Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Jazz Fest 2013 Posters Feature Aaron Neville & Buckwheat Zydeco

Posters have long been a commodity of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, aka Jazz Fest. Collectors rush to buy their coveted signed, numbered editions early and annually. This year’s posters, unveiled Tuesday, is the 39th in the annual poster series, highlighting Aaron Neville, singing with his tambourine in hand. The Congo Square poster is zydeco musician Stanley Dural, Jr., known since the age of four as “Buckwheat Zydeco.”

Visit art4now.com for details and ordering info.

HEART SONG: A Portrait of Aaron Neville

By James Michalopoulos

In 1960, a teenager named Aaron Neville with the voice of an angel joined brother Art in the family music business. Art had a 1954 hit with the Hawketts’ classic, “Mardi Gras Mambo.” Aaron’s solo career began promisingly with Allen Toussaint’s (Jazz Fest 2009 by Michalopoulos) "Over You," rising to #21 on the national R&B charts. Despite this early success, Aaron was working as a longshoreman when Hawkett George Davis came calling in 1965 with a song he co-wrote, "Tell It Like It Is." Getting no takers for the recording from any big label, Davis started Par-lo Records and pressed 2,000 copies of it in late 1966. Aaron’s vocalization went on to own #1 on the R & B chart for a month, #2 on Billboard's Hot 100 for 14 weeks and is #391 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs. The docks would have to make do without Aaron who earned more gold in 1989 for “Don’t Know Much,” (#2 on the Pop charts) and 1991 with “Everybody Plays the Fool,” a top-10 Pop hit.

Beyond his still sought-out early work, Aaron lent his transcendent voice to recordings by The Wild Tchoupitoulas (led by uncle George “Big Chief Jolly” Landry), The Neville Brothers (Jazz Fest 1997 by Pavy), Linda Ronstadt and Trisha Yearwood, among others. His collaborations have garnered four Grammys, two with Linda Ronstadt (with a double-platinum album), one with Trisha Yearwood and one with The Neville Brothers. His mastery ranges gracefully across jazz, R&B, pop, rock, blues, funk, soul, country, gospel and urban styles. The simple purity of his voice led to his being named “Best Male Singer” two years running in Rolling Stone’s critics’ poll.

Aaron Neville’s modulating vibrato tenor falsetto is the greatest instrument born in New Orleans. And he keeps it finely polished, as evidenced by the just-released “My True Story,” his Blue Note album debut produced by Keith Richards and Don Was. NPR’s All Things Considered named it one of the most anticipated releases of 2013. All the angels sing when Aaron opens his heart.

James Michalopoulos’ deeply felt portrait distills Aaron’s twin inspirations: New Orleans and spirituality. The city is fully captured by the artist’s distinguished minimalist architectural elements, a wrought iron fence and gas lampposts. Ethereal doves embody spirits set aflutter by an angelic voice. Trees bow in nature’s embrace, and of course, a yellow moon tops the harmoniously lighted dusk scene. Michalopoulos has created five definitive contributions to this, the world’s most collected poster series (1998, 2001, 2003, 2006 & 2009) including three of its most valuable. Michalopoulos is a celebrated representational New Orleans artist best known for his spiritually imbued architectural renderings. His vivid pigmentation is fully realized in this silkscreen printing, which applies each color individually to museum standard papers. Michalopoulos exhibits extensively in the art capitals of Europe and the United States. He maintains studios and galleries in Burgundy France and New Orleans.

BUCKWHEAT’S ZYDECO: A Congo Square Tribute to the Spirit of Southwest Louisiana

By R. Gregory Christie

Before Congo Square hosted the first Jazz Fest, before it became the spiritual center of Jazz Fest’s celebration of Afro-Caribbean influences on American art, it was America’s original musical melting pot. Its core position in the development of Louisiana’s cultural gifts to the world is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the interplay that birthed Zydeco. Zydeco is the modern embodiment of Southwest Louisiana’s Creole music, which originated in the mid-1800s on plantations around St. Charles Parish and migrated the short distance to the historical Congo Square. Modern Zydeco evolved a half-century later, in those same Creole communities on the Louisiana prairies during the 1920’s, drawing from blues, Jazz, R&B and Cajun influences. Congo Square thus served the extraordinary role in Zydeco’s development of both hosting the music’s earliest expressions and influencing its modern form in a virtuous two-step feedback loop that set the world dancing.

In the 1950’s the great Clifton Chenier took those infectious roots, added a hot R&B rhythm section, and delivered its frenetic beat to a broader audience. Lafayette native Stanley Dural, Jr., known since the age of four as “Buckwheat” because his braided hair was reminiscent of the Our Gang movies character, was more a fan of R&B than of Zydeco. As a keyboard prodigy he backed major roadhouse acts including Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown (Congo Square 2005 by George Hunt). But in 1976 his father persuaded him to join family friend Chenier’s Red Hot Louisiana Band as an organist. By 1979, fully smitten by - and tutored on - the accordion, he re-launched himself as Buckwheat Zydeco and the Ils Sont Partis Band. By the 1980s, he had reached an even larger audience than Chenier, becoming the first Zydeco act signed to a major label. Grammy nominations became a regular occurrence for his innovations, culminating in a 2009 Grammy for “Lay Your Burden Down” as well as an Emmy for his TV music. On his climb to the top, the New York Times pronounced him the leader of “one of the best bands in America,” and USA Today called him a “Zydeco trailblazer.” Zydeco’s most popular ambassador has shared his propulsive roots music on record and on stage with Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Robert Plant, U2, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon and the Boston Pops among many others. He played the closing ceremony of the 1996 Olympics and for both of President Clinton’s inaugurals.

Artist R. Gregory Christie traces his own Southwest Louisiana Creole roots to his mother’s family in New Roads where still returns to see his aunts, uncles and cousins. For over two decades, he’s been pushing brilliant hues into warmly expressive frontiers. His overt influences were Romare Bearden, Picasso and Jacob Lawrence, but his folk-inspired synthesis makes his shrewdly structured, intellectually fresh pieces accessible and compelling.

Christie grew up in a house with a jazz soundtrack and has crafted covers for multiple jazz albums including “John Coltrane: The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings.” From 1996-2009, he was a New Yorker magazine illustrator. The most recent of his 44 books are “When Louis Armstrong Taught Me Scat” (Chronicle) and “Jazz Baby” (Harcourt). Christie is a four-time recipient of Coretta Scott King Honor Awards in Illustration and writing. His most recent museum shows are at the Appleton Museum in Ocala, Florida and the Art institute of Chicago.

Friday, January 18, 2013

2013 Jazz Fest list of performers

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, a.k.a Jazz Fest, announced the list of artists. Headliners Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel and Dave Matthews Band, The Black Keys, John Mayer, Willie Nelson, Little Big Town and Patti Smith join hundreds of other musicians at the New Orleans’ Fairgrounds Racecourse April 26-28 and May 2-5.

Here's the lineup (This list is subject to change!)