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Written By: Tish Michel
*Click images below to view larger versions.
Ironing Board Sam - phenomenal performer sporting his self-made costume. Note the keyboard is on an ironing board.
Bonnie Raitt was one of the many guests sharing the Preservation Hall 50th Anniversary celebration closing 2012 Jazz Fest.
Davina Sowers - my favorite new performer to Jazz Fest. This most personable musician is high octane energy at its very finest!
Favorite Jazz Fest ‘12 Memories

    As with every year, I have oh so many great memories of this year’s Jazz Fest.  Where to begin? Let me start with briefly mentioning two dear friends who perform at Jazz Fest every year and never disappoint. They are Charmaine Neville and Bryan Lee. Both were in the Blues Tent the second weekend this year and gave their all to a packed house receiving a standing ovation from a most appreciative audience. This was particularly meaningful this year as both Charmaine and Bryan have had major health issues to deal with recently which I wrote about in more detail in last week’s column concerning the Katrina recovery for the seventh anniversary of that dreadful event.  It is such fun seeing good friends do what they do best, going back stage and to the musicians trailers after the show.  I had a blast taking Bryan’s wife, Bethany, shopping at the festival for some great shirts for Bryan for his upcoming tour.  
    Economy Hall is one of my favorite spots at Jazz Fest.  You can almost always find a cooling breeze in this tent and listen to the best of traditional Jazz.  Mark Shearar is what I call “the hippie dude” who introduces all the acts at this tent.  He’s been doing this for years and is as funny as all get out.  My favorite joke from Mark this year is – Anyone know why the pig bought an oven?  He wanted to do some bakin’. (bacon)  Now for my favorites from this fun tent.   Gerald French  (Charmaine Neville’s long time drummer has taken over for his ailing uncle Bob French as head of the Tuxedo Jazz Bank.  Bob French  was one of my favorite DJs on WWOZ and has led the Tuxedo Jazz band since his daddy, the beloved banjo player and band leader Albert “Papa” French, died in ’77. I missed Gerald’s Dad, George French and his New Orleans Storyville Jazz Band as Bonnie Raitt was performing at the same time at another stage and gave her usual fabulous show.  I feel most blessed to have been so well entertained over the years by three generations of French’s - a most musical family!   But hey – that’s part of what makes New Orleans so special; the music of this city in all genres is handed down and passed along from generation to generation and is a most precious gumbo of sounds and songs to please your very heart and soul.
    My other favorites from Economy Hall were 101 years young trumpeter Lionel Ferbos and his Palm Court Jazz Band, the three part harmony jazz singing Phister Sisters, The Preservation Hall Band, and my favorite clarinetists Pete Fountain and his protégé Tim Laughlin as well as Dr. Michael White whose latest CD is Adventures in New Orleans part 2  is as good if not better than part 1 which came out two years ago.  I’ve got a slew of Dr. Michael White’s CDs and love them all!
The Alison Minor Music Heritage Stage is located in the air conditioned grand stands and hosts interviews.  My favorite interviews this year were Little Anthony (Little Anthony & the Imperials),  legendary funky bassist George Porter who received this year’s Lifetime Achievement in Music award from OffBeat , the ever dapper guitarist Little Freddie King and Ironing Board Sam who remains one of my all time favorite showman on keyboards who continues to make all his fabulous costumes.
    Speaking of piano players, every year without fail I discover by shear accident a musical act I’ve never heard of before and just adore.  This year was no exception.  I printed out the Jazz Fest daily schedule before leaving Baltimore and went to catch Charmaine Neville at the time listed.  Charmaine’s time was changed to later that day to meet her morning medical therapy needs and Davina and the Vagabonds had her original time slot.  Davina was by far my favorite new act at Jazz Fest.  Davina Sowers and her Vagabonds come out of Minnesota.  She sings and plays awesome boogie woogie with tremendous energy and stage presence. Her look was fabulous – straight out of the forties. She has an original sound that brings a fresh and delightful flavor to nostalgic music from yester year so updated to meet contemporary taste.  I saw Jazz Fest Executive Producer, Quint Davis, watching Davina’s show from back stage and got a security guard to give him my note saying “congratulations Quint – you did it again – she’s amazing!”  I had the pleasure of chatting with Davina a bit after the show and she was as charming off stage as on.  If you ever get a chance to catch Davina and the Vagabonds, by all means do so.  This was her first year at Jazz Fest; I can assure you she will be asked to come back!
