The 1st Annual Unofficial OffBeat Jazz Fest Awards
– Michel Tisserand
There’s no better time than a 25th anniversary to launch the first annual awards for the highlights and lowlights of Jazz Fest ‘94. Remember, all judgments were made while dancing with a notebook in one hand, and a strawberry lemonade and a key lime pie in the other. And the awards go to…
Most Reverent Moment: Jazz saxophonist Earl Turbinton performed a moving version of the Lord’s Prayer, after placing the Koran on the front of the stage.
Most Irreverent Moment: A few days following his performance, Turbinton gave a live interview on WWOZ, during which he berated the Fest and Snug Harbor, and then gave the name and exact street corner location of a woman who, he charged, had stolen his saxophone.
Another Most Irreverent Moment:”When I recorded this song, Quint Davis was poor,” announced Frankie Ford cheerfully during his performance of New Orleans R&B classics.
And Another: “Carnegie Hall ain’t shit,” said Joshua Redman to a cheering jazz tent crowd.
Ok, One More Irreverent Moment: Cowboy Mouth’s Fred LeBlanc humped a bust of Elvis onstage.
Last One: Dj Jimi humped his mom on stage.
Most Frequently Overheard Complaint, 1994 (Especially, But Not Limited To, Aretha Franklin’s Show): “Where the hell’s the sound?”
Best Show-Must-Go-On Spirit: Despite recent health troubles, a sore-throated Katie Webster struggled through her show, aided by Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes. .
Most Regrettable Song Introduction: “Here comes Fats Domino,” said Oliver Morgan, causing half the audience to turn around in anticipation of a surprise appearance by the reclusive Fat Man. Then Morgan launched into his own version of “Blueberry Hill.”
Biggest Hair: Frankie Ford’s back-up singers.
Two Most Popular Female Singer/Songwriters Who Share The Same Last Name And Have Strong Louisiana Ties Who Should Be Invited To Play The Festival Next Year: Victoria Williams and Lucinda Williams.
Band That Has The Strongest Wisconsin Tie But Should Be Invited To Play The Festival Anyway: Paul Cebar and the Milwaukeens, who consistently provided some of the finest night music of the week.
Two New Musical Pairings That Should Be Invited To Play The Festival Next Year: Astral Project with Bo Dollis and Monk Boudreaux, and File with Canray Fontenot.
One More Unsolicited Suggestion For Next Year: Lafayette rocker C.C. Adcock with all his swamp pop friends like Tommy Mclain and Warren Storm.
And, While We’re At It, Some Beer That Should Be Invited To The Fest: Abita and Dixie — why not?
Biggest Screw To Local Artist Community: For its historic 25th anniversary poster, the Jazz Fest elected to go above the heads of Louisiana artists and bring in nationally-known Peter Max, whose overblown work included an illustration of Pete Fountain hanging upside down.
Best Duo: Davell Crawford brought his grandfather, legendary R&B singer Sugar Boy Crawford, on stage for a rare appearance.
Another Dynamic Duo: Joshua Redman was joined by local trumpet hero Nicholas Payton.
Most ill-fated duo: Bob Weir and Rob Wasserman, who cancelled in the 11th hour.
Another ill-fated duo: Jimmy Buffett and Lenny Kravitz, who should have.
Proof That Willie Nelson Will Duet With Absolutely Anyone: Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee.
Shortest line for Porta-Potties: Behind the Heritage Stage.
Best Seats at the Fair Grounds: Heritage Stage.
Thus, the Best Stage: Heritage Stage.
Best New Use For Crawfish at the Fair Grounds: Crawfish sushi.
Best Parade: Bahamas Junkanoo.
Most Patient Audience: Ahmad Jamal and a packed Jazz Tent waited 20 minutes to allow the boisterous Junkanoo parade to pass.
Most Politically Incorrect Bluesman: R.L Burnside, who offered a few jokes about drinking and driving in between songs.
Best Family Values: When zydeco player Delton Broussard died of cancer just a couple days before his scheduled Fest show, his sons and grandsons came to town to perform a tribute during his time slot.
Best Place To Get Married: For Gail Rainey and Bill Shedd, it was in front of the Fox 38/Poloroid Stage, during the Iguanas’ set.
Only Reference Heard About Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain Came From: Dash Rip Rock.
Best Dressed at the Fest: Blues piano player Ida Goodman, in a glittery blue dress.
