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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Smithsonian Folkways' new box set looks at 50 years of New Orleans Jazz Fest



Smithsonian Folkways Presents a 50 Year Retrospective
of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival


New Box Set, to be released May 10, 2019, Features Five Discs of Live Music from 1974 to 2016


Highlights Iconic New Orleans Musicians Like Trombone Shorty, Irma Thomas, Big Freedia, Professor Longhair, The Neville Brothers, Allen Toussaint, Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John, Kermit Ruffins, Terence Blanchard, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Champion Jack Dupree, Buckwheat Zydeco, and many more!


For 50 years, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, known to Fest-goers as simply Jazz Fest, has brought the sights, sounds, and tastes of
the Big Easy to millions of festival goers. In celebration of Jazz Fest’s
golden anniversary, venerable record label
Smithsonian Folkways is proud to present a comprehensive box set of
live recordings from the festival’s past. The five discs in
Jazz
Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
present the sounds of the festival as you’d hear
them while wandering across the 145 acres of the New Orleans Fair Grounds Race
Track in the Gentilly neighborhood.

 

Though the festival attracts some of the
biggest rock stars on the planet, the focus of this ambitious new box set is on
the roots of Louisiana music, which comprise the vast majority of the
festival’s bookings, from Jazz to Bounce, Zydeco to Gospel, Brass Bands to
R&B. Carefully selected from countless hours of live recordings, the box
set includes unreleased material spanning the years 1974 to 2016 and features
key moments with celebrated artists like
Trombone Shorty, Irma
Thomas
, Big
Freedia
, Professor
Longhair
, The
Neville Brothers
, Allen
Toussaint
(solo and in a
duet with
Bonnie Raitt), Dr. John, Kermit Ruffins, Terence Blanchard, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Champion Jack Dupree, and Buckwheat Zydeco, among many others. The music is accompanied by a
135-page book, filled with exclusive photographs drawn from the archives of the
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, The Historic New Orleans Collection
and independent photographers, as well as historical essays by journalist

Keith Spera
and author Karen
Celestan,
a retrospective of
the music heard at Jazz Fest by
Robert H. Cataliotti, and in-depth notes by Jeff
Place
and Huib
Schippers
of Smithsonian
Folkways, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation 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 an 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 new and familiar audiences.”

 

The box set starts with the song “Indian Red,”
sung here by The Golden Eagles, a song traditionally sung at the opening of
iconic Mardi Gras Indian parades and gatherings. And it ends, as the festival
did for many years, with a rousing version of “Amazing Grace.” Between these
bookends, five albums of music, taken from WWOZ radio recordings and live stage
recordings, bring us some of the best Louisiana artists to ever grace the
stage. Each track was selected by a committee of individuals who know the 50 year
history of the festival intimately. The set recreates the joy and spirited
energy of Jazz Fest, placing each listener on the grounds of the festival,
walking between stages, discovering new music and great moments. Most of these
recordings have never been released commercially and sparkle with life.
Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is an immersive
experience, both for listeners discovering the festival for the first time and
for some of the millions who’ve been there in person.

 

Musical genres roll and flow across the Fair
Grounds at Jazz Fest, and the varied arrangements of the discs showcase this
musical diversity.
Disc One strolls through the powerful jazz offerings at the festival, with
a festive jam from New Orleans saxophonist
Donald Harrison Jr and a racing traditional jazz tribute to Louis
Armstrong from
Kermit Ruffins, plus boogie-woogie piano from Champion
Jack Dupree
. Discs
Two and Three
guide the
listener through Jazz Fest’s many ties to New Orleans blues, soul, and R&B,
from the legendary
Allen Toussaint to definitive soul singer Irma
Thomas
, with detours to
virtuoso guitarist
Snooks Eaglin, and New Orleans soul natives Dixie
Cups
. Highlights include the
great
Dr. John
on “Litanie des Saints,” and a remarkably spirited cover of “My Bucket’s Got A
Hole In It” from
Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Gospel deep dives come in Disc
Three
with a powerful
performance of “Old Rugged Cross” from
Irma Thomas, and inspired sets by the Zion
Harmonizers
and Johnson
Extension
. Disc
Four
brings the listener to
the Cajun and Zydeco Fais-Do-Do stage, with sets from
Buckwheat
Zydeco
, Boozoo
Chavis
, The
Savoy Family Cajun Band
, andBeausoleil, before moving to the mainstage and major live
sets from
The Neville Brothers and Allen Toussaint & Bonnie Raitt. Disc Five is the most genre-smashing selection, with
mainstage sets including a surprising cover of “Take the ‘A’ Train” from blues
guitarist
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, and a burning “Fire on the Bayou” from The
funky Meters
. As a city
that’s always birthed new American music forms, New Orleans’ hip-hop is paid
homage to here with a blazing set from Bounce ambassador
Big
Freedia
.

 

To thrive for fifty years, any festival needs
to learn how to fight and survive, and some of the story of this box set speaks
to these battles for cultural survival. The indelible impact of Hurricane
Katrina, which shook the festival itself and almost led to its cancellation,
echoes through these selections. New Orleans singer
John Boutté’s
impassioned reworking of the song “Louisiana 1927” is one of the most powerful
moments in the set, and, to this day, in the festival’s history.
Sonny
Landreth
’s “Blue Tarp Blues”
speaks to the devastation of Katrina as well. Beyond Katrina, it’s been a fight
to keep the festival going so long with so many cultural changes and the
economic pressures on festivals today. The foundational vision of Jazz Fest
that has helped it endure so long is a boundless love for the music and people
of New Orleans and Louisiana. It seems like a simple idea for a festival’s core
mission, but Jazz Fest’s embrace of little known but locally celebrated musical
geniuses like
Professor Longhair or Dr. John is still radically out of step with the
profit-driven world of big music festivals. Though later years have seen huge
headliners on the main stage, there’s a humility to everyone who performs at
Jazz Fest, no matter how famous, a recognition that New Orleans is the
birthplace of American music.

 

Jazz Fest: The New Orleans
Jazz & Heritage Festival
was created by The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, utilizing its Archive and with the assistance of the Jazz &
Heritage radio station
WWOZ; the production was made possible through the
generous support of
The Helis Foundation, a Louisiana family foundation dedicated to
increasing access to the arts. The Helis Foundation has pledged to donate
copies of the box set to every branch of New Orleans Public Library, ensuring
all citizens of New Orleans can access this unparalleled collection.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell is a co-production of Festival Productions Louisiana, LLC. (a wholly
owned subsidiary of Festival Productions, Inc.-New Orleans) and AEG Louisiana
Production, LLC. (a subsidiary of AEG Presents).

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