We’re happy to present our annual August “Satchmo SummerFest” issue. It focuses, in large part, on New Orleans’ traditional jazz community and legacy—which, of course, is influenced by the spirit and musicality of the inimitable Louis Armstrong
I was one of those neophytes who didn’t realize how important Armstrong was and is in the annals of jazz.
The sounds of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet and signature voice will ring throughout the French Quarter this weekend at the Satchmo SummerFest
When Ken Burns released his “Jazz” series on PBS in 2000 and the subject of Louis Armstrong came up, it was like an epiphany for me. I think it’s a foregone conclusion to jazz musicians and scholars how important Armstrong was to jazz and to American music in general. But I’m not an historian; I’m a music lover and relate to it more emotionally than academically, so Burns’ series was an eye-and ear-opener for me. Since viewing that series, I’ve read a number of books about Armstrong’s life, times and music, and I would encourage anyone who isn’t a Louis-phile to delve into his genius, complexities and musicality.
The year 2000 was also important to New Orleans because it’s the year when Satchmo SummerFest was funded by the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism (CRT) as means to create a summer music festival that would be able to attract visitors to the city in the heat of summer. Specifically, the CRT folks wanted to attract international visitors with a festival themed on jazz. It just so happened that a local historian, the late Tad Jones, discovered baptismal records that strongly indicated that Armstrong was born on August 4—not July 4, as his birthdate was originally recorded. This fit perfectly with the concept of a summer festival and also coincided with the release of Burns’ series on jazz.
French Quarter Festivals, Inc. was selected to manage the original festival, and they’ve continued to produce it successfully for 14 years.
Another huge event just happened to be taking place the first weekend in August 2000: a fundraiser for the University of New Orleans’ Jazz Studies Program. UNO created a massive, historical concert featuring the entire Marsalis musical family. At that time, Ellis Marsalis ran the program. All of his musical sons (Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason) as well as Harry Connick, Jr. and others came together—for the first time—to celebrate jazz and their accomplishments. It was an outstanding success for the university, and it certainly added to the draw of the first Satchmo SummerFest. Seeing a legendary musical family play together was pretty inspiring.
In New Orleans, music runs in families. That’s one thing I love about this month’s issue. New Orleans music—especially jazz—is, more often than not, a family affair. Read through the many articles in this issue to see how our musicians are not only schooled in music by their elders, but they are also inclined to pass on the traditions. We’re very proud of this issue, and hope it will be able to kindle some understanding of what makes New Orleans musicians and jazz so unique.
Our musical ancestors are passing away at an alarming rate. This past month, Lionel Ferbos made it to his 103rd birthday and died a couple of days later. He was the oldest musician in New Orleans and a real link to the past; he was beloved, and he will be missed sorely.
As I write this, I have just heard of the passing of Jim Russell, who not only created an iconic store on Magazine Street; he mentored a lot of so-called “music freaks” (artist/writer Bunny Matthews being one of them) on local music and on the music biz.
Our challenge is to keep the music heritage alive and to make sure that future generations are immersed in our culture; that they understand its importance; and that they can take our traditions to other levels to keep the music growing, changing and vibrant.
Finally, another music club is being threatened by neighbors who don’t like the “noise.” Buffa’s Bar on Esplanade Avenue is facing a challenge that may silence the bar’s music. Sidney Torres IV, Buffa’s neighbor for several years, is suing to stop the music at the bar. Regular readers of OffBeat will know that we find this claim utterly without merit: Buffa’s has presented music on an ongoing basis for years before Torres bought the house next door.
Why do people buy houses next to bars and then complain about the bar doing the business it set out to do? Torres’ house is one the market; he’s apparently having a difficult time selling it, and he’s blamed it on the music from Buffa’s Back Room. Buffa’s owners are having to defend themselves against this suit on July 31. We’ll keep you posted.