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HISTORY LESSONS AT JAZZ FEST
4/30/19

By Phil Gallo

Between the crawfish beignets, po-boys and gallons of Abita Amber, we were able to catch a few sets of music at the first weekend of the 50th edition of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.  

The O’Jays defied age and the heat to deliver a spectacular energetic set; Irma Thomas was, as always, a cool and soulful presence; and a band featuring The MetersZigaboo Modeliste and George Porter Jr. called Foundation of Funk sounds ready to hit the road and rejuvenate interest in their music from the early ‘70s.

Being a rookie at JazzFest, I figured we’d be in for a lot of renditions of songs by Professor Longhair, Louis Armstrong and The Meters and indeed their auras loomed large over many of the regional performers playing to packed houses in the various themed tents. It was striking how many other acts went deep into the covers.  

Van Morrison, whose most recent Sony Legacy release is packed with jazzy interpretations of standards and blues, went hog-wild in performing other people’s songs, starting early with Lester Young and King Pleasure’s “Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid” and tacking Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula” onto the end of “Cleaning Windows” and Miles Davis’ “So What” onto “Moondance.” Early in the set of a superb, nuanced performance he delivered a blues medley that included Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go,” the Muddy Waters hit “Got My Mojo Working,” Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Mojo Hand” and Earl Randle’s “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down.”

On the unexpected front was Katy Perry who added the Janet Jackson smash “What Have You Done for Me Lately” to her set along with the Crescent City fave “Iko Iko” and the gospel crossover hit “Oh Happy Day.”

Lauren Daigle, a Louisiana native, was less regional in her selections, though they complemented her originals nicely: Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up,” Bob Marley’s “One Love” and Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” a song she recorded for the Spotify Singles series.

Carlos Santana delivered a cool segue into John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” from “Jingo”; the New Orleans Suspects, a horn-driven band under the heavy influence of The Meters, gave Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” a serious dose of funk. Boz Scaggs celebrated the 50th anniversary of his debut album with a sizzling version of Wilton Felder’s “Loan Me a Dime,” and closed his show with a song he has never recorded, Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.”