Friday, January 27, 2006

My first Jazzfest remembered

Any day now we will find out if New Orleans has recovered sufficiently to hold Jazzfest this year. Let's hope so. I made my first trip in 1989 - by myself, knowing no-one - although that was soon to change. Here's part of my diary of the first few days:
Friday April 28: Arrived New Orleans 5.30 local time, collected hire car and fought my way along the freeway to the hotel. In the evening I stupidly went out to look for the French Quarter without a map - and failed to find it. After eating chicken and biscuits (sweet cakes really) at a drive in I went back to the hotel. Had a few drinks in the bar. Just like Cheers - every sort of stereotype you could think of - vivacious fattish barmaid called Alice, drunk old construction worker with a piercing whine of a voice, greasy Iti justice agent, 2 fat ladies - one white, one black, and a man called Elwood who runs a bookstore in London, Ontario.
Saturday April 29: Woken by a thunderstorm. Pouring with rain. 8.30 went to the French Quarter (found it this time). Few people around but you could still feel the atmosphere - Walk on the wild side and all that. Weather started to clear up and then got very hot and sunny. Of course, I hadn't brought the sun cream. And so to Jazzfest. Acres of space, thousands of people, 10 sound stages. First on was Blue Eyed Soul Revue backing Eddie Bo, who was excellent, hunched up, beturbanned, playing NO piano. Then Ernie K-doe - 'Burn K-doe burn' - wearing an ill fitting suit and shirt, full of enthusiasm but seemingly out of practice. Looked like he wouldn't get off stage until dragged off by Milton Battiste who said 'Wave bye bye'. Next on was Walter Wolfman Washington, an excellent guitarist who played his guitar with his teeth (fangs), then Zachary Richard, a slick Cajun singer, popular with the locals. Took in some jazz including Henry Butler Trio, Alvin 'Red' Tyler and Willie Tee. Next was Buddy Guy and Junior Wells - crisp Chicago blues - then a highlight James 'Son Ford' Thomas, a superb old Mississippi bluesman, followed by the equally old Pete Seeger - the original folk singer. Ageing hippies were dancing along to Nathan and Zydeco Cha chas, then Lonnie Brooks - superb. Finally Ben E King who played a highly professional set with two sexy backup singers. In the evening went back to Bourbon St. It was heaving. There were queues for every bar and restaurant and was one seething mass of people filled from end to end with music - real live music blasting from every doorway. Had a drink in a place with female impersonators - very convincing - and just wandered around soaking it up.
Sunday April 30: I'm burning this morning from yesterday's sun. Had crawfish omelette and grits (yuk) for breakfast. Got to Jazzfest just in time to see Bobby 'Blue' Bland, He was excellent - grunts and all - as was guitarist Wayne Bennett. Next came the wonderful Aaron Neville in the gospel tent accompanied just by a piano. What a superb voice. From there to Clarence Frogman Henry - great happy good time New Orleans R & B. Just before Irma Thomas came on I spotted a Union Jack and joined some of the Festival Tours mob (Dave Thomas and Scotty Mick). Irma was great as the rain came down and she sang It's Raining. In the evening went to the Landmark Hotel and met up with the UK group including John Howard (yes - THAT John Howard), a sub on the Sunday Sport. We went off to Irma's club the Lions Den, a tiny dive in a rough neighbourhood. What a night! There was Irma waiting on and clearing glasses and then she did a fantastic 75 minute set -'like in your front room' to quote one of the guys. Bought an LP which she signed. Boz Scaggs was there
There you are - and all in the first three days. Let's hope Jazzfest continues and, even though many of the greats are now dead, may it survive and prosper. More later.


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