel for what their hospitable host had to offer.

Cowboy Mouth – April 26, 2004

As beach balls and TP rockets darted amidst the raindrops, New Orleans’ own Fab Four shepherded their devoted fans in before blowing them away with song after song. Defying the dark heavens with a spiritual rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” before kicking into their out of town encore “Jenny Says,” the band finally admitted Who was in charge by way of their down home rocker “Hurricane Party” and the equally appropriate “God Made the Rain.” Encouraging the wet and wild crowd into a southern hospitality hug fest, the Mouth pressed on through the building storm with versions of the punky “I Know It Shows” and the boppy “Everybody Loves Jill” that kept the crowd harmonizing and jumping along, even as the puddles grew around them.

After one of their trademark countdowns to insanity, the band kicked (and I mean “kicked”!) into the musical riot of “Drummer Man” before being told that, due to the weather, they were about to be shut down. After continuing a cappella for a few moments, CM offered to come back the next weekend to play for free, before taking to their knees to beg for a few more minutes. When their wish was granted, the band made every second count with a final windmilling assault on The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” that blew even the rain away, if only for a moment.

Deacon John – April 27, 2004
@ The Louisiana Music Factory, New Orleans

What becomes a local music legend most? A solo set at the neighborhood’s best music store, of course! And that is just what Deacon John Moore served up at the Music Factory on the day after weekend one of the 35th annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. In keeping the music going, Moore was also perpetuating his own legend while promoting his award-winning concert film “Deacon John’s Jump Blues.” And though Moore may be “New Orleans’ best kept secret,” there were plenty of people who had heard the word by the time fellow local hero John Sinclair introduced him.

Opening with the yearning funeral song “Going Home,” Moore stiffly strummed an old acoustic guitar, accompanying himself with his affecting Neville-esque vocal tremor. Changing the pace dramatically, Moore kicked into a sing-along version of “Stagger Lee” that turned the music store into a honky tonk hootenanny. Moore’s slide on “Mojo Hat” was driven and swampy and made for a firm bridge to the front porch rocker medley of “Statesboro Blues,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” and “Going Up the Country.” For his last song, “Shake Your Money Maker,” Moore called up harpist/vocalist J. D. Hill, who added a bit more Chicago sound to his authentic Nawlins vibe. Though the set was short, it was enough to leave the crowd wanting Moore.

Henry Butler – April 27, 2004
@ Tower Records, New Orleans

Backed by a groove-ridden rhythm section, four-time W. C. Handy Award nominee Henry Butler showed the crowd what he could do with a few handfuls of keys, laying it down before a packed magazine section at New Orleans’ Riverside Tower Records. Opening with a contemporary track from his latest CD Homeland called “OS 7.0,” Butler swung from toy piano tinklings to rumbling bass runs, leaving his keyboard shaking from his fleet attacks and bomb drops. “Henry’s Boogie” changed the mood to a combination of a 1970’s roller rink and an 1870’s jug band. And though Butler occassionally lost himself amidst the torrent, he was always able to extricate himself with grace and soul. The honky-tonk rumbler “Jump” got the crowd clapping along, prepping them for the fully participatory “Some Iko.” A brief technical glitch allowed Butler some time to talk to the crowd and demonstrate his charm and business savvy, but as soon as all was ready, he leaped back into a music box version of “I Stand Accused” that left everyone spinning.

© 2004, M. S. Robinson, ARR