50 Years of New Orleans Jazz Festival

50 Years of New Orleans Jazz Festival

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2020

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2020

La Nouvelle-Orléans, États-Unis d'Amérique


With New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival recently announcing its 50th anniversary lineup, it seems an appropriate time to look back. 

Though the plethora of festivals in 2019 offers many pros, one of the things lost in this abundance is the special place festivals held in their specific cultures when they started popping up in the 1950s. 

More than an annual chance to step outside of your normal routine like most are today, the original rock, pop, and jazz festivals were tailored to specific times, places, and circumstances.

From the outset, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was a conscious effort to achieve two things: fortifying the city's legacy as the birthplace of jazz and showcasing its deep roster of musical acts.

To achieve this, the city brought in the founder of the Newport Jazz and Folk festivals, George Wein, to replicate what he'd achieved up north in Rhode Island. To his eternal credit Wein immediately saw a much more ambitious and meaningful opportunity to celebrate not just New Orleans' musical output, but the city's entire cultural ecosystem.

Seeing New Orleans' jazz not as an aberration but a result of everything that made the city what it is, Wein went about creating a festival that showcased these diverse influences. In this way, though anchored in jazz, right from the start the festival presented the area's wide array of indigenous musical styles, as well as visual arts and, importantly, its rich food culture was on full display in an variety of food stalls. 

This more comprehensive and well rounded showcasing of Louisiana culture is at the heart of what has made the festival such an important and lasting entity. Furthermore, the importance placed on food was unprecedented in music festivals at the time and proved immensely popular, shaping what a modern music festival looks like.  

But of course the music is what any festival lives and dies on. And what has since gone on to be referred to simply as Jazz Fest has never forgotten this point. Wein hired a university student named Quint Davis and an all but unknown music manager named Allison Miner to help him with the lineup.

Putting the lineup in the hands of these two unknown but seriously dialled in music enthusiasts, was another risky but ultimately prescient move. Instead of heading to Bourbon St. and other touristy areas to scout talent, they went to the black clubs where the more creative music was being produced. Case and point, the first artist they booked wasn't anyone famous, but a street performer named Snooks Eaglin who became such a fan favourite that he performed at the festival every year until he passed away. 

 

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