Song That Sounded Most Like the Record: Boz Scaggs’ “Udo Shuffle.” .
Best Falsetto: The Crownseekers’ Craig Sanders, wailing on “Walk Around Heaven All Day.”
Best Reason To Skip Jazz Fest: Festival International in Lafayette.
Best Reason To Skip Festival International: Jazz Fest.
Most Unexpected Political Speech: J. Monque’D dedicated a Muddy Waters tune to the people of South Africa.
Song Line That Gave Us The Biggest Heebie-Jeebies: “Scratch me way down low, right where the good parts are,” by J. Monque’D.
Only Performer Who Can Play “Dixie” And Get Away With It: Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.
Two Acts Who Made Very Curious References to Harry Connick,Jr.: Lump and Davell Crawford.
Most Heart-Breaking Moment Of The Fest: Blue Lu Barker’s brief but moving talk at her husband’s tribute: “I set my table but my man Danny Barker ain’t coming home no more.”
Best Feigned Southern Accent: Tito Puente leaned over his drums and drawled, “Muchos Gracias, y’all.”
Worst Musical Moment Of The Fest Not Counting Harry Lee: Solomon Burke’s back-up singer belting out “Wind Beneath My Wings.”
Best Sign Of Hope For The Next Musical Generation: The handclapping games and street raps of the young Perlita Street Kids.
Catch Phrase Doomed To Never Catch On: “How you gonna clap?”
Best Thing To Make A New Annual Tradition: The kick-off downtown parade of brass bands, social-aid clubs and Mardi Gras Indian — too good an idea to save for the next quarter-century.
Best New Venue For Night Shows: The Homegrown Spring Concert Series presented a superb line-up of local acts in the old Masonic Temple Theatre, including ground-breaking work from Astral Project and an ambitious live taping from Li’l Queenie. But it still took the imported Richard Thompson to fill the theatre.
Most Successful New Venue For Night Shows: The House of Blues scored nearly every night with sold-out shows, even when many other venues reported low attendance.
Best-Kept Secret At A Night Show: Ry Cooder and Ali Farka Toure played a sort-of private party at the Howlin’ Wolf on Friday evening before their Fair Grounds show. The secret was so well-kept, however, that even the expected music industry guests didn’t seem to hear’about the event.
Best Night Show: Nobody dared predict what would happen when Mardi Gras Indians Bo Dollis and Monk Boudreaux encountered the modern jazz of Astral Project. But even Dave “Big Chief Tork” Torkanowsky jumped up from his piano bench and led the Indians in a couple chants of his own, and the space-age Indian combo proved to be heavenly, indeed.
Best Performance By A Would-Be Demigod At A Night Show: During the Dew Drop Inn Revisited concert, beloved New Orleans R&B singer Ernie K-Doe ordered the audience to kneel before him, just a few minutes before his show was mysteriously terminated.
Best Place To Be When The Rain Came Down: Randy Newman’s inspired sing-along of his classic “Louisiana 1927” with the soaked audience defiantly shouting the chorus: “They’re trying to wash us away.”
Goofiest Dancing (Onstage): During Saturday’s storm, Newman’s microphone and piano both lost power, so he just got up and did a short shuffle-step at the front of the stage.
More Goofy Dancing (Onstage): WWOZ DJ Ready Teddy reluctantly consented to do about a million handstands during Little Richard’s performance of, yes, “Ready Teddy.”
Best Lagniappe: Little Richard’s brother and Ready Teddy circulated throughout the Ray-Ban crowd, passing out inspirational paperbacks and Little Richard postcards.
Best Dancing (Onstage): Tyrone Foster and the Arc Singers in the Gospel Tent.
Best Dancing (Audience): Hundreds of area students on field trips followed DJ Jubilee into a land of a thousand line dances during his local rap hit, “Stop. Pause. Do The Jubilee Part 2.” Best of all were the cartoon dances, like the “Big Bird.”
Possibly the First Example of Prohibited Dancing at the Fair Grounds: Sylvia Barker stopped people from second-lining during the tribute concert for her father, Danny Barker.
Rudest Audience: Members of the crowd responded to Sylvia’s strange request by booing.
Grumpiest Queue at Fest: A crowd mobbed the book tent to return recently-purchased Hunter S. Thompson books after the Gonzo King only scribbled his name on a handful of covers during an announced book-signing.
