Blowin' Up a Storm at a Stormy Jazzfest
“ She is a seasoned and powerful performer and was Louis Armstrong's featured vocalist for seven years ”
Ominous weather forecasts greatly diminished Thursday's attendance at the 35th anniversary edition of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The weather held for most of the day - just a few sprinkles foretold the severe onslaught that was to follow shortly after closing time. Later, heavy rains and the threat of severe lightning storms in the area were enough to force cancellation of all of Friday's performances.
Those who stayed for the closing set at the Economy Hall stage to catch an infrequent appearance by the Heritage Hall Jazz Band were in for a rare treat- a near concert hall atmosphere, with seats available for all in attendance.
The band has performed under that name, for about as long as Jazzfest has been a New Orleans fixture, under four distinguished New Orleans leaders Initially under clarinetist Louis Cottrell, then drummer Freddie Kohlman, followed by the trumpeters Teddy Riley and currently, Gregg Stafford. He is forceful and inventive, remains true to the tradition and he swings. Stafford, the nephew of Henry "Red" Allen, who played with Joe "King" Oliver and Louis Armstrong in addition to leading stellar groups of his own, makes the genetic linkage seem apparent.
The band opened with a romping Royal Garden Blues, then stretched out on Bourbon Street Parade, which allowed introductions of the band's rhythm section: Rickie Monie, piano; Walter Payton, Jr., bass; Shannon Powell, drums and Steve Blailock, guitar with the front line of Roderick Paulin, tenor sax, Stafford, trumpet and Fred Lonzo, trombone.
Armstrong's theme, Back Home Again in Indiana, followed, with a stunning Fred Lonzo solo. Lonzo, once 'the kid' on the band is now a distinguished elder, Just a Closer Walk became the perfect vehicle for a moving vocal by Walter Payton, Jr., one of the grand old men of music who has played on the band, off and on, for two decades.
Jewel Brown then joined the band for her first appearance at the festival. It is not likely to be her last. She is a seasoned and powerful performer and was Louis Armstrong's featured vocalist for seven years. Onstage with an up-tempo "All Of Me, she showed just how to open a set, then slowed the pace for a version of Teach me Tonight that was an edifying tribute to the late Dinah Washington. Roderick Paulin's feature tenor sax solo was near perfect.
Then came the venerable Bill Bailey a selection more in the tradition and one, which showed that Ms. Brown remains a lusty star performer. Again, Fred Lonzo added fire to an already hot number.
The band and Jewel have formed a mutual admiration society and the judgment is well placed on both sides. These are pro's who have an energetic effect on each other that resonates with an audience.
"What a Difference a Day Makes" featured stellar guitar work by Steve Blailock who seems to know exactly what to play behind a vocalist. It might be added that this rhythm section would be hard to beat on any stage. Monie is a sensitive and listening pianist. Payton has been formidable not only in New Orleans but also on Broadway, most notably in the hit "One Mo' Time." Shannon Powell, frequently the 'designated hitter' in Harry Connick, Jr's big band, is a powerhouse propulsive force.
All of this came to a mighty conclusion with Jewel singing "Every Day I Have the Blues." With that driving rhythm section and the front line blowing Basie band riffs behind Jewel, the concluding number had the house on its feet.
Because of the threatening weather, management asked that the set conclude slightly ahead of schedule. As a result, instead of an encore, Jewel took extended bows and garnered a second standing ovation. "Always quit while you're ahead the smart money advises" ïShe was way ahead.