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JEN Conference: A Report from the Crescent City

Jan 31st, 2011 | By
Mardi Gras Indians

Congo Square Mardi Gras Indians (Gerald French in orange, Shaka Zulu in green), during performance with Donald Harrison, Jr. Photo by Jim Eigo.

Risen from the ashes of IAJE under the auspices and hard work of Dr. Lou Fischer and Mary Jo Papich and their loyal board in St. Louis, the Jazz Education Network held its second conference in New Orleans, and in the dawn of the new year smartly filled the glittery art deco expanses of the Hotel Roosevelt. The attendance of over 2000 was encouraging, even if international, notably European, attendees were few. In the handsome Blue Room, Topsy Chapman’s vocal trio with rhythm and Dr. Michael White’s syncopating insinuators treated early birds to a welcoming salvo of NOLA hospitality. Soon came the first jam at Sazerac Bar, named for the cocktail invented there; a later set-to found Matt Wilson, John Clayton and Terell Stafford going at it.

Retrenchment being the watchword in our climate, few headliners climbed onboard but for the staunch membership and NOLA hometowners. Junior Mance led an animated student quintet from the New School; the potent University of Southern California Faculty Jazz Quartet was Alan Pasqua (piano), Bob Mintzer (saxes), Peter Erskine (drums) and Darek Oles (bass.) Saxophonist Jeff Coffin’s lively Mu’tet had Jeff Sipe (drums), Felix Pastorius (bass) and Bill Fanning (trumpet).

Other NOLA stalwarts: the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, as well as Astral Project, with reedman Tony Dagradi and Steve Masakowski on seven-string guitar; Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp All Stars, led by Jonathan Batiste, hosted Ed “Kidd” Jordan, Bobby Sanabria, “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and Marlon Jordan; Drummer Herlin Riley led a New Orleans beat clinic; John Mahoney’s Big Band featured stunning young clarinetist Evan Christopher. At Snug Harbor, Daddy Ellis Marsalis and son Jason on vibes followed a night by singer Rosanna Vitro.

A view of the clinics and discussions: Guitarist Steve Cardenas explored Thelonious Monk from his new comprehensive Monk Fakebook; four elders explored the history of Midwest territory bands; Berklee contributed workshops on ear training using pop music by vocal coach Roberta Radley, and colorful adaptations of classic bass lines by bassist Bruce Gertz; Africana studies professor Bill Banfield (and Dr. David Baker) outlined Quincy Jones’s national grade school initiative; Dean Darla Hanley charmed kids into joyous musical expression. Other than a discussion by Carri Bella on social media marketing, cutting-edge web-based and music technology was missing from the agenda.

Bunky Green, alto saxophone, with JB Scott, trumpet. Photo by Jim Eigo.

Clinics were led by top pros like drummer Ed Soph, trumpeter Roger Ingram, arranger Jim Repa, percussionist Marcie Chapa, saxists Jeff Coffin and Jamey Aebersold and vocal arranger Paris Rutherford. Guitarist Dave Stryker showed how to avoid conflict with your pianist; Matt Wilson wittily conjured the Zen world within one cymbal tap; saxophonist Tia Fuller enthused on women in jazz. Stryker also hosted a hip gig up Canal Street at Chickie Wah Wah’s. JEN regulars appeared in panels and workshops: Willard Jenkins, John Clayton, Bob Sinicrope. “Jazz Video Guy” Bret Primack taped much of the proceedings.

Performers of note I caught included Collective Artists for Cultural Advancement (CAFCA, from Pretoria, South Africa), Caleb Chapman’s Junior High Band, pianist Mark Shilansky’s Latin sextet (later backing singer Aubrey Johnson), as well as an impressive student septet from Berklee’s new Global Jazz Institute. Newly minted NEA Jazz Master saxophonist Dave Liebman also broke up the changes with the U.S. Air Force Airmen of Note.

Publicist Jim Eigo reports: “Overall I thought it was a tremendous success. I encountered musicians, students, fans of jazz from all over the world, and indie record label execs — Darby Christenson [Summit], Randall Klein [Jazzheads], Peter Gordon [Thirsty Ear]. The exhibition rooms were loaded with instrument manufacturers, institutions of higher learning dedicated to teaching jazz, and publishers, Jamey Aebersold, Down Beat, JazzTimes.”

The urban ambiance offered true grit: in the French Quarter across Canal Street, tuba blasts and bass drum whomps buoyed street dancers nightly. Tastes of the Quarter ranged from Galatoire’s opulent conviviality to Deanie’s funky fish fry, with Felix and Acme vying for oyster bar aye-fives and po’boy supremacy. Some blessed the beignets and chicory coffee at Café Du Monde, others the cheek-by-jowl street rub of raw Bourbon against elegant Royal, and free ferry rides to Algiers. This writer still hears the St. Charles streetcar’s grinding thunder below his window, haunting dreams of Trolley Stop eggs-‘n’-gumbo, Garden District Corinthian colonnades, Whistling Ducks at Audubon Park, Frank Brigtsen’s culinary magic and NOMA’s galleries at the end of the line.

On Saturday night, 1500 attendees at the Roosevelt Ballroom heard Delfeayo Marsalis’s combo chime fresh changes. Aaron Goldberg’s piano trio coolly gassed the crowd with a mixed set of Cole Porter, Abdullah Ibrahim, Monk and Djavan. Cadence, a quartet of Hi-Los in fedoras, blew “brass” chorales that trumped their Vegas schtick. The North Texas One O’Clock Lab Band, flexing muscle, reimagined Basie, Kenton, Shorter and Brecker for today’s youth, aged 16 to 60.

Dave Stryker, guitar, with Jamey Aebersold, alto saxophone. Photo by Jim Eigo.

Donald Harrison took it out with NOLA duality: from the tight, no-solo quartet presence of Quantum Leap, the Big Chief of Congo Square slipped straight into Pocky Way, aided by rhythm (Max Moran and Joe Dyson) and Mardi Gras Krewe feathered angels. Midnight’s Latin Jam featured ringleader Ruben Alvarez on bongos, guitarist Ben Lapidus strawbossing, Mark Kross’s montuno and tamborera Rosa Washington inspiring hoofers with fancy footwork. And on to Bourbon Street lagniappe….

In January 2012, JEN ventures to the surprising heartland venue of Louisville, Kentucky. Brace yourselves for horseracing, Slugger Hall of Fame, bourbon and hickory barbecue, Caleb Chapman’s Grade School Band — bluegrass and country swing? — and surely a bus tour to New Albany, Indiana.

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About Fred Bouchard

Fred Bouchard writes for Down Beat, All About Jazz-New York and the Boston Musical Intelligencer. He also teaches music journalism and writing at Berklee College of Music.

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2 Comments to “JEN Conference: A Report from the Crescent City”

  1. avatar Brian Madden says:

    Fred wrote well about JEN in New Orleans.

    I was there, too.

    http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=JEN+NOLA&aq=f

  2. say, brian, that was a tight, tasteful, informative seven-minute recap of JEN NOLA! thanks, fb

Leave a Comment for Brian Madden