Many jazz loving out-of-towners think the annual Satchmo SummerFest is the perfect excuse to come to New Orleans in August. The festival is far from attracting the hordes of tourists on a scale with Jazz Fest, making it easy to see a seminar about Satchmo on film. Still, a highlight for many is the Friday night club strut along Frenchman Street.
Saxophonist Donald Harrison put in an inspired performance early Friday evening with college-bound jazz musicians on the outdoor French Market International Stage. Later that evening at Blue Nile, Irvin Mayfield showed a bluesier side of his musical personality when he led his band through a compelling version of “St. James Infirmary” and his own “FEMA Blues,” eliciting roars of approval from the audience. San Franciscan Jacqui Naylor was particularly innovative and inspired late night Friday night at Snug Harbor. Husband Art Khu’s fluid piano playing perfectly complemented Naylor’s behind-the-beat phrasing on Billie Holiday’s “What a Little Moonlight Can Do.”
Dr. Michael White and his Liberty Jazz Band put in a notable performance at the U.S. Mint on Saturday, offering up stirring takes on Armstrong compositions “Weary Blues,” “Basin Street Blues,” “Tiger Rag,” and “Dippermouth Blues.”
One thing missing from this year’s fest was the portable 16-foot statue of Armstrong. It used to sit in front of the Contemporary Jazz stage at past festivals. Apparently, it was damaged by rain during Katrina. Fortunately, the festival continues, and it serves as a proper tribute to the Crescent City’s most famous son.