Best Example Of Festival Recycling: Steve Masakowski gave his first performance on the guitar willed to him (and featured on the cover of January’s OffBeat) by Danny Barker.
Two Signs That Jazz Fest Is Outgrowing The Fair Grounds: People laid their blankets on the track for Aretha Franklin, and obtrusive stage-to-stage sound bleeding prevailed both weekends.
Best Sign That The Jazz Fest Organizers Still Know What They’re Doing: The shortest lines in history for porta-potties.
Why I Look Like Hell: A Jazz Fest Journal
– Scott Jordan
I momentarily frightened the manager of the Winn-Dixie on Carrollton Avenue coming home from the last Saturday of Jazz Fest this year.
After losing my ride home and walking back in the first downpour of the Fest, the physical toll of non-stop Festing was starting to show. My damage total at that point: one black and blue hipbone, one sore jaw, one blazing-red patch on my back described by an onlooker as a “classic sunscreen mishap,” and various minor gouges on my arms and legs. (Hint: dodging traffic on a bicycle on City Park Avenue is not a good idea).
The hockey pucks under my eyes and soaking wet clothes didn’t help matters, but the poor fellow who I tapped on the shoulder for some liquid medicine jumped back a foot when he saw me. He eyed me suspiciously as he rang up my order, until I said, “I’ve been at Jazz Fest every day.” Then he broke into a smile, and nodded knowingly; music is the universal language.
Even by New Orleans’ insatiable standards, the mind-boggling line-up of the 25th anniversary of the Jazz and Heritage Festival was enough to wreak havoc on even seasoned die-hards. But when you wait all year for these two glorious weekends, physical condition becomes secondary. So with notepad in hand, I ran after honking saxophones, scratching rubboards, pumping pianos, and every other alluring sound my ears implored me to follow. When the mud dried and the last notes had faded, I was battered, tired to the point of hallucination, but already fantasizing about the possibilities for 1995. Until then, I’ve got the following memories from ‘94 to pull me through.
Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes and his Louisiana Sunspots kicked it all off on day one, upping the anticipation for his upcoming CD with a hilarious blues about a “Garbage Woman” with “coffee grounds and buttermilk in her hair.”
The shaded cool of the WWOZ Jazz tent was heated up considerably by local jazz guitar master Steve Masakowski, spotlighting material from his new Blue Note release What It Was. Whether trading leads with his saxophonist or embarking on his own cascading and spiraling solos, Masakowski dazzled throughout, expertly backed by a full band including his Astral Project bandmate, drummer Johnny Vidacovich.
All those bodies kicking up dust and bobbing furiously at Congo Square were rocking to Beau Jocque and his Zydeco Hi-Rollers, as Beau continues to push zydeco boundaries into funk, rap and rock’n’roll. When the mighty Beau wasn’t squeezing his accordion, he delighted in working a cowbell and letting his band sizzle through extended jams on favorites like “Cornbread.”
Piano man Jon Cleary’s set was a minor disappointment, with his new material veering dangerously close to middle-of-the-road lite-soul.
When he did get down to some pounding boogie-woogie, Cleary was untouchable: he gets my vote for the funkiest Fest version of “Tipitina.”
Sixty-one-year-old Louisiana native Little Richard, making his first Jazz Fest appearance, pulled out all the stops in his headlining slot and lived up to his legacy as the architect of rock n’ roll. Before he’d even played a note, Richard stood, arms outstretched, on top of his piano in a red sequined suit, feeding off a boisterous welcome from the audience. He then generously supplied screaming versions of all the big ones: “Bony Maronie,” “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” “Tutti-Frutti,” et aI, all the while reminding fans he is “still beautiful,” and sending emissaries into the crowd with autographed glossies. WWOZ disc jockey Ready Teddy even made a stage appearance in a lavish green silk shirt, showing off his dance moves and one-armed handstands for the benefit of out-of-towners.
Day two started with a healthy dose of rhythmic Mardi Gras Indian spirituality, courtesy of The Guardians of The Flame. Donald Harrison led the call-and-response and provided some slinky piano, as the Big Chief commanded the stage with his resplendent yellow plumage and shaman’s temperament. Fest organizers might consider offering the bigger Indian tribes later time slots, to increase recognition for one of New Orleans’ unique and prized traditions.
