Irvin Mayfield stood in front of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra on stage at the Théâtre Maisonneuve in Montreal.
“We’re here to bring New Orleans to Montreal,” he said, gesturing to the crowd. “Are you ready to go to New Orleans for the night?”
The cheers of enthusiasm from the sold-out house spoke volumes about what the people of Montreal think of New Orleans.
Montrealers clearly have a special place in their hearts for their colonial sister city. The Montreal Jazz Festival always presents several local brass bands that delight the crowds with traditional New Orleans material such as “Tiger Rag” and “Saints.” The festival combines massive free open air concerts during its 10-day run with ticketed performances in state of the art concert halls built into the Place des Arts.
Dee Dee Bridgewater backed by the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra was clearly among the highlights of this year’s ticketed programming.
The big band led by trumpeter Mayfield played the entirety of its New Orleans-themed album Dee Dee’s Feathers, with a couple of crowd pleasers thrown in for good measure. New Orleans standards like “Big Chief,” “St. James Infirmary” and “House of the Rising Sun” went over big with the enthusiastic, partying crowd. Mayfield showed remarkable discipline as a soloist, featuring himself at several appropriate points in the show but essentially showcasing the members of his band. At the trumpet battle climax, Mayfield stood to the side as Leon Brown, Glenn Hall, Barney Floyd and Ashlin Parker traded fours before launching into collective improvisation.
The well-paced, thoroughly entertaining show was a triumph for Bridgewater, the 65- year-old jazz vocalist with an operatic voice and a highly theatrical stage presence. Bridgewater reveled in this material, scatting liberally, bantering with both the audience and Mayfield and singing in emotionally-charged synchronicity with NOJO. At one point she even screamed in delight.
Mayfield’s band is winning over audiences with this program all over the major festival circuit this summer with headlining performances in Europe and Australia. As the ringmaster of this entertaining show, Mayfield is more than living up to his role as an official New Orleans Ambassador.