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UPDATED: New Orleans Night at the Jazz Festival

By Gloria Song on June 22, 2012

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This post was updated with Gloria’s Live Tweeting. Here is Gloria’s preview from earlier.

Gloria Song is a music writer for Apartment613 as well as the frontwoman for her band Scary Bear Soundtrack.

The year I turned twenty-one, my father was working in Dallas. While there, I planned an epic twenty-first birthday trip for myself: I would take the Greyhound bus alone, from Dallas to New Orleans, and experience for the first time with my own eyes and ears the music I had dreamed of all my life. I wanted to explore the magical freewheeling city where rhythm and blues means something even older than the stuff you see on MuchMusic, where big brass jazz is still alive and jams freely with modern hiphop artists and singer-songwriters.

But it was not meant to be. Hurricane Katrina hit the Big Easy that year, washing away entire parts of the city and leaving it in no shape to live out my dream. This year, the Ottawa Jazz Festival has decided to give me and other music fans a new chance to taste the dream by introducing a New Orleans night, featuring the legendary Allen Toussaint, and the young but already critically acclaimed Trombone Shorty, backed by his band Orleans Avenue.

Allen Toussaint is a New Orleans music giant. He’s not only a brilliant pianist, but also a cross-genre composer, producer and songwriter, writing hits like “Sweet Touch of Love” and “Everything I Do Gonna be Funky”, arranging horns parts for the Band, and producing a song you may have heard called “Lady Marmalade.” He too watched the destruction of his city during the hurricane, and has been actively involved in rebuilding the community. Like many other New Orleans musicians, it shows in his music. In 2006, he collaborated with Elvis Costello on his 2006 album The River in Reverse, and then in 2009 released his own jazz album The Bright Mississippi. Songs like “Egyptian Fantasy” and “Day Dream” conjure up images of the famous New Orleans jazz funerals and second line parades, with its melodies that manage to be both fun and contemplative at the same time.

The inclusion of Trombone Shorty to the New Orleans lineup comes as great news for music fans eager to hear the newest sounds from the Big Easy. Trombone Shorty, born Troy Andrews (of the famous Andrews family), started playing the trombone at the age of three, before he could even reach some of the slide positions. He started leading his own brass band at the age of seven, which I’m sure makes us all feel incredibly inadequate in comparison. I first saw Trombone Shorty at the Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival back when I was living in British Columbia, and was entranced by this wiry young guy with endless energy, wielding his instrument like a weapon. He was twenty-two years old at the time, and had managed to convince the whole crowd to get out of their lawn chairs and dance on their feet – and we all know how much Canadian adults love their lawn chairs at music festivals.

It was the first time I had ever witnessed anyone perform circular breathing (where the musician somehow breathes in through his nose while breathing out his mouth at the same time allowing him to play a note pretty much forever), during his performance of the classic funeral dirge “St. James Infirmary” – a song also covered by Allen Toussaint on his latest album. The lyrics (“I went down to the St. James Infirmary / I found my baby dead / She was stretched out on a long white table / So sweet, so cold, so fair…”) so strongly and eerily reminded me of the recent Hurricane Katrina tragedy that it made every hair on my body stand up. This year, Trombone Shorty will be visiting Ottawa with Orleans Avenue, his electric funk band which incorporates elements from many non-traditional genres.

New Orleans represents to many music fans the birthplace of much of this century’s music. The city’s history is all about how different roots intermingled – the French settlers, the African slaves, the Native Americans that had been living there – and produced a unique culture which treats music almost like a religion. It’s a land where people will dance at your funeral to jazz bands parading in your procession and where the music shows kept on going even while the power was still out in the hurricane-struck city and businesses were still not yet open. It’s the city that produced Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Domino, Dr. John, Professor Longhair, the Neville Brothers, and countless other legendary musicians. It’s the city that developed jazz, back when jazz was a dirty word that was being invented in the bawdyhouses and gambling halls. The music has come a long way since, but Ottawa now has the chance to live some of the history when they bring the party to us on Monday night. Hopefully this is a tradition that the Ottawa Jazz Festival will continue every year.

The Ottawa Jazz Festival will feature New Orleans musicians Allen Toussaint and Trombone Shorty on Monday, June 25 at the Confederation Park stage. The Ottawa-based Kelly Craig Sextet will open the show at 6:00PM; Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue will be on stage at 7:30PM; Allen Toussaint headlines at 9:00PM. Single day Confederation Park tickets are $49.

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