The day before the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival kicked off, news of Prince’s death put a pall over the music world. But by the time Friday came around, artists were ready to celebrate the multi-instrumental legend’s collection of pop hits and his free spirit in their own sets.
In existence since 1970, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival kicked off in style last Friday with some of the top names in music, as well as some truly original local, national, and international finds.
The weather cooperated, offering a perfect day for an outdoor festival at the Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans’ Mid-City, blue skies, blinding, bright sunshine, and Prince written in the sky. Steely Dan and Michael McDonald were sandwiched in with Canadian trumpeter Bria Skonberg from New York City, the Semolian Warriors (Mardi Gras Indians), New Orleans saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., and the brass funk band of Bonerama, among many, many other artists hungry to share their tunes and their love.
In the days since, other artists joined in the chorus, including Nick Jonas, Pearl Jam, Boz Scaggs, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, J. Cole (Forest Hills Drive), John Mayall, the Iguanas, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Better Than Ezra, and Terence Blanchard and the E-Collective.
Unfortunately, the day before the festival kick-off, Prince passed away, prompting millions to go into mourning — the artists in the bunch releasing their despair with musical tributes.
As a skywriter put Prince up in those blue skies, they found some way to acknowledge his passing at the festival. New Orleans’ native son, trumpet composer Terence Blanchard and his E-Collective played their version of Prince and the New Power Generation’s “Diamonds And Pearls” in loving tribute as the first song on the set. Janelle Monaé dedicated most of her set to Prince, a friend and mentor, telling the audience at Friday’s kick-off, “I am because he was.” Prince called her up once and told her he liked her “jazz voice,” and invited her to one of his jam sessions. Jonas performed two of Prince’s most famous hit singles, “Purple Rain” and “I Would Die 4 U.” Maxwell talked a little about Prince during his set, while Grace Potter lent her own eulogy of sorts.
This year’s lineup is one of the most star-studded, and diverse, mixing the jazz with the fusion as brilliantly as Prince would have. Look for Stevie Wonder, Beck, Snoop Dogg, Van Morrison, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Elvis Costello and the Imposters, Snarky Puppy, Flo Rida, Helen Gillet, New Birth Brass Band, Sonny Landreth, Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Paul Simon, the Revivalists, Jazmine Sullivan, Arturo Sandoval, Chris Botti, Neil Young and Promise of the Real, Aaron Neville, Mavis Staples, Marcia Ball, and Gregory Porter.
There are so many artists jam-packed into this seven-day festival that organizers need to present the schedule in a cube or grid form.
Those who can’t attend, can definitely watch the festival on AXS TV all the way through May 1.
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival runs April 22-May 1, on the weekends.