No one has a hissiefit if you say “Calendar Girl”, “Cover Girl” or “Poster Girl”, but heaven forbid using the reference of boy to any man of color so I’ll use the term “Poster Dudes” in this article. When the gates open the first day of Jazzfest (and every day thereafter), art collectors and regular folks like me make a bee line for the Art4Now tent to purchase the highly cherished official Jazzfest and Congo Square posters.
There were several different posters for the first Jazzfest. Bruce Brice created the day time poster for that first festival held in Congo Square (now Armstrong Park). The black and white, bare bones poster was free and featured a map-like view of the event showing the gospel tent, Cajun music stage, ice cream and food vendors and Mardi Gras Indians. Forty years later this well known local artist has shown his works near the Folklife Village area of the festival every single year without fail. He is the only visual artist with this distinction. When Brice created the first poster he was twenty-two years old and selling his art works by displaying them along the fence at Jackson Square in the French Quarter. Brice says he was approached by George Wein (Jazzfest founder) because “they wanted something unique by somebody who grew up with the second-lines, jazz funerals and stuff like that.” His 40th anniversary painting for Jazzfest sells for $42,000. Oh my how times have changed.
In 1975, ProCreations Publishing Company was founded by Bud Brimberg to create the official Jazz and Heritage Festival poster and has continued to do so ever since with the exception of a few years. The poster sold for a whopping $3.95 in ‘75. The next year the artist signed a limited number of posters in an effort to raise more revenues for the Jazz and Heritage Foundation. By 1980, the posters had become so popular that the Library of Congress chose the ‘80 version for the cover of its Quarterly Journal.
In 1989, ProCreations selected Antoine "Fats" Domino to be the first honoree of its Performer series. Richard Thomas was the artist of the Fats ‘89 poster and Thomas along with Fats signed 500 numbered posters thus adding a new layer of fundraising for the foundation. Shortly thereafter, some of the artists began "remarquing" a select few prints with individually done drawings to raise additional revenues. Perhaps the most internationally renowned artist selected to create a poster for Jazzfest is Peter Max in ‘94. Also in ‘94, the Congo Square poster became a part of ProCreations marking the beginning of two official posters a year for the Jazz & Heritage Foundation.
The 40th Anniversary Jazz Fest poster is of Allen Toussaint and was created by James Michalopoulos. I had the good fortune to meet the artist at the Lt. Governor’s Tourism Roundtable held for press the first Saturday of Jazzfest. I really don’t know if this was fashionably planned or not, but I got a kick out of the fact that he was wearing one white sock and the other was tinted pink; it looked as if it got mixed in with red laundry.
James Michalopoulos has a gallery in the French Quarter and is perhaps best known for his representational image architectural renderings. I believe Michalopoulos holds the record for official Jazzfest posters. His first poster was in ‘98 and featured Dr. John. The posters then sold for $49 (unsigned) to $495 (signed and numbered); they now sell in good condition for $425 to $1625. In 2001, Michalopoulos was commissioned to do the poster of Louis Armstrong selling originally for $59 - $895, now going for $375 to $2,595. His ‘03 poster of Mahalia Jackson came next.
My first Jazzfest in many years was in ‘06 just eight months after Katrina. Michalopoulos created this most memorable poster honoring for the second time The Fat Man (Fats Domino who, by this time, due to the storm and severe illness, wasn’t so fat). I so wanted this poster and decided to not order it in advance before leaving for New Orleans. BIG MISTAKE! I went after my shift ended the first day of Jazzfest in ‘06 and stood in line for over an hour only to learn that the unsigned posters had sold out that first morning in just a few hours. They sold originally for $59 - $895, now just three years later, this poster sells for $280 to $2,700. Just give me a break will ya, with this economy I sure wish I’d invested in Jazz Fest posters instead of real estate and the stock market. Oh well!
