On the grounds of The Old U.S. Mint
400 Esplanade Street
New Orleans, LA
July 31-August 2, 2015
The 15th Annual Satchmo Summerfest is a weekend of of music, food, and sypmposiums in honor of Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong. Twelve bands played under two pavilions each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Six symposiums were held each day in the air-conditioned comfort of the Old U.S.Mint on Esplanade Street at the edge of the French Quarter.
A few of Saturday's bands...August 1, 2015
12 PM – 1:15 PM
Steve Pistorius and the Southern Syncopaters, Red Beans and Ricely Yours Stage
Pianist Steve Pistorius music favors early ragtime and his favorite composer is Jelly Roll Morton. Today he finds time to honor Satchmo, I wish I could remember the songs he covered! His band is an assemblage of local sidemen who either have their own bands or are regulars in several other bands. New Orleans is loaded with musicians who play in several bands.
12:15 PM – 1:30 PM
Seva Venet and The Storyville Stringband at the Cornet Chop Suey Stage
Banjo player Seva Venet’s band covers "Oh, You Beautiful Doll," with a great swing groove. Toward the end of the set, Venet says, "We have ten more minutes so we’re going to play 'Give Me Five Minutes More'.” An audience member shouts, "So play a twice!"
The legendary New Orleanian Detroit Brooks on the guitar/banjo here and also with Donald Harrison last night and Steve Pistorius earlier today. Banjo adds a distinct flavor to traditional New Orleans jazz.
Will Smith, trumpeter in Tremé Brass Band, tells me Venet arrived in New Orleans in 1999, learned the ropes with the late Tuba Fats, and teaches kids music in local schools. Some of New Orleans best musicians are regularly involved in training the next generation. http://www.sevavenet.com/bio.htm
1:30 PM – 2:45 PM
Butch Thompson’s Goodtime Boys at the Red Beans and Ricely Yours Stage
Butch’s web site quotes Jelly Roll Morton: http://www.butchthompson.com
Jazz was born in New Orleans, Morton said, from a gumbo of "everything from blues to opera. Jazz music is to be played sweet, soft, plenty rhythm. When you have your plenty rhythm with your plenty swing, it becomes beautiful." Piano player Thompson and band then go on to prove it.
Thompson introduces "West End Blues" with veteran Clive Wilson on the trumpet. It’s a re-creation of a Satchmo sound from one of his earliest recordings, a solo that in its spectacular virtuosity ushered in the role of solo playing in jazz bands.
Other songs include "Tailgate Ramble," a good old-fashioned New Orleans jazz number.
Piano player Butch Thompson introduces "The Pearls" a composition by Jelly Roll Morton, "a difficult piece because you have to play by feel, there are not a lot of notes" he says, then plays a piece with 1000 well put together notes, in a rambling Jelly Roll Morton style.
Next is "Tomcat Blues" with the orchestra. Quite a zippy number ending with a sparkling drum solo by the young Jason Marsalis. Next comes "Careless Love" with Thompson playing, introducing the song that was another Armstrong piece. I sidle out to the dance floor and freestyle. When you get the urge to dance in this town, no partner necessary. You just get out there and dance. It’s my birthday, partner or no, I'm dancin'.
1:45 PM – 3:00 PM
Jane Harvey Brown, Traditional Jazz Stars, Cornet Chop Suey Stage
"Frim Fram Sauce," "Sunny Side of the Street," “Basin Street Blues,” “Baby,Won’t You Please Come Home,” and a pleasing batch of swing numbers fill the set.
88 year old Lawrence Cotton, "one of several octogenarian musicians still playing in New Orleans," says Ms. Brown, is playing piano. The age span of musicians on any set today could be 50 years.
3:00 PM – 4:15 PM
Tremé Brass Band, Red Beans and Ricely Yours Stage
Tambourine Green; Terrance Taplin trombone; John Gross, tuba; Will Smith, trumpet; Benny Jones, Sr. ("The big boss with the hot sauce"), bass drum; Vernon Severin, snare drums; John Gilbert, tenor sax; Roger Lewis, baritone sax; Seve Venet, banjo
Above right, that's as big a smile as you'll ever see from band leader Benny Jones, Sr.!
What can you say about this iconic band. “Beloved” is the first word that comes to mind. Every square inch in and around this tent is packed with handkerchief waving fans. There is a lot of love in this tent, the audience sending it to the stage and the band, feeling it , sends it right back. Tenor sax man John Gilbert introduces “The World Famous Tremé Brass Band” to a hail of cheers then kicks off the set with the classic "I Got a Big Fat Woman." Every person in the crowd knows the lyrics. And they know the drill. When a musician points at them to fill in a chorus, they lustily join in. New Orleanians are not shy. The music is as much theirs as the bands.
