One of the hottest items in the record stores at Jazz Fest this year will be the 5-CD set Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, a compilation of live tracks that cover the history of the festival, released on the Smithsonian Folkways label. In keeping with the Folkways tradition, the selections concentrate on Louisiana music, as opposed to the high profile celebrities that have headlined the festival in recent years.
The tracks, dating back to 1974, include performances by Professor Longhair, Allen Toussaint, Snooks Eaglin, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, the Neville Brothers, Kermit Ruffins, Champion Jack Dupree, Beausoliel, Deacon John, Boozoo Chavis, the Zion Harmonizers, John Boutte, Earl King, the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indians with Big Chief Bo Dollis, and pianist Henry Butler. It’s an impressive list, even if some essential pieces are left out—Eddie Bo and the Radiators jump immediately to mind.
The box set also includes a 135-page book of photographs from the archives of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, The Historic New Orleans Collection, and independent photographers, historical essays by journalist Keith Spera and author Karen Celestan, a retrospective of the music heard at Jazz Fest by Robert H. Cataliotti, and notes by Jeff Place and Huib Schippers of Smithsonian Folkways, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation plus archivist Rachel Lyons, WWOZ’s Dave Ankers, and Jon Pareles of the New York Times.
“We are simply delighted with this collaboration,” says Smithsonian Folkways director and curator, Huib Schippers. “It immediately made sense to us as soon as we started discussing it. There is a compelling and beautiful synergy between the first fifty years of this iconic music festival, and a 70-year-old record label committed to documenting and celebrating this country’s sound legacy, and keeping it available in perpetuity, in whatever format, for a listenership of 230 million and growing. We are so pleased that we can bring some of the amazing sounds and sights and impressions from New Orleans to both new and familiar audiences.”
The discs have rough themes: jazz on disc one, then New Orleans blues, soul, gospel and R&B on discs two and three. Cajun, zydeco, and big stage cameos from the Nevilles and Allen Toussaint populate disc four, while more big stage offerings from the likes of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and Big Freedia take up disc five. When it’s over, you might have to check your bucket.