So let me tell you a little about this year’s poster honoree, Allen Toussaint. Born in the late thirties, Mr. Toussaint has played a major role in creating and exporting New Orleans style music around the world from the ‘60s to the present. This singer, songwriter, producer, arranger, session pianist and solo artist is also a heck of a nice down to earth gentleman willing to chat with adoring fans like me on the sidewalk in front of The Louisiana Music Factory between acts. Allen Toussaint has over 800 songs to his credit. Remember Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother-in-law”, Otis Redding’s “Pain in My Heart”, Dave Clark Five’s “I like It Like That”, Irma Thomas’s “Ruler Of My Heart” and “Fortune Teller”, Glen Campbell’s “Southern Nights”, Robert Palmer’s “Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley”, Pointer Sisters’ “Yes We Can Can”, The Judds’ “Working In The Coalmine”, Al Hirt’s “Java”, Herb Alpert’s “Whipped Cream”, “Ride Your Pony” – these are just a few of Allen’s hits. This legend was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
If memory serves me correctly, Allen Toussaint was the first to record a compilation CD after Katrina to raise funds to bring musicians home, and included his “Yes We Can Can” to provide the spirit of hope for recovery. That same year he began collaborating with Elvis Costello to create the ‘07 Grammy nominated CD “River in Reverse”. The following year Toussaint’s “Fortune Teller” was included on Allison Krauss and Robert Plant’s ‘08 Grammy winning album of the year entitled Rising Sand. At the most recent Grammy’s, Toussaint received the Recording Academy Trustees Award; he also performed live at the ‘09 Grammy Awards with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Lil Wayne.
Just before Jazzfest, Toussaint released his latest CD, The Bright Mississippi, taking jazz standards by Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, Duke Ellington, Thelonius Monk and others that pay tribute to the rich New Orleans music history. I haven’t heard this one yet, but it’s gotten great reviews. You can order it and his others at www.louisianamusicfactory.com.
At an interview with Toussaint at Jazzfest, he charmed us with his humor and easy going nature. When asked how he would spend his time at Jazzfest after the interview, I believe he made up the following lyrics on the spot as he played a boogie tune on his piano and sang: “A shrimp po-boy and a cold, cold beer - Hurry, bring it here. It’s been too long since my lips paid a visit, and it doesn’t take long for my chops to miss it. Give me a shrimp po-boy and cold, cold beer.” Can you see why I just adore Allen Toussaint?
The Congo Square poster this year was created by New Orleans born Gilbert Fletcher who is renowned for his acclaimed portrait series entitled “Painted Voices: an Artist’s Journey into the World of Black Writers,” depicting 28 African-American writers and their defining attributes. This collection tours the world’s universities and museums.
Amazingly enough, this year’s subject for the Congo Square poster is none other than Trombone Shorty (real name Troy Andrews). Troy is the youngest person to appear on an official Jazzfest poster. He’s just turned 23. The next youngest person to be featured on a Jazzfest poster is Wynton Marsalis who was 41 when he was so honored. Here’s what world renowned trumpeter and Lincoln Center music conductor Wynton Marsalis has to say: “Troy possesses the rarest capability of talent, technical capability and down home soul. I’m his biggest fan.” Like Wynton and brother Bradford Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr, and Nicholas Payton, Troy is a graduate of The New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA for short). He got the name Trombone Shorty because he was playing trombone and leading his own band at age 6 before his arms were even long enough to extend the trombone slide its full length. As a matter of fact, Shorty’s first appearance at Jazzfest was with his brother’s brass band when he was only 4. He has played at every Jazzfest since then except when touring with Lenny Kravits in ‘05 when he had just finished high school.
I first saw Troy when Norah Jones featured him in an amazing solo during her Jazzfest performance in ‘07. You could immediately tell that this high energy funk rocker was mesmerizing the audience and just simply had IT! Troy is also a truly gifted trumpet player; he also provides vocals and keyboards for his group. If Trombone Shorty and his band called Orleans Avenue ever tour near you, catch this dynamic group as they will “Supafunkrock” your soul with their gumbo mix of innovative music!
Hope you enjoyed reading about these poster dudes and the dudes that created them. For more info on official Jazz Fest posters and other merchandise, see www.art4now.com.
Tune in next week for more Jazzfest stories.