Festival in Focus
Walt Brenner, Secretary, Tri-State Jazz Society:
The 2000 FRENCH QUARTER FESTIVAL was a blast!!
I have had the pleasure of hearing the Federal Focus Jazz Band (FFJB) on
many occasions - for the Tri-State Jazz Society last May and at the
annual PRJC picnics - but they never sounded better than that memorable
long weekend in N’awlin’s.
The planned Friday
morning kick-off parade was almost washed out by a downpour but just at
starting time the rain stopped and the FFJB did their struttinest best
with an enthusiastic second line of PRJC well wishers and lots of
pumping umbrellas. As the Mayor said in his welcoming speech on Jackson
Square after the parade, the rain merely helped clean the streets
(which, as anyone familiar with the Crescent City knows, is ALWAYS
necessary). The FFJB was one of the featured groups on the Square’s
big bandstand and they wowed the audience. For the next three days there
were 4 stages set up daily on Bourbon Street between 11 am and 5 pm.
This was as close to wall-to-wall trad jazz as it gets. In addition,
there was a brass band venue by the riverside. We were entertained by
musicians from Holland, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, the UK and the USA.
Where else could one hear such masters as Jack Maheu, Jacque Gauthe,
Doug Finke, John Brunious, Plato Smith, John Gill, and Tom Saunders
playing within a few blocks of each other? There were the usual steady
gigs with lots of sit-ins at the Can Can Café in the Sonesta Hotel,
Fritzel’s Bar, the Palm Court, Preservation Hall, Bourbon Street
Café, the Storyville Restaurant, the Seaport Restaurant, the Matador’s
Sunday night jam session and Donna’s Bar & Grill Monday night jam.
The FFJB guys seemed to be everywhere. They had their own gig on one of
the Bourbon St. stages for two hours and two appearances at Preservation
Hall and Fritzel’s. Then a bunch of them showed up for the Matador jam
on Sunday night and blew the place away!! These guys are truly great!!
I was fortunate to be
around for the opening of Jack Mahue’s new jazz venue, the Tin Roof
Café. Sho’ ‘nuff, the FFJB was THERE, too. The crowd of 300 took
them to their hearts and did not want them to leave the bandstand for
the next group. I said, "guys", but we were privileged to hear
the FFJB alumna, Kirsten Thien, belt out many old favorites in a true
jazz style that many others try, but fail, to achieve. She was present
for most of the FFJB performances. Carol Leigh was on hand to
demonstrate her virtuosity as well.
Dave Robinson, who was
one of the principal organizers of this trip, should feel extremely
proud of the way his band took over the Festival and made it their own.
They were truly the talk of the town. We also owe the success of the
entire weekend to Rachel Lahrim for all the hard work and detailed
planning she engaged in for the better part of a year. I think my most
lasting impression of this year’s French Quarter Festival is the large
number of young people, in addition to the FFJB, who were performing.
Whether on piano, clarinet, drums, violin (yes, VIOLIN!!) or cornet,
they were making music that will live long after most of us. Nay-sayers
to the contrary, trad jazz is certainly not dying and indeed has a very