Local musicians have for decades been mainstays of the
seven-day event that begins on Friday and stretches across two
weekends in the heart of New Orleans.
The 45-year-old Jazz Fest presents hundreds of bands on more
than a dozen stages offering not only jazz, but also blues,
rock, pop, hip hop, gospel, African, Latin and other styles, all
the while spotlighting the distinctive local music that helps
define New Orleans and whose future some consider endangered.
"The question that always comes up is, when something gets
popular, does it get loved to death?" said Tulane University
anthropology professor Nick Spitzer, who is host of the public
radio music program "American Routes."
Spitzer said New Orleans' popularity has grown during the years
since Hurricane Katrina struck the city in 2005 as more people
have come to appreciate the area's ethnic diversity and its
"New Orleans feels culturally different from the rest of the
United States, it has a deeper sense of continuity, tradition
and creativity...and that appeals to a lot of people," he said.
Worries about whether New Orleans can retain its distinctiveness
from "outside" influences abound among residents who are
fiercely protective of the city's landmarks, architecture and
But Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis, who helped found the event
with Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein, said when it
comes to New Orleans' musical traditions, he's not fretting.
Davis points to some of New Orleans' famous musical bloodlines,
including the Neville, Marsalis and Batiste families, whose
influence spans generations and whose younger members play
contemporary styles also steeped in tradition.
"FULL VOCABULARY OF MUSIC"
"It's not just that we have a lot of musicians, it's that we
have a lot of great musicians, and almost all of them can play
gospel, blues, and traditional, straight-up and bee-bop jazz,"
among other styles, he said.
"They have the full vocabulary of music — it's a shared language
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That language contributes to the undercurrent of indigenous music at
Jazz Fest. Davis said the depth of the local talent pool enables him
to fill more than 80 percent of the performance time slots with
"After Katrina, a lot of people wondered if our traditions would be
lost — would we have the culture bearers, would we still have people
who know the songs," he said.
"But today we have all these older guys and younger kids who are all
still playing this music."
For New Orleans native, pianist, singer and composer Davell
Crawford, the endurance of local traditions is no surprise.
Crawford, 38, comes from a long line of New Orleans piano
aficionados who honed an infectious and complex style that draws
from classical, swing, jazz, rhythm and blues, and funk.
Some see him as a keeper of a piano legacy that reaches from early
20th century jazzman Jelly Roll Morton through Fats Domino, Henry
Roeland Byrd, or "Professor Longhair", James Booker and contemporary
songwriter Allen Toussaint.
He is the grandson of R&B pioneer James "Sugar Boy" Crawford, famous
Crawford said his place in a line of piano "professors" stems not
only from his talent-rich DNA, but also from a key influence on many
New Orleans musicians, their religious faith.
"The piano is a way of life for me because I grew up in the church,"
Crawford sees New Orleans piano music as an extension of gospel,
blues and other styles that for many local people are intertwined
with their daily lives.
"The reason our music has sustained itself as some of the most
unique in the world is that it's in our blood," he said.
(Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Mary Milliken)
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