Day 2 of the Fest was a classic example of the diversity of American music and the amazing sampler plate of that music that JazzFest has become. In one day I listened to iconic Nawlins “girl group” The Dixie Cups, classic New Orleans funk from Big Sam’s Funky Nation and Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, The Rebirth Brass Band with Kermit Ruffins sitting in, roadhouse blues from Lil Buck Sinegal, local rapper 5th Ward Weebie, delta slide powerhouse from John Mooney, classic jazz impressions from the NOCCA Jazz Ensemble ( New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, or NOCCA, is a professional arts training center for secondary school-age children: this was the most extraordinary collection of talent in one place I have ever seen: never mind that they are all under 17) and James Taylor, with Kermit Ruffins sitting in .. yet another display of the great musical gumbo that exists here.
Special shoutout to Leah Chase in the Jazz Tent. Leah is the daughter of famous New Orleans restauranteurs Dooky Chase, Jr. , who once led a big band, and his wife and her maternal namesake. Leah Chase, who survives Dooky and is one of the best known chef’s in New Orleans, now runs the landmark restaruaunt which bears Dookys name. Leah the Singer (as she is called in NO to distinguish her from her moms) has the voice of a young Ella, can sing love ballads and big band swing songs equally well and is the type of performer you’d expect to see on tour with Frank Sinatra or Mel Torme ….. oh right …. well you CAN see her in NOLA.
Let me just say this … while performing next door in the blues tent, Lil Buck Sinegal was in the middle of a blistering blues guitar solo when a piercing, prolonged vocal high note from the adjoining jazz tent could be heard OVER his band. Buck smiled, turned to his band and, shaking his head and smiling, mouthed one silent word … “Leah”.
And then came Erykah Badu. I was totally enthralled by this womans music …. art …performance ….whatever. Calling it singing is like saying Einstein did math or Picasso painted. Think a 50’s beat poety reading with Ferlinghetti meets Coltrane. Tina Turner and Gil Scott-Heron. Bob Dylan and Nina Simone. One song was a rap on valium, another a funky dance beat with synthesizers and sound boards. One an Afro-Madonna type vogue and another a straight no chaser Monk jazz riff. All with Erykah singing, talking, whispering, growling, screaming sometimes even pantomiming.
It was funky, soulful, jazzy, hip, cool, fresh, with it, now …… indescribable, one of a kind. As I was leaving the set I saw a friend who asked me how it was and I stopped, struggling for words and said ……it was the trippiest I thing I ever saw without acid. And it was.