New Orleans’ master jazz saxophonist Earl Turbinton has an interesting perspective on his chosen art form. He sees the development of jazz like the growth of a tree sprouting many new branches as it ages, each one growing in its own direction while sharing the same roots. Earl feels as many of us do: the evolution of Jazz is as important as the preservation of Jazz. The music is only as healthy as the care and attention given it.
The Louisiana Jazz Federation sees Jazz as an original American art form, one that isn’t locked into a certain period of time, but one that continues to find new ways to express itself. With October here, the Federation is again watering the tree in the form of Jazz Awareness Month (JAM). In its ninth year, this event strives to bring together jazz organizations, public agencies, educational institutions and the media to cooperatively promote one of our greatest cultural treasures.
One might ask why New Orleans—the birthplace of jazz and many of its stellar purveyors—needs time set aside every year to develop awareness of the music that it’s known for. One might wonder why we should pay attention to this music when it has already gained so much acceptance from sold-out audiences all over Europe, Japan and many other parts of the world. But then, this common line of thought shows perhaps where the real problem lies—New Orleans has taken jazz for granted since its inception.
Outside of infrequent club and festival appearances, jazz artists have continually found it difficult to find outlets for their music. If it weren’t for the tourist population in Louisiana today, a musician could not make a living playing jazz here. As has been proven with rhythm and blues, jazz has to compete with current pop music manufactured somewhere else for the hearts and ears of our community. This is why Jazz Awareness Month is important.
Since 1981, JAM has showcased hundreds of jazz artists in our schools, at lunchtime concerts in the business district, in public parks, on radio and television and even in our prisons. With continued networking with other organizations, JAM has grown every year in its scope and impact, proving that if supporters work together, jazz can attain the recognition and understanding it deserves.
Financial support for Jazz Awareness Month has largely come from grants for special projects. For three years, the Federation has received funding from the National Endowment, the Louisiana Division of the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to produce digital recordings of live performances by Louisiana artists. The result was the “Jazztown” radio series, first aired in 1987. This series is the Federation’s most successful project to date and has achieved national impact. The thirteen programs run the gamut of Louisiana jazz, from the brass band sounds of the Dirty Dozen and Rebirth to modernists like Alvin Batiste and Steve Masakowski to traditionalists like Chester Zardis and Placide Adams.
“Jazztown” is hosted by Ellis Marsalis and written by poet and journalist Kalamu ya Salaam. The program was aired via satellite on 138 radio stations nationwide and will return to the air locally on WWOZ-FM (90.7) beginning October 6 and continuing every Friday from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
This year’s Jazz Awareness Month will begin on Sunday, October 1st with a performance of “Dr. Jazz & the Gumbo Pot” at the Municipal Auditorium of Houma. “Dr. Jazz” is a jazz history presentation created by Eric Glaser to trace the emergence of jazz from the cultural gumbo of turn-of-the-century New Orleans. This is done through performance of standards from the brass band, gospel, blues and jazz traditions in conjunction with narrative by singer/actor Kenneth Raphael. The Federation received funding from the Louisiana Division of the Arts to tour “Dr. Jazz” throughout the public school system in Terrebonne Parish in October with tours in Jefferson and Calcasieu schools later in the year.
The Federation will honor Dr. Gregory St. L. O’Brien, chancellor of the University of New Orleans, on October 2nd for his work in creating a new jazz studies program headed by Ellis Marsalis (see article on Mr. Marsalis in this issue of OffBeat). Dr. O’Brien will be receiving the Federation’s Outstanding Achievement Award for bringing back both Ellis and Harold Batiste to work with jazz students in their home town.
Other highlights of Jazz Awareness Month include the debut of “Louisiana Swing,” a 13-part radio series produced by the Hogan Jazz Archives of Tulane University. Broadcast on WWNO-FM (89.9) beginning on Saturday the 7th, each program will spotlight the contributions of New Orleans pioneer jazzmen through rare recordings and short anecdotes. The series will continue to air each Saturday at 10:30 into December.
A television series entitled “Jazz Video Portraits” will begin on October 3rd on the Cultural Cable Channel (53) at 10:30 p.m. The Federation produced this documentary of Louisiana jazz artists in performance through a grant from the Municipal Endowment for Cable Programming. The programs show the great diversity in jazz styles we have in our community through performances by Alvin Batiste, Earl Turbinton, the New Orleans Stick Band, Michael White, Scott Goudeau and the Terence Blanchard/Donald Harrison Quintet. These shows will air every Tuesday at 10:30 and repeat on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
The Louis Armstrong Classic Jazz Festival will be the third weekend of October and will feature special jazz riverboat cruises, concerts in the French Market and a tour of historic jazz sites by local expert jazz historian Al Rose. On October 22, two contrasting jazz events take place. A benefit concert for the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) starring Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr. will take place at the Westin Canal Place Hotel starting at 6:00 p.m. Muddy Water’s Music Club will host a Jazz Poetry performance by the Tony Bazley Quartet and the Maple Leaf poets beginning at 7 p.m.
“Passing Down the Flame” is the title of JAM’s forum on jazz education on October 26th in Nunnemaker Hall at Loyola University. The panel consists of jazz educators/musicians Ellis Marsalis, John Mahoney, Harold Batiste and Rhodes Spedale who will discuss the evolution of jazz education from its early days of being passed from musician to musician to today’s academic environments. This forum is free and open to the public.
Jazz Awareness Month will end with a “Women in Jazz” concert at Storyville Jazz Hall on Saturday, October 28, starring Germaine Bazzle, Juanita Brooks, Sadie Blake and Barbara Shorts. This concert by New Orleans’ finest jazz vocalists will be videotaped for the Federation’s continuing performance series for cable television.