We hit New Orleans as part of our USA Summer roadtrip just in time for the Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong Summer Fest. As a big Jazz lover this was an ideal situation, the French Quarter in New Orleans came to life right before our eyes. For any of you unfamiliar with Louis Armstrong he’s the one that sang ‘What a Wonderful World’ and was a very famous Jazz trumpeter and singer from New Orleans, Louisiana. For the past twelve years the people of New Orleans and Satchmo lovers from far and wide have gathered together to celebrate the life, music and legacy of the World’s most influential Jazz musician. Oh and if you’re wondering why they called him “Satchmo” it’s a shortened version of “Satchelmouth” (in reference to his mouth), an English editor shortened the nickname to “Satchmo” and Louis Armstrong is said to have liked this new nickname so much he adopted it.
New Orleans: New Orleans has so much soul, character, attitude, beauty and is truly like nowhere else in the World. It’s such a colourful place, the houses, the clothes, the bright blue sky and luscious greenery of the palm tree lined streets. Since we hit the Southern states the heat and humidity is the most difficult thing we’ve had to adjust to. I’m used to walking quite a lot but here I can walk about one block and i’m sweating and overheating and need a drink and a sit down, it’s not surprising people drive everywhere, air conditioning really is a blessing. The French Quater of New Orleans was my favourite area, my favourite place was Frenchmen Street which was very laid back and cool (kinda reminded Me of Williamsburg, NYC) filled with Jazz bars, live music and low key drinking joints. Bourbon Street was a little hectic with chain restaurants, strip bars, crowds drinking novelty vodka drinks in the street. There are a bunch of streets with Antique shops, second hand clothes shops and galleries which were all worth a look. The main French Quater is small enough to walk around no problem, the blocks are small and the architecture is traditional, Cajun, pretty and brightly coloured.
The Festival: The festival was based at The Old Mint (where they used to print money!) in the French Quater. The programme was action packed with several stages playing great jazz, food stalls selling local food and drinks, merchandise stalls to buy CD’s and tents with picnic benches supplying much needed shade. The crowd was mixed from locals, families, tourists, jazz lovers from around the World, young and old. The festival was not too busy feeling more like a village fate than an oversubscribed music festival. We laid in the grass when the heat got too overwhelming and listened to the bands. The food stalls sold fresh food, our Mum bought a Pineapple Ice Drink which was delicious. Our Dad wore his red suede shoes from Underground with green socks which coincidentally matched my nail varnish and dress print. Family colour coordination-tastic!
The Music: The music was so incredible, unforgettable, the genuine article. I’m not sure you could get a more authentic sound as Jazz being played live in New Orleans. We started the afternoon off watching Lars Edgran’s Ragtime Orchestra. Lars Ivar Edegran was born in 1944 and is a Dixieland jazz musician and bandleader. He most often plays piano, guitar, or banjo, but has also played mandolin, clarinet, and saxophone. At the tender age of 101(!) he played perfectly and sang with a deep, raspy voice like nothing I’ve ever heard. What a man!
After a short food break we caught the Treme Brass Band, the Treme Brass Band is a marching brass band from New Orleans, Louisiana led by snare drummer Benny Jones, Sr. The band which plays traditional New Orleans-style brass band music includes trumpeters Kermit Ruffins and James Andrews, tenor saxophonists Elliot Callier and Frederick Sheppard, trombonist Corey Henry, and sousaphonist Kirk Joseph. They really whipped up the crowd into a frenzy.
Shortly after, we sat on the grass and watched Yoshio Toyama & The Dixie Saints all the way from Japan. Every year, Yoshio and Keiko (his wife, pianist and mean banjo player) come from their home near Tokyo to play at the festival. Yoshio Toyama and the Dixie Saints play old-time jazz. Yoshio Toyama fell in love with the music of Louis Armstrong as a teenager, he and Keiko came to New Orleans to learn to play traditional jazz in 1968. They were newlyweds living in a seedy little apartment above a restaurant on Bourbon Street! They practiced under some of New Orleans Jazz greats and have been playing old-time jazz over in Japan ever since. When you hear Toyama sing ‘What A Wonderful World’ he has a real gravely voice just like Satchmo, he’s an exceptional musician and has an unforgettable smile. Towards the end of their set they came out into the audience playing their instruments getting everyone standing up dancing and singing along.
We heard of the work being done between The Japan Foundation and The Community of New Orleans after both places have suffered such terrible natural disasters. Yoshio Toyama & Keiko set up the Wonderful World of Jazz Foundation in 1994 they started gathering instruments and donations, and every year when they come for Satchmo Summer Fest, they bring gifts to the young people of New Orleans. So far, their foundation has donated nearly 800 musical instruments to New Orleans schoolchildren. After the Japan Disaster the people of New Orleans have returned the gesture and Toyama & Keiko will be taking some children from New Orleans back to Japan with them this year to hand over the instruments themselves. What a heart warming, beautiful example of music uniting the World.
If you visit New Orleans go when the Satchmo Summer Fest is on, you will not regret it.
‘After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ -Aldous Huxley
The Fabulous Times