Many of the songs are medleys, start as one song then morph into others in the brass band style. Uptempo "Hold That Tiger" becomes "Bill Bailey". Some songs "Land of Dreams" (up the Mississippi…) get played at a slow and sassy pace, almost dirge like. Then songs like "Basin Street Blues" And "Margie" with a wicked trumpet solo by Will Smith delight listeners. By the time the band roars into Fats Domino’s "I'm Walking" the crowd explodes. The duels and duets between tenor sax John Gilbert and baritone sax Roger Lewis are epic and classic New Orleans magic, funny, playful, sassy, inventive, same with solos from Terrance Taplin, trombone. Will Smith, trumpet. John Gross, tuba. Vernon Severin, snare drums. Seve Venet, banjo, and a comic silent solo by shy founder Benny Jones, Sr. Are you listening, Louis?
And no one's surprised when the band closes with "When the Saints Go Marching in" with MC for the day John Gilbert playfully singing "Mama don't allow no trumpet players here…" as a way introduce each band member by name and give them a parting shot at a blistering solo. The love is so thick under this tent that if you were to fall from its highest point it would take you 10 minutes too softly hit the ground.
5:00 PM – 6:15 PM
The Ella and Louis Tribute Band With Special Guest Jewel Brown.
Every so often, if you're lucky, you get to experience a music performance that is transcendent. I had no idea who Jewel Brown was but by the time she got through performing I realized I was in the presence of a legend.
Arm in arm with a musician, she needed assistance as she hobbled to the chair that had been hastily set up for her center stage. In silence, hundreds of people held their breaths. Was this woman up to performing? The moment she took the microphone in hand, she flashed a megawatt smile and proceeded to tear the place apart with the supreme confidence of a woman who is feeling the Satchmo spirit... and totally in charge of the band and the audience in front of her.
My guess is that Brown, confirmed later, is on the far side of 70. In the next 45 minutes, she became stunningly revivified. Her songs were more like salvos, launched with pipes that could command entire armies. Her frontline, Wendell Brunios, trumpet, Roderick Paulin, saxophone/clarinet, and Lonzo Bowen, trombone, are New Orleans All-Stars. No matter, they were fans as well, playing their damnedest to keep up with the powerhouse in the purple dress seated beside them.
In true New Orleans tradition, they responded to her vocals on songs, mugged with her, did some call and response with great humor, and, truth be told, respect for the woman’s talent and standing in the annals of New Orleans music history. The only person who knew what was going to be sung was Ms. Brown, and I wonder if she even knew what she would sing once she hit the stage. Having performed with Armstrong's band in the U.S. and 4 continents from 1961 to 1968, her repertoire is as wide and sweeping as the Mississippi River.
On came an upbeat version of "Goody-Goody," then a deliciously torchy rendition of "The St. Louis Blues," followed by an up-tempo "All of Me."
Appearing in front of this huge hometown crowd and singing songs that made her famous was flint and tinder to Brown, who got more energized with each song. Nearly the entire crowd was a generation or two younger than Brown. They were not cheering because she was doing an oldies show. They were cheering because this woman was bringing more sheer firepower to the stage that just about any other performer in the festival.
Her introduction to "Bill Bailey" was the most tantalizingly brilliant I've ever heard. There she sat for 30 seconds using her breath close to the Mike to make sibilant whooshes and clucks with her tongue, a mischievous grin on her face as she watched her front line trying to guess where the hell she was taking them. When she softly uttered part of the first line of the song, you could literally see the signs of recognition on the front line’s faces, tickled themselves at the utter finesse of the intro. “The whole set was totally impromptu," Wendell Brunios said when I asked him at the show.
Nearing the end of the show, Brown salutes departed masters Bobby Blue Bland and B.B. King, saying how important it is to carry on the legacy of men like these and Louis Armstrong. Brown launches into "Every Day I Have the Blues" a classic B.B. King. By now we are in the midst of a New Orleans moment with Ms. Brown belting out a water into wine version that rocked and wailed.
She is sassy, has terrific timing, an inventive sense of phrasing, and a command of her audience – all hallmarks of the great Satchmo. From the first notes she put us and those grown men playing beside her in the palm of her hand and transfixed us with her charisma, chops and catalogue of New Orleans traditional jazz, blues, rhythm & blues and soul. After she poured out the last notes, Ms. Brown rose from her chair, walked unassisted to the stage exit, turned back to the wildly cheering audience, and belted out one last chorus and blinded us with her incandescent smile. Lazarus would have to take a back seat to this woman.
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.