The Mississippi blues in R.L. Burnside’s solo set in the Lagniappe tent were revelatory, fusing the urban boogie of John Lee Hooker with a country twist. The spare arrangements of standards like “Walkin’ Blues” allowed Burnside’s chilling voice full reign, and subsequently made stepping back into the sunshine a double shocker.
I’d long been looking forward to the subdudes Fest performance, knowing they would be primed to floor the crowd with new tracks from Annunciation. But I simply couldn’t handle guarding the up-close spot I’d staked, and was bumped, poked and prodded from all angles, claustrophobia eventually winning out over even the d\l,des ultra-tight renderings of “Late At Night” and “Message Man.” The unfolding scene as I left bordered on the absurd: I was getting farther away from the WWL/Ray-Ban stage, and the sea of human flesh was thickening, making a five minute walk a twenty minute ordeal. The reason: a mass migration of Jimmy Buffett’s parrotheads, who swelled the grounds for his performance and contributed to a single-day attendance record of 77 ,000 people.
The momentary irritation passed quickly though, because the pending Margaritaville love-in freed up the outer stages. The surprise of the day was George Porter, Jr. and the Running Pardners backing up pianist Henry Butler for a magical collaboration that sparked Butler to scat most of his lyrics, playing off the funk Porter and bandmates were laying down, and diving deep into a ten-minute plus piano-driven version of The Meters’ “Cissy Strut.”
That jamming spirit carried over into John Mooney and Bluesiana’s set, as Jon Cleary sat in on piano and the former bandmates dug into Mooney signature tunes like “Early In The Morning” and “Country Boy.” Mooney’s slide guitar work was razor-sharp, and dancing, when combined with the escalating temperature, became a joyous risk of spontaneous combustion.
I caught the end of Max Roach’s powerful drumming in the Jazz tent, culminating with his masterful stickwork on a lone cymbal centerstage. By many accounts, The Band’s Fair Ground performance was a sleeper, but they were magnificent at the Lakefront Arena, with Levon Helm and Rick Danko’s unmistakable vocals hauntingly poignant on covers of Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” and Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell,” as well as classics like “It Makes No Difference” and “The Weight.” The Allmans weren’t fooling around either, with a newly sober Dickie Betts leading the way through a three hour guitar feast that featured a psychedelic detour during “Jessica” and slide monster Warren Hayne’s powerhouse version of Muddy Waters’ “Same Thing.”
Not the case for two other long-time favorites whose respective night gigs were monumental disappointments: NRBQ and Little Feat. Long-time ‘Q guitarist Al Anderson recently departed, replaced by bassist Joey Spampinato’s younger brother Johnny. Without Anderson’s chicken pickin’ guitar work and vocal talents, NRBQ seemed rushed and lost.
As far as Little Feat is concerned, the least these guys can do is come clean and stop using the name. Lowell George soundalike Craig Fuller has now left the band, replaced by — get this — a female lead singer that sounded like she’d stepped right out of a slick Nashville country session.
Okay, enough griping and more highlights: Big Chief Bo Dollis’ Wild Magnolias chanted and funked up a storm, makin’ good on their exhortation to “look at the big chief go to town.” Their set also birthed the best silent dialogue of the Fest, as two hand-held puppet figures — one giant Indian visage and a Professor Longhair sculpture-faced one another above the crowd and paid their respects.
After being called upon in his introduction to make a prescription for “people unhappy with their home, work, family or love life,” Dr. John obliged. A slippery “Aiko-Aiko” opener and a hard-core dirty version of How Come My Dog Don’t Bark When You Come Around?” were vintage hoodoo fare, but the crown jewel of the Doctor’s set was a touching version of “My Buddy,” dedicated to the late Danny Barker.
If I had to pick one day that stood above the rest, the second weekend Thursday kick-off had me shakin’ and quakin’ everywhere I turned: J. Monque’D, in dime-store yellow sunglasses and a floral shirt, growling through Howlin’ Wolfs “Killing Floor” and celebrating the long-awaited release of his CD with an unbelievably raunchy version of his “Butter Churnin’ Man”; Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, covering ground ranging from Duke Ellington to T-Bone Walker, and bringing out Jo-El Sonnier on accordion for a romp through “Big Mamou”; a solo Taj Mahal, making old blues like “Blues With A Feeling” and “Stack-O-Lee” timeless, switching between a grand piano and electric guitar.
