From Ella Fitzgerald To John Boutté: Jazz Festing In Place Presents Archival Audio | Texas Public Radio

From Ella Fitzgerald To John Boutté: Jazz Festing In Place Presents Archival Audio

May 2, 2020
Originally published on May 2, 2020 7:04 am

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, one of this country's greatest musical gatherings, would have celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. But instead the stages at Jazz Fest, as it is more commonly known, will be empty for the first time since 1970 after the organizers were forced to cancel due to the coronavirus pandemic. But there is still music coming from New Orleans.

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation is delving into its cast archives and, along with community radio station WWOZ, presenting a stream of some of the greatest performances in the festival's history. It's called Jazz Festing in Place, and it involves some of the most iconic names in New Orleans and American music history: Ella Fitzgerald, Fats Domino, Trombone Shorty, Allen Toussaint, The Neville Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Toots and the Maytals and many more.

NPR's Scott Simon spoke to Dave Ankers about what Jazz Fest means to the city of New Orleans, how he went about culling the archives into two weekends of broadcasts and some of his favorite sets in the festival's history. Listen to the radio version at the audio link above, and read on for highlights of the interview.


Interview Highlights

On the importance of Jazz Fest to the city of New Orleans

The Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans is part of the city's identity as much as Mardi Gras is. It's the music-loving side of the city. It's not just about the city and seeing touring bands who might come in, but it's about all this expression of New Orleans culture: the food, the crafts, the people, the way people connect to each other and the music, all in one place, manifesting itself for eight days. People really really care about this.

On selecting 120 performances for the program from the thousands of archival recordings

The first thing we did is we sat down and we looked to see what we had in the archives. We made a wish list. I talked to lots of our volunteer show hosts, who go to Jazz Fest every year, and we went through and we started off with a list of about 250 items, which still seems small considering the wealth of music we have in New Orleans. And then we went through, and we had to cross things off because we didn't have it, and then we circled things like three times, like "Oh my god, we have to have this thing." Time and again, people came back to John Boutté in 2006, or Ella [Fitzgerald] and Stevie [Wonder in 1977] or the [1974] Fire Benefit with Professor Longhair. And we knew that those were key things that we had to make sure that we included.

YouTube

On the success of Jazz Festing at Home in its first weekend

When we started our broadcast on Thursday [April 23], in about 10 minutes we suddenly had surpassed our Mardi Gras numbers; and then we were four times Mardi Gras numbers. But we were stunned, really stunned, by what happened in that one hour. And we realized that people all over the world really, really wanted to be at Jazz Fest.

On one of his favorite Jazz Fest sets included in the broadcast: John Boutté performing at the first installment of the festival after Hurricane Katrina

I know so many people who were [at that performance] and they say that by the end of the set, everyone was down on their knees in tears. It is frequently referred to as one of the high points in the entire history of the festival. And when you listen to the entire set all the way through — which we're going to broadcast on Sunday — you see how John Boutté is responding to the moment in New Orleans, as many artists did in 2006 at that first Jazz Festival after Katrina, but he's responding so well and he's working with the audience and leading the audience through this cathartic, powerful connecting moment. It's really, really something to listen to.

Jazz Festing In Place will stream performances from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Find the full broadcast schedule at wwoz.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

One of this country's greatest musical gatherings celebrated it's 50th anniversary last year. This year, stages at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival will be empty. But there'll still be music.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PROFESSOR LONGHAIR: (Singing) Me got fire me, can't put it out. Heap fire water gonna make me shout. I'm goin' down an-a get my squaw.

SIMON: The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation is delving into its vast archives and is presenting, along with community radio station WWOZ, a stream of some of the greatest performances in the festival's history. It's called Jazz Festing in Place. And Dave Ankers of WWOZ joins us. Dave, thanks so much for being with us.

DAVE ANKERS: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: The names involved here are legendary. Of course, Professor Longhair, Ella Fitzgerald, Fats Domino, Trombone Shorty, Allen Toussaint, The Neville Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Toots and The Maytals - 120 acts in all. How did you decide what to include?

ANKERS: We made a wish list, and I talked to lots of our volunteer show hosts who go to Jazz Fest every year. And we went through, and we started off with a list of about 250 items, which still seemed small, considering the wealth of music that we have in New Orleans. And then we circled things - like, three times, oh my God, we have to have this thing. And time and again, people came back to, oh, John Boutte in 2006 or Ella and Stevie or the Fire Benefit with Professor Longhair. And we knew that those were key things that we had to make sure that we included.

SIMON: Well, and let me ask you about Ella and Stevie, 1977. Ella Fitzgerald and a very young Stevie Wonder. Let's hear a bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELLA FITZGERALD: (Singing) You are the sunshine of my life. That's why I'll always be around.

STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) You are the apple of my eye. Forever you stay in my heart.

SIMON: Boy, that's extraordinary to hear.

ANKERS: It is an amazing performance.

SIMON: I've been told that your site crashed from too many visitors from around the world. Any sense of how many people are finding you?

ANKERS: When we started our broadcast on Thursday, in about 10 minutes, we suddenly had surpassed our Mardi Gras numbers. And then we were four times Mardi Gras numbers. But we were stunned, really stunned by what had happened in that one hour. And we realized that people all over the world really, really wanted to be at Jazz Fest.

SIMON: I gather you've laid out a kind of roadmap for people to be able to find their acts and times.

ANKERS: You can feel like you're wandering through the festival as you scroll down and you see that you've got Marcia Ball over here or Jason Marsalis or Ellis Marsalis or Irma Thomas. And you circle things on your paper schedule that you've printed out, and it's - planning Jazz Fest with these cubes is a ritual for people. You plan out your day. And people are going through the same thing, so we're able to give them that feeling of anticipation and planning for Jazz Fest, which is a big part of it, big part of the experience.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SIMON: I see, for example, tomorrow 1:30 Central, you're streaming John Boutte from 2006. And that, of course, is the first festival after Hurricane Katrina laid waste to so much of New Orleans. He's singing Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927" about the Great Mississippi Flood of that year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN BOUTTE: (Singing) What's happened down here, y'all, is the winds done changed. The clouds rolled in from the north and started to rain. Rained real hard, rained a long, long time. Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline.

ANKERS: That performance - I was not there, but I know so many people who were. And they say that by the end of the set, everyone was down on their knees in tears. It is frequently referred to as one of the high points in the entire history of the festival. He's responding so well. And he's working with the audience and leading the audience through this cathartic, powerful, connecting moment. It's really, really something to listen to.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOUTTE: God bless you. Thank you. Here I go.

SIMON: We'd like to go out the same way the Jazz Festing In Place, I gather, will go out tomorrow, 7 p.m. Central Time. The Neville Brothers in 1994 - they closed the Jazz Fest for years, didn't they?

ANKERS: Yeah. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is all about tradition, and for - I don't know - close to 30 years, the Neville Brothers were the closing act. And they would always end up closing with Aaron Neville singing "Amazing Grace." And then they would transition into "One Love" by Bob Marley. And it's this transcendent moment, and that's what we're doing to wrap up on Sunday night Jazz Festing In Place.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SIMON: Let's hope we can all get back to live music next year. Dave Ankers of WWOZ in New Orleans, thanks so much for speaking with us.

ANKERS: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THE NEVILLE BROTHERS: (Singing) One love, one heart. Let's get together and feel all right. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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