    Also new to Jazz Fest this year were my son, David, and my favorite guitarists Rodrigo y Gabriela.  Please let me share a David story with you.  Diana Bogart’s former guitarist, Mac Walter, gave my son a number of lessons when David was first learning guitar and David held Mac on a huge pedestal.  About five years ago David said to me “Mon, there are guitarists better than Mac.”  I in turn closed my dropped jaw and asked who.  He then played me Rodrigo y Gabriela’s first CD.  We’ve both seen Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero several times when they played in the U S near us.  These musicians hail from Mexico City and were in a punk rock band together in the 90’s.  They then went to visit Dublin and there living arrangement fell through leaving them broke and homeless.  They started playing acoustic music from their Mexican roots on the streets of Dublin and the rest as they say is history.  They are a huge success in Europe and continue to gain popularity in the U S. When I’ve seen these two perform in the past, it’s just been the two of them spell binding the audience with instrumental music influenced by classical Spanish guitarists like Andres Segovia to flamenco rhythms like the Gypsy Kings to Metalica heavy medal tunes played on acoustic guitars. At Jazz Fest, Rodrigo y Gabriela were accompanied by a thirteen piece Cuban orchestra.  The show was phenomenal and the two guitarists so enjoyed playing at Jazz Fest – it was just infectious joy for one and all!
Speaking of infectious joy for one and all, I’ve saved my most favorite performance for last.  It’s got to be a really special reason for me to miss the Neville Brothers closing the Acura stage at the end of Jazz Fest.  Last year I missed the Neville Brothers for the first time to see the final performance of The Radiators who closed the Gentilly stage for about thirty years.  This year I chose the Gentilly stage over the Neville Brothers because the Preservation Hall Band was given the Radiators sacred spot to celebrate their 50th anniversary.  Yes, fifty years ago tuba player Allen Jafffe bought the property on ST. Peter Street in the French Quarter and established Preservation Hall as a means to keep traditional New Orleans Jazz alive and the best musicians employed.  In the early 70’s my cousin Susan met and married Jim Prebost who played bass at Preservation Hall right from the first until his death.  Susan and Jim took me under their wings on my first visit to New Orleans in the 70’s and I’ve been totally hooked on Preservation Hall ever since.  
    Ben Jaffe took over the helm at Preservation Hall after his father’s death and has taken the Hall and its musicians to new heights and world wide popularity.  This celebratory show brought back a flood of wonderful memories for me as I realized the show was creating lifelong fond memories anew.  Jazz Fest founder, 86 year old pianist George Wein, opened the show with Ben Jaffe and the Preservation Hall Band with “Basin Street Blues”.  There were so many special guests at the show including Trombone Shorty, Bonnie Raitt, Lionel Ferbos, Maria Muldaur, Ani DiFranco, Rebirth Brass Band, Allen Toussaint, Steve Earle (HBO’s Treme street singer), Wendell Eugene and many others.  I believe my favorite moment was listening to My Morning Jacket’s lead singer, Jim James, sing an incredibly eerie rendition of “Saint James Infirmary”.  If you choose to read more about this stellar close to Jazz Fest, read Keith Spera’s article on the front page of the Times-Picayune May 7th.  I chatted with Keith at his book signing (Groove Interrupted) at the Louisiana Music Factory that same day and told him it was one of my favorite articles I’ve read of his.  He said he really appreciated the feedback as he only had an hour to write the article after the show to meet the paper’s print deadline.  I told him I bet he was in such a special place from the awesome event that the words just flowed with ease straight from his heart through his fingers to his computer.
    That’s it my friends – my favorite Jazz Fest ’12 memories.  So how about considering volunteering at Jazz Fest next year?  How about booking a room and airfare to N’awlins for the last weekend of April and the first weekend in May?  We could have our very own O C does Jazz Fest event.  See Y’all!

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