And the clincher was wholly unexpected, when The Funky Meters filled in for Bob Weir and Rob Wasserman. (Weir reportedly canceled due to exhaustion from the current Grateful Dead tour). New guitarist Brian Stoltz has now fully molded himself into the band, importing a wicked rock edge to complement Art Neville’s Hammond B-3 and the peerless rhythm section of George Porter Jr. and Russell Batiste. Their set was ferocious, with rarities like “Love Slip Up On You” thrown in next to funk cornerstones “Look-A-Py-Py” and covers of the Allmans’ “Midnight Rider” and Crosby, Stills and Nash and Young’s “Woodstock.” By the time Batiste gave one of his cymbals a final, devastating thwack following his bandmates’ departure after a rolling medley encore of “Junco Partner”/”Tipitina,” my thighs were screaming for mercy from bouncing around like a the Tasmanian devil.
As a result, I was movin’ slow the start of day fie but Baton Rouge’s Kenny Neal helped, easing into things with a heartwrenching harmonica solo on “Something On Your Mind.” Then it was back into overdrive, with a spunky “Don’t Mess With My Toot-Toot” and a downright mean run-through of Muddy’s “I’m Ready.” New orleans’ Michael Ward joined him on violin; his Stephani Grapelli-mmets-James Brown talents were a treat.
Delta blues practitioner John Hammond was equally impressive, evoking the ghost of Robert Johnson with his slide wizardry and train-whistle harmonica. After Hammond’s thoughtful and hard-driving set, waiting around for Solomon Burke was a supreme test of patience. Burke let his backing band play for a full half-hour before he arrived on stage, even subjecting the crowd to a version of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” by a female vocalist — pass the aspirin, please. When the big man did show, it was Memphis soul at its finest, with Burke belting out gems like “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” and a silky version of “Candy,” all the while sweating profusely in a mahogany satin suit. When he finished with Otis Redding’s “Dock Of The Bay,” all was forgiven.
The ominous clouds looming at the onset of the final. Saturday were prophetic for that day: I waited on a ride forever and didn’t make it to the grounds until 2pm, where the highly-touted pairing of Ali Farka Toure and Ry Cooder was cool and mellow, but not the jump-start I needed. I tried to catch Jessie Mae Hemphill’s set at the Heritage Tent: canceled. By the time Roben Cray opened with “The Forecast” (calls for pain) and the skies split open, I was standing next to the metal fence, looking at the lightning. After half of Cray’s killer set, I bailed, forsaking possible electrocution for my previously-mentioned rendezvous With the Winn-Dixie manager.
The closing Sunday was tolerably crowded, and the Crescent City’s marquee names delivered some sublime moments. The Tan Canary, Johnny Adams, turned in a typically brilliant vocal exhibition, juxtaposing new jazz material from Good Morning Heartache with down-and-out blues fare like “Room With A View.”
From there it was my initiation with Aaron Neville’s annual appearance in the Gospel Tent with The Zion Harmonizers ..The mutual affection between the Harmonizers and Neville creates an unbreakable aura of brotherhood, and hearing Aaron return to his church roots is soul cleansing; hearts and eyes fluttered during his majestic solo rendering of “Ave Maria.”
Then it was back to stompin’ at The House of Blues stage, where guitarist Snooks Eaglin was finishing completely smoking the audience with a high-speed run through “Red Beans and Rice,” backed by George Poner on bass (this man is everywhere). Blind human jukebox Snooks left his chair for his encore, lying down on stage without missing a lick and soloing for another five minutes — the crowd went completely berserk.
I planned on wrapping it all up with the Nevilles, but bad-ass trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and his Barbeque Swingers performance summed up the essence of Jazz Fest. Although grounded in traditional jazz, Ruffins continues to bring a youthful streetwise angle to the genre, and sparked “Kermit’s Second Line” and an impromptu mass derriere-swinging session midway through his set. But even with his hip take on his trumpet playing, he still reveres old-school sentiment, evidenced with a dreamy version of Fats Domino’s “When My Dreamboat Comes Home” and, most fittingly, a no-holds-barred stomp through Danny Barker’s “Palm Court Strut.” With Barker’s recent passing still reverberating through the New Orleans music will continue to thrive and prosper — which makes the potential for a future golden anniversary of the Jazz and Heritage Festival a sweet prospect.
Good Lord willing, I’ll be there.